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Lectionary 23 A Proper 18    
Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
Lakeland, FL  
September 10, 2023

Exodus 12:1-14
Psalm 119:33-40
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

Grace to you and peace from God and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Please pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Here we are now, worshipping together. Fitting. Just as we do Sunday upon Sunday. Gathering together. Remembering our baptisms. Hearing the Word of God proclaimed from Scripture, in hymns, in preaching, in prayers. Gathering around the Table sharing bread and wine, companions in this journey. And chatting during fellowship time, getting caught up on the details of our lives.  Together. 

I remember the time some years ago at the home of my granddaughter’s family, Ceci, she was perhaps 3. We were gathered around the supper table and we joined our hands to say grace. And as  Ceci grabbed the hands next to her and looked around the circle at all of the hands held together, she pronounced, “We are all together.” And we were. And we enjoyed a rather idyllic dinner of chicken nuggets some of which were dropped on the floor, milk some of which was spilled, salad, not much of which was eaten. And none of that mattered because – we were all together. Three generations each member of which grew up in different places and had different experiences, different memories, different milestones. Yet, together.

Over the past several weeks we have looked at some of the people in our spiritual family tree from the time of God’s first promises and covenants through the return to Jerusalem by those in exile in Babylon. We saw that our forebears were flawed people, people driven by self-interest, people motivated by their worst desires. People who thought they had a better idea than God’s plan.  People who at times were at odds with each other. Impatient Abraham lay with Hagar so that he would have an heir – yet God came to Hagar in her despair and cared for her. Jacob wrestled with God in the dark of the night and God gave him a new name. Joseph’s brothers were so envious that they sold him into slavery yet through Joseph’s forgiveness they had food to eat during the famine and drought. Rahab, a woman of the night, aided the spies of Israel as they were entering the land of promise. We saw the mantle of leadership transfer from Moses to Joshua to Deborah, among others of the Judges. We saw the long-sought realm of King David split in two and then finally we saw these two kingdoms conquered by foreign powers. 

Through the centuries God’s people were shaped and formed and loved and cared for and guided and directed and redeemed time after time – together.

In the fullness of time Jesus, God in the flesh, God in all of humanity, God in Christ came and dwelt among God’s people. And in Christ, a new community was shaped and formed. One in which things would be different from what the world knew. One in which love would be the primary dynamic – love of Christ and love of each other – love so deep that people would even wash each other’s feet and forgive each other’s sins. Love that even amounted to laying down one’s life  -- or opinion – or preferences – or desires -- for another.

Our Gospel reading is cited in most church constitutions as the way to handle church discipline and deal with sin in our midst. And, indeed, it may be. But a couple of things are missed when we consign this reading  -- this Gospel! this good news – to that limited and restricted use. First,  we risk using it to separate we – who are right – from them – who are wrong. Jesus desires that we live in community, hands held, all together.

Jesus says, “when someone offends you, it's up to YOU to go and talk to him about it.”  Think about that!  It doesn't seem reasonable, does it.  I mean if that no good so-and-so comes along and upsets my tea kettle, HE'S the one that should apologize, right?  

Perhaps.  But for Jesus, it's much more important that WE don't carry around our grudge against that “no good so and so” in the first place.  After all, he commanded us to forgive.  And it's pretty hard to forgive if we haven't even talked to the person about why we're forgiving them.  And so in this new kind of community, this thing we call a “church,” Jesus expects the one who got done-to to go talk to the one who did the doing.

Because we are all together.

The Gospel writer goes on to say that those who are not persuaded by the interactions and interventions of the whole family of faith, should be treated as Gentiles and Tax Collectors. And we make assumptions about that – those gentiles – those who are “them!” Those who are “not us”  Tax collectors – those who took advantage of those around them. Tax Collectors – those who are “not us” – “them” They don’t belong here. They are the ones we despise. But my friends, gentiles and tax collectors are the ones with whom Jesus shared a meal, went to Starbucks with, grabbed a BBQ with. These are those for whom Jesus had special love.

So, I wonder what it is that this Gospel says to us gathered all together today in this place. We who are a community of faith. A community of individuals that are to live in loving relationship with one another. Now, this does not mean that we are homogeneous replicas of each other – No, we have different interests, different opinions, differing world views, so too in our church family we have our differences.

But the question to be asked and considered is whether these differences have divided us. When is it that we might have said something like, “Well, that’s fine if he wants to do it THAT way but I’ll have no part of it.”  Or, when someone has hurt our feelings or stepped on our toes – “why do I have to be one to go to her, she hurt me – she should come to ME.” Or, “Well it’s probably just as well that they left. They’ll probably be happier someplace else.” and what is unspoken is “I know I’M happier.”

Jesus’ teaching today tells us a new way of being the Body of Christ. A way that was so radical that, if need be, the whole community would become involved, not in disciplining a brother or sister but in restoring the community, healing divisions and splits and factions.

But how do we do that? The steps that Jesus has listed here are part of the answer to that question but not all that there is to it.  We recognize that we are not just any organization like the Rotary or Lion’s Club or Alumni Association. We are the very Body of Christ – mystically and organically knit together with Christ as our head.  

We remember our baptisms in which we were marked with the sign of the cross of Christ – forever. We Feast at the Table on bread and wine, the very real presence of Jesus among us. We remember that Jesus is truly present among us and it is he who shapes and forms us to be God’s people in this time and place. Shapes and forms us to love one another and serve one another.

Because when we decide to become members of a particular church, members of the body of Christ known as Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, we are making a commitment to enter into relationship with each other, to participate in the life of this community and the lives of others of this community.  And also to allow other persons to participate in your life in the same way.

And, as a community of faith, who, as Ceci said, is all here together, we have the promise of Jesus to be with us -- even to the end of the age.

Thanks be to God!