Ezekiel 33: 7 – 11
Psalm 119: 33 – 40,
Romans 13: 8 – 14
Matthew 18: 15 – 20
Our confessor was here yesterday, to hear the confessions of the Brothers. I was at Emery House for the day and so I missed the opportunity to make my confession, so I’ll confess to you …… I’ve never really been terribly interested in clothes. (You thought you were going to get something juicy, didn’t you?) It was my older brothers, Charlie and Chris who were the clothes horses in my family. In fact, in high school both of them got jobs in a men’s clothing store, and for a while after high school, my brother Chris was the manager of the store. My family recognized that I wasn’t all that interested in clothes. On one occasion Brother Jonathan and I happened to be in Toronto at the same time as my parents. The four of us arranged to meet somewhere for dinner one evening. When we got to the restaurant my Dad took one look at Jonathan and one look at me, and turned to my Mum and said I told you that we could at least count on Jonathan to be properly dressed! As I said, I’m not terribly interested in clothes. I hate shopping for clothes and usually buy the first thing that I think will fit.
It’s probably a good thing that I am a monk then. I don’t have to spend a lot of time thinking about what I am going to wear on any given day. Even before I went to bed last night, I knew what I would wear today, and I know what I’ll be wearing five years from now. I bet you can’t say that!
A few years ago, a friend of mine told me about how one Sunday morning his son aged thirteen or fourteen didn’t come down for breakfast. He yelled up the stairs and got a faint groan. Ten minutes before they were supposed to be out the door to church, Greg walked into the kitchen, disheveled, still in his bathrobe, and said he wasn’t going to church. “I don’t want to do this church thing today.” To which his father replied, “Nope, son, no choice about that in this family. Church is who we are.”
My friend was right. Whether it’s right to force thirteen year olds to go to church, I can’t say. I’m not a parent and that I should ever be one seems, well, let me say, dubious at best. But I believe that my friend spoke Truth when he said that Church is who we are.
“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:15-20).
This passage appointed for today from the Gospel according to Matthew is undoubtedly helpful, but it requires some digging. First, a disclaimer. If you have a presumption that Christians, the followers of Jesus, are always going to be right and do right and never experience or cause an offense or breakdown in their relationships with other people, it’s simply not so. We can presume otherwise from this passage. We also know otherwise because of the endless squabbling between Jesus’ closest disciples. Remember how Peter, on whom Jesus said he would build his church, seems to have reached his limit on forgiving fellow Christians when Peter explodes and asks Jesus, “if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus answers him, “Not seven times, but, seventy-seven times,” which is code language meaning forever.1 Of course the subtext is this: offensive, disappointing, inappropriate stuff is going to keep happening between members of the Church. Jesus says our posture is to forgive. I’ll come back to that.
‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector.