Ezekiel 33:7-11, Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20
P Good morning!
M Good morning!
B (grudgingly, and turned away) Morning.
P What’s the matter?
M Beaky’s mad at me.
P Oh? How come?
B Munchie tattled!
P Ooh! That sounds serious!
M It could have been!
B It wasn’t really anything.
M You wanted your mom to call 911?
B Well… no…
M She had already picked up her phone! I had to say something, or… or…
B It wasn’t that serious!
M But she didn’t know that!
B I said I was fine.
M But you didn’t look fine, and you didn’t sound fine.
P Um, would you be willing to let the rest of us know what happened?
M Now that it’s not a crisis, I think Beaky should share. After all, I don’t want to be tattling!
B So, now you get a conscience!
M It was my conscience that made me speak up then…
P Seems like the rest of us will just stay in the dark.
B Okay, okay, it’s not that big a deal… not anymore, anyway.
B Munchie and I were eating berries off the bush in the forest.
P The one your mom uses for pies and preserves?
M Yeah! They were really good!
B Uh huh. They were so good I couldn’t stop.
M I stopped after 10.
P 10! That’s really a lot for one your size!
M Yeah… but I still wanted more… They were so good!
B But I kept eating.
M I said you should stop.
B But I didn’t. I ate and I ate and I ate, and when there were no berries left on the bush I was going to fly home, and I couldn’t.
P You couldn’t fly?
B No, I was too heavy, and my belly felt kind of funny.
M So I walked home with you.
B Yeah, and when we got there, I just kinda plopped on the step. And Mom came out asked what was wrong.
M And you just kinda groaned.
B I said I was fine—
M —after you groaned.
B and she picked me up
M and you didn’t like that!
B and she called for Dad and Grampa…
M and everyone was worried.
B and they talked about the doctor…
M and they wondered about poison!
B so they thought 911 would get help more quickly, and then Munchie blabbed.
M I told them it was just berries.
B and they didn’t hear you right away, so you said it again! LOUDER!
M Yeah. I didn’t want them to worry about poison, when it was just berries.
B So they asked how many berries…
M and I just said, “a lot”…
B But Mom flew over there and looked, and came back with three.
M She said one was for your dad, one for your grampa, and one for me, but I told her she should eat it, because I’d had some.
B And when they asked how many, you said 10!
M I counted!
B But that meant she knew that I’d eaten all the rest.
P except three.
B I don’t know how I missed them…
P You’ll probably miss them more when there’s no pie…
M …and no preserves.
B Yeah. I was wrong to eat all those berries. I just didn’t think I’d really get caught. I figured no one would know, and she’d think it was a bear or something that got to the bush. But Munchie tattled.
P Sounds to me like your belly tattled, and Munchie was trying to make sure things didn’t get worse.
B I’ll know for next time that there’s a better reason not to eat all the berries than not getting caught.
P Exactly, like not becoming ill.
M And not scaring your parents.
B and not having to lie…
P There’s that, too. Let’s pray: Dear God, forgive us when we make mistakes, and help us to learn from them, and to do what is better going forward. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today’s text relates Jesus’ instructions for how one ought to deal with another when sinned against. It’s pretty much the only place in the Bible where things are laid out so simply and clearly, so it becomes the go-to answer anytime someone has a problem with another person’s behavior. It’s even in the constitutions of our ELCA congregations as a required step when a person’s behavior is such that it requires congregational discipline. It’s clear, logical, and given to us by Jesus, so who can argue with that?
So we need to be clear as well, because Jesus introduces this procedure with the example of a brother sinning against the listener. Taking into account language differences, we might interpret that as sibling, to include male and female, but we also need to realize that Jesus is speaking of two people in relatively the same place, family of the same generation. This is important because this procedure really doesn’t work when you have a person with power sinning against a person with none, or even with less.
What would happen if the boss sins against a worker, and the worker takes it directly to the boss, alone, with no witnesses? Maybe the worker is fired. Maybe the sin is repeated or multiplied. Maybe threats are made to keep things from ever getting to the second step where additional people are brought along into the process.
Or what of the example of a child who is abused by one who is older, a neighbor, a relative, a teacher, or another respected professional. Requiring that child to go directly to the perpetrator, alone, is a recipe for disaster. Jesus does not advise that.
If someone with the same level of power as you have sins against you, this process is good. But what do we do in other situations? How do we reconcile things when a person of power plays haphazardly with those who have less?
I titled this message, “Forgiveness,” but I was getting ahead of things when that title made it to the page. Forgiveness really comes in the verses that follow this reading, the ones we’ll be hearing next week. The desire here, really is to reconcile things in such a way that what is good and righteous shines forth, rather than what is selfish or greedy.
What are we about as the church here in this world? Do we exist merely to maintain a façade of beautiful stained glass windows and gothic architecture—or is there something more? Do we exist to provide gathering space for the dead and dying—or is there something more? What is the real good news?
We were pursuing plans to put at least part of our worship service online before the pandemic induced a shutdown of regular gathering within our building, but it didn’t actually happen until our gatherings were limited for safety reasons. Were we unconsciously resisting the process? Were we afraid that no one would come if we offered God’s word freely, without requiring bodily presence within this space?
One thing we’ve noticed as we’ve made this move is that our presence online allows for people to join in who for whatever reason have not been gathering regularly with us in person. Some are miles away. Others may find themselves medically restricted. Some are enjoying the outdoors. Some might just feel safer in their own spaces, sheltered from less savory aspects of the world, less safe aspects of our congregations, abuses not always easy to define.
Maybe some were called to task by the inability to gather in person, which made gathering in at least some form more desirable, so that the next closest thing is vital. Maybe this virus is just something we never expected to happen again, and that’s rather scary for many. We learned about the black plague, and gave thanks for the modern sewers and sanitation. We learned about the Spanish flu, and thought our medical advances would keep such a thing from ever happening again.
Or maybe people are joining online because finally they are able to, because we’re more accessible in this changing world.
Something that does not change is our need for forgiveness, because without forgiveness, there can be no reconciliation. Without repentance, and change, any reconciliation is no better than a farce. Victims cannot simply let go, if the sins continue unabated.
So we come back to Jesus’ instructions. Though the confrontational processes as specifically described might only work when the involved parties are equal in power, the end, the statement that when those of us who err, those of us who sin, are willing to change, things can be better—that’s still very good!
And we can change. We can change, because there is forgiveness. We can move forward, because we’re not stuck. That’s what Jesus is promoting here, doing well, because we can, because there is forgiveness.
In Jesus’ name. Amen