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Matthew 18:1-20

Rev. Alan Taylor

Pentecost 13, Proper 18, series A
St. John Lutheran Church  
Galveston, Texas

Sun, Sep 7, 2014 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

You’re not going to want to miss it.  “Utopia” premieres tonight at 7:00pm on the FOX network.  Fourteen people, 8 men and 6 women, from different walks of life, have been gathered together in order to create a utopian society.  Of the 14, two list their profession as unemployed.  There’s a chef, a pastor, and a contractor.  Oh, and there’s a belly dancer too. 

The suspense laden advertising trailer sets the stage for the new program.  I quote…“The Utopians will make every decision about how they live and work.  Will they choose democracy or dictatorship?  Capitalism or socialism?  Fidelity or free love?  Which religion, if any, will prevail?  Will they punish or forgive?  Keep or share?  Are those chickens friends….or are they food?  It is all up to them.  This is not a game.  There is no prize.  This is UTOPIA: reality TV in its truest form.”

The truth is there really isn’t anything real about Hollywood’s reality.  Added to the suspense of the experiment is a simple rule.  Like all the other survivor type shows, the utopians will have to “get along” or “be gone.” In other words, individuals can be elected off the show.  Although, in this case, the total number of contestants won’t we allowed to dwindle.  Instead new contestants will be elected to take part in the show when someone is elected off.  In fact, you can submit your name into the mix as a possible “Utopian.”

I have to say, while the premise of the program is rather laughable, being that sinful human beings simply aren’t capable of creating their own utopia, you know, because of that whole sin thing, I do find it interesting that the producers of the program have built into it a form of excommunication to deal with conflicts among the participants.  I guess there comes a time, even in the land of utopia, when discipline has to be exercised in order to keep the peace.

We can laugh about Hollywood productions like “Utopia.” But, the Church is no utopia either.  Though each of us are redeemed by the blood of Christ, declared holy and righteous in the sight of God, we have our own struggles living together in the bond of peace.  The Gospel reading for this morning is about some of those struggles.  More importantly though, the Gospel reading is about how the Church is to handle temptation and sin in it’s midst. 

In the beginning of the reading for this morning there is this rather harsh passage where Jesus says, “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” He then says, “woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!  And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.  It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.  And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.  It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.”

The Church is the Body of Christ, the eyes and ears, the feet and hands of our Lord, united together and held together by the love and mercy of God, which is ours through faith Christ Jesus.  It is better for us, the Church, to be crippled by the loss of one of our members, a hand or a foot, than to be lead astray by someone who tempts us to sin.  Discipline in the Church, even excommunication, though it’s fallen out of use these days, is crucial, not for retribution or for carnal satisfaction, but for the sake both of the one who offends, as well as, the Church as a whole.

Toward the end of the reading, Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.  If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.  But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.  And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

Hollywood’s version of utopia has people cast out of the community by a democratic process.  Which is fine and good, unless, of course, it’s the majority that’s in the wrong.  God, on the other hand, sets standards for us.  We call those standards the Law.  Anyone of us might violate those standards.  In fact, we violate them on a daily basis.  Sometimes that violation affects someone else in the Church.  When it does, we are to deal with the issue with repentance and forgiveness.  Again, we do so for the sake of the one caught in the sin, as well as for the sake of the Church as a whole. 

Jesus says, when you confront your erring brother, “if he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” If he can be “gained,” your brother was, in his unrepentant state, “lost.” Sin has that power, you know.  It separates us, not only from one another, but from God.  While it may seem uncouth, or, presumptuous to us to confront one another with a call to repentance, the fact is, it is the most loving thing we can do for one another because, in doing so, we “gain our brother or sister.”

Sadly, some will not respond to the call to repentance.  At times sin can so grip someone that he doesn’t see or comprehend the seriousness of his sin.  Excommunication is the last plea, the last call of the Church to awaken the un-repentant to the seriousness of their condition.  Jesus say, “if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

While we aren’t naive enough to believe that we can create a utopia here on earth, we can, as the Church, live in unity in the bond of peace.  We do so by being rooted and grounded in God’s Word and by loving each other enough to call one another to repentance and to forgive as Christ has forgiven us.

Christ crucified is the foundation on which the Church is built.  Forgiveness was won for us there on that blood soaked cross.  Repentance and forgiveness are the fruits of God’s Spirit at work in the heart of the regenerated.  Unfortunately, just as we are sometimes reluctant to repent, so, we are also sometimes reluctant to forgive. 

Interestingly enough, right after Jesus told His disciples to deal with sin in their midst in this way, Peter asked, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?  As many as seven times?” Surely forgiveness has its limits!  Surely there is a time when patience rightfully wears out and retribution kicks in!  Surely there is a time when we are justified in our refusal to forgive. 

You’ll have to come back next Sunday to hear the full answer Jesus gave to Peter.  The short of it is, forgiveness has no limits.  Today you’ll kneel here at this altar once again.  You’ll bring with you sins that you’ve committed, some of which you’ve committed over and over again.  You’ve cried out to God for His forgiveness.  You’ve also asked Him to cleanse your heart that you might live your life in a manner more pleasing to Him.  That said, some of what you bring with you this morning is frustration.  “The good that you would do, you don’t do, the very evil that you hate is what you do.”

When you kneel here, for the first time, or, for the 10,000th time, let there be no doubt.  You are forgiven!  This is your utopia, which will be fully seen and enjoyed in the world to come.

“Penitent sinners, for mercy crying,

Pardon and peace from Him, obtain;

Ever the wants of the poor supplying,

Their faithful God He will remain…”

(LSB 797, v. 4)

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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