The word Reconciliation is a tough one, isn’t it?
It comes with it a whole trunkful of baggage.
First and foremost, it’s not something that we practice every day.
In fact, our culture today tends to not be very open to second chances.
Especially us Americans.
We love out justice.
Not the kind of justice the Bible or Jesus talks about;
but the kind in which the person who does something injurious to someone else “gets what they deserve.”
The internet and low-end news channels on TV are chock-full of short news clips and stories of our brand of justice that it’s almost a national pastime.
The problem, of course, is that while maybe we don’t want to be the ones casting stones or dispersions, we want the person who caused the injustice to be on the receiving end of those stones or dispersion all the more.
It’s not at all what Jesus is teaching in our reading today in Matthew 18.15-20.
And that’s what I’d like to talk about today.
Now, the second part of reconciliation is that reconciliation itself is hard work.
It takes one person or group to forgive.
But it also takes a great deal of love and imagination.
In other words, we have to make the decision in our hearts to accept that person back into our lives and trust that not only will he or she not repeat whatever infraction it was, but that the person and ourselves will be the better for it.
We have to imagine what reconciliation will look like.
Have you ever tried and reconcile a broken relationship — a friendship, a professional dispute, a marriage?
Like I said, it’s hard work.
Places in the Heart
As I was pondering Jesus’s words in this reading, I thought back to that movie, “Places in the Heart.”
In fact I had to watch again.
Do you know this one?
It’s set in the Depression era in a Texas town, where Sally Field (who won an Oscar for her role) loses her husband — the town’s sheriff, who is accidentally shot and killed by a young black man.
The young black man is lynched by the Klan.
And it seems that every single one of the friends and associates in her life seemed to be tied up in some sort of sin.
A friend is having an adulterous relationship.
The bank’s officer is trying to take her house from her.
Some prominent townsmen are revealed as Klansmen.
The tenant she takes in wallows in self-pity.
And the black man whom she hires out of the goodness of her own heart tries to steal from her.
Yet each Sunday, they all come to church, pretending as if their sins are unseen.
Each of them caught up in some kind of web of deception, as perpetrator or as victim.
And life just goes on…
In our reading today, we don’t know who sinned against whom, or if anyone sinned at all against another, that led Jesus to teach about reproving others.
But Chapter 18, if you were to read it through — and I suggest you do — talks greatly about the temptation of sin as well as forgiveness.
In the temptation side of things, Jesus uses the parable of the lost sheep.
That even that one errant sheep out of a hundred is worth searching night and day for to bring back to the fold.
And in the forgiveness side of things, Jesus tells the parable of the unforgiving slave whose debt was forgiven but won’t forgive another’s debt.
Sandwiched right in the middle of those lessons is this teaching on reproof.
It’s a step-by-by process unlike anything else in the New Testament.
We don’t have to extract the meaning; it’s all right there.
No questions, no translation issues, no cultural norms… nothing.
All cut-and-dried, black and white.
And so what does Jesus tell us?
If a member of the church (the body) sins against you, go to them alone and tell them what they’ve done.
If they ask forgiveness, you have him or her back.
But if they slam the door on you, take a buddy or two with you.
And if that doesn’t work, take the church with you.
If it works, you’ve gained back a brother or a sister.
But if it doesn’t, then treat them as a Gentile or a tax collector (verse 17).
We’ll get back to that in a second.
We’ve got “History…”
Now, most of you have been here much longer than I have.
And in that time, has this happened?
Just in the time I’ve been here, I’ve heard of people taking offense or giving offense to others here.
We’re family. It happens. We can talk about these things…
In fact, Jesus tells us to, doesn’t he?
See, this church — this family — is a safe space.
We should expect that we are covenanting with one another here because that’s what we do whenever we take Holy Communion.
That’s what we do when we welcome new members in.
And that’s what we do when we baptize and are baptized.
This is a safe place.
A place where we can take off those masks that all the good people in that little Texas town in the movie wear oh so well…
We don’t do that here, do we?
Jesus tells us that at a certain point, when all else fails, we have to be done with them, right?
Is that what he says?
Treat them like tax collectors or Gentiles… Verse 17 again?
What does that mean?
Well, that’s a part that’s not really explained, is it?
We have to dig into the context for that one.
Because that sounds to us like we’re through with them, doesn’t it?
What do you think that meant to the Jews who were learning this lesson?
We know, don’t we?
What did Jesus do with the tax collectors and Gentiles?
He had dinner with them.
He healed them.
He forgave them.
He brought those lost sheep back into the fold…
We’ve been following Jesus around all this northern territory, even into Syria, in the last several weeks as we’ve been working through a large part of the Gospel of Matthew, haven’t we?
Jesus is making known that he came for the lost sheep…
That ALL people and ALL nations are valuable to God.
We've heard it over and over again.
The disciples had been right there alongside of Jesus through this journey, and they knew exactly who he’d been eating with and healing.
The tax collectors and the Gentiles…
I don’t have to tell you what that means.
But I will tell you this:
We never give up on them because Jesus never gives up on us.
What about us?
Now, I want you all to think of that person or those persons who who at some point had a rift with this church.
Maybe they’re having one today.
I can look around and see where some pews have been vacant for awhile…
Did we follow what Jesus tells us to do?
Or should I say, are we following what Jesus tells us to do?
It’s not like our culture, is it?
But then again, Jesus was always counter-cultural, wasn’t he?
Still is. Still just as relevant.
Warning: Before we get all self-righteous, we need to ask a question.
In our first point, Jesus outlines for us how we reconcile sinners as a church.
In other words, when they’re the problem.
But how are we reconciled as sinners?
In other words, when we’re the problem?
Now, I’m not talking about just a 180-degree opposite of what Jesus illustrates.
That same process should stand the same way in reverse for us when we’re the problem.
No, what I’m talking about is a little different:
Just like a church member who may have caused harm to you, we approach them to let them know that they’ve done something wrong.
Maybe they’re not even aware of it…
So how would we know if we did the same and we need to be reconciled?
What if no one points it out to us?
Remember the tax collectors — they were cheats!
And the Gentiles — Unclean to the Jewish culture.
Who have we made into tax collectors and Gentiles?
Maybe we’re not intentionally doing that.
But it’s still happening.
Who are we driving out of the church?
I’ll tell you, recently I met a woman who was a member in this church, grew up in this church and because she was divorced, she no longer believes she is welcomed here.
I told her that if she doesn’t feel welcomed here, how do you explain me?
Has anyone reached out to her? I wonder.
Why does she feel this way?
Is it something we’re projecting?
Gosh, I hope not…
I also look around and see no African-American church members or guests.
Not a whole lot of single moms or dads here.
I sure don’t see folks from other cultures or religions.
I don’t see any same-sex couples.
But, to be fair, maybe some, we just wouldn’t know.
Are they afraid to reveal that?
We have to ask ourselves: Why is that?
Is it because something we project?
Because certainly the Jews in Jesus’s day projected a hard and fast division.
But not Jesus. No. Not Jesus.
Instead, he ate with them.
He healed them.
He befriended the prostitute.
Those lepers, the bleeding, the demon-possessed — he welcomed them into his arms, into his body.
In other words, he loved them.
Maybe they didn’t expect it — and I’m certain they didn’t.
Why on earth would a Jewish man express love toward those outside the Jewish faith?
Whose example do we follow?
Are we like the Jews of Jesus’s day, pushing others out of the church and not accepting them in open arms?
Or are we like Jesus, accepting everyone as children of God — regardless of their life choices.
Again, Jesus is trying to EXPAND the kingdom, not shrink it.
We need to think about that the next time we complain about the the welfare roles, the bums, the drug problem, teen pregnancies, our jails filled with an African-American majority, building walls on borders, and expelling those who aren’t like us from this country.
We simply can’t say we love like Jesus when we show such hatred, whether it be explicit or tacit.
It’s still hate.
Jesus gives us a wonderful example in Matthew of how to welcome God’s children back into the fold;
Jesus gives us a perfect definition in that we never stop trying to bring them back;
And Jesus gives us a great motive for reconciliation: Love.
But reconciliation isn’t simply a one-way street in which we’re the righteous because we’re sitting here in the pews week after week, no…
Because Jesus is reconciling us today with this example of how he never stops trying to bring us back to God.
Just because we’re huddled within these four beautiful walls on each Sunday mornings doesn’t mean these very four walls aren’t a reminder to others that they don’t feel welcomed.
The reconciliation goes both ways:
We have to confess to one another and before God that we have not been an obedient church and have not followed God’s will…
Reconciling our own sins
So what can we do to reconcile our own sins?
First, we have to understand what God wants, and we can do that through these amazing and poignant examples of Jesus’s teaching in the Bible.
Second, we can go before God in prayer and confession and ask God to break our hearts for what break’s God’s and that we can see through God’s eyes how we’re being exclusionary.
Third, when we do this — as one body, as the church — then we go as the church into the world, look for the lost and lonely, but also look for the church hurt, and be the witness they need.
The church hurt. I met a man who was hurt by an entirely different denomination, and therefore gave up on church altogether.
He watches church on TV because it’s void of the people of the church, the body.
He doesn’t know what he’s missing.
Even though I’ve tried to tell him.
What else is a pastor going to do?
No, it takes the body of the church too.
Not just the guy who preaches, but the folks who comprise the body, too.
That’s an incredibly important task.
And it’s really not an option, is it?
Because, like I just said and like I’ve said countless times here:
The Bible is written for us here today, too.
We can look at the examples and history to see what was said in the past;
We apply those very things to today;
and we work in those guidelines so that we can be relevant tomorrow too.
Our God is a god of the past, present and future.
In everything we do, God is past, present and future.
And if you want to go way into the future, Jesus gives us that in this reading today, too, doesn’t he?
Right there in Verse 18:
“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.”
We want this stuff to be bound here and in heaven.
When we pass the peace in a few moments, we’re not just greeting one another;
We’re affirming God’s kingdom in the company of God’s kingdom.
This body is one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.
When we pass the peace, we are joining the hands of every single person here, and every person who has gone before us.
We’re passing the peace with those who can’t be here, and we’re passing the peace to those who feel like they aren’t welcomed here.
We’re passing the peace with the drug dealers, the incarcerated, the church-hurt, the lonely, the unwelcome, the desperate, the cheaters, the prostitutes, the others…
Because when we pass the peace, we reconcile to others and to ourselves.
Let it be more than just a symbolic gesture;
It’s hard to make the gesture real in the world.
Because the whole goal is kingdom-building.
The whole goal is nothing short of joy.
And that starts with our own hands, welcoming, loving, greeting, sharing, giving and reconciling with all of God’s children.
Passing the Peace
So if you’ve seen that movie, “Places in the Heart,” you might remember that final scene:
It’s Sunday, and everyone’s in church.
And it looks like a sparse gathering, as the peace begins to be passed.
The woman whose husband was unfaithful; She grasps his hand as an ultimate act of reconciliation.
She passes the peace.
And that peace is passed to the corrupt banker.
Who passes the peace to the thief.
Who passes it to the widow.
Who passes it to the Klansman.
Who passes it to the Sheriff, who is somehow back alive in church,
And who passes the peace to the young African-American, who had been lynched.
Reconciliation is not simply made for those who are here right now together in this church.
The Body of Christ expands far past these walls and beyond this world.
Let us pass the peace to them, today, tomorrow and always.