Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 18

Text: Matthew 18:15-20 and Colossians 3:12,13
“You are the people of God; he loved you and chose you for his own. … So then … you must forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven you”

Seek reconciliation

Since it’s Fathers’ Day how about a little father-son story to start off?

After the nightly routine of a story, the toilet and a drink, a small boy was tucked into bed for the night by his dad.
Five minutes later.... “Da-ad.”
“I'm thirsty.  Can you bring me a drink of water, pleeeease?”
“No. It’s time to go to sleep.”
Five minutes later, “Daaaaad.”
“I'm really thirsty.  Can I have a drink of water?”
“I told you NO!” And thinking this would end the matter, he continued, “If you ask again, I'll have to come in and paddle your bottom!”
Five minutes later. “Daaaa-aaaad.”
“When you come in to paddle my bottom, can you please bring a glass of water?”

That scenario might be frustrating at the time but it is one of those little incidents in family life that make things interesting and we can laugh about them later.  However, we know that within families and within any human relationship there are things that happen that are no laughing matter.  Conflict is one of those things. It can tear apart the best relationships and leave people feeling wounded and let down.

·         A once treasured friendship is left shattered and permanently scarred.

·         Partners in a marriage wound one another and every conversation has an undertone of anger and hurt.

·         Brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters no longer speak to one another.

·         A member of a congregation leaves because of a disagreement or misunderstanding.

What is clear is that the deeper we become involved in some kind of conflict that is left to ferment and remain unresolved, the more we are in danger of forgetting that forgiveness and reconciliation are an essential part of our Christian faith. 

It is also clear that while we are entwined in conflict and engrossed in stating how right we are and how wrong the other person is, we are blocking out the power of the Holy Spirit to kindle love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control within us.  And so what we say and do gets out of control. 

To help us go deeper let’s go to the little New Testament Book ‘Paul’s Letter to Philemon’.  Here Paul outlines how important forgiveness and reconciliation are to the Christian.  Philemon was a wealthy man who had been converted to faith in Jesus by the apostle Paul at Ephesus.  For some reason one of Philemon’s slaves, Onesimus, had run away.  This was a crime punishable by death.  He ended up in Rome in Paul’s company where he too became a Christian.

By now, Paul was an old man and so Onesimus stayed and helped Paul for a while.  However, as much as Paul enjoyed the assistance Onesimus gave, he knew that there were unresolved issues between Onesimus and his master Philemon.  Things needed to be set right things between these two brothers in Christ.

Philemon was under no obligation to forgive Onesimus.  It could have easily been a matter of right and wrong.  Philemon was right and Onesimus was wrong.  Philemon is the master; Onesimus is the slave.  Paul probably had a pretty good idea how angry Philemon was about the actions of his slave and so wrote a letter of encouragement to Philemon to forgive Onesimus.  Paul says, “He is not just a slave, but much more than a slave: he is a dear brother in Christ” (v 16).  In Christ there is a special bond between master and slave that went beyond what was considered as normal. 

Paul often talked about the implications of what it means in everyday life to be ‘joined to Christ’ or to ‘walk in the Spirit’.  He says it clearly in today’s reading from Romans, “The only obligation you have is to love one another. … If you love others you will never do them wrong” (Romans 13:8,10) and in Matthew’s Gospel we hear Jesus telling the disciples that they are leave no stone unturned in seeking to be reconciled to a person who has sinned against them. 

This business is so serious he says that if there is some sort of conflict between you and a fellow believer, it doesn’t matter who is considered to be right or wrong, go to that person privately and talk it out.  If that doesn’t work settling matters enlist the help of a couple of others, not to gang up on the one person, but to let Christ's love shine on the situation and bring together those people who are in conflict. And if that doesn’t work then, the larger community needs to become involved in bringing the parties together, and if the offending person won’t accept the love shown by the community then this calls for special and constant compassion, care, and reaching out in grace to win that person back.

Don’t these words of Jesus say how important forgiveness and reconciliation is to the life of the Christian?  Jesus himself saw forgiveness and reconciliation as the goal and centre of his life on earth – to reconcile people with their God. And today we hear Paul say, “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ” and be like-Christ to those we find ourselves in conflict whether that’s a person who is united with us in Christ or anyone we need to bring the love and forgiveness of Christ.

All this implies that forgiveness is not an easy thing to do.  The more natural thing to do is to harbour our hurt and hold grudges.  It’s hard to let go of our resentment and let bygones be bygones. 
Jesus knows how hard it is even for Christians, members of his body, the Church, to let go of their grievances. 

No doubt that has been your experience as much as it has been mine.  The hurts and wounds you’ve experienced, or the way someone has taken advantage of you may have hurt you deeply but what is required of you and me is the same as what Paul is asking Philemon to do.  He is asking him to consider the fact that they are both united with Christ and are joined in the same Spirit, and so to deal with his offending brother or sister with love and forgiveness. 

This is no less our responsibility as well.  As a Christian, as a child of God, as a person who has been richly forgiven by Christ, our one goal should always be to seek out ways to be reconciled to one another.  Paul says, “You are the people of God; he loved you and chose you for his own. … So then … you must forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven you” (Col 3:12,13). 

Let’s put it this way.  When we find ourselves in a situation where we have been offended or we have given offense we are faced with two choices.

The first choice is to let our emotions – our anger and resentment – take control and fan the flames of a broken relationship.  We can allow ourselves to be so consumed with bitterness that we wouldn’t entertain any thought of getting over it and restoring the friendship.  We are so angry and hurt we most certainly wouldn’t consider taking the first step toward any reconciliation. 

It’s far easier to justify our actions and blame the other person.  It’s far easier to let ourselves off the hook of any responsibility when it comes to reconciliation; after all we were the person who had been wronged.   After a while we can find enough reason why we should just forget the whole matter.

The second choice is to let the grace of God guide us in reaching out and restoring the relationship.  God has been so gracious, understanding and kind and has reached out to us with his forgiveness.  He has done this even though we have deserved not one iota of his love.  Likewise, we are urged to do this same thing.  Forgive others as God has forgiven us – generously, graciously, warmly, and sympathetically.  The new life that we have received through Christ’s death and resurrection affects the way we speak and act toward others to such a degree that it compels us and won’t let us rest until we become agents of God's grace and seek out the person with whom we have fallen out and do our best to restore friendship.

At this point I want to throw in another aspect of forgiveness that has come my attention just recently. Sometimes when we reflect on past sins it’s hard to accept that God has forgiven – wiped away that bad choice, that life altering decision, that cringe-worthy event in the past that has harmed us, others and no doubt saddened God. Often, we find it hard to accept that we have been reconciled with God in Christ and are still haunted by that sin or that bad choice and feel full force of the guilt as if God had never said to us “Your sins are forgiven”.  This is one of Satan’s favourite games. 

Let me state again the Opening Sentence I said as we began the service today, “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here!” You are a child of God. It is for you he died on a cross.  It is for you he shed his blood and made you new in your relationship with God. In Colossians Paul says, “Through Christ God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross” (Colossians 1:20).

It’s here at worship, at the Communion table that we are reminded of how far Jesus went to fix our broken relationship with God!  Even though the breakdown between God and us was our fault, he didn't wait for us to come to him, he took that costly first step towards us, leaving the glory of heaven and sacrificing his life on the cross so that we might be reconciled to God!  He came to us at our baptism and comes to us every day reminding us of his love for us, forgiving us for all of our sin and reclaiming as his children and members of his kingdom. 

Forgiveness and reconciliation are hard work. If there is one person who knows that it is Jesus. He knows how the evil in us can be harsh, critical, lacking in sympathetic understanding, judgmental.  

And this is where Jesus shows us the way and understands our weakness and responds with his grace and love and mercy to our pleas for help.  Even when we are too blind to see that we need his help and strength and forgiveness, he is always ready to hold us up, forgive us and encourage us and remind us just how much he loves each one of us.

God grant us the desire and the means to show that same love to others.  We have been given the privilege of sharing Christ's peace where there is no peace.


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

6th September 2020

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