Sermon for the Twelfth  Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 18)

Text: Matthew 18:15
“If your brother sins against you, go to him and show him his fault”.
Father & son

Seek reconciliation

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

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! 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.

Where once two people enjoyed one another’s company and shared many good times together there is now only tension, anger or silence;
where there was once a bond of love and intimacy, now there is only hurt because of the deep rift between them. And what is clear 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 in our lives who wants love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control to rule over everything we say and do. 

To help us with this let’s go to the little New Testament Book ‘Paul’s Letter to Philemon’.  In this Paul outlines how important forgiveness and reconciliation are to the Christian.  Philemon was a wealthy slave owner 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 this time 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 what his slave had done 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 every day 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 their seeking to be reconciled to a person who has sinned against them.  This is serious business, so serious that he recommending enlisting the whole church in order to bring about friendship and forgiveness.

Jesus implies here 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 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 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 are 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 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.   No doubt we will find people who will back us up and we will feel even more justified for our attitude.  After a while it’s easy to forget that anything ever happened.

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 had a falling out and do our best to restore friendship.

It has put it like this:
You have a choice with regard to the relationships in your life.
You can choose to become a prisoner of the anger and resentment that results from conflict with others and broken relationships. 
Or, you can choose to respond as a prisoner of Christ Jesus who sees every relationship as an opportunity to serve the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It’s here at worship, at the Communion table that we are reminded of how far Jesus was willing to come 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!  And he still comes to us today reminding us of his love for us, forgiving us for all of our sin and reclaiming as his children and members of his kingdom. 

Whether we are talking about what happens at home, at work, with our friends or relatives
dealing with our harsh attitudes toward others and
our overly critical nature and
the lack of sympathetic understanding and
the need to seek reconciliation with those with whom we have fallen out,
is all a bit overwhelming and humiliating and hard work.
And God knows how often we fail to do these things and how much we need his forgiveness and help.

And this is where Jesus shows us the way and empathises with 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.

Just as we have received the generous and lavish love of God in our lives, God grant us the desire and the means to show that same love to others.


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
4th September 2011

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