First Reading: Ezekiel 33:7-11
7So you, mortal, I have made a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 8If I say to the wicked, “O wicked ones, you shall surely die,” and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but their blood I will require at your hand. 9But if you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, and they do not turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but you will have saved your life.
10Now you, mortal, say to the house of Israel, Thus you have said: “Our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us, and we waste away because of them; how then can we live?” 11Say to them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?
Psalm: Psalm 119:33-40
33Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes,
and I shall keep it to the end.
34Give me understanding, and I shall keep your teaching;
I shall keep it with all my heart.
35Lead me in the path of your commandments,
for that is my desire.
36Incline my heart to your decrees
and not to unjust gain.
37Turn my eyes from beholding falsehood;
give me life in your way.
38Fulfill your promise to your servant,
which is for those who fear you.
39Turn away the reproach that I dread,
because your judgments are good.
40Behold, I long for your commandments;
by your righteousness enliven me.
Second Reading: Romans 13:8-14.
8Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
11Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20
[Jesus said to the disciples:] 15“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
- Children’s Sermon: The Lion & the Mouse
A Lion lay asleep in the forest, his great head resting on his paws. A timid little Mouse came upon him unexpectedly, and in her fright and haste to get away, ran across the Lion’s nose. Roused from his nap, the Lion laid his huge paw angrily on the tiny creature to kill her.
“Spare me!” begged the poor Mouse. “Please let me go and some day I will surely repay you.”
The Lion was much amused to think that a Mouse could ever help him. But he was generous and finally let the Mouse go.
Some days later, while stalking his prey in the forest, the Lion was caught in the toils of a hunter’s net. Unable to free himself, he filled the forest with his angry roaring. The Mouse knew the voice and quickly found the Lion struggling in the net. Running to one of the great ropes that bound him, she gnawed it until it parted, and soon the Lion was free.
“You laughed when I said I would repay you,” said the Mouse. “Now you see that even a Mouse can help a Lion.”
A kindness is never wasted.
PRAYER: May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and redeemer
As we listen to the readings from the Word of God, Lutherans start with an Old Testament reading, followed by a Psalm and a New Testament reading – before the Gospel that is always centered around the teachings of Jesus. The pattern will often be that the Old Testament identifies the situation that is being addressed on a given Sunday. In the Psalm reading, we the people agree. The New Testament reading shares how the early church understood Jesus to speak to the issue. Then we stand for the reading of the Gospel, to show respect for the words that came from Jesus, the living word. Today Ezekiel reminds us that we are ALL sinners and we all offend others and yet we are called to be a light of God’s truth to the world. In the Psalm we plea for help to learn and understand God’s statues. The early church saw that fulfilled as we live in love with the other.
“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
How does that work practically, the nuts and bolts. I can sing with Jackie DeShannon. “What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of. What the world needs now is love, sweet love, No not just for some but for everyone.”
Jesus gave us a formula. When an offense occurs between myself and someone else, I am not to chew that bone and ignore it but seek to resolve the difference with the other. Scary stuff if I am busy protecting self! If that does not work because both of you see the issue differently, then step two is to seek an arbitrator, an impartial party who can listen to both sides without bias and help you both to find the middle road. Is the goal self justification or resolution of relationship? If THAT fails then Jesus says to take it to the church body. If your family is like mine, the unspoken rule is that we don’t hang dirty laundry in-front of others. If love is not the motivating factor, we end up with surface politeness and then we go home and have the sermon dissected for lunch, or the other person. We do not follow these guidelines of going to the other, next an arbitrator, and finally going to the church and I would suspect that the cause is we are not rooted in love.
Two Sundays ago we read Matthew 16 and heard Peter confess that that Jesus was the Messiah, and Jesus affirms that confession as limited as Peter’s understanding was at the time. Jesus is going to build a church on the faith the size of a mustard seed. Reality is there will be betrayal and failings. But Jesus will build the church, not me. Jesus then talks about the Keys of the Kingdom. In chapter 18, he now circles back to that same principle and embedded it in a conversation about misunderstandings in the church, in the reality that we will fail, we will sin, and we will offend each other.
Churches are not perfect communities that ooze love. Do I hear an “Amen!” Jesus says, 18Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Our anger, our disagreements, bind the power of God in our lives and in the lives of others. Two weeks ago I looked to the story of the prodigal son. The father with two sons, one resenting being under the father’s authority, takes his inheritance and squanders it. While his heart is closed to the father and while he is seeking to lead his own life, he struggles and relationship is broken. He returns and unbinds the situation but interestingly the other brother has bound himself with jealousy and resentment, the silent anger. Both have lost blessing with the father and with each other because of their closed hearts.
We see these stories all through scripture, twin brothers, Jacob and Esau spend years apart because of their jealousy. How many people were hurt in Egypt because the pharaoh did not submit. Ezekiel laments, “Our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us, and we waste away because of them; how then can we live?” Disagreements are an albatross around our necks and around the ministry of the church.
In the same way Jesus reminds us of the blessings of a community pulling together, 19Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” The daycare and the community garden of Bethany are not the result of one person’s dream but are the result of a united vision to bless others. I think of so many verses that talk about love. “Love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Corinthians 13, “Now faith, hope and love abide but the greatest of these is love.” As we follow the guidelines of scripture – put God first, love parents, don’t kill or steal or slander or covet – God is able to work in ways we would not expect. I think of the parable of the Good Samaritan. A man walking on the road between two towns is beaten up and robbed. People walk by and do not want to be involved, to get their hands dirty, but the foreigner stops and helps the man, binding his wounds and taking him to an inn and seeing he is cared for. How many lives have been touched by that story. Elizabeth Fedde, one of the patron leaders of the Deaconess movement in the USA came from Norway to Boston to help Norwegian sailors. She started Sunday schools, an ambulance society, and on her vacation in Minneapolis founded the Lutheran Deaconess Hospital that merged with Fairview. Wow! We do not know how many the ripples of her life touched. We do not know how many are touched by the attitudes in our hearts. Jesus says that when we agree, we unleash the power of God from Heaven.
Jesus closes today, 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” We are more than two or three people gathered today in Jesus name. We do not just gather in his name, he is here among us, ready to bless. It is his nature to bless. God is love. Let us go home resolved to deal with our differences, to resolve our conflicts, and to allow love to permeate our lives. All by God’s power, of course. He’s ready, are we?
The lion in our children’s sermon did not know the result of his kind deed to the mouse. Perhaps he didn’t even let her go from love. But in the same way, as we release insults to God to handle, we will be blessed. To that I can say, “Amen, Lord, let it be so!”