Church year date: Epiphany 6 A
Intro: What would you think of if I were to say the phrase, “Matthew 18”? You may or may not be aware that the phrase “Matthew 18” is often used as a sort of shorthand for church discipline.
In fact, our congregation’s constitution refers to Matthew 18 when it talks about what to do when communicant members conduct themselves in an unchristian manner. It says that they should be admonished according to Matthew 18.
So what’s in Matthew 18? Well, Jesus says in Mt 18: Mt 18:15-17 - 15 "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. 16But 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. 17If 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.
I don’t think the Word of the Lord could be any more clear. If your brother… (or your sister… your fellow human being)… if someone sins against you… you are to go to them … just the two of you… one on one… and let them know that what they did to you was wrong; what they did to you… hurt; what they did to you was sinful.
Why should you go to them and say that? So that you can punish them? Embarrass them? Get rid of them? No… you go to him or her who has sinned against you, in order to give yourself the opportunity to say to them, “I forgive you.”
But why are we talking about Matthew 18? It wasn’t among any of our Scripture readings for today. Was it?
No it wasn’t. But you know what was? Matthew 5. And Matthew 5 is kind of like Matthew 18, … but just the opposite.
In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus says,
23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
So, in Mt 18 Jesus says that the one who has been sinned against should go to the one who has sinned, and show them their sin… in order to gain them. (Win them over.)
But in Mt 5 Jesus says that the one who has sinned should go to the person that was sinned against… and be reconciled.
So which is it? Who should go to whom? Should the one who’s been sinned against go to the sinner? Or should the sinner go to the one who’s been sinned against?
And Jesus’ answer to that question… is BOTH. If your brother or sister sins against you… go to them. If your brother or sister has something against you… go to them, and be reconciled.
So there’s no question. Jesus’ very own words to you are… if you have a conflict with someone, go to them, so that your relationship may be restored.
But that’s not how we usually do things though… is it? Our reactions to the conflicts we have with each other don’t usually have much to do with restoring our relationships.
Our reactions are more along the lines of self-preservation… of saving face… of making ourselves look good… and in making the person with whom we’re in conflict look bad. After all, I’m the good one, I’m the right one. And they’re the wrong one.
So, instead of doing what Jesus tells us to do in His word… what DO we do? Well, we do either one of two things. We either attack. Or we escape. In fact, sometimes, maybe we do a little of both.
When we attack, we set out to hurt or harm our brother or sister, using various forms of force or intimidation. Maybe it’s hurtful words… verbal attacks… personally, publicly, or maybe behind their backs… gossip, slander, maybe even lies.
Maybe the attack takes the form of actual physical violence. But whatever the form, the purpose is the same… to bring your opponent down. Not to help… but to hurt.
But that’s not you, is it? You don’t want to hurt anyone. You don’t want to have anything to do with confrontation. You want to avoid conflict at all costs. So what DO you do?
You pretend that there’s nothing wrong. When you cross paths with the one with whom you’re in conflict, you suck it up… and put on a fake smile, and you push down all the negative feelings and thoughts that you have about that person… trying as hard as you can not to let it show. Trying as hard as you can to be (what you think is) the better person.
But after awhile, you can’t do that anymore. You get tired of the work it takes to be the better person. You don’t have the strength that it takes carry on the façade.
So what do you do next? You avoid the person with whom you’re in conflict. When you see them in public, you turn and pretend you don’t see them. You go the other way so you won’t cross paths.
And then you actually plan… to go places where you know that person won’t be. And you plan to not go to places where you know they will be.
And friends, that is “Escape.” That is not going and being reconciled. That is NOT restoring the relationship. That is running away from the problem.
So, whether you’re the one who’s been sinned against, or the one who did the sinning, if you’re having a conflict with someone, that conflict is being exacerbated because you are not handling it the way Jesus has commanded you to handle it.
You’ve decided to handle it your way. And let me tell you right now: Your way is not going to work.
So, what is it that’s keeping you from being obedient to Jesus’ command? What is it that’s causing you to sin in this way? Because, whatever it is… you need to get rid of it.
Jesus says in our text:
Mat 5:29-30 - 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
So what is it that’s causing you to sin? What is it that’s keeping you from going to your brother or sister in Christ, with whom you’re in conflict, and being reconciled? Is it your eye? Is it your hand?
No. It’s not your eye. And it’s not your hand. You want to know what it is? It’s your flesh. Your sinful human flesh.
St. Paul tells us in our epistle lesson from 1 Cor 3
3for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?
Behaving in a human way. Behaving in a fleshly way. Behaving in a sinful way. That’s the nature of our sinful flesh. AKA our sinful nature; AKA our Old Adam.
Our Old Adam (or Old Eve if you prefer), the sinful nature we have inherited from our original parents who sinned for the first time so very long ago… with such lasting ramifications that we, in our sinful human flesh cannot help but sin.
It’s our very nature… manifesting itself in oh so many ways: in jealousy and strife… in attacking and in escaping.
So, it’s not your eye that needs to be torn out, or your hand that needs to be cut off. It’s your sinful flesh. It’s your sinful nature. It’s your Old Adam that needs to be thrown away.
St. Paul says in Eph 4:21-24
21assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Is St. Paul’s assumption true? that we have learned of Jesus and were taught in Him… the truth of what Jesus Christ has done for us… the fact that he saw us helpless in our corrupt deceitful ways… that He saw us as attackers and escapers, as the poor miserable sinners that we are… and that He came to our rescue…
Is St. Paul’s assumption true? that we have learned of Jesus and were taught that He
…put on human flesh and blood.
Took upon himself our sinful nature
And suffered and died for us on the cross?
Yes, we’ve been taught, we know, and we need to be reminded daily that Jesus Christ, and Him crucified… suffered our punishment, and died our death so that we may live with Him in righteousness and purity forever.
And so, in the waters of holy Baptism, our old self was put off. Our Old Adam was drowned and died with all our sins and evil desires. And a new man, our new self, our Christ self… came forth and arose to, by faith, grasp on to that righteousness and purity now.
And such baptizing with water indicates that that putting off of the Old Adam and putting on of the new self needs to happen daily… as we return to our baptisms in daily contrition and repentance.
And that is how we tear out, and cut off, and throw away the body part that causes us to sin… sins of attack… sins of escape… sins of conflict. We receive for ourselves the forgiveness of our sins, won for us in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ… and applied to us in Word and Sacrament in this Christian Church daily and richly. And as we receive for ourselves the forgiveness of sins… we too sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.
Which brings us back to Jesus’ command in our text: Go and be reconciled. Is that really a command? Is that something that we HAVE to do? Or is it more of an invitation… to share in the benefits of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus.
In 2 Cor 5 Paul tells us that God, in Christ Jesus reconciled the world to Himself… reconciled us to Himself. And now He has given to us the ministry of reconciliation: Reconciliation with Himself. And reconciliation with each other.
Concl. May God grant that when conflict arises (not if but when conflict arises) that the one who has sinned, and the one who has been sinned against would come together and be reconciled, just as God, in Christ Jesus, has reconciled us to Himself. Amen.
And the peace of God which passes all understanding shall keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.