Sunday the 10th of September 2017
Matthew 18: 15-20
As I was thinking about today’s Gospel reading from Matthew Chapter 18 during the week, the first thing I thought about was the word ‘conflict’. If you look at the world around us, it is everywhere. Turn on the news, it’s there: people in arguments with one another, taking each other to court; people strongly expressing their views on the marriage plebiscite; people making death threats and bullying others to get their own way; the international conflicts with North Korea over its behaviour; conflicts within the US over Donald Trump; the list could go on and on.
We are surrounded by conflict and yet you would think that in the church, among those who follow Jesus, there would be less conflict, but think again. There is lots of conflict within the LCA at the moment, over various issues. And of course to get closer to home there have been and there still are serious issues of conflict between people in our parish.
The fact is that sin runs rampant in the world, but also in the church.
Matthew 18 tells us as Christians how to handle conflict. It outlines for us how Jesus tells us to handle the sin of others against us. But this morning I want to take a look at this reading from a different perspective. And I am going to start by looking at verse 20 which says this: 20 “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
The significance of Jesus’ statement here cannot be underestimated. Jesus’ promise is that when we gather together as Christians in his name he is with us. We need this promise regularly, because it is so easy for us to be discouraged by the things that happen in our lives and in the world around us.
We need to hear this Gospel promise of Jesus. He is with us. This is good news, isn’t it? Well, it is dependent on where you are with Jesus. The promise of Jesus’ presence, “for where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them”, is very comforting, but only if you want Jesus to be that close to you. Jesus is with us, but I suspect that some of us, if we are honest, don’t always want Jesus in such immediate proximity to us.
It’s fine to have Jesus’ presence with us when we need him, but what about when Jesus challenges us? What about when he points out our sin? What about when we simply don’t want to hear what he has to say to us?
One of the things about living in our world, and the way of our society, is that we don’t always take time to think about what we are doing. Life is busy with so many things to do, so many distractions. We don’t think about things as much as we should, and this can affect our walk with Jesus. How much of what we do individually, but also as a church, do we do without giving these words of Jesus any thought? Perhaps we just don’t want to for whatever reason, or perhaps we are too involved in our own worlds to not give them thought. I believe that we can hear this promise of Jesus that he is with us, and take this promise of his for granted.
So I would like to challenge you. What difference does it make that Jesus is with us and present in everything we do as a community of faith? He is present with each of us in everything we talk about. Does this make a difference in the way we speak to each other? What about the decisions that we make together? Does his presence make a difference?
These are very confronting questions but they need to be asked. It is easy to just get on with life without thinking about this. We all know that Jesus is present with us in worship—that is a given, but what about when we gather together as Christians, whether it be friends visiting each other; whether it be church council meetings, Bible studies, men’s shed, women’s breakfast, prayer group, or whatever else we do together as Christians as a part of this church? Do we believe that Jesus is with us and do we act accordingly?
I would suspect that a lot of the time, we don’t give Jesus a thought.
When it comes to dealing with conflict and the sin that underlies the conflict that happens between Christians, Jesus is present. All too often we get carried away by our own thoughts, justifications of our actions; our own pride gets in the way; our refusal to admit that we are wrong, because the other person is always to blame. But what difference would it make believing that Jesus is with us in those times? Does it affect how we see others, knowing that they belong to Jesus and that he is with them as he is with us? That these are our brothers and sisters in Christ and not our enemies.
Jesus’ promise is comforting to us, but it is also very confronting at times. Sometimes Jesus’ presence with us is not what we want. We don’t want a Jesus who insists on staying close, persists in being in the middle of what we do and say, especially when it comes to those things we do and say in the name of Christ. But that is exactly where he said he would be.
If you and I were left on our own to deal with our sins, we would not be here. But the fact is that Jesus has taken our sins, he brings forgiveness and healing to us, where we cannot. This is the good news of the Gospel. We are all here in this church because we have been called by our God to be his children, through his son Jesus Christ. Jesus is the head of the church—that means he is the head of this church, and he is present with us in this life, even outside the doors of this church building. He is present with us to give us peace, forgiveness, healing, community. I do not believe that any of us are here by random chance. God has called each and every one of you here because he has a purpose for you and because he is giving each of you his word and his sacrament to strengthen you in faith.
When we gather together, by the fact of who we are as his baptised children, we carry his name. We don’t come to worship in our name, this would be considered outrageous. But we also don’t meet together outside worship in our name. Jesus is not just with us in this building on Sunday and then not with us when we leave.
The process of dealing with sins and conflict is laid out by Jesus in this reading today. I would encourage you all to re-read it and see what God is saying to you specifically through this word. However, the fact is it actually takes courage to follow through with what he says to do, but this is why it is important for us to realise that we do this in Jesus’ name, therefore he is present and leading us. We don’t do it alone.
I would encourage each of you to stop for a while and to consider what it means for you that Jesus is present when you are around your brothers and sisters in Christ. This doesn’t just have to be among us, but any Christians. I had the privilege of hosting the ecumenical ministers’ meeting here at Burnie last week, and I read this Gospel reading out and we talked about it together and Jesus was with us, because we were gathered as Christians. Knowing this was something special on that day, and we had great prayer time with and for each other.
I encourage you in those times where it is hard to trust Jesus to reach out to him, because he is the only one who has your best interest in his heart; he is the only one who gives you what you need. I encourage you not to ignore him, but to follow him even when things are difficult, because he will lead you on the right path.
And finally I encourage you to give thanks that Jesus is true to his promise of being with us, because we all need him in our lives.