The Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20
Jesus said, “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. But 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. If 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. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, 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. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that you have inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation, and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: Did you hear the familiar words in the reading from Matthew this morning? The words we pray every week before I speak: "For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them."
That is a great promise isn't, it? To know that when we gather, even if there are as few as two, or perhaps three, that the Lord is with us in the gathering. For me, there is a sense of wonder and blessing in that statement. Knowing that we can have that intimate relationship with Jesus. But, not just Jesus. Can we grasp the fact that this actually means that all of the persons of the living god / the Trinity / are present with us? Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We are surrounded and experience the indwelling presence of the living God when we gather in His name.
That last part is important to remember. We should be gathering in His name. We haven't just come together for our community social hour, for our community respite group, or for our opportunity to exercise the sense of power or leadership that we may understand we have in this place.
We have gathered in His name and in a place where we understand he will exercise his rule and reign in our lives. To praise him for his good deeds, to share our hearts longing for the world that it might be changed into the image of His kingdom.
Wow, that is quite an image, isn't, it? It reminds me of that song that we used to sing, back about 20 years ago, "I can feel your presence in this place."
Is that what we say when we come together here on a Sunday morning?
That brings me to what I would like to talk about this morning. Words. I would like to use our reading from Matthew this morning as the basis for a conversation about words and how we use them.
Before we go too far along that line of thought I would like to do a little exploration of the text from Matthew and what it may and may not be saying.
I am sure that many of us are familiar with this text from Matthew. I would like to look at the verses that come just before the one that I just spoke about.
Matthew 18: 18 and 19 say this:
"Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, 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."
These are verses that have become very popular in certain branches of the church in our world. In fact, these verses, and others like them, have been the basis for developing a doctrine that has been called Prosperity Theology. Now I am not going to go very far in talking about this theology this morning.
I will say that in its best forms, it has been used to counterbalance an excessive emphasis on the worthlessness of humanity. For a long time, the church viewed humanity from a very low viewpoint. "Woa is me, what am I that God would even deign to look at me or consider me." "I am just a sinner, condemned to live my life in sin and misery."
There was a need to correct that view and help followers of Jesus to understand that they live under the beneficence of a loving creator.
Unfortunately, there are some who have taken that teaching to an extreme and the doctrine has become a means to an end. It has been derogatorily termed "the name it and claim it Gospel." It has become, in some circles, a way for some to enrich themselves on the vulnerability of others.
As I have said many times context is key to understanding Scripture. It is unfortunate, that these verses have been disconnected from what comes before them. To give us some context we should remember what Matthew 18 verses 15,16 and 17 say.
"Jesus said, “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. But 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. If 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."
Jesus is saying here that if someone is unrepentant, unwilling to change their behavior, even after it has become obvious to others in the church community, then they should be treated and spoken about as "a Gentile and a tax collector."
That is damming language in the vocabulary of the society in which Jesus and his disciples lived. Then Jesus goes on to say that how that unrepentant person is spoken about will have power not only here in the earthly realm, but also in the heavenly realm. What is said about them has power.
He then goes on to say: ".... remember I am with you when you gather in my name." Hmmm. Makes you stop and think doesn't it? Even if there are as few as two or three of us, and we are having a conversation, then Jesus is right there with us. It raises an interesting question, I think: "So if Jesus is sitting here, right now, would we go ahead and say that about that person?"
Oh but remember we have to be gathering in Jesus' name for that count. If we have just gathered, just so we can have a talk about life and those we come in contact with on a regular basis, but we are not seeing it as gathering in Jesus' name, then it is OK for us to talk about anything and anyone we want.
I said earlier that my Message this morning would be about words. I came across this quote this week that made me stop and pause:
"Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity.
We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair.
Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate, to humble." - Yehuda Berg
The Prosperity doctrine folks may have taken Matthew 18: 18-19 too far. Perhaps they exaggerated it and disconnected it from its source, but maybe I or perhaps we need to be reminded that words do have power. Perhaps I need to stop and think: "Would I say this if I truly believe that Jesus is with me here and now?"
How did Matthew put it: "Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, 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." Or perhaps I should remember that other prayer that I pray before I speak on other occasions: Psalm 19:14 KJV
"Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer."
Are we speaking as though we are in the presence of Jesus?
Are speaking about the wondrous things that he is doing among us? Are we speaking in loving terms about those who gather with us here at Christ Church?
Are we filling the space between us with words that have energy and power? Are we using words that help, and heal? Or are we using words that hinder, hurt, harm, or are designed to humiliate?
Our words have an impact. How will we choose to use our words this week?
Bishops & Father Mike