Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Monday, September 12, 2011

forgiveness (9.11.11)

Matthew 18:21-35
21Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

23“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.

28But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Romans 14:1-12
1Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. 2Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. 4Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

5Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. 6Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.

7We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 8If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

10Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
          and every tongue shall give praise to God.”
12So then, each of us will be accountable to God.
            We’re not really going to dig into this Romans passage very much because we’re pretty good about accepting differences of opinion here. But I do want to lift it up for a moment because it’s one of the most important things about faith in community. We are not all the same. We have different strengths and weaknesses; we even have different beliefs.

            Often we grow in our faith and understanding through study with other people who see things a little differently, but there is no point in getting upset about those differences.

Paul would be quick to point out that there are limits to this; there are false teachings and dangerous ideas in the church that can hurt our faith and our witness to God’s love. But most differences of opinion in the church are not worth arguing about. Instead of worrying about what someone else believes, we should focus on how we can be better, more faithful disciples of Jesus. If the Presbyterian Church could learn this lesson we would be much stronger, more joyful, and better witnesses to Christ’s redeeming love.

Jesus reminds us that the heart of community is forgiveness. Matthew is more interested in how the church functions than the other Gospels are; probably because he writes somewhat later than Mark. So here he’s talking about forgiveness within the church, but the lesson goes further than that.

            Jesus hopes we will be incredibly persistent in forgiving each other. Frankly, I can’t think of anyone in any church I have forgiven seventy seven times. Long before we get to that point we’ve usually put our guard up so forcefully that the other person can’t wrong us anymore. But that’s not what Jesus has in mind. Jesus expects us to keep forgiving and forgiving; to keep opening our heart to other people whenever they ask us to forgive them.

            Reasonably enough, we worry about getting hurt or taken advantage of. We worry someone will pull something over on us. That’s not Jesus’ concern, but then look at Jesus’ example. The leaders of his faith rejected, accused and tortured him. His closest friends abandoned him; one even betrayed him. And he must have known that many of those he died to bring home to God would turn away too.

Still, instead of carrying a grudge, Jesus carried a cross. Instead of leaving us wandering on our own, Jesus keeps looking for us with a love that simply won’t give up. Jesus is our Lord and our example; while we won’t ever measure up to his forgiveness, we are called to follow in his footsteps.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

love and conflict

Matthew 18:15-20
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.”

 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.
Paul gives us two very practical guidelines for faithful living in this short passage from Romans. The first is love and the second is living like it’s daytime. Paul says when we love each other we fulfill the law. That’s because real love demands a lot from us. Paul’s guidance is simple, but it is also challenging. It’s not that the commandments go away, but if we follow where love leads we won’t even have to think about the commandments.

            Imagine love as a road we drive on. The law, the traditions, the rules we grow up with are the guard rail bordering the road. The guardrail will keep us on the road, and sometimes when it’s dark and the road is hard to see we need the guidance of the reflectors on the guardrail. But most of the time we don’t want to be close enough to the guardrail to count on it. We follow the road; not running into the rail comes naturally.

            The commandment tells us not to commit adultery, but the fact that we love our neighbor and our spouse means we wouldn’t do it anyway. If we love our neighbor not only will we not violate their marriage, we’ll go out of our way to strengthen and support that marriage.

             Love isn’t usually glamorous. It’s everyday stuff like changing tires and cleaning up after ourself. It’s making sure we do our fair share of the work and leave enough for others. Love starts with respect and honesty and sometimes includes self-sacrifice. Hailey gave a great example of sacrifice a couple of weeks ago, which is really an example of love. She talked about standing up for people being picked on and stepping in to break up a fight. Love sometimes means saying “no” to things that are wrong.

            That’s where things get tricky in community. It’s easy enough to be a loving community when all that means is being friendly at coffee hour. Things get challenging when love demands questioning a brother or sister’s actions. Things get challenging when we think someone is following a self-destructive or immoral path. That’s where we move from Paul to Jesus in this morning’s readings.

            We had a fascinating discussion last month at our session meeting about scripture and about church discipline. The idea of church discipline makes many of us very uncomfortable. We remember that Jesus teaches us not to judge each other, and we know that we are not perfect ourselves. Who are we to tell someone else what to do?