Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who offers a path to forgiveness. Amen
Our lessons for today
offer up a contrast,
the ideal versus reality.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans
he exhorts them to
“Owe no one anything except to love one another,
for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law,”
all of the law is summed up in the teaching
“love your neighbor as yourself”
and he tells them
that now is the time to put on the armor of light,
to put on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Reading this leads us to expect
that those who have put on Christ,
who call themselves Christian
will do as Paul says,
who out of love will do no wrong to a neighbor.
This is the ideal.
then we have Jesus teaching the disciples in Matthew
beginning “If another member of the church sins against you…”
as he lays out a way to deal with conflict within the church,
taking into account
that it may not be easy
and even impossible
to reconcile a relationship broken by sin.
This is the reality,
and thank God,
Jesus is the one that is realistic,
he knows that when people gather together in community
there will be conflict,
and rather than simply condemning conflict
he provides a way to move through it,
to forgiveness and a stronger community.
One of the greatest complaints
of critics of religion and religious people
is that it is and they are hypocritical.
People say one thing and then go and do another,
they preach love of one another
and then go ahead and stab each other in the back,
or do things that do not look like love,
we constantly fail to live up to the ideal
and it makes people not want to be a part of it.
when the ideal is the only measure used,
we are hypocritical
because part of being human
is failing to love one another perfectly,
and contrary to what some on the outside, or even inside may think,
we are aware of our failings,
we know the painful truth that while God made us saints at our baptism
we are also still sinners,
which is why we come to church,
confess our sins in search of forgiveness
and to praise the God that does forgive.
This all reminds me of an episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
It’s a tv show on Netflix and the premise is that the main character was kidnapped by an apocalyptic cult leader and kept in an underground bunker for 15 years before being rescued.
The show starts when Kimmy leaves the bunker and begins to rebuild her life, many 90s references and comedy of errors follow as well as genuine revelations about what it means to live in the world.
In season three Kimmy encounters a person who decides they want to be a Pastor and she freaks out, and she realizes that the only religion she has experienced is the underground bunker kind, so she gets her friend to take her to church.
At first she’s all excited about the nice people she meets who give her hugs at the passing of the peace and offer to pray for her, and who knew that churches did great things like feed and clothe the poor?
Then she gets to know the individuals a little better, particularly Ms. Clara, an older lady who takes cell phones from kids in church, knows everybody’s business and gossips about it
Kimmy’s ideal is shattered and she sets out to expose Ms. Clara as a bad person, when she accuses Ms. Clara in front of the whole congregation she is floored at the response, the minister affirms that everybody there is a born sinner but “as the old folks used to say, when you know better, you do better.”
Ms. Clara tells her “I know I’m a gossip and a scold, but I pray everyday for the strength to do better, I got to do better.” at this Kimmy has a revelation, “So I guess real religion is about knowing we’re not perfect but trying to be better, together.”
And that’s what Matthew 18 is about,
recognizing that we’re not perfect
but trying to be better together,
particularly through instruction.
Teaching was a huge part of Jesus’ ministry,
and the command at the end of the gospel of Matthew,
as Jesus is about to ascend into heaven,
is to baptize in the name of the father, son and holy spirit
and to teach everything that Jesus commanded.
Jesus know that we’re not perfect,
but when you know better,
you do better.
Today we’re kicking off our Sunday School ministry for the year,
we’re obeying Jesus’ last command,
gathering as a community
to teach and to learn,
it is important that we pass this knowledge on to our kids,
we promised we would do this when they were baptized,
to help them learn to love their neighbor as themselves
and what to do when that just doesn’t happen.
and it’s important that we keep learning as adults
because we know we’re not perfect
but we’re trying to do better,
a task that takes up our whole lives
and requires a community to hold us accountable.
Jesus doesn’t expect us to be perfect
but he does expect us to try,
and to hold ourselves and others in the community accountable,
and throughout all this
Jesus promises to be with us,
to be among us when we gather as a community and invoke his name,
to meet us at the table in bread and wine
offering forgiveness and strength
and in the very end
when we stand before God
because we have been joined to Christ,
God will look on us as perfect
for the sake of Jesus our Savior. Amen