Reconciliation in a Call Out Culture Matthew 18:15-20

The reading is a tough one to comment on. The reason isn’t because of some deep theological analysis. The reason is because of its simplicity. Jesus is very straight forward regarding the importance of seeking reconciliation and its implications in the kingdom of heaven. His words (if we are willing to take them seriously) put a mirror up for us to take a look at ourselves. The reflection is not pretty. This is why the reading is tough.

We live in a “Call Out” culture. If someone disagrees, we slam them. We attack them on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Peaceful protests are being met with armed groups (both on the right and the left) to enforce their version of law and order. Division and appealing to your base may be a successful strategy in human politics. However, this political approach runs in direct contradiction to what Jesus is teaching. What Jesus is showing us is a culture that doesn’t call each other out but calls one another into relationship.

“If another member of the church sins against you…

Matthew 18:15

This is how Jesus’ teaching began. What should we do when we are offended? First of all, we don’t ignore it and allow the offence to fester. Instead, first go to the person (in private) and resolve the issue. If this doesn’t work (or is safe to do) then pursue the other channels available. The goal is to restore the relationship if at all possible. After all, what is life in anticipation of the coming kingdom of God supposed to be like? A life bound by our sins, anger and violence? Or, a life where there is freedom to live with each other in peace? Furthermore, if we come together with the purpose to reconcile as Jesus taught, then he promises to be present. If we pray for God’s blessing in this work, then the Father will work for it to happen in his kingdom.

Now some may argue that Jesus was referring to the church and how it should resolve conflicts. As is usually the case, Jesus won’t allow us to hide behind self imposed boundaries.

…if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector…

Matthew 18:17

How did Jesus treat the Gentile and tax collector? He extended the grace of God to bring healing and acceptance to those sinful Gentiles. He enjoyed the company of tax collectors and dined with them. Jesus carried the work of reconciling to all, insiders and outsiders alike.

Jesus’ words today are tough. They hold up a mirror for us to examine just how far we have moved from the ways of God. Yet, his words provide an opportunity for grace to come. Imagine what life could be if…

-instead of grabbing a gun to enforce our version of law and order, we sought to resolve the grievances behind the protest

-instead of dividing the land for personal and political gain, we sought to unite and work toward the benefit of all

-instead of calling people out because they disagree, we call them into relationship.

Jesus invites us to live a different way that brings grace and healing to everyone. This new way is defined by the kingdom of heaven. This new way is going to be tough but we have his promised presence. Peace and blessing are possible in a “Call Out” world.


Our Vulnerability and God John 14:1-14

One of the things exposed about us in the past few weeks is our vulnerability.  We don’t like feeling that way.  The unemployment rate is rising causing the fear of losing health insurance and paying the rent to leave us feeling very vulnerable.  Wearing masks and continuing to social distance seems to be the best we can do for now to keep the pandemic at a further distance.  We still feel vulnerable because we can’t do more to gain control over our lives.  We don’t like feeling vulnerable.

One way we can use to chase away these unwanted fears is denial.  This is just a political hoax in an election year.  Somebody else will get sick, not me.  Somebody else will die, not me.  Denial in the face of a dangerous reality isn’t very helpful.  Another approach to gain control is violence.  We scream at those forcing us to shelter in place.  We walk around with our guns on display.  We refuse to wear masks.  These actions might help us feel more powerful and in control but reality hasn’t changed, we are still vulnerable.

The disciples were feeling vulnerable in the above reading.  Jesus had just told them that he would be leaving them.  He predicted their betrayal.  Jesus was speaking about his upcoming death.  Life for the disciples was going to change, drastically.

Jesus comforted them by saying that in the Father’s house there are many rooms.  Jesus also told them he was going to prepare a place for them so that they could be with him.  These words of comfort are why this reading is often used at funeral services.  However, Jesus wasn’t going away to hang drywall and do landscaping.  The Father’s house is more than a condo.  Father’s house implied household, being part of the family.  The ongoing and anxious moments taking place were how Jesus was preparing the way for us to have a secure place in the Father’s house, family.  In their vulnerability and in ours, is the security of knowing we are a part of the Father’s house.

One of the disciples, Philip, still needed more reassurance.  He wanted to see God.  Jesus’ reply was that because of their unity, to see Jesus is to see the Father as well.  What does Jesus show us about God to us who are so vulnerable?  We see compassion…empathy…willingness to share our vulnerability…willingness to face death.  What we see about God, the Father, is love in action.  What we see in Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection are the great lengths that the Father will go to bring us into his household and give us a resurrected life no longer vulnerable.

These days we feel vulnerable.  We don’t like it at all.  While we live in denial, yell at each other and put others at risk to claim some sense of control, nothing has changed.  We are still vulnerable.  This is why Jesus’ words are so important for us to hear.  Knowing that we have a secure place in the Father’s house, we can allow ourselves to feel vulnerable.  We can allow ourselves to see the vulnerability of others too.  We can emulate Jesus’ compassion and empathy.  We can point to Jesus so that others can also recognize God’s presence in their vulnerability.


Resurrection, Doubt and Fear John 20:19-31

A week has now passed since we celebrated Easter behind the closed doors in fear of Covid-19.  Easter was different this year.  It was more introspective.  Without the usual activities surrounding the day and filled churches, we were left to wonder what does the resurrection say to us behind the closed doors?  If we are willing to allow the Spirit to speak in our wondering, we just might discover a greater depth to what we believe and a hope that goes far beyond hurrying to open up the economy and get life back to normal.

On that first day of the resurrection, the Gospel of John tells of the disciples hiding in fear behind closed doors.  They had good reason with fear of Roman soldiers wandering in the streets making sure peace was being kept along with the fear of what will the future hold with Jesus’ crucifixion.  However, earlier in the day Mary Magdalene had told them that she had seen the Lord and passed on the risen Jesus’ words to them.  Perhaps their greatest fear was facing Jesus whom they had abandoned and denied.  Then he appeared, wounds and all.  Their fear was suddenly changed to celebration with Jesus’ words, “Peace be with you!”  The Lord who beat death and was ushering in the reign of God with the start of a new creation appeared to them, not for revenge or to judge but to forgive.  The disciples were sent out by Jesus with the Spirit and a message of forgiveness.

On that first day, Thomas was missing.  Even though he got the news, he wouldn’t believe until he had proof – he wanted to physically inspect the wounds for himself.  A week later he was present when Jesus appeared and this time Jesus gave Thomas the invitation to go ahead and even stick his fingers in the wounds.  Thomas replied, “My Lord and my God!”  I think that we would all like the opportunity for our doubts and fears to be replaced by physical proof and to have God stand before us and announce “Peace.”  What we do have in these days is the witness of others, the belief of parents and friends.  They tell us that God has not abandoned us and this world but has taken on its wounds and death giving forgiveness and life instead.  They show us that the statement “My Lord and my God” is more than a formula to be recited but an intense hope of healing as a new creation is brought into being.

Now we still huddle behind doors for fear of the pandemic.  Now our hopes may be on returning to normal and reopening the economy.  Now we worry about toilet paper shortages, masks and social distancing.  What Easter tells us is that God has shown up in this world and taken on our sickness to bring forgiveness and life instead.  What Easter instills in us is a hope of a new creation healed in Jesus Christ risen.

As Jesus said, “…blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”


An Uncompromised Voice Matthew 3:1-12

I have heard it said that preaching should bring comfort to the burdened while at the same time make those living at ease uncomfortable.  John the Baptist checked both off the list from the reading in Matthew.  God is not impressed with human power by whatever means it is gained.  God announces what is about to happen not through human power but in human weakness.  The birth of Jesus was announced first to shepherds (the witness of a shepherd wasn’t accepted back then).  The news of Jesus’ resurrection was first announced by women (their words were considered nonsense according to Luke).  The great prophets of old weren’t the ones echoing the words of the king.  They were the false prophets.  The great prophets were apparent nobodies who called the king to accountability.  John the Baptist was out in the wilderness and he spoke a word to be heard by the burdened and the ones at ease alike.

The people from the surrounding region came to hear John’s message to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”  Repentance means to turn around.  The coming reign of God is to be embraced with lives that reject the current power structures in order to embrace God’s rule of justice and peace.  The poor and enslaved gladly received the news of God’s judgment on their behalf.  They were baptized as a way of preparing for the coming of God in their midst.

Religious leaders of the time, Pharisees and Sadducees, also came to hear John and to be baptized.  He called them a bunch of snakes.  They weren’t to put their confidence before God based on heritage, position or DNA.  Instead, they were to show lives of repentance by seeking God’s justice and not power.

John was in the wilderness announcing the coming of one who will establish the rule of God.  John baptized with water but this one of God will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.  This one will bring judgment where what is done for the kingdom is kept; what is useless is discarded and burned.  This one whom John the Baptist announced is Jesus.

John the Baptist’s words are still double edged for our day.  Jesus establishing the coming rule of God is good news for those enslaved and under oppression.  Jesus establishing the coming rule of God is judgment for those in power who show no compassion or justice for the enslaved and oppressed.  As the days draw closer to Christmas and welcoming of the Christ child, let us heed the words of John and show lives of repentance.  Let the news of Christmas be good news for all people.


Jesus against peace? Against family? Luke 12:49-56

Peace.  We all want peace.  We want peace in our family relationships.  We want peace within our neighborhoods and towns.  We want to peaceably go about our lives without the worry of violence.  We want Jesus to give us the peace we seek.  Unfortunately for us, this peace is not what Jesus is talking about in this reading.  Instead he is talking about division, even in our most valued relationships of family.

So what gives?  Why can’t we have what we want?  Why won’t Jesus give us what we want?  Jesus said he came to bring division instead of peace.  He wanted to bring fire upon the earth and couldn’t wait for it to be lit.  This doesn’t sound much like peace.  The fire is the active presence of God establishing the kingdom’s presence over everyone.  When God’s rule of forgiveness and mercy comes into contact with our understanding of peace, we start building crosses.

The trouble with wanting peace is that we want peace on our terms.  We want peace that comes with being in control.  We want peace where we have the power.  We want the peace that prefers us over them.  If we don’t get the peace we want, we blame our spouses, parents, neighbors, immigrants, those of a different race, the other political party.  In reality this isn’t peace, it is abuse and violence of the powerful against the weak.  This is not the peace that Jesus has come to support.

If we seek peace then we have two choices.  One is the fake peace of violence, abuse and crosses.  The other is the peace that comes from God who raised the crucified Jesus to life.  This is the real peace that brings life in the place of death.  This kind of peace asks of us to repent and seek the ways of the kingdom of God.  We die to the old ways of violence and crosses so God can bring a new life that is peace.  This change is going to be met with division, even within family.

Jesus called those in attendance a bunch of hypocrites.  They could tell by the wind patterns if it was going to rain or bring a hot day.  Yet, they could see what Jesus was doing and teaching but not recognize the action of God bringing his rule, his kingdom to the earth.  The great challenge for us is to look at the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and see the work of God bringing his kingdom to us.  This is the hard work of seeking peace on God’s terms.


Peace: accepted or rejected Luke 10:1-20

A couple points to consider.

First, are you at peace?  This isn’t a trick question.  Are you at peace?

Secondly, how does peace relate to your place in the kingdom of God?

Peace seems really in short supply today.  The struggle to find peace is ongoing without a whole lot of success.  The search for peace leads us to try practices like meditation or something called ‘being in the moment.’  These practices along with others can help us feel more relaxed and push off the stressors in life for a while but when you get cut off in traffic…you are hotly corrected for having the wrong political views…the boss expects more while offering less support…peace disappears.  Our struggle for peace continues because we don’t quite understand how to make it happen.  Peace doesn’t come by denying reality.  Peace doesn’t come by having the biggest army.  Peace is a gift and a gift comes through grace.  Grace is an expression of kindness, a love that is given without merit or worth.  Grace is hard to find in our polarized world.  No wonder peace is so rare.

Jesus was sending out seventy followers with the instruction to offer their peace wherever they went.  Their peace was directly related to being a part of the kingdom of God.  Prior to this, Jesus rebuked James and John for wanting to destroy a Samaritan town with fire from heaven because the village wouldn’t receive them.  Jesus was now giving a strongly different idea about being an emissary for the kingdom of God.

Jesus sent out seventy to the surrounding area where he was about to go.  The first thing they were to do upon entering a town was to offer their peace.  If their peace was rejected, the town wasn’t rejecting them but God.  The response was not to destroy the town but to wipe off the dust from their feet.  Since God was the one being rejected, God will deal with them.

If their peace was accepted, they were to stay at that home and enjoy the hospitality offered.  The seventy were not to move from house to house.  In other words, they were not to manipulate and play one home against another for their personal benefit.  Rather they were to stay at the one place and receive the homeowners gracious hospitality.  Do you know what happens when grace is met by grace?  This is where the kingdom of God can be called near and peace is found.

The seventy returned excited over the ways that the kingdom’s presence was evidenced.  Jesus commented that he saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.  Amazing how something as simple as an offering of peace, an expression of grace can undercut the essence of evil.  What Jesus wanted them to celebrate wasn’t witnessing to the evidence of the kingdom but being secure of their place in God’s kingdom.

Does peace seem to be in short supply?  Then share your peace.  If it is received then both sides will graciously know that the kingdom of God is near.  This is truly something to celebrate.