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.


Presence and Absence John 14:15-21

The nation is beginning to open up.  Whether this was a wise move will be shown over the next couple months.  However, the idea of getting back to some sense of normal human interaction does feel good.  Yes, there are those for whom the thought of being shut in at home with nothing to do but play video games is heaven on earth.  Yet even for them, human interaction is still needed.  We have tried drive-by waving at family.  Zoom has suddenly become an indispensable app.  They help but aren’t the same as actually being with family and friends.

Jesus is continuing his farewell address to his disciples and needless to say they are anxious and fearful.  He promised them that they would not be abandoned, orphaned. Another Counselor — the Spirit of truth — will be with them.  This Counselor will be one who comes along side and continues Jesus’ relationship with them.  If there was ever a time when we seek the assurance of God’s presence, these would be the days.  The Counselor is more than God “hanging out” with us.  The Spirit has a purpose and that is to give us the truth.  The world isn’t a fan of this truth.  Our political environment has left ‘truth’ on life support.  The truth is that we are infinitely loved by God and that includes our enemies and political foes.  The truth is Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection is the way this loving relationship is put into action.

So how do we live out this loving relationship?  Well, we do the things Jesus taught us to do.  We know what they involve…loving our neighbor…serving not ourselves and our personal interests but what is best for our neighbor.  Jesus was correct, the world wants nothing to do with the truth of a loving God.  If the world listened to the truth and followed Jesus’ commands, our current political environment would be radically transformed.

These are difficult times as we feel the loss of presence with family and friends.  These days make us wonder of God’s presence with us.  Yet, the message today is that you are loved and so is the rest of the world.  The Spirit is along side you to keep reminding you of that reality.  The way to live out this love is to show it to our neighbor so they will know that they are not alone either.


You Have Heard It Said…Matthew 5:21-37

These days I find myself stunned by the things that are said.  I am not thinking about cursing, the four letter word kind.  I am thinking about the disinformation, lying, deception, spin and so on that are being used to justify what is wrong…make corrupt appear honest…take the things we were taught to be a sin and make them seem noble instead.  Since this is an election year, I will likely be spending much of the coming year stunned by what is said.  As is the case, humanity hasn’t changed from two thousand years ago.  We have simply refined our techniques and with social media become more devious and stunning.

Jesus was still giving the Sermon on the Mount in the reading.  He tackled the prickly topics of murder, adultery, divorce and oath taking.  His listeners would have likely been stunned.  Not because of how he was able to diminish these topics and how he rationalized a way around them, rather how he intensified them and left no room for spin.  We need to remember that Jesus told of the need to be more righteous than the Pharisees and teachers of the law to enter into the kingdom of heaven.  He also said that he came not to abolish the Law and prophets but to fulfill the words spoken through them.  Righteousness was so central to the importance of relationships.

You have heard it said…do not murder.  This seems very straight forward or is it?  Murder can be more than the ceasing of physical life.  Do you know of anyone whose career was ruined by personal attacks or vengeance?  Do you know of a reputation destroyed by disinformation?  Jesus warned that even calling someone “Fool” will make you liable for the fire of hell.  Now we all know people who are difficult to get along with in life.  Yet, Jesus advised that before we come to the alter go first and reconcile with our neighbor.  How we live in our relationships is how we live out our righteousness.

You have heard it said…do not commit adultery.  You have heard it said…anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.  These two are lumped together because they arise from the same problem which is the advantages and power of men over women.  Today misogyny is still alive and prominent.  The ‘Me Too’ movement shows how little things have changed over time.  Jesus warned that it would be better to be physically maimed than to continue in such behavior and be liable to the fire of hell.  How we live in our relationships is how we live out our righteousness.

You have heard it said…do not break your oath.  Who hasn’t known the hurt of broken promises?  Who hasn’t known what it is like to have trust destroyed because a promise was never kept?  Have you ever been swindled?  Have you ever been surprised by a person/business keeping their promise?  Finding integrity can be a challenge these days.  Jesus simply stated that our in relationships with others ‘yes’ should mean ‘yes’ and our ‘no’ should mean ‘no’ because anything else comes from the evil one.  How we live in our relationships is how we live out our righteousness.

These days we might be stunned by how disinformation and spin have become normalized in life.  Yet, Jesus will have none of it.  Righteousness is demanded and it is found in how we live out our relationships.


The Word that Communicates John 1:1-18

We communicate through all sorts of ways.  A smile, scowl, hand gesture, ‘the look’, emoji, act of kindness are all ways that we can communicate to others.  These help convey emotions like anger, joy or frustration but are limited.  We use medium like Twitter, smartphone, Facebook, email, YouTube, texting, etc. to help us in passing on news and ideas to others.  These medium have no power without the use of simple, basic words.  The use of words is how we communicate with each other.  Noun, verb, adverb, tense, etc. are how we fully express ourselves and relate to others.

The opening verses to the Gospel of John tell us about someone called the Word.  We are told that from the very beginning the Word was with God and was God.  Furthermore, all of creation came into being through this Word.  If we want to know about God, then the Word is the noun, verb, adverb, tense, etc. expressing God’s nature to us and relationship with us.  So who or what is this Word?

Well, even though we owe our very existence to the Word, we have rejected it.  The law which Moses passed down we love to call and use as God’s Word to control and berate others.  However, the Word is grace upon grace and truth.  To the darkness of the world with its revenge, assassinations, violence and slavery, the Word is a light that shines of life and the darkness won’t extinguish it.  Social media may be used to attack, degrade our humanity, demand perfection that is unattainable but belief (a gift from the Holy Spirit) in the name of the Word gives us the capacity to be declared children of God.  Once again, who or what is this Word?

Well, words are used to communicate.  The Word is God in the flesh come to be with us.  The Word is God showing to us what humanity was created to be.  The Word has come to be a light that exposes our darkness.  The Word is what took our rejection and murderous cross so that we could know the grace upon grace that raises life out of death.

John the Baptist stood alongside the Jordan River and pointed out Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Jesus is this Word that is the full expression of God to us.  So if you want to know the truth of God’s nature, look to the words of the Gospel of John as they continue to point to Jesus.


A Different Vision of Life Luke 20:27-38

How does the idea of resurrection affect the way we live out our lives?  Maybe we look only to a future life and overlook the here and now.  Maybe we don’t believe in a resurrection and the whole idea seems ridiculous.  However if we are willing to rethink our concepts of God and the power of God, life is given a new perspective.  Jesus tells us that God is a God of the living.  In the power of God, even those who have died are alive to him.  This power of God has the capacity to not only change thoughts of life lived in the future but also in the present as well.

Jesus was being challenged by the Sadducees about the resurrection.  They were closely aligned to the Temple in Jerusalem and held firmly to the Torah – first five books of the Bible.  Since no mention is made of the resurrection, then it isn’t a possibility.  The Sadducee saw the work of God to bring justice as limited by the parameters of the Torah.  Jesus challenged them to widen their views on the power of God.

The Sadduccees tried to show the concept of resurrection as ridiculous.  They used the teaching that if a man died childless, his widow was to marry the man’s brother.  A child born would then carry on the name, the life, of the deceased man.  If this man had seven brothers who all died without a child with this woman, who would she belong to in the resurrection?  While this arrangement did help protect the widow in a male dominated society, it also highlighted the understanding of a woman’s life from a purely biological value.  Her purpose was to produce children that carried on the man’s life.

Thousands of years have gone by and women are still looked upon in many ways from a biological viewpoint to serve men.  Not having children is looked down upon.  Choosing not to have children is thought of as strange.  So Jesus’ teaching about the resurrection is radical.  God is a God of the living and we are children of the resurrection which means our relationships are based upon this God of the living.  Jesus’ death and resurrection changed everything.  Relationships are more than biological arrangements.  A woman has greater purpose than to carry on a man’s name through a child.  A child is of greater value than the mere continuation of a legacy.  Serving God in ways that foster and enhance life to flourish in God’s good creation goes beyond human reproduction.

So Jesus’ words with the Sadducees about the resurrection left them either praising him for his wisdom or reluctant to challenge him again.  How does the idea of the resurrection affect the way we live out our lives?  If we have children we are blessed to be children of the resurrection.  Raise those children for who they are, children of the resurrection.  If we don’t have children because of choice or infertility,  we are blessed to be children of the resurrection.  The resurrection really does have a way of changing everything.


More Faith, Please! Luke 17:5-10

This past week Amber Guyger was sentenced to prison for the shooting death of Botham Jean.  By now, many of us have seen the picture of Botham’s younger brother, Brandt, give her a forgiving hug at the sentencing.  We find Brandt’s act of grace inspiring.  What an amazing act of faith to show the redemptive nature of forgiveness.  Deep down we wonder how we would respond if we were forced to face the same experience.  Would our faith hold up in the same way?

The reading begins with the apostles asking Jesus, “Increase our faith!”  Jesus tells them if they had the faith of a small mustard seed, they could command a mulberry tree to be  uprooted and planted in the sea and it would obey.  So often we look at faith as having the power to accomplish great things.  The reality is that we need faith more for ordinary life.  “Increase our faith!” is the plea as we work to be supportive of a family member having a terminal illness.  “Increase my faith!” is the plea if facing that terminal illness.  “Increase our faith!” is also the prayer as we try to forgive when our ego has been bruised.

Jesus had just warned the apostles about sin that gets in the way of another person’s faith.  If another sins against you seven times in one day and repents, and asks for forgiveness each time, forgive them.  This is where the apostles ask for more faith.  Jesus went on to say that this is simply doing what is expected of us.  An act of faith is more than accomplishing dynamic moments to awe others.  Faith is doing the hard work of restoring a broken friendship.  Faith is moving beyond the bruised ego to accept another person’s repentance.  Faith is so much a part of living out relationships.  Our relationship with God was so central in Jesus’ teaching, crucifixion and resurrection.

How was Brandt Jean capable of showing such grace in that forgiving hug with Amber Guyger?  Faith.  Thankfully, few of us are put in situations where faith is challenged like the Jean family.  Yet, each day we face situations where forgiveness is needed and broken relationships restored.  Restoration and the redemption of relationships is so much a part of following Christ.  For each and everyday, “Increase our faith” needs to be our prayer.




The Value of One Luke 15:1-10

I have always liked the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin.  They describe the passionate desire of God to reach out to one and all, even me.  A shepherd has one of the flock wandering off.  Leaving the remaining ninety-nine, the shepherd searches high and low until it is found.  A party is held to celebrate.  A woman loses a coin and searches the house from top to bottom until it is found.  A party is held to celebrate.  It is comforting to know that God values the one enough to face a cross, a grave, to have me securely in his kingdom.  The great sadness is that I am more like the Pharisees muttering over Jesus’ behavior.

Jesus is being criticized.  This was not unusual.  The complaint was his willingness to socialize and eat with sinners.  If Jesus did this, it meant that he accepted them.  No self respecting authority on the Scriptures would allow themselves to be ‘tainted’ by association with sinners, would they?  Jesus did.  He socialized with them.  He ate with them.  He welcomed them.  He celebrated their return as active citizens of God’s kingdom.  We could learn a lot from Jesus.

We seem to be obsessed with division.  We are determined to maintain the ‘purity’ of our beliefs and not be ‘tainted’ by association with others.  The result is we accuse, nasty Tweet, undercut, spread lies, shun, etc.  However if we follow Christ, we follow the God who is relentless until even the ‘one’ is restored in his kingdom.  Jesus’ example would have the liberal and conservative stop the attacks and eat together.  The white and black put away the distrust and eat together.  The Christian and Muslim put away the fear and eat together.  Radical behavior like this would be a tremendous threat to those holding power by keeping the divisions alive.  In Jesus, we see God willing to face the cross, the grave and finally rise from death to defeat those powers and for us all to know the true power of his kingdom.  The kingdom of God is where a great celebration is held for sinners who repent (this is all of us).  So you see there really is value even of one.  The end result is we get to party together.


What??? Jesus is anti-family Luke 14:25-35

The words of Jesus are harsh, maybe too harsh for our ears to hear.  Family is so central to what we are in life.  What politician doesn’t carry the banner of being pro-family?  Any organization seeking new members wants to be seen as supportive of family and uses family events as part of their recruitment efforts.  Family Values may be a rallying cry but families do struggle trying to hold all things together.  The addiction to screen time on the phone takes away family attentiveness to each other.  Sports teams and other activities pull families in different directions trying to keep up with loyalty demands.  Now Jesus is talking about hating family…hating life…the need to take up our cross to be his disciple…sell all possessions to be his disciple.

Jesus is inviting one and all to sit down and sort through the demands of discipleship.  He is asking us to weigh the consequences of choosing a different way of life that he is modeling for us.  The current way of life is consumed with possessions.  We possess the things we purchase.  We think we can possess people by seeking to control spouse, children, parents, etc.  Life is something we assume that can be owned.  In the end, we are possessed by things we think we control.  This we call life.  However, Jesus is telling us to give up possessions.

Jesus is inviting us to a different way of life called discipleship.  Jesus is personally on his way to Jerusalem where he will find a cross in his future.  The cross meant death for him in this world’s terms but to the glory of the Father, Jesus was raised to life in God’s terms.  Jesus is telling us we must also take up the cross if we are to find life in God’s terms as well.

Will this cause a scowl as the phone is put down?  Absolutely.  Will there be division in the family over priorities?  Of course.  Is the coach going to be angry?  You bet.  Are you going to reconsider job and career goals?  Very likely.  Are you going to examine how you participate and support the ways that bring about injustice or violence to others or creation?  For sure.  How about ‘hating’ the ways of this world to know life as God gives — this is the cost that must be considered.

Jesus’ words are harsh to hear regarding the cost of discipleship.  Yet to take up the cross is to discover family and life in a whole new way — God’s terms.  For this, we must all weigh the cost.


Social Etiquette Luke 14:1, 7-14

If you have ever been to a wedding reception, you know that there are assigned seats for guests at the meal.  The main table is reserved for the wedding couple and their wedding attendants.  Closer tables are reserved for the immediate family.  There is nothing unusual here.  This is how formal dinners function.  The seats of greater honor are determined by relationship (family, business, etc.) to the host.  If you don’t want to be embarrassed, then don’t sit in the wrong seat of importance.

Jesus was invited to a meal at a prominent Pharisee’s home.  He recognized that the guests sat according to relationship with the host.  Jesus then gave some advice on social etiquette.  Don’t take a seat too high in status or you’ll be asked to take a lower seat, wouldn’t that be embarrassing?  Instead take a lower place and when moved up, you’ll be honored.  His advice wasn’t surprising, this is how our social connections work.  We socialize with people like us.  We use formal social events to get attention, conduct business, further spread our networking and define our place.  Nothing unusual here.  Then Jesus used the dinner party to get theological.  He gave advice for social etiquette for the Kingdom of heaven.

When having a party, don’t invite guests that will build your business or define your status in the community.  Instead, invite the poor and crippled and lame and blind.  The very people who have nothing to offer in return.  Why?  They are people of value in God’s kingdom.  Jesus takes our understanding of how relationships work and flips them upside down.  Under God’s reign, relationships aren’t about using others for our gain but for grace to be shown.  This is how our relationship with God is expressed, by how we live life now under his rules defining value.  At the ‘resurrection of the righteous,’ God will decide the positions of honor at heaven’s banquet.  Once more, Jesus takes life in a totally different direction by his teaching and how he lived life by the kingdom.