Wanna Change the World? Try Forgiveness.

Proper 18 (23) - September 6, 2020
- Ezekiel 33:7-11
- Psalm 119:33-40
- Romans 13:8-14
- Matthew 18:15-20

Wanna Change the World? Try Forgiveness

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

We go from picking up your cross and following Jesus to instructions on living in community with one another.  This theme that Matthew has us on, very much resembles our normal, every day lives as Christians.  Jesus/Matthew is not making this stuff up.  Matthew knows what it means to live in community and the struggles it can produce.  So, Matthew put together a guide for his the members of his congregation to follow as they live in this very screwed up, messed up, yet beautiful world.  Living in the world is tough.  Living in a community can be tough.  Being in community can sometimes feel like bearing a cross. But being in community with each other is what our Lord intended and wanted for us.  

  Community life is hard.  Anyone who has ever lived with someone else knows what I am talking about.  I felt like I was on an episode of the odd couple in seminary living with my good friend, Robbie.  Sometimes our relationship of living together was complicated.  Learning to live with someone else is one of the hardest things for newly married couples face during their first couple years of marriage.  When my roommate drove me crazy, I would go into my room and shut the door or I would leave the apartment.  That doesn't work for my wife.  I walk out and she is usually throwing a frying pan at me to get back inside and take care of the kids and our relationship.  I never knew how hard marriage could be, particularly living with another person, could be until I got married and I had other roommates before.  No longer could I ignore the problems, ignore what was bothering.  I learned as many married couples do, that it takes work and communication in order to live in any kind of harmony, and even then, harmony is not always achieved. Living in community with others takes work.  It takes work to keep our community of faith together.

It takes hard, hard, hard work for us to live in some kind of harmony.  It takes communication.  It takes time.  It takes love.  When you come into this place, you are not coming into something crafted by human hands, but molded and formed by God.  We don't gather because of this building, we gather because of the community that God established on this corner in Martinsburg.  

God knows we will not always be perfect.  You put two people in a room and sooner or later, they are going to find something they disagree with—just ask Diane.  Now imagine putting together 100-150 people all from different backgrounds, different family structures, different educational backgrounds. Keeping a community together like a church, like our community, is a full-time job.  But we are different.  We are God’s people and therefore we must learn to forgive if we are ever going to have a chance to hold this community together. 

Forgiveness is radical in its nature.  Offering Forgiveness, according to the world, is something that weak people do.  You never want to apologize first because it will make you look weak. You never offer forgiveness because it takes power away from you and gives it to the person who wrongs you.  We, as Christians are called to practice radical hospitality—we are called to offer forgiveness.

You know, there is a buzz phrase in the church—“radical hospitality."  You hear it all the time among some circles in the church.  Radical hospitality has come to mean doing whatever is necessary to welcome people into church—change everything, even your identity in-order to welcome to everyone.  Leave behind century of traditions and rules in the vain hope of maybe keeping someone in our congregation.  In preparing for this sermon, I came across many who thought this passage from Matthew 18 fit into their theological framework to offer their view of radical hospitality.

Jesus is calling us into "radical hospitality" but the radicalness is far bigger than just making change for the sake of making a change in how we do things.  Radical hospitality does not involve changing or eliminating the liturgy in the hope of welcoming a few newcomers. It does not involve changing our mission to be more flashy, glitzy, or edgy in the hopes of attracting a few more members is not what Jesus is imagining.  Jesus wants us to be radical by doing what nobody else does—confessing ones offensives and then offering forgiveness. 

"The reason forgiveness is so important is simple: we screw up. Whether out of insecurity, bad training, habit or simply because we sin daily; we all too often put our wants, needs, and desires ahead of those of others. We hurt the people around us and they hurt us. There is not a single person here who has not been hurt in some way by another individual and at the same time, who hasn’t also been hurt someone else. That’s just life in this world. We screw up. Which means forgiveness is perhaps the essential ingredient in keeping our community, something that our Lord desired, in tact.”

Matthew makes it very clear: Being a Christian means we confess our sins and then receive forgiveness.  If we go through this life thinking we don’t need confession or never offer forgiveness, we are no different from the world.  Christians are different.  We confess our sins, we seek out forgiveness, we offer absolution. Martin Luther said in the Large Catechsim, “if you are a Christian you should be glad to run more than a hundred miles for confession, not under compulsion but that coming and compelling us to offer it.”  Christians, by our very nature, cannot hold a grudge against each other.  That is what makes us so radically different.  

Imagine if we didn't hold grudges in this community.  Imagine if we didn't let grudges shape who we are.  Imagine if we were known as the community that is so radically different from the world because we forgave each other.  

Offering forgiveness to someone is a hard thing to do.  The world sees it as a weakness—the world says you should never back down, that you should stand your ground, fight to the bitter end and never look back.  What if we showed the world that there is a different way to live and it is available to them in this community?  What if we practice radical hospitality and offered forgiveness with no string attached?  That they can come to a place, screw up, say the wrong things, do the wrong things and we still say, "We forgive you...I forgive you."  In some ways, it is not hard to imagine a community like this because we do these very things all the time—we offer forgiveness to one another all the time, but we can always strive to do more—we can always strive to be more radical.

My brothers and sisters, be fearless in this regard.  Speak the truth in love and offer forgiveness when possible.  This is the cross we need to begin to bear.  Jesus was fearless when it came to forgiving others and speaking the truth in love.  That fearless attitude radically change the world, but it ultimately lead him to a cross.  Because he forgave, because he spoke truth to power, because he practiced radical hospitality—the world crucified him. And the world might crucify you as well, but our Lord did not stay dead for all that long.  The world might crucify and try to overcome you with death for showing forgiveness, but Jesus knows a thing or two about overcoming a cross.  

Your task this week is to practice radical hospitality by offer forgiveness.  Do this and the world will take notice.  The world will see your actions and will take notice.  And they might call you weak.  The world might even try to throw you on a cross.  However, “Jesus promises not to desert his disciples as they face that difficult truth and practice living more fully into the communities that God calls into being. After all, he is present wherever two or three are gathered in his name, a name that means “God with us,” who saves people from their sins (Matthew 1:21, 23). The power for his followers to be transformed is available for the asking, as promised. “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” (Matthew 18:18).”  My brothers and sisters, do you want to change the world? Be a radical—offer forgiveness.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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