"A Careful Read," Deanna Langle, The Christian Century, 2005. Prayer
God of unity and peace, your Son has taught us that where two or three are gathered in his name he is present in their midst and you will grant their request. Grant us a new heart to presume the goodness of every brother and sister, and a spirit sensitive to the burdens each of them bears, that by loving our neighbor as ourselves we may bear witness to that love which is the fulfilling of the law.
From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.
This passage is a passage of kindness; the fact that so many of us will read and preach on the difficult measure this passage offers as a rule may indicate more our own boundry-less and unaccountable culture.
The sinner is offered repeatedly opportunities to repent. The one who is transgressed against too must forgive the offender. The hardness of Jesus' rule, you see, is that those who follow him must be known as those who forgive - beyond all measure.
It is clear in the passage that the reason for such a boundless grace is the grace of God himself. We are to forgive as we are forgiven by God. We are to love as God has loved us.
Perhaps the problem is that as we have become less accountable for our actions to others, our hostile words, our uncaring for our neighbors, our lack of generosity, our lack of forgiveness, our lack of love for our enemies...we feel like we ourselves really don't need too much forgiving.
When we are righteous all on our own, not by action but by hiding our action and true natures, we really don't need much forgiveness or love from God.
The reality is that Jesus offers us a vision of the kingdom which seeks continuously to re-reincorporate the lost. The mission of God is clear, in forgiveness and in all things, to bring back into the fold those who are lost. Restoration, recreation, and transformation of all people is the ultimate work of the mission of Jesus Christ.
We are challenged as a church to make this our primary work. What would the world be like if every church in the Episcopal Church understood that it existed for those who were not there on Sunday morning and that their work was so to present the love and forgiveness of God that individuals would be drawn into relationship with Jesus and Jesus' church?
For Matthew excommunication, removal from the community, is not a communal action but is the result of self-imposed actions.
Life in community is to be organized by those who are the "meek and merciful" and "who know that they themselves are the unworthy recipients of God's constant mercy and forgiveness." (Allison/Davies, Matthew, 804)
So it is that ultimate removal from the community is a tragic event and that those who bind such actions will be bound themselves. Are we able to lose ourselves into heaven by living lives of forgiveness?
I think the real challenge this week is to preach on this passage. The rules and boundaries of community and the community rule of forgiveness is one not often preached. The idea that we walk by the grace of God and therefore we should rest upon such grace before seeking to hold resentments against others is a message many need to hear.
This 12 step process of Alanon and AA are a process that provides a tremendous sense of God's grace. As a reconciliation tool, the steps work to help the disciple or follower of Jesus to understand that most of the resentments we carry around in our hearts are caused not by others but by our own behaviors. What we loose and bind is always dependant upon us - not someone else.
I am struck by the idea that what Jesus seems so easily to seize upon in this passage is that if a community is completely focused upon the sins of others it will rarely be a community of integrity because it lacks the ability to see the sin rampant within and this will frustrate the work of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
A Little Bit for Everyone
Oremus Online NRSV Text
General Resources for Sunday's Lessons
Textweek Resources for this week's Gospel
Some interesting articles on this passage:
Chris Haslam's clippings blog
William Loader's First Thoughts
The Scripture: 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.”
The Lambeth Bible Study Method
This Bible study method was introduced by the African Delegation to the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church. It is known by both names: "Lambeth" and "African." This method is derived from the practice of Lectio Divina. The entire process should take about 30 minutes.
The Kaleidescope Institute has reworked the questions somewhat and can be found here.
Question #5: "Briefly identify where this passage touches their life today," can change based upon the lesson. Find lesson oriented questions at this website: http://www.dcdiocese.org/word-working-second-question
Opening Prayer: O Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. One person reads passage. This person then invites a member of the group to begin the process.
2. Each person briefly identifies the word or phrase that catches their attention then invites another person to share.
3. Each shares the word or phrase until all have shared or passed using the same invitation method.
4. The passage is read a second time, preferably from a different translation. The reader then invites a person in the group to begin the process.
5. Each person briefly identifies where this passage touches their life today, and then invites someone who has not shared yet.
6. The passage is read a third time, also from another translation, and the reader invites a person to start the process.
7. Each person responds to the questions, "What does God want me to do, to be or to change?"
8. The group stands up in a circle and holds hands. One person initiates the prayer “I thank God today for …” and “I ask God today for…” The prayer goes around the circle by squeezing the hand to your right.
9. When the circle is fulfilled, the person who initiated the prayer starts the Lord’s Prayer, “Our father..."