Caution Contents Are Hot 9-10-17

Contents HotIn this sermon, based on Matthew 18:15-20, I explore Jesus’ odd little teaching about how to deal with sin among believers. In the end, we need to remember that its not about punishment, its about reconciliation.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
(note that I post the manuscript, though sometimes I go off script, so there might be some differences with the audio)

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

I often joke that we should have three sacraments. Two of them are obvious as they actually are the sacraments, baptism and communion…but the third one…the one that I jokingly propose…is coffee.  Its wonderful…its one of those things that I cite as evidence that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

But that being said, I also believe that there are crimes that are, all too often, committed against coffee. I learned the first one at a young age…as I learned from my father…if you want a cup of cream and sugar, don’t ask for coffee.  We drink that stuff straight up. (pause)

Now the second crime has only come on the scene in the past few years…a travesty that you can find in any local coffee shop…(pained) Iced Coffee. I mean, what’s the point? Coffee is supposed to be hot…its supposed to be steamy and wonderful…you are supposed to pick up a hot mug of coffee and cup it in your hands on a cold morning just to warm them up…that is the nature of coffee…bitter and black and hot…as God intended it. (pause) And so that being said…you can about imagine my response every time a get a to-go cup and read “Caution, contents are hot.”  DUH!!!!!

It always strikes me as stupid…a waste of ink in the printing…a waste in production value just to print on the cup to watch out because the Coffee you ordered is hot…But that being said, most of you sitting out there probably know why its on there…because all we have to do is think back in the news about a dozen years to the story of the woman who went through the McDonalds drive thru, got a coffee…spilled it all over herself and then…successfully…sued McDonalds for not warning her that the coffee was hot. (Facepalm)

How many warning signs…or instructions are in place because of something like this? How many common sense things need to be spelled out because someone wasn’t paying attention? And perhaps the big question…what does this have to do with Jesus words out of Matthew for today? (pause)
I bring this up…because it seems that Jesus is actually offering a bit of instruction here…a how-to guide when they are faced with a situation within the assembly.  Now we could argue that this is a bit on the strange side, as the church that Jesus seems to be referencing didn’t really exist yet…but make no mistake…its referring to something that common sense should tell us is a no brainer…sin among the people. (pause)

Now I wonder…is this a familiar instruction to us? I mean, its laid out pretty nicely…step by step…Step 1…if your brother or sister sins against you, go speak to them in private…if they listen to you…if they repent, rejoice…for you have regained that one…and the instruction is complete.  If they do not…continue to step two. (pause)

Step two…take one or two others along with you, so that they may confirm the words that you say to your brother or sister. If they listen to you and your witnesses…if they repent, rejoice, for you have regained that one…and the instruction is complete. If they do not…continue to step three. (pause)
Step three…tell the church…make it public…if they repent, rejoice…for you have regained that one…and the instruction is complete. If they do not…continue to step 4…Step 4….treat them like a Gentile and tax collector. (pause) Hmmm…there is no step 5 is there? (pause)

I’m guessing you’ve heard this. In fact…this passage has the distinction of being included in just about every church constitution that has come and gone…and it deals with a very real thing…sinfulness…brokenness. In short…the reality of our flawed humanity…even within the church.

Now admittedly, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in our congregation’s constitution, and sure enough…Chapter 15, Discipline of Members and Adjudication…section 15.01…and I quote…Prior to disciplinary action, reconciliation will be attempted following Matthew 18:15-17. (pause)

It may have been odd that Jesus had to lay out step by step instructions for the event of sin occurring between his followers…but yet 2000 years later…we still follow those guidelines. (pause) And so I pose the question…how can this be?

This is the church…this is the body of Christ on earth, called…united…and empowered by the Holy Spirit…so why would we need to hear this…why would Jesus need call attention to it? (pause) Anyone remember why “Caution, contents are hot” is printed on a coffee cup? Its there to remind us of the reality of the world. Coffee is hot…and people sin against one another…even in the church…shocking though that might be.

But here’s the thing…often times when this passage gets thrown around…I fear its being used as a weapon…here’s what you do…talk to them first…but then get people on your side…and if you can’t shame them into repentance then kick them out. (pause) But if that’s how we hear this portion of scripture then I think we need to back up and reconsider.

Whoever was responsible to producing our current constitution that was ratified and adopted by our congregation in 2005 stated it pretty well…listen to these words again. Prior to disciplinary action, reconciliation will be attempted…Reconciliation is the key…and it is the goal.

We do not hear these words of Jesus and utilize them as a checklist that we have to go through in order to take revenge on someone who has wronged us…the whole point here is to be reconciled…and Jesus even says that…if your brother or sister listens to you…YOU HAVE REGAINED THAT ONE…and that, is worth celebrating.

In fact, Jesus has been talk about this very thing…chapter 18 is full of it…right before this brief portion…he tells a story about a shepherd with 100 sheep…and one goes missing…so he leaves the 99, defying logic…and he searches high and low till he finds the one that’s lost, and he brings it back…and why would he do this?  (pause) Because the flock isn’t full…its not complete…its not as it is intended to be without every single one of them accounted for and included. And when the one that is lost is returned…they celebrate. (pause)

The theme continues too…because right after this Peter asks how many times we need to forgive one who sins against us…even as many 7…and Jesus says no…but seven times seven…He might as well be telling Peter that you forgive him as many times as he repents…and there is no limit.

But if we think about his instructions…that if our brother or sister refuses to listen even to the entire church, then it almost seems like we’re supposed to kick them out right? Treat them like a Gentile and a tax collector? (pause)

But now consider who Jesus was often spending time with…consider the company that often drew criticism from the elite…people like Gentiles…people like Tax collectors? (pause) Maybe what Jesus is telling us here is that if an individual can’t even hear the truth from the church…then we need to start over with them…they need to be treated as one who has yet to hear the gospel…because the opportunity for repentance is not a nice tidy 4 step process that either works or is discarded. Its ongoing…because the brokenness that resides within each of us is ongoing as well…even as we live in peace with God through the gift of his grace, we know that each of us is simultaneously saint and sinner. Fully forgiven and yet fully broken…and because of this fully capable of harming one another…while also fully capable of offering the mercy which has been shown to us. (pause)

Here’s the thing…Jesus has told us that the kingdom of heaven has come near to us…even that it is among us…but when we see or feel or experience that brokenness that is also still present…we realize that there are things in our reality that are standing in the way of the kingdom of heaven coming into fruition now.

Because whatever it is that the kingdom of heaven is…or will be…I believe this about it…everything that is “in the kingdom” will exist in line with God’s will…whatever that looks like…and that which is outside of God’s will…which includes the brokenness and pain that exists within us and between us…that will somehow cease to be.  Now that’s not the case yet is it?

But we are given the opportunity to live in a way that reflects the reality of the kingdom in how we treat one another…how we act towards one another…how we act towards God…how we act towards this world that we have been given…We have been given the ability to mirror the love and grace and mercy of God right here right now….and even though brokenness still exists, we are invited to participate in the coming of the kingdom of heaven…every…single…moment.

Now to live in this reality is to seek out reconciliation. Because brokenness is still here…and pain is still a reality and we harm one another, even in the church…I think Jesus was well aware of that.

And so, as we hear, wherever two or three are gathered, Jesus is there among them…because wherever two or three are gathered…brokenness will follow…but with the presence of Christ…with the power of the Holy Spirit…the opportunity for reconciliation is also there.

That’s what Jesus came to do in the first place…In Jesus, God is reconciling all the world…all of the brokenness…all of the pain…all of the hurt…all of it. Now it might not be finished yet…but through Christ…God is inviting all of us to come along for the ride. And we are reminded, to be reconciled.  Today we are reminded that if another sins against us, we should seek to be reconciled…and earlier Jesus tells us the opposite…that if we have harmed another that we should seek to be reconciled.

So if he’s covering both sides of the reconciliation coin…I guess it doesn’t really matter who sinned against who…just be reconciled…for it is only when we are included…it is only when we are all present and accounted for…that the flock is how it is intended to be…and all the world will rejoice when that is finally a reality. Amen.

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