“On Going Love” — A Sermon on Matthew 18:15-20

While preparing this message, I came upon a poem entitled, “The Perfect Church.”  The author is unknown but there is nothing unfamiliar about the poem’s content.  The poem goes like this:

I think that I shall never see

A church that’s all it ought to be;

A church whose members never stray

Beyond the straight and narrow way!

A church that has no empty pews,

Whose pastor never has the blues,

A church whose deacons (elders) always deak (seek)

And none is proud, and all are meek;

Where gossips never peddle lies,

Or make complaints and criticize;

Where all are always sweet and kind

And to all others’ faults are blind.

Such perfect churches there may be,

But none of them are known to me.

But still we’ll work and pray and plan

To make our own the best we can.

(Deffner, For Example, p. 49)

Does the poem ring a bell?  Do you know of a congregation or pastor that is perfect?  What congregation is without its problems and challenges?  None that I know of!  Why is that?  Could it have something to do with the fact that even though we are forgiven of our sin by our Saviour’s shed blood that all of us still struggle with a sinful self which tends to make us stubborn, selfish, squabblers, sarcastic, sinister, scandalous, and senseless?  As a result of our sinfulness we all tend to experience internal squirmishes within our soul, but all too often some people slide down a slippery slope that leads further and further away from the saving grace of our Saviour until finally they enter into a spiritual slumber.

Although I had fun stringing these “S” sentences together, there is nothing comical about seeing fellow brothers and sisters in Christ subtly and sometimes not so slowly, straying from the Lord into some unrepentant sin.  As you look around this sanctuary are there people missing who once populated these pews?  It hurts, doesn’t it … esp. when some of those people are family and friends?

No doubt you have heard of, or sung the hymn, “Rock of Ages” but have you ever heard of a painting by that same name?   In this “Rock of Ages” painting a cross is anchored in a mammoth rock which is in the midst of turbulent waters. A woman is clinging to the cross anchored in this rock for her dear life.  The striking feature of this painting though is that the woman is also grasping onto another person so that person would not die.

The point of the painting and the theme of our sermon text is that God desires that everyone be saved.  Therefore our Lord desires that we watch out for one another.  And, when we see someone, esp. a Christian brother/sister, beginning to travel down the slippery slope of sin and further and further away from God that we grab onto them and attempt to draw them back to the Rock of Ages, Jesus Christ! 

Just previous to this text, Jesus told the story of the Shepherd who left 99 sheep to find one lost sheep.  Jesus said, “If a man owns a 100 sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the 99 on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?  And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the 99 that did not wander off.  In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any should be lost.” (Matt. 18:11-14)    

“Your Father in heaven is not willing that any should be lost.”  God has but one will: to save people, including you and me!   The Good Shepherd gave his life for us!  The Shepherd died for us. Jesus’ singular focus was to do his Father’s will which meant embracing death and His Father’s wrath. God’s singular will is to seek and save us which he did in baptism and his continued presence in our lives through his Word and Holy Supper.     

So, let me repeat: God has but one will: to save people … including those who once belonged to his fold but who wandered away from him. Just as the shepherd left the 99 to find the lost sheep so our Good Shepherd exhorts all of us to become “shepherds” – to leave the cozy confines of our comfortable pews and our living room Lazy-Boy chairs to search and find the sheep that have wandered away from the fold. Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.” (15)

But you say, “Pastor Schaeffer, isn’t that what we pay our pastor to do?  He’s so much better at it than I am.”  But I counter, “Jesus doesn’t say, ‘Pastor’s, go and rebuke.” He says, “If you brother sins against you, you go …”.  Truth be told … there are people in this congregation and community that you are best suited to find. 

But you say, “But no one in this congregation has sinned against me. They have just chosen not to come to church anymore.”  Is that really true?  In turning to the false gods of this world have they not only spurned your heavenly Father and you?  If one part of the Body hurts does not all the Body hurt?  If one person is lost should you not leave the 99 to find that one?

“But they know where the church is!  We haven’t moved!  They can find their way back to us!”  That’s true.  They may know where the church is, and yes, accident victims know where the hospital is too, but accident victims still need paramedics to come, bandage them and take them to the hospital to be treated.  God warned Ezekiel and all believers, “When you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked man from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood.” (Ez. 33:8)      

For these reasons and others, Jesus urges, “Go and show him his fault” but note, Jesus adds, “just between the two of you.”  We’re not to go to other members and gossip, “Psst, did you hear that so and so …”.  No, initially this matter is between the two of you.      

Notice also that you go as “brother to brother or sister to sister.”   An old sage counseled, “Be kind, everyone is fighting a battle.”  Be not quick to judge.  Things from the outside can look a lot different when you are on the inside taking a closer look.  In Galatians 6:1-2a St. Paul counsels, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin you who are spiritual should restore him gently.  But watch out lest you also be tempted.  Carry each other’s burdens.”  Someone has said, “People judge you by your actions, not your intentions. You may have a heart of gold but so has a hard-boiled egg.” So, as you go to another person you leave your own self-righteous attitude at the foot of the cross and go with Christ’s compassion beating in your heart.

Jesus says that the purpose of going to the erring/lost brother and sister is to win them back … not to drive them further away from Christ. 

On Friday night, we had a fire in our neighbourhood.  One of the preliminary explanations for the fire was that a gas can full of gas had exploded because it was under pressure for too long.  The gas heated and ignited.  If, at some point, someone in that house had turned the nozzle loose and released the pressure, the fire would have probably been prevented. 

Sometimes going and visiting wandering, slumbering members is like releasing the nozzle of a gas can!  We release building tension/resentment/hurt feelings by letting them vent.  We often prevent an explosion when, as brothers and sisters in Christ, when sins are confessed and forgiveness in Christ proclaimed.  Ultimately, we want to lead them to the cross … the same cross where we see God’s ongoing love for us!  We want to lead people back to the Lord’s Supper so that with us they can receive God’s assurance that their sins are forgiven.  We want them to bury their past in Christ’s grave and live as children of the resurrection. Someone has said, “God’s forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” 

What should be our attitude towards those who do not repent?  Do we throw our hands up in the air and exclaim, “I give up!”?  No, Jesus says, that we are to take two or three mature Christians with us.  If the person still refuses to repent then we are to treat him/her as a pagan and tax collector.  One pastor I heard preach on this text said, “But remember how Jesus treated the pagan and tax collector … he loved them and reached out to them calling them to repent and believe in Him as their Saviour!”  God’s Ongoing love!!!  

God’s ongoing love … it’s what we experience daily.  God’s ongoing love is what compels us to seek and save the lost.  Redeemer isn’t perfect but living in God’s ongoing love and forgiveness we can say,

I think that I shall never see

A church that’s all it ought to be;

A church whose members never stray

Beyond the straight and narrow way!

But still we’ll work and pray and plan

To make our own the best we can.

 Amen.

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