The absence of love cracks the fabric of reality and our relationships. How do we speak to each other about our failures and ask those who are being destructive to look at what they’re doing? Hear some of Jesus’s teaching on this question. Preached @ St. Peter’s Comox September 10, 2017.
God says to Ezekiel:
“When I say to the wicked ‘O wicked man, you will surely die’ and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin and I will hold you accountable”
So I happened to be playing scrabble when I got the text message telling me I would preaching this morning. The people I was playing with were taking a long time to make their moves and so I slipped off to grab a bible to check out the readings. As I read this passage of Ezekiel my heart let off a literal groan.
Surely that’s not what you mean God, right?
And so I tried to exegete myself out of my discomfort. God’s command to Ezekiel is particular to his role as a prophet to God’s people in exile, and the wickedness given voice is not that seen with his eyes, but wickedness named by the Word of God for which Ezekiel is but a mouthpiece. Good, phew, dodged that bullet right?
But then I turned to the gospel where Jesus commands: “If your brother sins go and show him his fault.” Alright then Jesus, you’re the boss and I’m not.
There are few things in this life more uncomfortable than naming to someone else their sin. But Jesus does not call us into comfort, at least not as the world understands it. And therefore since we are obedient-ish followers of Jesus, we have the pleasure of exploring the question of how we are as Christians to address each others’ brokenness.
Let us begin by naming the fact that it is uncomfortable. Nobody enjoys the hard work of seeing how what’s going on in their own heart is hurting themselves and those around them.
Its beautiful how Jesus begins. If your brother sins Jesus says. We don’t show faults to those whom we don’t love. In fact this teaching arises immediately after the parable of the lost sheep. Our God is a God who loves us so much that he would leave the ninety-nine sheep that are with him to return to himself one who wandered off. God delights in the return of the lost. It is out of this delight, this yearning, this desire of God that we ought to speak if we are to name a fault to one whom we love. The love we bare for them is to be rooted in the desire God has for them.
And this can be hard because sin cracks at the fabric of our community: with it comes pain, with it comes anger, with it comes division. We are not to speak out of our pain, or out of our anger, or out of our division, but out of God’s desire. Remember the parable of the man who points out a splinter in his neighbour’s eye while not seeing the log in his own. Everything that we perceive we see out of who we are. This is why we examine ourselves to see where our longing and our desires, our emptiness and our understandings shape what we see. We can not ask another to examine themselves if we aren’t examining ourselves. We need to distinguish what we perceive to be our sibling’s brokenness from what’s going on in our own hearts.
I think this is a huge part of why Jesus instructs the disciples to breach the subject privately, that candidly between each other two brothers in Christ might see what is breaking their common unity in God’s love. Quietness and the absence of an audience removes occasion for pride from getting in the way of an honest and loving encounter where our hearts are searched. You see why this work can not be done between two who do not have love for each other, it is vulnerable, it is painful, it requires humility and patience, it requires God’s help.
If this proves fruitless and the division of the community is not here ended neither is the work abandoned. For our destiny my friends is a shared destiny. We are called brothers and sisters for Jesus welcomes us as heirs of the kingdom to share in a common inheritance. Our destiny and our reality is defined by the light of that presence. We are called to be together with our shepherd. For the one debt that is meant to be outstanding is the debt we have to abide together in love.
And so Jesus instructs the disciples to bring other witnesses to discuss the matter. He uses the exact wording from Deuteronomy 19:15 which says that one witness is not enough to convict someone. Two or three are necessary and they must investigate the matter thoroughly. The law goes on to say this all is that evil is purged from among the people God has called into holiness. Jesus’s hope in bringing others into the discussion the man who refuses to examine his wickedness might open his ears and hear what those who love him are saying.
Holiness. Our desire here is holiness. Hear the cry of the psalmist. The desire in the psalm is that the Lord himself might teach our hearts to follow God’s Word. It is a cry for obedience, it is a cry for understanding. The psalmists ask God to turn his heart, to turn his eyes, that what he sees, and what he does, and what he desires is according to the Word. For in the Word of God is righteousness and in righteousness is life. This is what is at the root of the Creation story. The Lord spoke, and it was created, and it was ordered, and it was good. Outside of his Word is nothing but chaos and emptiness. The hope that we have in Christ is that the Word of life might sing out in our hearts themselves the song that begins “Let there be light.” This is what we are called into, a community that together casts off the deeds of darkness, dressing in the armour of light looking forward to the kingdom that is near and is even now breaking forth.
And so even if a brother after being met by two or three witnesses together pursuing in him the desire the Lord has for him and the shared righteousness they’re called to refuses to listen the matter is not over. It is to be brought to the assembly. There the whole community might appeal to the heart of the lost sheep that together they might be joined in righteousness and love. And if this fails is it over? No, even then he is to be as a tax-collector and pagan to them. That is to say that though their common unity is broken, the church is to desire for the lost still reunion with the community that they might share with the communion of saints in that which is worth more than all this world’s treasure. So unbroken is God’s desire for the broken to become whole in him that he immediately instructs the disciples after this to forgive not seven times but seven times seventy times.
For the vision of reconciliation here is the Eucharistic vision. We are called to orient our whole selves, our souls and bodies, not to that which satisfies our vanity or our pride, not to that which satisfies our loneliness and lust, not to that which satisfies our comfort and ease, no. We are called to a feast far greater than such things, we are called to the banquet of Jesus coming into his kingdom, we are called to feast on love and see with our own eyes the light of eternity. Let us now approach that feast, offering up our hearts and our lives to the new creation which is being born now in us.