September 20, 2020: 16th Sunday of Pentecost

Dear Savior, today re-instruct us how to handle difficult issues with difficult people.  Teach us to be honest, truthful, kind, caring, and to always speak the truth to them in love.  For in the end, that’s the only way to save lives and to save souls.  Amen


TEXT:  Matthew 18: 15-20

Dearly Beloved in Christ:

          With the advent of Covid and the attendant lockdowns, quarantines, and masks; we’ve become a rather short-fused nation.   People have been bottled-up in their houses, and so they’ve bottled up their emotions.  Then, suddenly something or someone triggers it all and it comes pouring out in a non-elegant fashion.  From a theological point of view, it reveals the fact that sin has a safe-harbor in all of our hearts. Many years ago a black man was beaten by the police in LA.  His name was Rodney King and his beating sparked riots.  I recall him saying: “Can’t we all just get along?”  The current answer for many seems to be: No.

          Some people are aggressive and pushy by nature.  It’s not fun to be around them.  Others are more timid and quiet.  Then there’s the passive-aggressive folks.  They lash out and pop off around those they believe will take their abuse.  This kind of behavior is on the rise for obvious reasons.  They bottle up everything inside and then spew it out when someone says or does something that triggers them.  It makes them feel better for the moment but hurts those suffering such abuse.  Guard against it, my friends.  For Christ taught us a better way.

          The church is not immune from such outbursts either.  So here Christ tells us how to handle such sin, and that’s what it is.  Unchecked, such sins of the tongue or other hurtful behavior can and does harm both body and soul.  It hurts those receiving it, and especially hurts the one doing it.  Since we’re “our brothers keeper” we are duty bound to recognize and assist them in overcoming such sin.  And here Christ lays out exactly how.


          “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.”  That’s not fun.  It means: confrontation.  And who enjoys confrontation?  This is good advice for all people, but it especially applies between fellow believers.  After all, you supposedly have faith and adherence to Christ in common.  But, don’t do this publicly unless forced to.  Do it privately.  Christianity is about reconciliation—God reconciling us to Him via Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and our reconciling with others because that’s “letting our light shine.”  Keep a level head.  Don’t let your emotions rule you.  Always be kind, but honest about whatever was said or done that’s hurtful.  Don’t give another a reason to reject your advice or counsel.

          But what if that doesn’t work?  Then proceed to step 2.  Take some witnesses with you and try, try, again.  This is designed to show your fellow believer the gravity of their sin.  It’s done out of concern for their soul.  Don’t raise your voice or let your temper overcome you.  Pray before, during, and after you do this.  Pray for the offending party to gain Godly insight into what they’ve said or done that hurts everyone.  Often, very often, prayer is a calming ointment to fear, guilt, or shame.


          Currently in America one of the primary drivers behind passive-aggressive behavior is: fear.  People are afraid of the future.  They’re afraid of being ostracized.  They’re afraid of their job, money, health, safety.  They’re afraid of death.  And that potent cauldron of emotions seethes and bubbles inside so they lash out—especially at fellow believers because they think they can get away with it.  But that doesn’t make it right.  And the hurt it causes can be deadly—especially if children see or hear it.  They rightly wonder: “Where’s Jesus and His love in all this?”

          So, Jesus says: “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church,” and if he still refuses to repent: “treat him as a pagan or a tax collector” or a rank unbeliever.  This means you need to talk to the pastor or the elders (spiritual leaders) in the church.  They, too, will hear the case, talk to all involved, and seek reconciliation.  But if the guilty party doesn’t want that, well, the church eventually confirms the road they sought to travel upon and excommunicates them. 


          In our current age, sin comes in many forms.  Fear has destroyed or inhibited many social norms and good sense.  Christians see others rioting, shouting others down, black-listing them, and generally acting in a boorish manner, and been influenced by it all and tempted to do the same thing.  You know, the old: “Fight fire with fire.”  Our lesson is a call back to sanity.  It is a call back to God’s “most excellent way.”  We’re different because we know that we’re redeemed, forgiven, saved, children of God and we’re to act like it.

          Some of you know that on my gravestone, one of the things written will be: “forgiveness conquers power.”  It’s true!  Power is about: “I want and I’ll do whatever it takes to get or retain it.”  It’s about grudges, revenge, arrogance, and personal aggrandizement.  Forgiveness is about you and God and a renunciation of all the above.  And in the end, when you stand before God, isn’t forgiveness what you really want on your side?

          Additionally, forgiveness IS real power because it is eternal.  It stands when all else turns to rubble.  Christ certainly proved that via His resurrection from the dead.  So, as you go about acting out your faith and trying to protect yourself, others, and even the guilty party from the inroads of sin, listen to Christ and realize the power of forgiveness: “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth (passing judgement on sin) will be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth (forgiveness) will be loosed in heaven.”  Doing so proves that you are the salt of the earth.  Amen


Pastor Thomas H. Fox 

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