Ezekiel 33:7-11; Psalm 119:33-40; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20
Anyone who has a supervisory position with groups of people understands how crucial it is to have in place a set of guidelines about how one ought to conduct themselves.
We are at the beginning of the school year. Colleges and universities certainly have stated expectation. First English Lutheran Church has for 30 years now had a preschool and it just finished the first week. That first week is consumed with stating and reiterating to the students what is the proper way to be in school.
Experience and wisdom helps us see the need for standards. People come from a wide mix of family and community settings and experiences. It is necessary to have a standard by which people conduct themselves.
For example, if a child comes from a family where yelling and cussing is the normal means of communication; or, if a child has learnt that “no” really means “yes” when said child cries, pinches, screams, hides, or bites; then, it is important to learn right away that we have a certain way of talking here; no really means no; and, while crying and other behaviors are met with and dealt with compassionately and wisely; we firmly insist on a constructive way to be with peers and teachers.
Companies and communities and nations all have stated expectations of what we may or may not do, usually all for the good of the common life together.
It is no surprise then that when the Apostle Paul is addressing the young church in Rome, he not only communicates faith and doctrine, he also communicates standards of behavior as well. We quickly see that the difference between Paul and civil laws lays in the motivation.
The motivation in the classroom and society is to promote order, safety, and productive learning and commerce. But, for the church the motivation is love.
In the church, our attitude and behavior toward one another reflects the love that brings us together in the first place.
The church in Rome was a wild mix of people. Sitting in the same room, at the same table, will be both slave and free, soldier and citizen, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor.
The experience people have varied wildly. Then and now, we bring our baggage into the church. Takes a long time to be molded into a disciple of Christ.
When Paul says, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14) he is not only talking about baptism but about living out our baptism day after day. He is talking about living out our baptism in the context of family, community, and church.
We intentionally live as the baptized because God’s love for us in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ has knocked us off our feet. In gratitude for His love, we want to live in a way that reflects his love.
Paul directs us to the second table of the Ten Commandments. Out of love for Christ and the community that loves us, we resist those impulses that are contrary to building up of the body of Christ. As Paul says, “Love does know wrong to the neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
Because Paul wants to get our attention and keep it, he reminds us that Jesus is coming back again. Judgment will accompany Jesus when he comes back again. Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit will discern who has truly embraced the love of God and who has not. We do not know when Jesus is coming. We are called to live in a state of readiness.
God’s Word gives a standard by which we are to live. We are given a direction by which we can grow. At the heart of God’s Word is the heart beat of the cross and resurrection – God’s ultimate expression of love.
Our lesson from Romans gives us a direction. He is speaking to the church.
But, how do we address issues and concerns and sin with an individual? Matthew records Jesus’ words of instruction of the proper way to offer a correction.
First, one on one, face to face.
Second, two or three leaders talk with the one who appears to be going astray.
If that does not work, then, and only then, the whole church becomes involved.
All of this is done in love. As Christ Jesus loves us, we love one another.
Becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ is not easy. Not easy for all of us, all the time, to love our neighbors, or our fellow church members, with the love of Christ. And, every single one of us has failed at some point to love or be loveable. Together, we return again and again and again to that which brings us together in the first place: Christ’s cross and resurrection. There, we experience God’s love and receive forgiveness and the promise of being a new creation in Christ.
All God’s people say…Amen.