First Lesson: Exodus 17: 1-7
Responsive Reading: Psalm 78: 1-4, 12-16
Second Lesson: Philippians 2: 1-13
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 21: 23-32
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Immediately after services today, I will drive down to Minneapolis to watch my beloved Vikings play as I have nearly every fall Sunday afternoon for almost thirty years. The thing about the Vikings is they stand a pretty good chance to lose today and a pretty good chance to lose nearly every game for the rest of the season. For the Vikings’ season fell apart a few weeks ago when some troubling news came out about arguably their best player Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson had beaten his four-year-old child with a switch, and legal authorities had issued a warrant for his arrest. Reaction to this news was swift. Some commentators called for Peterson to be thrown off the team forever. When the Vikings were going to led Peterson play, sponsors got up in arms about his presence on the football field being damaging to their brand.
What can we say about the downfall about someone who has brought me so much joy for the last several years? What can we say about someone who had previously done all sorts of good in the community who was the biggest sports hero in Minnesota on one Friday afternoon turning into its biggest villain?
It reminds me of a story as told by Pastor Tim Zingale. One time there was a church, not unlike this one in a town, not unlike this one. Within this church, a prominent member was having an affair with a married woman that carried on for a number of years. What made this so interesting is that this man was serving on the Church Council, active in helping to lead the youth group, and helpful in every way. Eventually, this man’s guilt got the best of him. He decided he needed to break off the affair and come clean with those around him. He first went to his wife to confess how he had sinned against her. He then told a few friends in confidence of what he had done only for his friends to be a bit looser with whom they were going to talk. By the time this man went to talk to his pastor, word of his affair had spread around town. This man soon became the center of conversation during coffee in the morning. Pretty soon, this man began to realize that people were starting to treat him quite a bit different. They would always look at him strange when they met him on the street. They would try to keep their conversations with him as short as possible. Supposed friends didn’t seem to return his calls. So as this man finally sat down in his Pastor’s office to confess his sins, he admitted he had no idea “How he could ever come to church again”. He felt too many eyes would be upon him. His secret was out in the open in front of the whole town, and he wasn’t quite sure to respond. There is no lonelier feeling than you against the world, yet when this man looked at his church; all he saw was law, judgment, and condemnation; all he heard was back-biting and gossip. It was for these reasons that this man had lost sight that the church with its promise of the forgiveness of his sins was exactly the place he needed to be.
The Road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Everyone who encountered this adulterer was able to justify their actions by pointing to their disgust at his adultery. They could point towards their disgust over him pretending to be something that he wasn’t. They could articulate their disgust over having someone like him and supposedly unlike them sitting inside their church. We all know people like this adulterer, yet do any of us know what we would say if we saw him on the street?
CS Lewis is one of the most famous authors of the 20th Century. The Chronicles of Narnia being his most famous work, which became a series of movies that has made like a billion dollars. But another famous CS Lewis work is entitled the Screwtape Letters, which deals with the theme of Spiritual Warfare. The battle each of us wages with Satan on a daily basis. The Screwtape Letters is a series of 31 Letters written by a Senior Demon named Screwtape as he seeks to instruct his young nephew a Junior Demon Apprentice named Wormwood. These letters contain a discussion of the most effect ways to destroy the faith of a young believer named The Patient.
But what is so noteworthy about the Screwtape Letters is that it addresses many of the misunderstandings we have about Satan's work in the world.
The Junior Demon named Wormwood only wanted to tempt the Young Believer into dramatic, specular sins such as murder or adultery figuring this would be the most sure-fire way to destroy a believer's faith. Dramatic sins are how many people like to think of Satan working only in spectacular ways like 9-11, the Holocaust, or the Rwandan Genocide. Whereas the Senior Demon Screwtape believed the most effective way to send someone to Hell was through gradual and subtle temptation. Screwtape did this through confusing a person's motives, intentions, and pride like those who sought to condemn the adulterer rather then tempting someone to give into what society considered a great evil.
For put a frog in boiling water, he immediately jumps out. But put a frog in tepid water and slowly turn up the heat then frog will not notice and will surely die.
The Road to Hell is paved with good intentions. When Martin Luther was reflecting upon the question of whether someone could possibly be good enough to help get them into heaven. Luther theorized that all of our actions on some level (even those which seem good) are motivated in some way, shape, or form by the love of self or sin).
If we do good for the sole purpose of not being Adrian Peterson, if we do good for the sole purpose of being able to thumb our nose at our neighbor Reckless Rick then our motivations are not love of God but rather sin. Human pride is why Luther believed that no matter how noble that we convince ourselves that we are that we are unable to contribute anything of benefit to our salvation.
The Road to Hell is paved with good intentions. The theme of good intentions going awry is made evident in today’s Gospel lesson that comes to us from Matthew the 21st Chapter. This lesson occurs during the last week of Jesus’ life. What Jesus says within our lesson is so unpopular that it contributes to him being sentenced to death just a few days later. Jesus is in the midst of a series of discussions with the Pharisees. The Pharisees obsessed about their own good intentions and religious commitment.
In spite of the Pharisees intentions, they were often Jesus’ chief protagonists throughout the Christian Gospels. Jesus knew the Pharisees could look religious. Jesus knew they could talk religious. He knew they could act religious. He knew they could smell religious, yet what was missing is that Pharisees couldn’t see the need for God to change who they were deep down inside. The Pharisees thought of themselves as the embodiment of God’s kingdom and anyone who wasn’t them the Pharisees spit on as they lied in the gutter of life. For the Pharisees in spite of all their good intentions, they could not see their need for God’s Grace.
So Jesus tells a parable today that is intended to serve as a condemnation of the Pharisees attitude and shake up their views about the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus tells a tale of two sons. The First Son we will call Charlie Church. Charlie Church looked the part, wore a nice suit to church on Sunday morning, had never been in trouble in his life, Charlie Church could quote the Bible like few other people. Yet, Charlie Church didn’t understand the Kingdom of God.
Whereas the Second Son didn’t look the part. The Second Son was probably intimidated by religion and religious people. The Second son was probably denounced by his neighbors for his vile and disgusting actions no differently than the man caught in adultery or Adrian Peterson.
It was this Second Son who grasped what the Kingdom of God was all about. The key line in Today's Gospel comes as Jesus says to the religious Pharisees “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.”
The ones who society spit out will be the first ones that Christ came to save.
Back to Adrian Peterson, it seems the issue isn’t whether Adrian Peterson is a responsible parent (he isn’t). Nor is the issue whether he has anger management problems (I’m sure he does). The issue isn’t even what type of punishment the Vikings or the NFL should give him.
The issue is how people reacted with such disgust at the possibility that a guilty man might get off from what they perceive to be heinous crimes. What his situation reminds us is that we often have a hard time coming to grips with the most central concepts of the gospel in free grace and dying love. We love forgiveness for ourselves, yet we don’t want it to be too indiscriminate.
As we reflect on Adrian Peterson what the average person thinks should be irrelevant. Adrian Peterson did what he did and in the eyes of many his sins could never be atoned.
We are not Adrian Peterson his crimes unless we are on the jury don’t concern us. Just like the sins of our neighbor only concern us when they ask is there a way forward.
The amazing thing about our gospel is the past does not change because we possess the ability to go back in time, go back to the moment before the Vikings season was over. What makes our Gospel have power is that we have an intervention of grace come down from heaven on our behalf on the cross.
As we begin a new year of ministry on this Sunday. We consider a vision for Sychar Lutheran Church, like Adrian Peterson we cannot change the past. The past will reign down whatever consequences that it does. What we can do is begin to seize a vision for our future together. A vision that will define the ministry here at Sychar, The most important question for any church to consider is how it sees it see itself interacting with the wider community. We have a couple different things we can do. We can claim to be like the First Son. We can blame everyone else for the state of the world. We can go on and on about how the weaker members of our flock need to follow the example of the stronger members of our flock. We could even dare to purge the weaker members to make a stronger whole. Plenty of churches are like this. Plenty of religious people think this way.
Or we can embrace who we truly are. We are the Second Son. We are Sychar Lutheran; we are an imperfect church made for imperfect people. We have sinned against God and our neighbor over the years in thought, word, and deed by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We don’t need to hide from this fact. If people want a church where no one has ever done anything wrong, we can feel free to tell them to look elsewhere.
We speak to our failings because it serves as the most powerful of testimonies to the depths of God’s mercy and forgiveness. We do not need to parade anybody’s sin before ourselves, just as they don’t need to parade our own. We come hear to receive the gifts given to us in word and sacrament. Each and everyone comes here today with a common bond; we are all broken people. We’re all in need of a Savior. We are the people who Jesus comes to rescue us from the Road to Hell today by his cross, his death, and his resurrection. Amen
 Glover, Ted. “The Vikings Should Release Adrian Peterson”. Daily Norseman.com. Vox Media. 12. Sept.2014. Web. Sept.27.2014.
 Zingale, Pastor Tim. “What Kind of Sinner Are You”. Sermoncentral.com. Sept.2005. Web. Sept.25.2011.
 Matthew 21:23-32
 Matthew 21:31
 Reflection on the Adrian Peterson situation was inspired by Todd Brewer over at Mockingbird who wrote an article about a similar situation concerning former Balitmore Raven Ray Rice entitled “Ray Rice and the Perils of Relative Righteousness”. This article was published on September 22nd, 2014.
First Lesson: Exodus 16: 2-15
Responsive Reading: Psalm 105: 1-6, 37-45
Second Lesson: Philippians 1: 21-30
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 20: 1-16
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let us begin this morning by considering a hypothetical scenario, imagine your first day in heaven. At first everything seems to be going well, weather is nice, food is good, and everybody seems to be nice. This whole heaven thing is setting up to be pretty good. Then out of the corner of your eye much to your surprise, you see Him! Him could be your old high school bully; Him could be your hothead boss; Him could be your neighbor who was always fighting with his wife, and spent more than one night passed out on his lawn. You never expected to see Him here! Seeing Him here is the one thing about the Kingdom of God that you just don’t understand. We’ll get back to your arch-enemy, your worst person in the world in a little bit.
Today’s Gospel lesson comes to us from Matthew the 20th Chapter. Let us reflect on a modern retelling of it as told by Robert Farar Capon.
There was a man named Robert, who owned a vineyard. The weather for the past month or so had been perfect for growing grapes, the harvest was setting up beautifully, yet bad news was on the horizon. The weather was about to turn cold in two days times; the grapes needed to harvest fast, or else ruined would be the whole crop.
So Robert goes down to the local hiring hall first thing on Monday morning at 6 AM to be exact.
Now people that tend to be down at the hiring hall at 6 AM are quite ambitious. The workers that gathered at 6 AM were the cream of the crop, the straight A students, the ones with goals and a plan for their life. The 6 AM crowd was full of hard workers who had no problem getting a little dirty in a vineyard.
These workers were in demand as all the other vineyard owners around wanted to hire them. So Robert decided that he was going to be generous in his offer. Whereas the going rate for a day’s work in a vineyard was two-hundred dollars, Robert was going to double it to attract the best workers, and pay four-hundred dollars for a day’s work. The workers were thrilled to receive such a generous offer; they began to daydream how they were going to spend their bounty at the end of the day, and off to Robert’s vineyard they went.
Around 9 AM, Robert receives word that the weather forecast had changed once again. So Robert decides that he needs more workers and fast. Robert makes another trip down to the local hiring hall, only this time he finds good workers, but not great workers looking for a day’s wages. Robert found the B-students, the ones who liked to sleep in a little bit, the ones who would be content with just a nice steady-life. Robert found the workers who preferred a nine to five rather than a six to six pace.
Yet by noon, even more workers were required. So Robert decides to go back to the hiring hall. The type of people there at noon had more of a work to live, rather than a live to work mindset. The type of people that would only work if nothing better came along, yet Robert hired them by promising them top dollar for their time.
3 PM the hours were winding down in the day. Robert was just going to hire anyone that might be standing around. By this point, Robert didn’t care if they were lazy, he didn’t care if they would sneak a grape to eat now and then.
5 PM the hiring hall was empty, but Robert needed still more help. So Robert walked around the streets outside. Robert saw kids whose pants barely hung above their knees, kids who seemed incapable of proper English with every adjective being a cuss word, kids whose clothes were producing a funky smell, and kids who even Robert knew would be of little use in a harvest yet by 5 PM Robert would hire them anyway. The kids went along figuring an hour’s work would give them a little more cash for the evening’s party.
As each new group of workers got to the Vineyard, they did what every human being would do. They asked about the pay. Word quickly spread that Robert was paying four hundred dollars for a day’s work. New workers kept dividing the hours worked figure into 400 and thought that it still sounded pretty good.
As the day ends, Robert is in a good mood. The grape harvest is a great success. Robert is a rich man, so Robert decides that he is going to be exceptionally generous when issuing payments. Robert calls over his manager instructing him to conduct an odd way of paying the workers. Robert commands him to pay the last hired workers first; this was an odd form of payment as managers normally wanted to see the most valuable workers taken care of first.
So the first guy walks up to the Manager, this guy was a real piece of work, ripped jeans, spiked blue hair, and a nose ring that looked like it belonged on a bull.
The manager knew that this guy contributed next to nothing to the project, yet he handed him an envelope with eight crisp fifty dollar bills. Spikey blue hair walks away as fast as he can hoping the manager wouldn’t notice the error, only to afterwards be astonished when his equally unproductive friends received the same reward for one hour of work in eight crisp fifty dollar bills. Word of Robert’s foolish generosity quickly spread, so much so that the when the first workers heard about it they were eager with anticipation. Their brows were filled with sweat, their hands were beaten, their legs were tired from hours upon hours of standing, they wanted nothing more than a shower, yet they felt like they were about to win the lottery. They figure if the worthless workers had been gifted four-hundred dollars then their payment would be in the thousands of dollars. Yet these workers were in for a shock as they approached the manager only to be handed an envelope with eight fifty dollar bills. The hard workers faces at this moment looked like the kid whose Christmas dreams have just been crushed. They were going to give Robert a piece of their mind about the unfairness of his payment plan. Yet as Robert heard them begin to whine, Robert was getting annoyed, he was being exceedingly generous to all his workers. “So what if he made the last first and the first last.”
Robert had been more generous than anyone could have ever imagined. Robert really didn’t care if the angry workers wanted to go to the local watering hole to talk about the unfairness of their boss. Robert was going to do things his way, because it was his business and nobody else’s.
The story of Robert and the vineyard workers is a modern retelling of the Parable of the Vineyard. This parable is a double-edged sword.
It’s a parable that provides grace to some, and judgment unto others. Judgment falls against those who can’t accept Robert’s foolish generosity, whereas grace is given to those who can’t believe Robert’s generosity.
The thing about grace is that it isn’t merely about bettering our situation a little bit here and there, God’s grace centers on bringing the dead back to life. There is no such thing as just a little dead; there is not anybody in need of a little less or little more Resurrection than anybody else. Our evidence of God’s grace never failing us or letting us go was made known on a cross.
A key tenant about Jesus’ parables is that he takes the notions of first and last and turns them right around. Think back to the story of Zacchaeus, Zacchaeus was thought to be a complete loser in the ways of God, yet Jesus comes into his life and reverses this outcome. The thing to understand about Jesus’ ministry is that the last are often made first, and the first are often made last. We often can’t grasp that slackers like Spikey McBlueHair could be given such a generous gift.
Our parable for today comes right after Jesus encounters a rich young ruler. This young ruler felt that he deserved eternal life because he had kept the commandments, similar to how the Vineyard workers thought they deserved more money, yet the thing about grace is that we don’t deserve anything, yet God gives it to us anyways. Jesus’ ministry is all about turning the world upside down as he promises that the exalted will be humbled and the humble will be exalted.
Today’s parable is a parable about everyday life. It’s a parable for the guys who sit around the bar night after night complaining about how professional baseball players make too much money; it’s a parable that seeks to point us back instead towards a reminder of all the gifts that God gives to us. It’s a parable that reminds us how God’s grace is so great that we don’t know how to respond to it, so we seek to place conditions upon it.
Last weekend, I was in Hawley, Minnesota attending a theological conference put on by a friend of mine named Tom Olson. Tom used to be a missionary in Africa, Tom spent many a day over there drinking and self-loathing. Tom’s mom would worry about him every night turning into nothing more than a lonely, alcoholic pastor. Tom over there meets a woman named Eunice, they get married, yet Tom develops an annoying habit within the marriage. Tom would put himself down at every opportunity till finally his wife snaps as she says “Why won’t you just let me love you without conditions.”
This story and this parable is a reminder of the nature of God’s love for us.
The Parable of the Vineyard is parable about the Kingdom of Heaven it’s a parable that reminds us that on the first day in Heaven there will be all kinds of people there. There will be the seemingly religious success stories: the ministers, the choir boys, the little old ladies who attended every Bible-study for seventy-five years along with those whose presence might shock us, even dare offend us. You might see your neighbor there who ranted whenever you brought up the church, you might see the kids who drove by your house always blaring obnoxious music, and you might even see the worst person in the world.
I remember one time in Seminary talking to John Rasmussen who is a preaching professor at the ILT when we were reflecting upon the age-old question of “If Baptism is so great what about those really despicable people who were baptized?” To which John simply said “I guess if you see them in heaven, then get upset, then YOU could always leave.” This is the Parable of the Vineyard. Amen
 Capon tells this story on pages 391-397 of Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Eerdman’s Publishing. Grand Rapids, MI. 2002. Print. Additional creative license is taken with Capon’s original version.
 Luke 19:1-10
 Zimmerman, Aaron. “Winners, Losers, Zuccotti Park, and Jesus of Nazareth”. Mockingbird Ministries. Mbird.com Christ Episcopal Church. Charlottesville, VA. 9. Dec.2011. Web. Sept.16.2014.
 Matthew 19:16-22
 Matthew 23:12, Luke 14:11
First Lesson: Exodus 12: 1-14
Responsive Reading: Psalm 149
Second Lesson: Romans 13: 8-14
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 18: 15-20
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
As long as there has been a Christian church there have been disagreements amongst its members. Let me begin this morning by citing a few examples from the New Testament.
In the book of Philippians, Paul had to address two women named “Euodia” and “Syntache” because their disagreement was negatively affecting the church in Phillipi.
1st Corinthians was written to a church with divided loyalties with recent converts claiming to be followers of the charismatic, new leader Apollos where the old guard members considered themselves to be followers of the Apostle Paul.
Perhaps the most famous church conflict to take place within the New Testament occurs in the Galatians when the early church’s two most prominent leaders go at it. The Apostle Paul is forced to rebuke the head of Jesus’ disciples Peter because Peter refused to associate with non- Jewish Christians because they did not adopt the Jewish ritual of circumcision.
Even outside the New Testament, conflict has been common place within the history of the church. At one of the most famous meetings in the history of the church in the Council of Nicea (from where we get our Nicene Creed), Bishop Nicolas of Myra (or he would later be known as Saint Nicolas or Santa Claus) got so mad at one of his opponents Arius that he slapped him in the face.
Lastly, the Lutheran church was born in conflict as Martin Luther never had any intention to leave the Catholic Church until he was formally excommunicated or kicked out by way of the Papal Bull in 1521.
Now as we consider the meaning of conflict from a Christian perspective, we must always remember that conflict is often a very positive thing. You would never want to tell a church to seek actively to avoid conflict because we would never grow as people. For example, we never would have believed that the Earth revolves around the Sun if Galileo hadn’t created conflict by challenging the status quo.
So our goal as Christian people should never be to avoid “conflict”, but rather “destructive conflict” that eventually destroys human relationships. So with this in mind, I want to speak this morning about why church conflicts get out of control.
The first reason that church conflicts get out of control is faulty spiritual perspective. For example, if two people disagree over what to eat at dinner, it’s pretty likely that they will be able to compromise in a way that both parties leave without too much resentment.
Church conflicts though tend to work themselves out in a different way because people don’t associate what to eat for dinner with anyone’s salvation. So in church conflicts, people tend to dig in their heels because they associate their viewpoint with a higher purpose. Is this a good way to view many of these issues?
Let me bring up an issue that causes more congregational strife than any other in the worship wars of contemporary versus traditional. These arguments often go this way; you get one group saying how young people aren’t in church, and the reason for this is because they prefer the music of the Katy Perry to the music of Vagner.
People claim that if we don’t change to bring these young people into the church then people will end up in Hell. Where the other side says if we abandon such and such traditions that my grandmother loved than people will end up in Hell.
Let me make something very, very clear, write this down, quote me even if this gets me in trouble. “There will not be one more or one less person in the Kingdom of Heaven on the basis of what type of worship style that a church adopts. No one enters the Kingdom of Heaven because they preferred the fresh sounds of guitar chords to boring old organ music.”
People only enter the Kingdom of Heaven because the Holy Spirit creates faith through Word and Sacrament. Since “faith” is not created by marketing, the only non-negotiable goal of a church should be that the Gospel is rightly preached every Sunday.
Every other argument that descends into a debate about someone’s eternal destiny takes place because people not only have a misplaced spiritual perspective, but they also misunderstand the historic teachings of the Lutheran church. While the color that someone paints the kitchen does matter from an aesthetic perspective, it should be a very, very secondary issue to a church’s overall health. Once a church adopts a misplaced spiritual perspective there will be problems.
The second reason that church conflicts get out of control is faulty personal perspectives. One of my favorite one-liners and I’ve used it before is “I am way more worried about the lady writings down the names of everyone going into the bar on Saturday Night then the people inside the bar themselves.”
The reason that church conflicts often get out of control is because people are always very quick to see the speck in their neighbor’s eyes, all the while ignoring the log in their own.
A while back, I was talking to Pastor Warren Baker, who works with congregations in conflict, Warren onetime traveled to a congregation that he felt was in the midst of the one of the worst arguments he had ever seen. As Warren sat down to meet with people one or two families at a time over the course of two days, Warren kept hearing the same things over and again. “The Church Council President was terrible.” ‘The Pastor was terrible.' ‘Their neighbor had done this or that.’ People were raising their voices; people were saying that they were never going to come back to church.
Stories like this highlight why churches often tend to be in conflict. Because when people are expecting the perfect pastor or the perfect leadership or the perfect members, people will inevitability fail other people and conflict will ensue.
The problem with misplaced personal perspective is like the lady writing down the names of everyone going into bar how we love to focus on the speck in our neighbor’s eye while ignoring the log in our own.
The simplest way to avoid Church Conflicts getting out of hand is to remember what Martin Luther said in the Small Catechism about the 8th Commandment regarding bearing false witness against our neighbor. That we are at all times called to put the best possible construction or explanation on our neighbor’s actions, no matter how goofy people’s ideas around us might seem at first.”
There is no surer sign of an unhealthy congregation that will always be in conflict when members are always assuming the worst about those around them. When we feel we can be reckless rather than cautious in choosing our words problems will follow.
So with this mind, how should we deal with disagreement within Christian congregations? Our discussion brings us to our Gospel lesson for today from the 18th chapter of Matthew. I’m just going to concentrate on three verses in verses 15-17.
Verse 15, “If your brother has sinned against you, go and tell his fault between you and him alone”. The worst thing you can do in the midst of a conflict is to seek to humiliate someone in public.
For example, I remember being in the 8th Grade and I wrote an English Paper that was in poor taste to try to amuse me and my friends. I’ll freely admit I had done something that I shouldn’t have done.
But I had this English Teacher named Mr.Chrun that wanted to teach me a Lesson. So every day at Chisago Lakes Middle School would begin with a ten minute homeroom period for daily announcements or whatever. In the name of wanting to get his point across Mr.Chrun sends an office runner to bring me up to his classroom during his homeroom.
Mr.Chrun then proceeds to tell me to sit at the back table, Mr. Chrun then proceeds to yell at me at the top of his lungs for what seemed like the whole period. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I’m sure I had tears forming in my eyes. I left that day having been humiliated in front of a bunch of my peers; I probably behaved slightly better after that. Even till this day, even though I know I was in the wrong, even though I know I should be forgiving, it’s tough not to hold resentment on some level.
The reason that Jesus spoke these words today is because when it comes to solving conflict, we are called to go against our very natural instincts. We are called to be patient, when our hearts fill with rage. We are called to be gracious and understanding, when we wish to embrace the harshest of judgments. If we act out whenever the going gets tough, we will inevitability loss every conflict situation that we encounter.
Now let me tell you another story, fast-forward fifteen years later. I remember one day the Chairwoman of the School Board coming up to talk to me about how much her kids liked working with me when I was a substitute teacher. This woman didn’t have the best-behaved kids in the world. Her oldest son had gotten in all sorts of trouble. He was suspended from school for a weapons violation in his car; he had been caught drinking under the bleachers during Homecoming and had to go away to treatment for a month, and he would constantly get in trouble when he was in school. He could tell because of his ways that a lot of teachers were uncomfortable working with him. So the School Board Chair asks me “Why I related to him differently?”
My answer was “Because I’ve been there, because I deserved to have Mr. Chrun yell at me, because I remember making plenty of poor decisions growing up, because I remember how my mind was working when I made these decisions.”
I also am honest enough to admit that I don’t come to one human interaction without my share of personal faults. We all have things we can improve on, and when we come to this realization in dealing with conflict situations one on one. We can comfortably open up about our growing edges, and learning curves while acknowledging how similar we truly are to the one sitting across from us.
Totally different approaches to seeing conflict tend to produce totally different results. For one thing, I’ve always noticed when I hear about church conflicts is the more involved that don’t pertain then the worse they often get. These stories explain why verse 15 “If your brother has sinned against you, go and tell his fault between you and him alone” is so important.
Let’s look at the 2nd part of this passage. “But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”
These verses bring up an issue that is never addressed in the church of “Would you ever ask someone to leave a church?”
The concept of church discipline is clearly biblical. The Apostle Paul in 1st Corinthians says, “Drive the wicked people from among you”. In 2nd Thessalonians, Paul says to have nothing to do with those who deny the church’s teachings.
There are definitely Churches out there that like to emphasize how if certain obligations are not met they can be thrown out then a Christian can be banned from the assembly. For example, the Amish are famous from the practice of shunning or avoiding members as bad influences which have left the assembly. The reason the Amish formed was because they thought the Mennonite church was too soft in their treatment of former members. The Amish throw out Bible Verses supporting their practice.
The problem with churches who remove members for failing to live up to their standard is they often just embrace their own deadly pride and self-righteousness when they ban people. They fail to listen to what Jesus is getting at elsewhere in the Gospel of Matthew regarding how we all miss the mark and not to focus so much on the failings of others.
But I do believe there are times that you would ask someone to leave a church, the reasons have nothing to do with not measuring up to some phony’ religious people’s standard. I believe the only reason; you would ask someone to leave the church, whether it is a pastor or another member, is if they were destructive to the Body of Christ by back-biting and being divisive. If someone was looking down at their fellow believers for not being allegedly perfect Christians, at this point, maybe you do encourage people to try to find the perfect church more to their liking.
As we gather together as Sychar Lutheran Church on this day, we have an opportunity to reflect upon the type of church that we wish to be. We could either strive to be the perfect church made up entirely of young-families, overflowing with good and gracious givers, with the type of members who always attentive, patient, and moral that could only be described by Garrison Keillor as being the type of Lutherans that exist only in Lake Wobegon.
We could instead be a different type of church; we could admit to being the imperfect church. The type of church whose membership consists of failed Christians, frail bodies, and genuine human emotion. We can either be the church for the strong or the weak. We can be a church which proclaims earthly successes or we can be a church who proclaims forgiveness.
Let me close this morning on Church Conflict with some very wise insight from a Friend of Mine- Pastor Donovan Riley:
“Sometimes the church has to suffer for the pastor to learn. Sometimes the pastor has to suffer for the church to learn. When the Holy Spirit is at work suffering sinners, abound. But, that's not the final word. When the Spirit of God is at work, it’s love which has the final word: Christ's love for sinners abounds in the forgiveness of sins which binds us together as His suffering, holy body.” Amen
 Phillipians 4:2-6
 Galatians 2
 Matthew 7:3
 Matthew 18:15
 Matthew 18:15
 Matthew 18:16-17
 1 Corinthians 5:13
 2 Thessalonians 3:6
 These words were given by Pastor Riley in a 2011 Facebook Post