Sermons 2008
Only one true church? Proper 18A, 7 September 1008, Matthew 18:15-20

Home | Light and Love, Christmas 1B , 28 December 2008, John 1:1-18 | The light and the darkness, Christmas Day, 25 December 2008, John 1:1-14 | What would you see? Christmas Eve, 24 December 2008, Luke 2:1-20 | What did you say? Advent 3B, 14 December 2008, John 1:6-8. 19-28 | A refining fire, Advent 2B, 7 Dec 2008, Mark 1:1-8 | Alert, alert! Advent 1B, 30 November 2008, Mark 13:24-37 | Where will we stand: sheep or goats? Proper 29A 2008, 23 November 2008, Matthew 25: 31-46 | The talents to...? Proper 28A, 16 November 2008, Matthew 25:14-30 | Choose this day, Proper 27A, 9 November 2008, Joshua 24:14-25; Matthew 25:1-13 | All Saints A, 2 November 2008, Matthew 5:1-12; 23:1-12 | Holy or not? Proper 25A, 26 October 2008, Matthew 22:34-46 | Things: God's or Caesar's? Proper 24A, 19 October 2008, Matthew 22:15-22 | The wedding and the allegory, Proper 23A, 12 October 2008, Matthew 22:1-14 | The vineyard and the rock, Proper 22A. 5 October 2008, Matthew 21:33-46 | Deference and disobedience, Proper 21A, 28 September 2008, Exodus 17:1-7; Matthew 21:23-32 | Be content, Proper 20A , 21 September 2008, Matthew 20:1-16 | Only one true church? Proper 18A, 7 September 1008, Matthew 18:15-20 | Be content! Proper 20A, 21 September 2008, Matthew 22:1-16 | Be content! Proper 20A, 21 September 2008, Matthew 20:1-16 | Holy Name and Holy Ground, Proper 17A, Exodus 3:1-15; Matthew 16:21-28 | What's in a name? Proper 16A, 24 August 2008, Matthew 16:13-20 | Dogs? Proper 15A, 17 August 2008, Matthew 15:10-28 | Time to get out of the boat, Proper 14A, 10 August 2008, Matthew 14:22-33 | Who, me? Proper 13A, 3 August 2008, Matthew 14:13-21 | LIKE what? Proper 12A, 27 July 2008, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 | Good seed, bad seed, Proper 11A , 20 July 2008, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 | Watch the Farmer, Proper 10A, 13 July 2009, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 | Easy Yoke? Proper 9A 2008, 6 July 2008, Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 | Baptism of David William and Anne Tyler, Proper 8A, 29 June 2008 | The Twelve or the Dirty Dozen? Proper 6A, 15 June 2008, Matthew 9:35-10:15 | Jesus likes sinners?, Proper 5A, 8 June 2008, Matthew 9:9-13 | Lawlessness or not? Pentecost 3A, Proper 4A, 1 June 2008, Matthew 7:21-29 | What do you mean, if? Easter 6A, 27 April 2008, John 14:15-21 | Comforting words and St Thomas, Easter 5A, 20 April 2008, John 14:1-14 | Ordinary good shepherds, Easter 4A 2008, 13 April 2008, John 10:1-10 | Light for clarity, Easter 3A, 6 April 2008, Luke 24:13-35 | "Blessed are those who....", Easter 2A, 30 March 2008, John 20:19-31 | Hallelujah! He's alive! Easter Sunday A, 23 March 2008, John 20:1-18 | He had it all, Palm Sunday A, 16 March 2008, Matthew 26:14-27:54 | Lazarus: Waiting for Jesus, Lent 5A, 9 March 2008, John 11:1-45 | Miracles Physical and Spiritual, Lent 4A, 2 March 2008, John 9:1-41 | Living Water, Lent 3A, 24 February 2008, John 4:5-42 | God's unselfish love, Lent 2A, 17 February 2008, John 3:1-17 | Temptation, Lent 1A, 10 February 2008 | Ash Wednesday, 6 February 2008, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 | They heard the Lord call, Epiphany 3A, 20 Jan 2008, Matthew 4:12-23 | Come and See! Epiphany 2A, 20 January 2008, John 1: 29-42 | Remember Your Baptism? Epiphany 1A, 13 January 2008, Matthew 3:13-17 | We Three Kings, The Epiphany, 6 January 2008, Matthew 2:1-12

Proper 18A 2008                                                        Matthew 18:15-20


I once heard about a two stop light town.  Just inside the town was a sign out front of a church that read, "The church of God".  On the next corner, at the first light there was another church whose larger sign read, "The true church of God."  At the second light was another church whose even larger sign read, "The one true church of God".  On the way out of town, the last church had the largest sign:  “The ONLY one true Church of God”.  (1)

Such stories once were funny for Episcopalians but not now. 


For most of us this Gospel model of face-to-face confrontation in front of the whole Church makes us uncomfortable.  We are too protective of our own privacy to wish to invade the privacy of someone else, even though we might be angry at what that other person is doing.  And so repressed feelings lead to long held grudges and eventually hatreds, generation after generation.


Something like this story:  Many years ago, Colonel Jeff O'Leary serving as part of the UN peacekeeping forces in the Sinai Peninsula region, encountered a number of nomadic people who travel this desert region.  One day, he had tea with a group of Bedouin men.  O'Leary noticed that his host kept staring at a man who was tending his camels.  The host said to O'Leary, "Do you see that man?  He is a camel thief." Colonel O'Leary asked why his host would hire a camel thief to tend his camels.  It seemed this man was a camel thief because he came from a family of camel thieves. 


One of his ancestors had once stolen some camels from his host's family.  Eight hundred years ago.  For eight hundred years, the hosts' family and this man's family had hated each other and had passed down the story of the camel thief.  Forgiveness was not an option for them; the crime was just as horrible as if it had occurred yesterday, and this man was just as much a thief as his ancestor.  (2)


In Matthew's gospel a major theme is about life together in the church.  What do we do when Christians fall out?  In our text, Jesus advises us to work for reconciliation.  If we fail after repeated attempts, then we are told to treat this brother or sister as "a Gentile and a tax collector" -- as outcast from society, to be shunned and avoided.

Those are strong words from our Lord’s mouth – or from Saint Matthew anyway, since there is significant question as to whether Jesus actually said this or not.  Matthew faced conflicts in the churches that kept Peter and Paul busy.  Plus in the synagogues, Jewish Christians had not yet split off, although they were under serious pressure to conform to purely orthodox norms and expectations.

Yet what do these words mean for us here in the early years of the 21st Century?   Jesus appears to be advocating excommunication, exclusion, and the rendering into a stranger someone who was once our relative in Christ.

But think about it for a moment.  Think WWJD – What would Jesus do – rather WDJD, a very important question --  what DID Jesus do.  From the time of his birth when the Magi came throughout his adult life, Jesus hobnobs with Gentiles and tax collectors.  Jesus sought out Gentiles and tax collectors and other fallen people for saving grace. 

This puts a different light on Jesus' apparently tough words.  Here is a gospel, which struggles throughout with the implications of including the Gentiles in the promise of the grace of God.  Yes, Gentiles, people like us, strangers to the promises of God to Israel. What did Jesus do?  He set all that aside and took us in, you and me.

Jesus knew what to do with tax collectors.  He knew how to treat a Gentile when he met one.  And what at first appears to be about the rendering of tough judgments by people and by the church is something else again.  It’s about offering extravagant grace in the name of Jesus.  (3)


And speaking of extravagant grace, one last story:  The German Protestant clergyman Martin Niemoeller who protested Hitler's anti-Semite measures in person to Hitler himself, was eventually arrested, then imprisoned at Sachsenhausen and Dachau for seven years, from1937–1945.  He once confessed, "It took me a long time to learn that God is not the enemy of my enemies. He is not even the enemy of His enemies."  (4)


Grace abounds.  We just have to open our eyes to see it.






            1.  Sermon Nuggets,

2.  King Duncan, Collected Sermons,

3.  Will Willimon, A Sermon On Matthew 18:15-20,

4.  Quoted in “When Faith is Hijacked”.  For Sunday, September 4, 2005.  The Journey with Jesus: Notes to Myself.  Reflections By Dan Clendenin.