Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Sermon - Pentecost 17 - Matthew 18:1-20

Pentecost 17 – September 7th, 2008
Matthew 18:1-20
“Jesus on Sin”

Today's reading really has four segments, each of which could be a sermon in itself. So as I struggled to choose a direction for our sermon today, I found myself looking for the common thread throughout this reading. And one word seems to stand out here: sin.

Whoever causes a little one to sin – it would be better for him to have a millstone around his neck and be cast into the sea.

If your eye causes you to sin – pluck it out.

The one sheep out of a hundred is lost, because of sin. And the master seeks him out.

And if your brother sins against you, go and tell him.

Sins bound on earth are bound in heaven. Sins loosed on earth are loosed in heaven.

Yes today Jesus is talking about sin. And if one thing is clear from all this, it's that sin is a big deal. It's a big deal for Jesus, and that makes it a big deal for us.

It's a serious matter. One of the things we sinners like to do is minimize the seriousness of sin. It makes us feel better to think that our sins aren't really so bad.

We minimize sin by comparing ourselves with other people, even with famous people. If they can get away with it, why can't we? If they're not so bad, then I'm ok too. Or – I'm not as bad as that person and my sins aren't as bad as her sins. But Jesus says the sinner should be concerned about his own eye, and the log there, rather than the speck in his neighbor's. In fact, if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out!

Another problem we have is that our culture has changed, and continues to change, in its views about sin. In fact, the word is hardly heard anymore in public discourse. This is just another way of minimizing sin. We hear about people's “mistakes” and “imperfections” and “character flaws” and “foibles”. But don't say the “S-word” or you'll be seen as a bible-thumping fanatic.

Someone tell Jesus about that. Jesus isn't afraid to call sin what it is, and to warn us of its grave consequences. And I mean grave as in, it leads to the grave, and worse.

For who doesn't deserve the millstone treatment? Who shouldn't be plucking out his eyes, cutting off his hands? Which of us isn't, in our sins, a lost sheep straying from the fold? The problem is, we can't swim hard enough to escape the millstone's weight. We can't find our way back to the fold precisely because we are lost. And we could cut off every member of our body involved in sin and we'd have no body left. For sinful man gets his sinful desires from the heart – and how can we live without that?

No, a close and honest and scriptural view of sin and the sinner shows us that we are in big trouble, because sin is a big deal to God, and it should be to us too. It is no small thing, even the smallest of sins disqualifies us from paradise, and earns us the death sentence.

But thanks be to God! He does not leave us in our sins.

Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, seeks out the lost sheep. And we are all that one sheep out of 99. He comes not from the mountain but from heaven's high throne to seek and save us.

Jesus Christ is the one who takes our place when it comes to the millstone. He is cast into the depths of God's wrath for our sin, only to rise from deep, dark death on that bright Easter morning.

Jesus Christ is the one who cuts off not hand or plucks out eye, but gives his whole self – broken body and shed blood – as the sacrifice for our sins. And he gives us that same body and blood to sustain our faith so that we are never cut off from God's grace.

Yes, sin is serious business for Jesus, and so much so that he goes to the cross, scorning its shame, bears the punishment of our sins, and defeats death head-on for us.

And yet sin is still with us.

Jesus words about sin are not only about how sin is a problem for us, and how he has come to save us from it. But Jesus wants his forgiven, blood-bought people to know the consequences and take it seriously too. Forgiveness is free, yes, but it is not cheap. He paid a dear cost for our salvation. Sin is to be taken as lightly as the blood of Christ – not lightly at all!

And furthermore, he wants us to forgive each other. He wants us to apply the forgiveness he has given us to our brothers and sisters in the faith. Here we have the opportunity to forgive those who hurt and harm us – reconciling in peace for the sake of Christ. Matthew 18 should not simply be a slogan among us, but the real pattern of how God's people deal with each other's sins.

When your brother sins against you, stop talking to him? No.
When your brother sins against you, put him on your list of enemies? No. Take an ad out in the paper so everyone knows what he did? No. When he sins against you go ahead and get your revenge – do unto others as they have done unto you? Never. When sins happen, Christians seek reconciliation when possible. We seek out the sinner as Christ has sought us out. We win back the brother when possible, for the sake of Christ who has won us back from sin.

And finally, the reminder that sins forgiven (loosed) on earth are truly forgiven in heaven. When a Christian forgives another Christian, that forgiveness is real. And when a pastor forgives the repentant sinner, it's as good as if Jesus did it himself. You can take that forgiveness “to the bank”. Because that's what Jesus promises.

Yes, Jesus speaks of sin today in Matthew's Gospel, but Jesus never leaves sin as the final word. He, in fact, is the final word, the answer to and antidote for sin. He is the savior from sin. And where sin and death go together, so do forgiveness and life. And though we sinners sin daily and sin much, Jesus forgives freely and forever. Sin is a big deal. But Jesus is a bigger deal. Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ, who deals with sin for us, forever. In him your sins are forgiven, now go and sin no more! Amen.

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