Rev. Dr. Paul Anderson
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 18:19-20 “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us to pray, “Dear Father, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Actually, the prayer He taught US to pray begins this way, “OUR Father, Who art in heaven.” Joy that cannot be contained! Jesus rescues us today from running off by ourselves and doing our own isolated little religion for our own sake – “You and me, Jesus, that's all we need!” Oh, no! The Lord teaches us in the Gospel today about His Body, His Fullness, His Bride, His people, the ones He came to die for, rise for, ascend for, and come again for. The Lord Jesus today tells us what it means to be His Church.
“If your brother sins, even against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” It all starts privately, one to one. NOT what we see all day, every day in our world: men blabbing about the faults of others. Just whose fault is it that there were bumps in the road in the hurricane relief? This wicked world has no end of finger-pointers; because Satan is the chief pointer-outer of sins to others, and he is the prince of this world. “Deliver us from the evil one.”
The One Named Jesus, Who came to save His people from their sins, rescues us today from total disaster. If your brother sins, don't be surprised, shocked, offended. Go to him! Pull him aside! Speak to him. Plead with him, in the words and by the authority of the Son of Man Who came preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near!”
The Lord calls each one of us here today to a disaster relief so many men sadly do not know. The worst thing you and I will ever face is not made by man, by wind or wave; not even made by God! Instead, the worst we will ever face is if we must stand before the Uncreated God, Whom we don't know, Whom we have offended, Whom we have told by our thoughts, words and deeds, that we will do as we please, when we please – and what if we must explain away all the ways we fall short? Our God is a consuming fire. Who can stand in His presence?
You will stand in His presence, One Day soon, my dearly beloved. For you will not stand before God naked, alone, with all your faults for heaven and earth to see. Instead, you will rise from this earth, from your grave, from every evil, and see your Maker face to face, with confidence and boldness, because Jesus calls you His Church; and you are covered by Him.
Jesus builds His Church upon the confession of Saint Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And Jesus makes disciples in His Church, through Holy Baptism and by teaching the nations everything He commanded His first disciples. And today we hear what good His Church is in this world. Each one, turning to his brother: “Dear brother, you have sinned, missed the mark; you have been called to be more than what you are doing now. Hear me; let us pray our Savior together to forgive us both. And let me tell you again that Christ lived the life we do not, died the death we are due, and now sits at the right hand of the Father.”
And the Church of Jesus never gives up! If your brother does not hear you, go get two or three more. You are not alone. You belong to His Church! Bring more; to win your brother; to teach him to confess his sins and call on God for mercy, for the sake of Jesus our Savior. And if the two or three others do not work – to win your brother, tell it to the Church.
The Church is that place, and those people, where, as Jesus says, “Two or three come together in My Name. There are two or three of us here today, plus! What are we doing here? Are we here to admire each other, to boast about how wonderful we are, to make a lot of noise to catch God's attention? The world has enough of that already. No, the Divine Service opens with words for us poor sinners to trust, words that shake the foundation of heaven itself, as the Father in heaven leaps up to hear us: In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Meaning, “God will hear our prayers this day, and be our Father. NOT because of us, but because the Father sent the Son Whom He loves to take our place; the Father and the Son have sent us the Holy Spirit in His Holy Word; and now, we have been baptized into this God, this Name, the Name of Jesus, that He gave us. So the Father in heaven will hear us on earth. We must be Jesus' Church!”
My dear Christian friends:
The members of Good Shepherd thank God that two, three, more!, Christian brothers and sisters are here with us today. We are sorry for the wind that blew y'all this way. We truly want to help you, to comfort and support you, if you stay in our area long term, or get back home in a short time. Our prayers are with you, in the turmoil of your lives. Our hearts belong to you now. This congregation and our lives are open. Please let us follow Jesus with you, as we love one another.
But let us all, my dear ones, disciples of Baton Rouge and honored guests and friends – let us all learn from our Lord this day what true disaster relief is all about: the forgiveness of our sins; and forgiving the sins of others in turn. Jesus came to grant true pardon to those who are sinners, and who call on Him for mercy. And He teaches us in the Bible that He gives full authority to forgive sins on earth to His Church: “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
When Jesus speaks of binding and loosing, He is not talking about shoes. He is talking about what He is always talking about: our sins; and the way He has come to take them away.
If you are not a sinner, in your own eyes, then you are a disaster no one can remedy. For our only Hope declared, “I have not come to call those who have their act together, who never slip up, those who are so quickly disappointed in others but never in themselves, the righteous. I have come to call sinner, sinners only, to repentance.”
If nothing else, the nasty storm this last week laid bare our sins, didn't it? The lives of so many were lost; so many turned upside down; so much flooded and so many tears. But I didn't need all of that to stir up sin in my life! All I needed was for my power to go out! That's all the jump-start this old engine needed to lose my patience, bark and snap, sigh about this disappointment or that. No A/C – and we may play tyrant? Anyone join me in this last week?
Or is it the traffic that does it for you? Do all those, what we call “idiots on the road” – does that strip off of you that mask of piety we think we're wearing? Or is it gas lines? Or do you get all worked up, with me, about rumors of upheaval and danger in our midst? Or do you allow yourself to be selfish and nasty and rude to others, because you are going through the worst thing in the world: your cable is out?!
Friends, we have all just gone through tough times. And there is more to come, I fear. But there is no excuse for not glorifying our Maker in our lives. And there is never an excuse to despise the command of Jesus to love one another, especially our enemies. Examine your own life, by way of the Ten Commandments, so that you can confess to God this day that you are indeed a sinner. And if you have offended God, ask Him to forgive you for Jesus' sake. And if you have sinned against your brother, you go to him and ask his pardon. And if your conscience is full of doubts and fears and guilt over your recent performance, God has given to His Church ministers, to hear your sins, teach you God's Word, and to pardon you by His command.
And today, we hear, that Jesus has deputized every last one of us, every last disciple, to do what He came to do!
If your brothers sins, even against you, you go show him his fault. To win him over; so that he admits his sin, seeks God's pardon. So that he can go again, for his good and salvation, to the Sacrament of the Altar. There, penitent, your brother can eat and drink the Body and Blood of the One Who died on the cross in place of sinners. And your brother can rise again with all his sins forgiven. And then, just watch him go out, forgiving others!
Dear Christian friends, let us pitch in in our community, to help men for whom Christ died, with creature comforts and concerns, as God gives us strength. Let us not simply love in word, but also in deed, as the apostle James teaches us.
But the true disaster we all face is our sinful condition, ignorance of God, and the way we so quickly fall from wanting to please God, to defaming His Name. And we, dear disciples, have been given all the authority of heaven, here on earth, to forgive men their sins.
When you run across those burdened by the storm, or by other storms in their lives, don't just talk to them about God, or about what a nice fellow Jesus is. Do something useful! Forgive! Pardon! Loose on earth and it will be loosed in heaven! We don't see Jesus walking around pardoning people today. But what do we see? His Church. Not just this individual or that. But the people of God, together, in His Name, asking together that in this world, on earth, would be done the will of God in heaven.
But what if, finally, someone does not want to hear what the whole Church has to say? What then? Then do we finally get to give up and move on? Let's check with Jesus! “If he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” And how does Jesus teach pagans and tax collectors? Today, Jesus makes us smile.
At the end of Matthew's Gospel, He sent the Eleven out to make disciples of all pagans, by baptism and teaching. That's how you treat pagans. And the tradition of the Church agrees together that the man who recorded these words for us was named Matthew. And what was his job, at least for a while? See Saint Matthew smiling as he wrote down these words; see Jesus look out the corner of His eye when He taught His first Twelve, “treat him like a tax collector.”
“Oh, I see Jesus. Never give up.”
Our confidence for the days ahead is that God is our Father in heaven now, because of His Son Who walked this earth, lived as we won't, died what we should get but won’t, and has now ascended from earth to heaven. As we, His Church, await His return, we only have two things really to do. Pray to Him, as we commune together, agree together, receiving the Body and Blood of the One Who died on the cross. And second, we love our neighbor, pardon our brother, never stop the work Jesus has given us, the work He is always doing Himself.
Welcome, new faces, brothers and sisters in Christ. Welcome to our midst; and agree together with us, as we pray together to our Father in heaven. All of us: let us bind together and loose together; let us seek and save the lost; let us pardon, give as we have been given to. And let us do this all, two, three, or even more of us, with real confidence. Let us believe and show love, not in our name, but in the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Paul Anderson is pastor at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He is a member of the LCMS Board of Mission Services. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.