Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Dorr, Michigan

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 21)

September 28, 2014
Text: Matthew 21:23-32

            The question is one of authority.  Who authorized Jesus to do and speak as He did?  Who authorized Him to enter Jerusalem to the shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!” (Matt. 21:10; ESV)?  Who authorized Him to cleanse the Temple, driving out the merchants and the money changers, and calling the sacred precincts, “My House” (v. 13; emphasis added)?  These are the events just prior to our text.  Who authorized Jesus to criticize and rebuke the Pharisees and Scribes, the Chief Priests and the Elders of the people?  Just who does this Jesus think He is, anyway?  And it is an incredibly important question, that of authority.  Because it makes all the difference between whether Jesus is, in fact, the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior… or a self-appointed, delusional (or fraudulent) maniac.  “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (v. 23).  Jesus answers the Chief Priests and Elders with a similar question.  “The baptism of John, from where did it come?  From heaven or from man?” (v. 25).  What authority did John have to preach and to baptize, to call the people to repentance, hear their confession of sin, and baptize them for forgiveness?  Was John’s ministry from God, or from man?  For if John’s ministry is from man, he is a counterfeit prophet.  But if John’s ministry is from God, then you must believe him, including and especially his testimony about Jesus, that He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).  So the answer to both questions is one and the same.  Jesus’ authority to do and speak as He does is the same as that of John.  And despite the Jews’ inability to answer the question, the conclusion is inescapable.  The authority is that of the living God, who made heaven and earth.
            The question of authority is as important to you as it was to them.  Because you follow the authority you believe to be legitimate.  Unbelievers don’t think Jesus has divine authority.  They believe His authority if from man.  So they don’t follow Him.  You Christians believe Jesus’ authority is from the Father in heaven, and from His own nature and essence as God in human flesh.  So you believe His Word and you trust Him for the forgiveness of sins, salvation, daily help and assistance, and provision for your every need of body and soul.  You trust Him because you believe He has authority to deliver these things.  And so also you believe that He exercises authority in His Church through the ministry of the Word.  So you believe the Absolution spoken by your pastor.  You believe what he teaches and preaches.  You believe what you hear from his mouth about water being a Baptism of rebirth and renewal, about bread and wine being Christ’s true Body and Blood.  You believe it, not because you believe in the man under the robes, but because you believe in the Christ who sent him.  You believe in the divine authority of the Words spoken in the stead and by the command of the Lord Jesus.  The question of authority is vital.  Because the forgiveness of your sins and your eternal salvation hand in the balance.  This is a matter of eternal life and death. 
            The problem comes when we let our own authority trump that of Jesus.  Of course, we have no real authority, but we think we do.  And we think others do.  We are so puffed up by our own perceived authority, power, prestige.  We believe we are the judges of good and evil.  We say things like, “I just can’t believe in a God who would…” do this, that, or the other thing we disagree with or that doesn’t fit our definition of love.  And so we make the same mistake Adam and Eve made in the Garden.  You can just hear Eve saying to herself, “I just can’t believe in a God who would withhold from us fruit that is so pleasing to the eye, good for food, and able to make one wise.”  And Adam saying, “I just can’t believe in a God who wouldn’t want me to make my wife happy by eating this food she has set before me.  After all, it’s just a little bite, and how can God be so judgmental when my wife and I are acting out of love for one another?”
            The reality is, though, Adam and Eve had no authority to take and eat.  And the serpent had no authority to speak to them.  And the authority Adam and Eve thought they possessed, was, in reality, slavery to demonic deception.  Just as our own perceived authority is, in reality, that same slavery to deception.  In other words, there is nothing autonomous, self-determining, about this.  It’s all an illusion, a deception from the evil one.  The reality is, too, that our perceived authority is beholden to the unbelieving world.  We pander to the wise of this world, the elite, the influential powers, the culture, and we shape our opinions accordingly.  We trust in the media.  We worship our entertainers, even calling them idols.  We believe our politicians can save us from ruin, disaster, and death.  Because we trust their authority above that of Jesus!  And most of all, we trust ourselves.  Why is the authority of Jesus and His Word such a threat to us?  Because it threatens our idols, and chiefly the idol of self.  If Jesus has authority over me, I can no longer live for myself, for my own pleasure, power, and wealth.  If Jesus is my King, He rules over me by His Word, and my every thought must be taken captive to Him.  If Jesus is my Judge, I must confess I have no righteousness of my own, but only sin, rebellion, and death.  If Jesus is my Savior, I must give up all thoughts of saving myself.  I must admit that I have been deceived, that I am in slavery to the devil.  I must admit that it takes the blood and death of God to free me from my chains.  If Jesus has the authority, I do not.  And if Jesus has the authority, I must die.  I must daily die in repentance and confession of my sins.  I must daily emerge and arise from the waters of my Baptism to live before God in the newness of life that is the life of Christ, under His authority, in His Kingdom, with His righteousness, innocence, and blessedness as my own.
            The incredible reality is that this Jesus, God in human flesh, the eternal Son of the Father, through whom all things were made and by whose Word of power all things are held together… this One who has authority over all things in heaven and on earth, submitted Himself to us, for us and for our salvation.  He submitted Himself to the Chief Priests and the Elders of the people, submitted Himself to Pontius Pilate and the Roman Government, to the soldiers, the whips, the nails, and the wood.  He who is without sin submitted Himself to our sin, bearing its burden.  He who is the Life submitted Himself to our death.  He who is the beloved of the Father submitted Himself to the Father’s wrath.  For us.  For you.  For me.  To bring our sin to justice.  To cancel our debt to God.  To render the full payment for our sin by His Blood.
            But in submitting to this authority, He takes the authority captive.  He seizes the authority of death by dying.  He snatches away the authority of sin by drowning it in the water and blood flowing from His pierced side.  He crushes the authority and the very head of the serpent by taking the serpent’s venom into Himself.  All of that false authority is at an end in Christ.  He has taken the authority for Himself.  He is risen from the dead.  And He leads a host of captives in His train.  The tax collectors and prostitutes go marching into the Kingdom of God (Matt. 21:31).  For they believe the preaching of John.  They repent.  They recognize the authority of the preaching.  They believe the authority of Christ who forgives their sins and calls them out of captivity to new life in Himself.  And so you.  You hear the preaching of repentance.  You believe it has divine authority.  So you repent.  You repent of your idolatry.  You repent of your self-determination.  You repent of following after every false authority.  You confess your sins.  And now you listen only for the voice of Jesus.  You take every thought captive to Him.  For His is the voice of forgiveness.  His is the voice of salvation.  His is the voice of life. 
            All authority in heaven and on earth has been given by God to our Lord Jesus (Matt. 28:18-20).  It is on that authority that Jesus commands His Church to make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching.  We are gathered by His authority into one holy Christian and apostolic Church.  And He is with us always to the very end of the age.  The question of authority has been answered decisively in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  He is the Word of the Father.  And with all the authority of Almighty God, He bespeaks you righteous.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.      


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 20)

September 21, 2014
Text: Matt. 20:1-16

            If the Master of the House were paying wages earned by his workers, his method would be madness.  Everybody knows you don’t pay someone who has worked only one hour the same amount as the guy who has worked twelve!  And the guys who were hired first, well, they bore the burden of the day and the scorching heat (Matt. 20:12).  It’s not fair!  The guys hired last worked only one hour, in the cool of the day, and the Master pays them as if they had worked the whole time!  You can’t run a business this way.  It’s lunacy.  And yet, this is how God does things.  This is how it works in God’s economy.  His thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways (Is. 55:8).  In God’s economy, you are not paid what you deserve.  And thank God for that!  For what you deserve is condemnation, and death, and hell.  In God’s economy, you are paid by grace.  You are given what you do not deserve.  You are given what Christ deserves.  You are given what He has earned by His work on your behalf.  You are given eternal life and salvation, heaven, and the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of your body on the Last Day.  This apart from your works.  It is all by grace.
            I suspect we will be surprised at who we find in heaven.  Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the Jews that tax collectors and prostitutes go into the Kingdom of God before they do; for when John preached repentance, the tax collectors and prostitutes believed him.  But the religious authorities would not change their minds (Matt. 21:31-32).  They would not repent.  On this Feast Day of St. Matthew, we remember the tax collector sitting at the tax booth to whom Jesus called, “Follow me” (9:9; ESV).  And he did.  He became Jesus’ disciple, one of the Twelve, and eventually the writer of our Gospel.  And he gave a great feast for Jesus, at which the Savior sat down to eat with notorious tax collectors and sinners, to the utter offense and dismay of the Pharisees (vv. 10-11).  Why are they so upset?  The same reason the workers hired first were upset in our parable.  Those people don’t deserve Jesus’ goodness and mercy!  How could He eat with them?  How could He fellowship with them?  How could Jesus give the same reward to those people that He gives to us?  We deserve more.  We have behaved better.  We are the good Christians.  They are the dregs of society.  We live morally upstanding lives.  They represent everything that is wrong with society.  Jesus should reward us.  Jesus should punish them
            Repent.  As our Lord here reminds us, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick… I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (vv. 12-13).  If you compare yourself with others, judge yourself righteous by exposing the sin of others, believe you’ve earned your denarius, but the most the other guy is entitled to is a few measly pennies, then you’re a Pharisee.  Jesus can’t give you the healing medicine of the Gospel if you don’t know you’re sick.  He cannot raise you if you refuse to admit you’re dead.  If you want what you’ve earned, Jesus will give it to you, but woe to you.  Because all you’ve earned is eternity in Gehenna.  The Master tells the worker who complains to take what belongs to him and go (20:14).  No more chilling words could be spoken.  He is telling him to go ahead and depart.  Go ahead and remove himself from the Master’s generosity.  Go ahead and remove himself from the Master’s fellowship.  When the Master is God, such self-removal means condemnation.  It means hell.
            But the glorious good news here is that the Master wants you to be in His fellowship.  He wants to pour out His generosity upon you.  He wants you to belong to Him.  The reality is, you are just as unlikely a citizen of God’s Kingdom as the tax collectors and prostitutes.  If you don’t believe me, just examine yourself.  Your very self-righteousness exposes you for the sinner that you are.  But you also are covered by God’s grace in Christ.  You may have been hired with the first group at dawn.  You may have been baptized as an infant.  You may have grown up in the Church, faithfully attended Sunday School, been catechized, confirmed, and married in the Church, but the very same grace of God in Christ covers you that covers those hired in the third, the sixth, the ninth, and even in the eleventh hour.  The same grace covers you that covers those who come to faith on their death bed, the thief on the cross, the prostitute, the drug dealer, the murderer, and the petty thief who hear the preaching of repentance and Christ crucified for sinners, and believe it, and are saved. 
            Grace is not earned.  Grace cannot be merited, neither in your case nor in theirs.  Not by the first or the last.  Not by the greatest or the least.  The Master in the parable is gracious, and His grace is demonstrated by His own taking the initiative, going to those who had no job, no place, no purpose, no means of helping themselves or providing for themselves, and graciously inviting them to come and work for Him.  He gives them a place in His Home, at His Table, and a purpose in life, work to do in His Vineyard.  And on top of all that, He pays them for it!  He generously and freely gives, and then He pays those who simply receive His generosity and gifts.  That’s God’s economy!  And the payment is Christ Himself.  Luther says that the promised coin is God’s “Son, Jesus Christ, forgiveness of sins, redemption from death and every affliction.  In addition, He gives us His Holy Spirit and finally eternal life.”[1]
            So this is what God does for you.  There you are, standing alone, without any god to love you, to care for you, to save you.  And He comes to you.  He takes the initiative.  You do not go to Him.  He comes to you.  He seeks you.  He chooses you.  And He takes you to Himself.  He grabs you up by His Word, by His gracious invitation, by His Promise that He will provide for you, body and soul.  And He brings you into His Vineyard, His House, His Church.  He gives you a place here in His family, with His sons and daughters.  He cleans you up, washes away your filth, your sin.  And He sets a place for you at the Table.  All of this He does for you before you’ve done anything.  But He also gives you purpose.  He gives you work to do.  There are brothers and sisters to care for in the household.  There are fellow workers in the Vineyard to be loved and tended.  You don’t do this for pay.  You do this because that is what the members of this House do for each other.  And yet, the Lord does pay you.  Not for service rendered, but because that’s who He is.  He is generous.  He is good.  He provides.  He loves to pour out His gifts upon you.  And He loves to pour out His gifts upon your neighbor, whoever he is, whenever he’s come to the Vineyard, whatever the circumstance. 
            Your response is not to begrudge your Master’s generosity.  Your response is simply to rejoice.  To rejoice in the Lord Jesus’ embrace of the cross for you and for your salvation.  To rejoice in His triumphant resurrection from the dead.  To rejoice in your Baptism into Christ and the new life that flows in you, the very life of the risen Christ.  To rejoice in the Holy Spirit who daily and richly forgives your sins and gives eternal life to you and all believers in Christ.  To rejoice in God’s grace toward your neighbor, in your neighbor’s welfare, in your neighbor’s reception of God’s gifts.  To take your place here in the Lord’s House, at His Table, with your brothers and sisters.  And then to go out and work in the Vineyard, not to earn your denarius, but simply to give thanks and to love and to serve.  And always, to trust in Christ’s Promise, His reward, His generosity to you. 
            The Master of the House, God, is not paying wages to those who have earned them.  He is bestowing gifts upon the undeserving.  He is bestowing gifts upon you.  And He does this in and through Christ, your Savior.  Thanks be to God.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.              



[1] “Matthew 20:1-16” in Luther’s Works Vol. 68: Sermons on Matthew Chapters 19-24 (St. Louis: Concordia 2014) pp. 71-72.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 19)

September 14, 2014
Text: Matt. 18:21-35

            It is pretty outrageous.  In fact, it’s downright infuriating.  Here this wicked servant has been forgiven all his debt, ten thousand talents, whether of gold or silver, an unimaginable amount that he could never pay off if he worked his whole life.  And he turns around and demands that his fellow-servant pay back what is, relatively speaking, a rather minor debt, a hundred denarii.  And when the fellow servant can’t pay, the first servant has him thrown into debtor’s prison.  Having been forgiven much, the servant failed to forgive even a little.  Now, the other servants were obviously disturbed.  They went and told the master everything.  “Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!  I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.  And should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’” (Matt. 18:32-33; ESV).  The moral of the story is clear.  Having been forgiven, you should forgive.  Having received mercy, you should have mercy on your neighbor.  And keep in mind what God has forgiven you.  He has forgiven you so much more than you’ll ever have to forgive your neighbor.  Like the ten thousand talents, roughly the wages for 60 million days of work, forgiven by the master as if there never was a debt.  Verses 100 denarii, roughly 100 days of work, significant, but not in comparison with the 60 million days.  Yet the wicked servant will not forgive this.  You see the absurdity and downright wickedness of it in the illustration.  And yet, is this not a picture of what you do when you fail to forgive your neighbor?  Here you’ve been forgiven all your sins: your rejection of God, your adulterous addiction to other gods (the people and things you fear, love, and trust above Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), the hatred you harbor toward your neighbor, your wandering eyes and your heart full of lust and covetousness, your loose tongue, not to mention every skeleton that you know would fall out of your closet if we opened the door to take a peek.  All the secrets you’ve hidden in the darkness.  God knows them all.  And He forgives you.  For all of it.  Because of Christ.  Because of His saving work for you.  But your neighbor said something mean.  Or disagreed with your politics.  Or betrayed a confidence.  Whatever it was, he hurt you.  And one thing is certain: You’ll never forgive him for it.
            Repent.  You are the wicked servant.  You’ve been forgiven a debt you could never possibly repay, not even with 60 million days of hard labor.  That’s the point.  It is impossible to pay for your own sins.  It took the death of God to pay for your sins.  It took the blood and death of Jesus on the cross.  And He willingly paid it.  He willingly suffered all of this for you.  You don’t deserve it.  You aren’t worthy of it.  But He did it anyway.  Because He loves you.  Because He’s just that good.  So now, on the basis of His forgiving your unimaginable debt, you are to forgiven your neighbor’s minor (and even not so minor) infractions.  And as bad as your neighbor’s sins against you may be (and there are some pretty horrendous sins we humans perpetrate against one another), recognize that they pale in comparison with your own sins against God.  Christ died for you.  Christ died for your neighbor.  Your sins are forgiven by God in Christ.  Your neighbor’s sins are forgiven by God in Christ.  God loves you.  God loves your neighbor.  If God forgives your neighbor, who are you to hold his sin against him?  If God loves your neighbor, who are you to despise him?  If God forgives even you, who are you to withhold forgiveness from another? 
            Now, what is forgiveness?  First of all, this is what it is not.  It is not a feeling in your heart.  Forgiving your neighbor doesn’t mean you feel all warm and fuzzy about him.  Of course, bitter feelings are sinful, and you should repent of them.  But forgiveness is not a feeling.  Forgiveness is a decision.  It is a decision not to hold your neighbor’s sin against him.  It is a decision to pray for your neighbor’s welfare, pray that God would bless him, pray that God would forgive him and give him faith in Christ.  And it is a decision not to seek the retribution your neighbor’s sin deserves.  On the other hand, forgiveness does not mean there aren’t temporal consequences for sin.  If, God forbid, I drive drunk and kill someone in an accident, that person’s family may forgive me, but I still have to go to jail.  If, God forbid, someone does something to harm your children, you may forgive them, but you won’t ask them to babysit.  And yet, in spite of those temporal consequences, you pray God would spare the offender the eternal consequences of his sin.  Nor is forgiveness an act, a good face.  It is not sweeping something under the rug where no one can see it, but secretly holding on to it so that it festers inside of you into anger and hatred.  If you need to forgive your neighbor, and especially if you are struggling with it, here is what you do: Every day you thank God for that person, and you pray that God would bless him.  It well may disgust you to do it.  That’s okay.  Repent of your disgust.  And then do it anyway.  Forgiveness is something you practice.  Jesus tells you to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matt. 5:44), do good to those who hate you and bless those who curse you (Luke 6:27-28).  That is what it means to live in forgiveness, God’s for you, and yours for your neighbor.   
            Forgiveness is to loose from the bondage of guilt.  It is to set your neighbor free.  It is to release him.  It is to untie him, let him go, send his sin away, like God did for the Israelites with the scapegoat.  The priest would lay his hands on the goat, confess the sins of the people over it, and then send it out into the wilderness.  The sins of the people were literally sent away.  This, of course, was a type of Christ.  This is what our Lord Jesus did for us, taking our sins upon Himself as the Scapegoat, bearing them out of the city, up the hill, onto the wood, lifted up before God as the Bearer of all our sins.  To forgive is to have mercy, as Joseph does for his brothers in our Old Testament (Gen. 50:15-21).  These brothers had thrown Joseph into a pit and ignored his cries for help as they sat down for lunch to consider what to do with him.  They thought about murdering him.  But instead, they sold him to Midianite slave traders, sold their own flesh and blood into Egyptian slavery.  Well, things worked out well in the end for Joseph, because God took care of him.  But they only worked out well after false accusations of rape and hard labor in prison.  Still, Joseph does the Christian thing.  He forgives his brothers.  He feeds them.  He provides for them.  He looses them from the chains of their guilt.  “‘As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.  So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’  Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (Gen. 50:20-21). 
            Now, there is something in Joseph’s story that clues you in to why you can freely forgive your neighbor his trespasses against you.  You can do so because you know that promise that God will work all things, even evil perpetrated against you, for your good.  That is what St. Paul writes: “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).  So even if your neighbor means evil against you, God means it for your good.  And He will take care of you.  He may not make you the ruler of a country, and you may not know how He has worked everything out for your good until you get to heaven, but you’ll see it then.  Then you’ll know.  That’s just what He does.  That’s the promise.
            But there is an even greater reason you can forgive.  You can forgive because Christ, who died for you, and who is risen from the dead for you, lives in you.  More importantly, you live in Him.  He gives you His resurrection life in your Baptism into Him, the life that He won.  And how did He win it?  By forgiving you.  By dying for your forgiveness.  That’s how He won it.  So with that life in you, you can forgive.  You can be merciful.  You can love those who have sinned against you.  Because even your lack of love and your inability to forgive has been covered in the blood of the Savior.  Don’t miss the order, here.  God doesn’t forgive you because you’ve first forgiven your neighbor.  You forgive your neighbor because God has first forgiven you.  The servant could have forgiven the debt of his neighbor because the master had first forgiven him.  You forgive because God has first forgiven you.  You forgive your neighbor for the sake of Christ who died to win that forgiveness.

            How often?  As many as seven times?  (Peter thinks he’s being rather generous, by the way, and by human standards, he is!)  Not seven times, but seventy times seven.  And even more.  Don’t keep track.  Because the beautiful Good News is that God doesn’t keep track of your sins.  He doesn’t put a limit on the forgiveness He extends to you.  Every time you sin, you are forgiven.  Every time you repent, you are absolved.  Every time.  No exceptions.  Not because you deserve it.  Not because your repentance is “really sincere.”  Not because you’ve proven yourself worthy of a second, third, or four billionth chance.  Because of Christ.  Always and only because of Christ.  In fact, let’s put it this way.  Whatever your neighbor has done to you, charge it all to Christ’s account.  That’s what God has done.  That’s what He does for you.  Jesus has paid for it all, all of your neighbor’s sins against you, all of your sins against your neighbor, paid for it all right there on the cross.  So it is done.  You are forgiven.  Your neighbor is forgiven.  You are both loosed.  You are free.  As our Lord said from the cross about your sin and your neighbor’s: “It is finished” (John 19:30).  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.     

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 18)

September 7, 2014
Text: Matt. 18:1-20

            This morning our Lord Jesus teaches us about faith toward God and love toward one another.  Or, we might say, He teaches us about faith and the fruits of faith, for though we are saved by faith alone, faith is never alone.  Faith always produces the fruits of love, of repentance for our own sins and forgiveness for the brother or sister who sins against us.  As we pray in the Lord’s Prayer (the prayer of faith!): “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  This is also a prayer in which we call upon God as “Our Father.”  Because that is the posture of faith, that of a child to his Father.  So what does Jesus say?  “(U)nless you turn [repent!]  and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3; ESV).  That means you’ve gotta stop trying to be adults!  Repent of trying to be in charge of your own faith and Christian life.  Repent of your failed attempts to determine what is right and what is wrong for yourself.  And repent of your failed attempts to judge yourself righteous over against your neighbor whom you have judged to be wicked.  Repent of your endless quest to justify yourself.  Repent of your ceaseless striving to save yourself.  Recognize yourself for who you are:  A mere child! Helpless!  Trapped!  Trapped in a mess of your own making, that of sin and death and condemnation.  But then remember that you are not an orphan.  Your Father has claimed you for Himself by the blood of Christ.  You are God’s child.  He helps you.  He saves you.  He declares you righteous, not because of anything you have done, and certainly not because you’re better than your neighbor, but because of Christ, His righteous Son.  God is the Judge, not you.  He determines what is right and what is wrong for you, because He knows what is good, and desires that good for you.  And so also, He is the Judge of your neighbor, not you.  Just as He has pronounced you righteous in Christ, so also has He pronounced your neighbor righteous in Christ.  And His verdict trumps yours.  So turn.  Repent.  Believe what God says.  Trust Him to save you.  Trust Him to provide what is good.  Receive His gifts freely given without any merit or worthiness on your part.  Be a child before your Father in heaven.
            That is what we all are: Children of God.  God has made us so in our Baptism into Christ.  Jesus purchased us with His own blood and death for this very purpose.  And so now our Lord teaches us what we are to do for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, to help each other through our sojourning in the wilderness of this fallen world.  We are to receive each other.  “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me” (v. 5).  That is, we are to love one another, care for one another, provide for one another’s needs, encourage each other, console each other, admonish one another, and most especially we are to speak Christ to one another.  In other words, we are to edify one another with the Gospel.  And we are to bring each other, especially our children and family members, to Christ’s Church.  Woe to us if we cause a fellow Christian to sin, to stumble, to fall from faith in Christ.  It would be better to have a great millstone hung around our neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea than to cause one of these little ones who believe in Jesus, a fellow brother or sister in Christ, to sin (v. 6).  Temptations will come.  That’s just life in this fallen world, a world full of sin and unbelief.  But woe to the one through whom it comes (v. 7)!  Beloved, let it not come from you.  Though you are not the Judge, you are to watch over your brothers and sisters and yourself, that you not fall away from Christ through some temptation of the flesh.  Watch over the members of your body: Your hands, your feet, your eyes.  Let them not lead you into transgression.  When they do, cut them off.  Well, don’t literally mutilate yourself.  But die to yourself.  Crucify the flesh.  Deny yourself the sinful pleasure.  Turn from it.  Repent!  And then ask God not only to sanctify your hands, your feet, your eyes, but your mind and your heart.  Ask Him to transform your mind and your heart into the mind and heart of Christ.  And plead the same thing for your neighbor.  And know that that is precisely what God does for you in your Baptism, and in His Word and Supper, as He gives you Christ to wash away your sins of hand, foot, eye, mind, and heart; as He bespeaks you righteous and fills you with His living Word and Spirit; and then feeds you the risen and living Body and Blood of Jesus so that His new life is in you. 
            It is vital, though, in your dealings with your brothers and sisters, that you also recognize your own sin and weakness, your own need for Christ to transform your heart and mind.  Otherwise you will despise one of these little ones, your fellow Christian, which Christ warns you not to do (v. 10).  Yes, your neighbor is weak.  Yes, your brother is a sinner.  Sure, your sister is a gossip.  Indeed, your brother is full of anger and lust.  So are you.  Repent.  And then be patient with your fellow Christians.  God certainly is.  So patient with them that He continues to look upon them through the lens of Jesus’ Blood and righteousness.  So patient with them that He continues to care for them by the ministrations of the holy angels who simultaneously see the face of our Father in heaven.  So patient is He, that when your neighbor strays, He does not do what you think He should do.  He does not abandon your neighbor to the wolves and the robbers and the perils of the wilderness.  He does not give them what they deserve.  He goes after them.  He always goes after His lost sheep.  He leaves the ninety-nine on the mountain to go and find the single stray, the sinner who has fallen to temptation, the sinner who has been wounded by unbelief, the sinner who perhaps even has sinned against you, but who has sinned against God infinitely more and worse.  Still, God forgives.  Jesus forgives.  Jesus died for your neighbor.  Jesus, our Good Shepherd, goes after His sheep and brings it home.  And He and the angels rejoice (v. 13), for “it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (v. 14). 
            What God has done for your neighbor, He has done for you.  You are the sheep that has gone astray.  You wandered off on your own path, thinking you could take care of yourself, thinking there were greener pastures that the Lord was withholding from you.  You forgot your utter dependence on God.  You forgot you were His helpless child.  But He finds you.  He always finds you.  He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up into death for you, how could He possibly let you go without seeking you out and bringing you back to the fold?  That is grace!  You don’t deserve it.  But Jesus deserves it.  And His deserving counts for you.  That is what He wants for you.  And that is the will of His Father in heaven. 
            And so now God would use you whom He has made His own, not to judge and condemn your neighbor in his sin, but to win him out of it and be Christ’s hands in bringing him back to God.  This is such an important teaching for the Church, what our Lord here tells us about dealing with our neighbor who has sinned.  “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone” (v. 15).  You don’t trumpet it in the streets.  You don’t go and tell your friends the latest juicy details.  You don’t “just have to vent,” “confidentially, of course,” about your neighbor’s sins and weaknesses.  And you don’t hold it all in and let it boil up in anger and hatred in your heart.  If a brother or sister in Christ sins against you, or if you know about a sin they have committed, you go directly to that person.  Show them the error.  Work it out.  Do it gently, respectfully, in love, in humility, recognizing that the whole thing begins with your own self-examination and repentance, removing the log from your own eye so that you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your neighbor’s (Matt. 7:1-5).  The goal of this, of course, is to win your brother or sister, to forgive them, to restore the relationship to yourself and to God, that the offender not perish in his sin.  Who knows?  He might repent!  That’s what we want!  It may be, of course, that he does not listen to you.  In that case, you are to take one or two others, trusted Christian brothers or sisters who have likewise examined themselves and confessed their sins.  Perhaps the pastor and the elders, or some other mature Christians.  The goal, again, is repentance, restoration, and forgiveness.  That is what God has called us to do for one another.  If, even then, the brother will not listen, will not repent, then you tell it to the Church.  And the Church begs the brother to repent.  But if he will not listen to the Church, Jesus says, you are to “let him be to you as a Gentile or a tax collector,” an unbeliever (Matt. 18:17).  Not that you are to shun him or abuse him.  Not at all.  How is the Church to treat an unbeliever?  As the object of her mission.  As one to whom she is to proclaim Jesus and His forgiveness.  To be sure, the brother in this case can no longer be considered a member of the congregation.  He can no longer commune.  By his refusal to repent, he has removed himself from the fellowship of the Christian Church.  But notice that the excommunication of which Jesus speaks is done always in love, never in anger, never out of spite or revenge, always with the one goal of our brother’s repentance and restoration, always to win him back to Christ.

            And if he repents, you forgive him.  You forgive him immediately and unconditionally in the Name of Christ.  At whatever point in the process your brother recognizes his sin and repents, you forgive and you rejoice.  No matter what he’s done to you or said to you.  No matter how hurt you were.  That’s what you do.  Forgiveness is a fruit of faith.  It hurts, because you have to die to yourself.  But you can do it, and you should do it.  Because that’s what Jesus has done for you!  He died for you!  He died for your neighbor!  Forgiveness requires death, and Jesus fulfilled the obligation. Jesus paid the price in full.  For you.  For your neighbor.  For all sins.  For all sinners.  The handwriting against us has been wiped away in the blood of Jesus Christ.  And what God has declared forgiven, you don’t get to bind to your neighbor’s charge.  But more on that next week.  In the meantime, rejoice!  For God has freely forgiven all your sins, even your failures with regard to your neighbor, the stumbling blocks you’ve placed before him, your failure to call him to repentance, your grudges and your failure to forgive.  All of that, even that, is covered by the blood of Jesus Christ.  You are forgiven.  You are loosed.  You are free.  Like a child in the house of your Father who loves you.  And He gives you the very Kingdom of Heaven.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.