“What’s in a Name?”

Matthew 20:1-16

20 September 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Matthew 20:1-16

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 

And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 

When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 

But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Prayer.

To label a parable is to interpret it.

This is always a fun way to begin a Bible study:

Tell everyone to cross out the nifty title

Slipped in-between the text

In their version of the Bible

And replace it with a title of their own.

Discuss.

To label a parable is to interpret it.

For years I’d been content to accept the title given me

By the New Revised Standard Version,

The academic brand I prefer,

For this particular Gospel parable.

It is titled “The Parable of Laborers in the Vineyard.”

One might just as easily title this parable

 “The Parable of the Just and Generous Owner,” or

“The Parable of the Grumbling Workers,” or

“The Parable of the Provocative Land Owner.”

In a similar way,

To create a sermon title

Is to give the listeners a clue

To how the preacher is interpreting the Gospel.

If I called it “Moaning and Complaining” you might believe

That my interpretation of Matthew 20

Is focused on the discontented laborers.

Had I titled today’s sermon “Grace and Generosity”

Your imagination might be led in a completely different direction.

To label a parable of Jesus is to interpret it.

What if some parables are more complicated? …

… Stacks of multiple layers of meanings?

What if Jesus desired to communicate different messages

To different audiences

Over the span of time, distance, situation, and circumstances?

What if Jesus desired a parable’s meaning to evolve over the life span

Of the person in the audience,

The disciple doing the listening?

At the risk of pushing this, or any other parable, for that matter,

Too far or too hard,

I’d like to suggest there are at minimum

Three different ways,

Three different lenses,

Three different world views,

To view this parable from Matthew 20.

It all begins with what you call it.

1. Let’s title this parable

“The Parable of the Just and Generous Land Owner.”

This is the easiest, simplest, most obvious path of interpretation

Any thoughtful disciple can take.

Indeed, I have taken this world view many times

In prior sermons on this passage.

A just and generous land owner

Assumes that the land owner is a representation of God.

God is just,

exactly like this land owner.

Certainly justice is high up on God’s list of values.

A parable of a justice minded God squares itself with other teaching of Jesus.

A just God is consistent with Hebrew scripture (the Old Testament),

And a justice abiding God fits in well with Acts and the Epistles.

Indeed, God is faithful to his word.

Just as the land owner pays each worker what was promised,

God is just,

Making certain that everyone who is willing and able to work is hired.

All are paid sufficiently to support themselves and their needs for the day.

No one goes hungry.

Everyone gets paid.

God is generous, especially when it comes to

Making certain His will is accomplished.

Likewise, the land owner pays at what amounts to be a greater rate

As the shadows lengthen and the day grows long.

Money is no barrier to God winning,

Getting work done.

Achieving and exceeding goals,

Bringing in the harvest.

When viewed through the lens of a just and generous God,

Our Lord’s parable casts God as the ultimate landowner.

It gives God the sufficient goodness

And true-to-your-word honest integrity

To be a loving, understanding God.

God uses all of the created order for God’s good and will,

Even if we fail to see it.

In Jesus’ earlier words,

God’s perfection is exemplified in God’s rain on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5:48)

In our world of a just and generous God

Jesus chides us to stop moaning and complaining!

Stop with the envy and resentment.

Don’t complain about what others receive,

and don’t complain about what you think you deserve.

Stop viewing the world as if you’re looking with an evil eye or an angry heart!

Jesus brings encouragement to be thankful for the God we got.

Every promise is kept.

Every need is met.

Like the story of God liberating the children of Israel from slavery, and

like the story of the cross …

… of how Jesus liberates us from sin and death …

… our parable for this morning isn’t about worldly wisdom.

It is a story about divine grace;

of God’s unlimited love and concern for every last one of us.

It isn’t about what we deserve

but rather it is about what we need,

and how God generously provides,

sometimes even when we don’t deserve it.

But, perhaps today

Jesus is calling us to label his parable differently.

2. Let’s consider titling this parable from Matthew 20

The “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere Parable.”

No.

I’m not talking about justification for drinking.

If we call this parable “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”

We are freed to pull back the curtain

And have our assumptions about normal life deeply challenged.

Perhaps Jesus intends the focus of this parable to be

Those who are last hired,

Those who had to wait until five o’clock to be chosen.

In doing so,

The land owner is cast in a much more negative view.

Indeed, one could not associate God with the wealthy land owner.

Take God right out of the picture.

Think of the wealthy vineyard owner as nothing more than a shrewd businessman.

The land owner,

Desperate to bring in the harvest,

Approaches the last to be hired and asks,

“Why are you standing here idle all day?”

They said to him,

“Because no one has hired us.” (20:6-7)

Who is in the employment line at five o’clock in the afternoon?

Who are the last to be chosen?

Well, it certainly wasn’t the strongest workers.

It wasn’t the vineyard workers with the greatest experience.

It wasn’t the agri-tech researchers from Cornell Cooperative Extension.

It wasn’t the most efficient or most able.

Those hired at five o’clock in the afternoon were the disabled;

People who were physically and mentally frail.

Standing on this street corner was

The single mother who fed her 3 children tea for lunch

Because she had no food in the cupboard.

(By the way, they are home alone, without a baby sitter or day care)

Waiting in his wheelchair is the man who had been

Shunned by his parents and shamed by his peers.

At five in the afternoon there

Was that kid on the autism spectrum

Rolling his head back and forth

Who’d been bullied by others and told all his life

That he’d never amount to anything.

The homeless, the diseased, the addicted,

And all the residents from the local asylum and poor house

Were the last ones remaining on that street corner,

Waiting in the hot sun,

Patiently,

All-day long.

They were the most desperate to earn a check.

Yet, they were the most willing to work to the best of their abilities.  

“Why are you standing here idle all day?”

When I hear the landowner ask this question,

I get mighty angry.

They said to him,

“Because no one has hired us.” (20:6-7)

This makes me want to cry.

Calling this parable taught by Jesus

“It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere Parable”

Describes a normal way of life and blows it up.

Blows. It. Up.

This turns everyday life inside out and upside down.

Be careful, because

This world view is revolutionary.

It better aligns this parable with the Beatitudes earlier in Matthew.

Blessed are, Jesus teaches us.

Blessed are …

The poor,

Those who mourn,

The meek,

Those who hunger and thirst.

Blessed are …

The merciful,

The pure in heart,

The peacemakers.

And blessed are the persecuted.

Blessed are those who have waited in line all day,

Judged unworthy time and time again,

Yet, who keep the faith unto the end.

We are forced to bless others even when we feel

They’re all a bunch of freeloaders

Gaming the Medicaid system for additional food stamps.

We are forced to bless others even when we feel like

The boss is cheating me out of overtime and

I’m working myself to death at my second, part-time job,

Just to make mortgage and car payments.

We are forced to bless others

Even when we feel like we are the ones being ripped off.

This parable exposes the

Problem with identifying people’s worth with what they earn.

It reveals how wages divide the world.

And it is like a cold splash of water in the face

Waking us to the danger of assuming the rest of the world

should be the same as me.

Perhaps, Jesus is suggesting,

Every life has value.

Every person is important.

Every individual is necessary to fulfill God’s will,

To complete the Kingdom of God.

3. Let’s consider calling this parable of Jesus

“The Parable of the Provocative Land Owner.”

This world view builds on the previous example.

In the same way, God cannot be assumed to be the wealthy landowner.

Perhaps Jesus paints this parable in a way

That draws attention to the attitude of the landowner.

Let’s take a deeper look.

“I will pay you whatever …” (20:4)

It is as if he couldn’t be troubled with calculating the expense.

“Why are you standing here idle all day?” (20:6)

What are you? Blind? Or just plain ignorant?

Then, he acts like he’s poking a stick in the eye of those first hired:

“Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” (20:8)

I’m going to provoke those I hired first,

By schooling them and shaming them in front of everyone else,

That I’m paying the last hired the same amount as I paid those hired earlier.

It’s my money;

I’ll do with it what I want!

“Friend” he says to those who grumbled and complained,

“I am doing you no wrong.” (20:13)

Correctly translated,

“friend” is a sneer,

Intended to provoke a reaction!

When viewed this way

The landowner incites envy.

The landowner provokes those who brought him success.

That landowner is no God of mine!

How does it make you feel

When people of power and privilege and wealth

Talk down to you?

It makes me feel small.

It makes me feel worthless.

It strips away my dignity and my self-esteem.

Every one of those workers in Jesus’ parable

Would have to return to work the very next day

No further ahead,

With less dignity and self-respect,

More fully aware of the insurmountable gulf

That separated the rich from the poor

And the haves from the have nots.

Every one of those workers

Would return to work the next day

Knowing that there was no way to escape poverty.

There was no way up;

No way out.

Jesus reveals through this parable

A world where workers have no name and

Where laborers are identified as

“limitless and disposable fuel;

Bodies to be burned up.”

(Thanks to

 Rolf Jacobson, Karoline Lewis, and Matt Skinner

 who discussed this approach

on the podcast

“Sermon Brainwave”

posted 9/23/17 http://download.luthersem.edu/media/working_preacher/podcast/561WPBrainwave.mp3)

I can see and hear your minds whirling.

“Workers of the world, unite!”

“That pastor Todd is starting to sound like a communist!”

Well, no.

That’s what our biased culturalism leads us to believe.

When workers are nothing more than fuel to be burned

Or fodder for cannons,

Then what Jesus is revealing about our world

Is a limited and false justice.

He is pulling back the curtain and exposing a world

Of justice available to the few who can afford it,

Where kids are drafted and blindly sent into the line of fire,

Where an organization hires its own investigator to conduct a so called independent investigation.

Oh, come on!

Wait.

That looks like our world!

Justice works just fine for

Those who are able to buy a plane ticket or fill their gas tanks to get out of the path of the hurricane,

Those able to donate enough money to have a building dedicated with their own name on it.

Justice works out swell for

Those who have friends in high places.

Justice works just fine for people with networks,

Who know politicians,

And who will never be eligible for the services of a public defender.

But,

What about those who had to ride out the hurricane?

Who are standing in a pile of rubble that used to be called “home”?

What about those who had to clean up the banquet hall after the dedication? Where good food went to waste, the bathrooms were left a mess, and where the wait staff was treated like dirt?

What about those who have been victimized,

Who filed a complaint,

Only to have it dismissed because it was decided to be “Unfounded”?

What about those who don’t have a friend,

Never knew a person in a high place,

And who lives a life alone?

Jesus is describing a divided world,

Not a world of relationships, healing and wholeness.

The contrast that Jesus creates with this parable

When we title it “The Parable of the Provocative Land Owner”

Is one that calls each of us into community,

Restoration, and

Healing

With each other

And with our God.

The world divides us;

Separates us into parties and factions,

Into casts and classes,

Into those who are saved

(those who are in)

And those who are not.

Scripture accurately describes the world

As “original sin”

Or, as the Apostle Paul describes it,

The work of “the flesh.”

Opposing this world

Is the Gospel of Jesus Christ,

Where God’s grace is inclusive of every individual,

Where God’s justice is sufficient,

Where God’s love is universal,

Where God’s forgiveness is unconditional,

And where God’s salvation is without exception.

That’s the God that I believe in.

When we remove the parable from the surrounding text

We are left with a preposition and a conclusion

That goes like this:

“The kingdom of heaven is”

Where “the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (20:1, 16)

As you consider your own title for this parable,

Carefully consider this value statement:

“the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Does this lead you to any conclusions?

Can you see the mind of Christ,

Feel his heart,

And understand his will?

For some of us,

Our Gospel is a reminder of divine grace,

Not about what we deserve,

But about how our generous God provides

Sometimes even when we don’t deserve it.

For others,

Our Gospel reminds us that

Every life has value.

Every person is important.

Every individual is necessary to fulfill God’s will,

To complete the Kingdom of God.

And yet for others,

Our Gospel teaches us that

While the world attempts to divide us

Our Lord and our God

Is always at work to unite us,

To welcome into community,

To welcome into relationship,

To welcome into his kingdom

The last and the least and the lost and the left behind.

Amen.

“Over the Top!”

Matthew 18:21-35

13 September 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Matthew 18:21-35

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”

Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.

But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt.

When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.

So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Prayer.

Without question,

Jesus is making preparations

For his imminent absence.

What happens with his followers after he ascends to the Father?

He’s going to great efforts to school his disciples;

Teaching them

How to become effective Apostles

Called and sent throughout the world,

How to become his living Body,

How to behave and act,

How to organize the Church,

And, of course, what to teach.

From this eighteenth chapter of Matthew

It’s quite clear that Jesus has a realistic expectation

About what the Church will face and how his disciples will respond.

To address these issues,

Jesus teaches with parables that exaggerate and are amplified;

Creating, for some, a disturbing image of the Church.

Disturbing?

Yes, disturbing.

Let’s think about it.

Cause a little one who believes in Jesus to stumble?

Anchor him down and throw him into the sea to drown. (18:6-7)

Tempted to stumble yourself?

Cut off your foot and throw it away. (18:8)

Tempted to look at something you shouldn’t?

Pluck out your eye and throw it away. (18:9)

Missing a member?

Leave the 99 surrounded by wolves,

And search for the lost until he or she is found. (18:10-14)

Have a conflict with another church member?

Go directly to resolve the issue.

If that doesn’t work, take a witness.

It that doesn’t work, take it before the church.

If that doesn’t work, keep reaching out until the sinner is returned and restored. (18:15-17)

Bind the good,

But damn to hell the sin and evil of the church. (18:18)

Church.

Beautiful, isn’t it?

His expectations were realistic.

The way Jesus taught church leadership was over the top.

(It’s not like we haven’t been exposed to hyperbole in our lives!)

The way Jesus teaches is over the top.

Then Peter came and said to him,

“Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” (18:21)

Nice try, Peter.

Nice try with that attempt to impress the Master

With that hyperbolic impersonation.

Peter probably was thinking to himself,

“If I inflate forgiveness from a one-to-one

To a seven-to-one prospect,

Jesus will be impressed with my grasp of forgiveness

And with my ability to adapt to his teaching style!” 

Ha! Peter.

You’re such a smart guy.

You’re not even in the same league.

“Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” (18:22)

For those of you attempting to do the multiplication in your head,

The answer is 539.

That’s a whole lot of forgiveness.

That’s over the top forgiveness,

A command to forgive

Unlike the world has ever seen before.

This Gospel passage and parable

Has caused me to consider, and reconsider,

A lot about forgiveness,

Both in the context of the Gospel

And in the context of the daily life of Jesus’ disciple.

This is what I am led to share with you:

1. First, the statement “if another member of the church sins against me”

Implies some other person in the church is actually guilty of sin

And I am the victim.

Sometimes this is the case.

Sometimes, however, we mistakenly believe ourselves

To be the victim of sin,

Blaming others,

When no sin was intended or committed.

There have been times in my own life

When I have felt like someone hurt or harmed me,

When, actually, I wasn’t.

I was wrong.

I responded like every member of the Goddard family tree

With the good old fashion Pennsylvania Dutch pout-and-silence treatment.

I responded with sin of my own: unwarranted anger, hurt, and judgment.

Many times it is my wife, Cynthia, who wakes me up to my error.

Other times awareness comes through reflection, prayer, or therapy.

Awareness of my own fault

Calls me back to the altar of forgiveness.

2. Secondly, I believe it is important to distinguish between

An apology, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Compare and contrast these three …

… apology, forgiveness, and reconciliation …

… to more fully explore our Lord’s Gospel instruction and intent.

An apology is simply “a regretful acknowledgment of an offense or failure.

(Definition by Google)

An apology begins with self-awareness

And ends with an “I’m sorry.”

Short. Sweet. To the point.

It begins internally.

Courage is revealed when it is taken externally to the one who was hurt.

Saying “I’m sorry”

Is the foundation,

The beginning step that leads to healing.

That courage is the catalyst that can propel the offended

To the next step towards healing

Our prayer of Confession Sunday during worship

Serves as our apology to God

For our prior offenses and failures.

Our Lord’s response is Holy Communion,

Sharing His Body and Blood.

The gift of the cross

Is Christ’s response to our apology.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Contrasting with an apology,

Forgiveness is the next step on the journey towards healing.

Forgiveness is intentional and voluntary.

Forgiveness does not require the participation of the offender.

Forgiveness is an internal process

“by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well.”

(Definition by Wikipedia)

Forgiveness sets you free.

Working through the hurt,

Drawing insight about what happened,

Making a decision to let go of the anger and grudge,

Rebuilding your safety net …

All this is an intentional decision to move forward

And not dwell in the past.

The past isn’t erased,

But the painful memory from the past is changed

Into an optimistic hope for the future.

Pain from our past

That is transformed into hope

Is God’s gift to us when we make the decision

To engage in the hard work of forgiveness.

Jesus wants us set free;

Free from our sins,

Free from the hurt others have done to us,

Free from everything that inhibits us from moving forward with hope.

We’ve got to want it.

We are called to do it.

Take responsibility, Jesus tells us.

Forgive.

Be forgiven.

Unlike an apology and forgiveness, which are internal,

Reconciliation is interpersonal;

Between two people.

Reconciliation requires the work and cooperation of two individuals,

The offender and the victim.

Therefore, reconciliation is not always possible.

It is terribly frustrating when one desires reconciliation,

But their efforts are rebuffed by the other.

This prevents healing from taking place.  

Standoffs can take years.

Barriers can remain for generations.

Reconciliation requires dialogue;

The two parties to sit down and talk,

To sit down and listen to one another.

Stories need to be exchanged.

Hurt must be expressed.

Empathy must be given room to grow.

Like lancing a boil

Remorse must be genuine and authentic.

Restoration must be made.

Repentance, with the vow to never re-offend,

Is the beginning of rebuilding trust.

That’s reconciliation.  

Reconciliation is complete

When the kingdom of God is complete and sin is no more.

Reconciliation is complete

When the relationship between God and humankind

Is completely and eternally restored.

3. Third. Our Gospel lesson from Matthew 18

Tells us about the intensity and frequency of forgiveness.

Forgiveness isn’t a one-and-done type of thing.

One doesn’t forgive then “get over it.”

Forgiveness is a process,

Ongoing,

That never ends.

Seven times seventy-seven

Speaks about over the top quantity of forgiveness.

Perhaps Jesus is suggesting with his hyperbola that

Seven times seventy-seven

Speaks about the duration it takes to accomplish forgiveness.

Forgiveness never ends.

Early on, when one makes the decision to begin forgiveness

With the goal to be freed and have hope restored,

The intensity will be enormous.

The pain is raw and visceral.

The offense still hurts.

But, with time, and with intentional effort,

Intensity does lessen its grip.

Air returns to the room.

Despair fades.

Hope grows.

It’s almost possible to taste God’s gift of freedom.

Time doesn’t heal old wounds by itself.

Time must partner with an intentional effort to forgive.

I’m still working on forgiveness from forty years ago.

I’m still working on forgiveness from what I’ve done

… And from what has been done to me …

Just this past week.

Forgive.

Be forgiven.

Keep at it.

It gets better with time and effort.

4. Lastly, it is important to observe

From our parable for today

That forgiveness always has a social consequence.

The other slaves witnessed the injustice being committed

And reported the offense directly to the king.

There is always a ripple in the social fabric

When forgiveness is made

And when forgiveness is withheld.

The social reality of forgiveness

Is easily understood when viewed through an economic world view,

Like how Jesus constructs this parable.

Money that is loaned, debts are paid or debts are forgiven;

Or not.

Courts award fines in an awkward effort to maintain a semblance of justice.

We, western, modern Americans understand money.

Money is quantifiable. Countable.

We understand money.

So Jesus’ parable of the Unforgiving Servant

Is easily understood by most of us here today.

But what if

We view our Lord’s command to forgive

Frequently and lavishly and extravagantly

Through the world view of a victim of a violent sexual assault?

Forgiveness might take a lifetime,

Or it may never come at all.

If, thanks be to God, the victim of a violent sexual assault

Is able to bring herself to a place of forgiveness,

What happens to the rest of the world?

Other victims?

Other families?

What takes place in the thoughts of future jurors sitting in a court room?

Does this bring healing to the police officer who completed their investigation and made an arrest?

Or is the police officer disgusted with a victim’s forgiveness

And testimony at sentencing?

Are there other world views through which we can

Discover new characteristics of forgiveness?

I suspect there are.

Forgiveness not only changes the victim.

Forgiveness changes the world.

This is Christ’s intent.

Forgiveness must be frequent, lavish, and over the top.

Forgiveness must be enormous, beyond imagination.

Forgiveness must be ongoing, tenacious, relentless.

Efforts to forgive must never end.

On our journey towards reconciliation,

Jesus recognizes that

Not everyone will be able to turn that corner of forgiveness,

Not everyone is capable of forgiving and being forgiven.

This is precisely where life intersects with faith,

Where atonement compliments our failed efforts,

Where Jesus completes forgiveness

And we are set free.

What is unforgiveable to me,

Is forgiven by Jesus Christ.

Seven times seventy-seven is over the top forgiveness!

To the best of your ability

Be the forgiveness in this world.

Set yourselves free and set others free.

What happens when and where

You and I fail to forgive

Or are unable to forgive?

Leave the rest up to Jesus.

His cross will do the rest.

Amen.

“More Than Mere Recipe”

Matthew 18:15-20

06 September 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Matthew 18:15-20

“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 

Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

Prayer.

Follow the recipe;

Get predictable results.

This simple statement is a core value

For many things

From successfully franchising a business

To solving advanced mathematical equations.

Follow the recipe;

Get predictable results.

There is a beauty to mathematics

That slowly revealed itself to me in high school and in college.

As I took more classes, I understood more, and I got better at it.

My grades improved with every mathematics class I took.

I appreciate the logic that serves as the foundation for math.

It is the same foundation that served Sir Isaac Newton 350 years ago

and the Babylonians two-thousand years before Newton.

A mathematical proof that displays

Symmetry, simplicity, efficiency, and purpose

(In my humble opinion)

Provides a natural elegance that is unmatched in the natural world.

The recipe is proof,

Confirmed by theoretical mathematicians

Who have built on the historical work of predecessors.

Proofs, like Supreme Court decisions, are built on prior proofs.

There are always new hypothesis to make

and new proofs to be solved.

Like cooking, there are always new dishes to create.

The role of the applied mathematician

Is to find the right recipe for the problem or puzzle at hand and

Add the data.

In our age of server farms, artificial intelligence, and quantum computers,

Applied mathematicians simply

Feed in quality data and

Wait for the results to come out.

Follow the recipe;

Get predictable results.

Order a Big Mac from any McDonalds on the planet

And you can be reasonably assured that your hamburger

Will look and taste the same.

From Jerusalem to Johannesburg,

From Miami to Manilla,

McDonalds franchise employs the same recipe.

McDonalds, and every other successful franchise,

Teaches managers and line workers the same curriculum,

Arranges the same supply streams for every ingredient,

And will even go to the extra effort to

Design, build, and deploy the same cooking ovens, efficient kitchen layouts, and production processes to every restaurant.

The recipe becomes baked in as dogma;

All in the name of quality control,

All in the effort to serve every customer the same hamburger

That satisfies expectation

Based on prior experiences.

The same sandwich from McDonalds,

Like the same cup of coffee from Dunkin Donuts,

Is the result of a very disciplined approach to the axiom:

Follow the recipe;

Get predictable results.

Our Lord’s instruction today,

As uniquely recorded in the Gospel of Matthew,

Appear to be the perfect application to this approach.

Jesus offers a three-step recipe for predictably resolving church conflicts.

This is how it works:

  • First, go and try to resolve your conflict one-to-one.
  • Second, if step one is unsuccessful, return with one or two witnesses, and try to resolve the offense.
  • Third, if steps one and two are unsuccessful, take your conflict before the church and allow the church to resolve the issue.

Many congregational and community churches

Have this three-step recipe for dealing with intra-church conflict

Written right into their church constitution and bylaws.

Certainly every mainline denomination

Teaches this approach to conflict resolution.

United Methodists have baked this simple and efficient

Christ directed process,

directly into our dogma:

The Book of Discipline.

Of course,

The results have been perfectly predictable:

The church is absent of conflict

and all Christians live in perfect harmony and bliss.

(Under this mask is a sarcastic smirk)

What gives?

We follow the recipe,

Yet, we still live in conflict.

Sometimes,

Jesus correctly observes,

Even these 3 disciplined steps will fail to resolve church conflicts.

Sometimes, those of us who have long experience in church leadership know, this three-step approach can be disastrous;

Even blow up in our face and cause irreparable damage.

What gives?

We follow the recipe,

Yet, we still live in conflict.

Oh, the pain of conflict.

Theological progressives are pitted against conservatives.

Biblical literalist defend ground just as fiercely as academics.

Debates over human sexuality is a blood sport.

Ultimatums are thrown like hand grenades.

Baptist churches, I once heard, Multiply by division.

United Methodist churches do it, too.

Some deeply wounded Christians

Are dragged from the battlefield of church conflict

Never to heal or return to church again.

Life has never been simple.

Each of us mix into the simple recipe

Pride and predigest,

Emotional fragility and family dysfunction,

Financial pressures, poor judgment, and bad decisions.

We juggle

Employment and the need to contribute,

Health challenges and caregiving,

Patriotism and party.

Oh, yeah.

Pour a few gallons of pandemic in the bowl and mix thoroughly.

What gives? Pastor Todd.

If Jesus gives us the cure, why aren’t we using it?

If life was only so simple, we sigh.

If only life was so simple.

Hum.

Simple.

Think about it.

Simplicity.

It’s a clue.

Simplicity is necessary for our axiom to be true:

Follow the recipe;

Get predictable results.

Most of our conflicts are simple,

And, therefore, are easily corrected when we

Faithfully and dutifully apply

Our Lord’s three-step recipe for conflict resolution.

Most conflicts are so simple, they are resolved at step one.

“I’m sorry. I made a mistake. Can you help me fix it?”

“No problem. I always appreciate the assistance.”

“Next time, I’ll try to be more thoughtful.”

Reconciliation takes place

Everyone goes home happy.

Reconciliation is the goal Jesus desires.

Reconciliation is the goal;

Individual reconciliation and

The healing (reconciliation) of the community.

The problem that we face,

The problem Jesus correctly identifies,

Is that sometimes human nature isn’t quite so simple.

There might be too many variables,

Too many competing motives,

In our lives and intersecting world views.

Each variable threatens the predictability of the outcome.

The more variables

The higher the likelihood

Our expected batch of grandma’s delicious chocolate chip cookies

Will come out of the oven

A melted mixture of unrecognizable mush.

Once Jesus lays the foundation

For the simple application of conflict resolution,

Jesus pivots

To address the more rare

but highest profile disagreements.

Jesus steers us in an important new trajectory

When he teaches his disciples,

That these three steps fails to resolve the conflict,

“let such a one be to you as a gentile and a tax collector.” – Matthew 18:17b

This isn’t a catch all

Terms of service agreement

approved by the company’s legal team.

This isn’t a cover your backside strategy used by Jesus

to address every possible conflict and force a one-size-fits-all solution.

Treating those with whom we have unresolved conflicts with …

… as gentiles and tax collectors

Is a consistent application of Jesus’ core values.

Treating those who have sinned against us

As gentiles and tax collectors

Is how Jesus reached out in mission and ministry.

Reaching out to gentiles and tax collectors is  

Christ’s approach to a broken world.

Who did Jesus reach out to?

Gentiles!

You know, gentiles

Like soldiers and their household, Canaanite women, and widows.

Who did Jesus reach out to?

Tax collectors!  

You know, tax collectors

Like Matthew and Zacchaeus.

How did Jesus do it?

With abundant, overwhelming grace,

With lavish, exorbitant forgiveness,

With universal, unconditional acceptance.

How does Jesus bring healing and reconciliation?

Forgiveness; not once over.

7 times 77. That’s overwhelming forgiveness.

7 time 77 covers all possible conflicting complexities,

With plenty of left over.

That is what it means to be awash in grace.

That is abundant forgiveness.

That is so much love,

Christ’s outreach can only be considered Divine.

How did Jesus do it?

With amazing love,

Such amazing love

That He was willing to die for you and me.

Amazing love how can it be?

That you my king would die for me

Amazing love I know its true

Its my joy to honor you

In all I do

I honor you.

(Chris Tomlin lyrics)

Yes, Jesus allowed the rich, young ruler to walk away disappointed,

And, yes, I believe Jesus allows us today

To let a disappointed, disgruntled member of the church walk away.

However,

Jesus never intends this to be

The end of the story or

The final word.

Jesus died on the cross for the rich young ruler.

Reconciliation by the cross of Jesus Christ always has the last word.

Jesus gives to each disciple

The responsibility to unrelenting reconciliation.

Continue to reach out.

Never giving up.

Never letting go of the unrepentant.

A reconciliating God demands a reconciliating community.

Reconciliation and healing is God’s highest goal.

In the Church of Jesus Christ,

There are no throwaway or disposable people.

There are no irresolvable conflicts.

Conflicts may have long histories and be really complicated,

But none are beyond reconciliation.

When people get angry and church blows up,

As Jesus knew it inevitably would,

Jesus wants us to respond with abundant grace and amazing love.

Pay attention to how Jesus reached out to gentiles.

Note how Jesus reached out to tax collectors.

Watch for how Jesus approached the broken, diseased, and castaway people of the world.

Go and do likewise.

Go and do likewise.

Lastly

Jesus promises

Where two or three are gathered in His name,

Jesus is there among them.

– Matthew 18:20

This appears to be a simple enough of a principle.

With every ounce of my pastoral authority,

Allow me to encourage us

To behave accordingly.

Live as if Jesus is in the room.

Because he is.

Affirm, or bind, all that is good and Godly,

And do it with authority,

Because Jesus is among us.

Reject, destroy, or loose, all that is opposed to God,

And do it with authority,

Because Jesus is right here by our side.

Let the chips fall where they may,

But always act for what is good, right, pure, and just.

A disciplined community of faith

Strives for civility

With a goal of reconciliation.

Always err on the side of God.

Err on the side of abundant grace and amazing love,

Because this is the Good News Jesus calls us to bind and proclaim.

Jesus supports us in our worship and in our study,

In our homes and in our places of employment,

In our lives and in our hearts.

“Low I am with you always, to the end of the age,” – Matthew 28:20

Jesus promises.

May we never forget,

May we never take for granted,

Jesus presence in our lives today.

Follow the recipe;

Get predictable results.

While this may be true for most of life,

Many times life is more complicated.

All conflicts cannot be resolved using 

A simple three-step recipe.

Love is more complicated than a mathematical algorithm.

Christ’s forgiveness and salvation is more complex than a franchise burger joint serving up a burger and fries.

There is a community component to our complexity;

There is a Kingdom of God component to it, too.

It’s complicated.

Life is complicated.

We can only do life,

We can only find abundant life

By embracing the grace and love of God;

Spreading it thick like peanut butter throughout every aspect of life.

Share the grace and love of God

Especially with those with whom we have unresolved conflicts,

With the ultimate goal of healing and reconciliation;

Knowing we can’t give up

And we can’t do it alone.

We are dependent upon Christ,

The strength and authority of Jesus,

Already present,

Already with us, and

Already by our side.

Amen.