“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.

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