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The Essential Work of the Church and the Christian

September 6, 2011

On Sunday, September 4, our Assistant, Norman Knowles, preached a powerful sermon on our calling to live out the Good News of God’s love. He has graciously given permission for the sermon to be reproduced, and an excerpt is posted below. The main texts from Holy Scripture on which the sermon reflects are as follows:

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8)

“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.” (Matthew 18:15-17)

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Resolving differences – confronting sin and calling others to repentance – is a process that is beneficial to everyone – not just to those who are sinners. It is a matter of salvation – for the sinner and for those who are sinned against. And it is in that spirit that we must understand Jesus’ words about those who do not repent when confronted by the whole church – the words that say: “And if that fails – if they do not repent – treat them like a Gentile and a tax collector.”

But what does it mean to treat someone like a Gentile and a tax collector? The answer to this question is to be found in Jesus’ own words and actions. Let us recall that the one who speaks these words is the one of whom it was said “Now the tax collectors and sinners were drawing near to him.” And the people murmured against Jesus, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Let us also recall that Jesus said to those who criticized the company he kept: “If you are sick, you have no need of a doctor. I’ve come to seek and to save the lost.” Let us also recall that at his birth the first to show up at Bethlehem to see him were the magi – Gentiles from the East. And that one day, Jesus called a man named Matthew, a tax collector, to be his disciple.

Jesus, concludes his conversation about how to deal with those who have offended us by saying – “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” If we are going to be with Jesus – then we must be among the people he chose to be with – sinners, Gentiles, and tax collectors. We are not called to be among them as unrepentant sinners – nor are we called to be among the people he has called as judges – we are called to be among them as ones who owe nothing to anyone – but love. And that is what makes today’s Gospel such an appropriate reading for this Labour Day weekend. What after all is the essential work of the church and the Christian if not to love – not simply to love those who are our family and friends, not simply to love those who are easy to love, but to love those who may not love us or be very loving towards us? As Christians, as a church our fundamental work is to express God’s love to all – even those who have hurt and offended us and may not have recognized their offense. We can’t always mend the fences, we can’t always make peace with those who sin against us – but we can try – and when we fail – we can still love them as we love ourselves.

If our efforts, and the efforts of the church fail to bring about change then we will do God’s will and help bring healing if we remember what God has pleasure in – and treat those who have offended against us as we ourselves have been treated by God – with mercy and compassion.

May it be so.

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