Category: Sunday Morning Sermon
Speaker: Rev. Dr. Steven E. Albertin
“DEALING WITH TROUBLEMAKERS”
Pentecost 14 A Lectionary 23
September 10, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church, Zionsville
Rev. Dr. Steven E. Albertin
I can’t stand troublemakers who get away with their bad behavior!
When I was in the sixth grade there was this guy who always asked to copy my math homework. He was popular and I wanted him to like me. I let him copy my homework. I rationalized my dishonesty by telling myself, “He is hurting no one but himself.” Eventually it will catch up to him and he will get what he deserves.
At the end of the year, we compared our report cards. Guess what? I got a B. He got an A! I felt like a fool. He had used me. I thought that he was supposed to be hurting no one but himself? But he hurt me. This is not right!
A greedy executive “cooks the books,” robs employees of their pension and retirement savings, and it’s legal! I want the rat to pay. This is no time to forgive and forget. Let us have no syrupy moral ooze masquerading as Christian mercy. Sinners must pay for their crimes. No one should get off the hook.
Think of the worst thing that some troublemaker has ever done to you. Perhaps it was the promotion that should have rightfully gone to you but instead went to some other lying, conniving, back-stabbing, self-serving, ladder climbing opportunist? Or maybe it was the way you got cheated on that business deal? Or the way someone lied or stole or hurt you in a way that was so patently unfair? Such memories leave deep bruises. The scars do not disappear.
Is it not right that we should make them fess up and pay for their wrong? Is not this what Jesus describes in today’s Gospel?
“If your brother or sister sins against you, tell them about it. If that doesn’t work, take them before someone else. If they still do not do right, take them before the whole church. If that fails to get them straightened out, . . . treat them like a Gentile and a Tax Collector!”
That will show the troublemakers! Confront them with their wrong. If they fail to repent, let them (as the Gospel of Matthew likes to say) be “cast into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Treat them like . . . Gentiles and Tax Collectors!
We breathe a sigh of relief, glad that Jesus finally draws a line in the sand? If he had not, well, there will be no end to the troublemaking. Then where would we be? In a world of moral relativism where no one stands for anything, someone must be willing to say, “Enough is enough!”
Gentiles? You know who these troublemakers are: those of another race, another religion, foreigners and immigrants who aren’t like us, the godless and immoral who have no respect for God’s people, those who want the crosses removed from cemeteries and won’t let the schools sing Christmas carols! Tax Collectors? You know who those troublemakers are: those who collaborate with Rome and big government to fleece their own people. You know those who cheat the system just to pad their own pockets! Thank God that Jesus draws the line. Toleration must have its limits!
But, . . . you have to watch this Jesus! There are times when he can pull a fast one on you. There are moments, even in a Gospel as straightforward as Matthew’s, when you think Jesus means one thing, only to discover later that he actually means something quite different. Sometimes, you have to interpret what Jesus SAYS by what he DOES.
We think we know who the troublemakers are. We think we know who the Gentiles and Tax Collectors are. We think we know who needs to be shown the door, . . . . those troublemakers standing over there!
But what if this is not what Jesus means?
Remember . . . Jesus was often criticized for hanging out with tax collectors, Gentiles and other such troublemakers. Even worse, He seemed to delight in hanging out with them. Jesus coddled the very troublemakers who were making a mess of the world. They ought to be asked to leave and not welcomed to the dinner table.
From the very beginning of the Gospel of Matthew we see God’s interest in troublemakers. The first to show up at Bethlehem for Jesus’ birth were the wise men, Gentiles. (Matt. 2) One of Jesus’ first healings in Matthew was the healing of a servant of a Gentile army officer. (Matt. 3:15)
One day, Jesus called a man named Matthew to be his disciple. Do you remember what Matthew was doing for a living? He was a Tax Collector!
Are you beginning to understand what Jesus meant when he told his disciples to treat the troublemakers like Gentiles and Tax Collectors? He is more interested in hanging out with them than in showing them the door.
We come to church looking for Jesus to assure us that we are not the troublemakers. We want Him to help us draw a line between the saints and the sinners, between those who take God and their church commitments seriously and those who do not, between “us” and “them.” We use these words from Matthew 18 to help us draw the line.
But maybe we are already standing on the wrong side of the line.
For example, we all know how we love a piece of juicy gossip. Gossip begins when someone skips the first step of Matthew 18. If someone has gripe with a troublemaker, Jesus says that the first and most important step is go to the troublemaker and discuss your gripe privately. Therefore, when someone comes to us with a gripe about someone, we first must ask if they have discussed it with the troublemaker. Usually they have not and they will provide a long list of excuses as to why talking with the troublemaker would be a waste of time. If that is the case, the conversation ought to stop right there. We should not even listen to them.
But we don’t. We love to hear about the dirt. Our willingness to listen only lends credibility to what may be nothing more than a lie. Even worse, it appeals that sinful nature that only wants to “get down and dirty about someone else,” so that then we can feel better about ourselves. No wonder we love to spread anger and indignation on social media.
Who is the problem here? Who are the troublemakers? Who are Gentiles and Tax Collectors?
As the cartoon character Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy, . . . and the enemy is us!”
We thought that Jesus was giving us a strategy to clean house and get rid of the troublemakers. However, it is actually a picture of how God is relentlessly pursuing troublemakers like us.
God never gives up on us. That is why God sent Jesus. Jesus not only SPEAKS about God’s extravagant love but EXERCISES God’s extravagant love. Therefore, Jesus hangs out with those despicable troublemakers, Gentiles and Tax Collectors, . . . people like us, even to the point of dying between two of them on a cross. Jesus hangs out with troublemakers who do not deserve to be a part of God’s people. Nevertheless, Jesus refuses to give up on them . . . and us. Jesus follows troublemakers like us even into our graves, defying God’s own criticism of troublemakers. But surprise! When God raises Jesus “on the third day,” contrary to what we expected, we see that God approves of what Jesus did. Even more, God brings us with Jesus out of the grave and shows a new world. In this new world, God’s love for troublemakers will not be thwarted.
Jesus invites us to treat troublemakers as He treated us. He sends first one, then two or three, then the whole church after us. In Jesus God is determined to win us back with relentless, persistent, never-ending compassion. We can do the same.
Trusting Him, we no longer find it necessary to cut others down to size. We no longer need to settle scores or “get back and get even” or indulge in gossip as if somehow that will make us somebody. In Christ God has already made us into somebody. We can live differently. We can tell the truth, admit that we have wronged someone and be forgiven. We can be a community, a church and a family that stands for something: for listening, caring and forgiving one another. From that we will never back down.
That is the business of the church. That is how we deal with troublemakers. We do not exclude them. We include them. We invite them to join us on our knees with all the other troublemakers who do not have a leg to stand on. Here one Gentile and Tax Collector welcomes another. Here one troublemaker welcomes another troublemaker, . . . daring to believe that we are just the kind of people that Jesus wants to save.
What do you think of that, . . . fellow Gentiles and Tax Collectors?