14 September 2017

The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 19, 17 September 2017

Track One:
Exodus 14:19-31
Psalm 114 or Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21

Track Two:
Genesis 50:15-21
Psalm 103: (1-7) 8-13

Romans 14:1-12
St. Matthew 18:21-35

Background: Absolution

The history of absolution, pronouncing the forgiveness of sins, is one of movement from a public event to one that included private expressions of confession and forgiveness. At Salisbury on Maundy Thursday, penitents who had admitted grievous sins on Ash Wednesday, and who were expelled from the Church because of them, we readmitted to the Church immediately preceding the principal mass of the day. A video depicting this ceremony is available here. This is an example of the public expression of absolution, which up until the sixth century, was the only expression. The Celtic monasteries began combining the two expressions (public confession and absolution, and private confession without absolution), which is the mode we see today. Around 1000, the rite of confession and absolution, either declaratory or precatory, entered the public celebration of the mass. Private absolution remains a feature of the Anglican, Lutheran, Orthodox and Roman Churches.

The First Reading: Exodus 14:19-31

The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.

Here we have the great event that would be the pivotal point for Israel (along with the celebration of the Passover) and for Christians who saw in this event a foretelling of the importance of baptism. In an odd combination of effect, the pillar of cloud is darkness to the Egyptians, effectively hiding Israel, and lights up the night for the sons and daughters of Jacob. This pairing of symbols of God’s presence is also seen in the wind and the dry seabed, both references to the Creation Story. Thus the passage through the sea is an effective paren to the death of the Israelite children, Moses having been consigned to the water by his mother – the people are spared again from and by the water. So the story reaches forward and backward so that we might encounter the whole context of Moses’ and the people’s experience.

Breaking open Exodus:
1.      When is God light for you?
2.      When is God darkness?
3.      Where is God leading you?

Psalm 114 In exitu Israel

When Israel came out of Egypt, *
the house of Jacob from a people of strange speech,
2      Judah became God's sanctuary *
and Israel his dominion.
3      The sea beheld it and fled; *
Jordan turned and went back.
4      The mountains skipped like rams, *
and the little hills like young sheep.
5      What ailed you, O sea, that you fled? *
O Jordan, that you turned back?
6      You mountains, that you skipped like rams? *
you little hills like young sheep?
7      Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, *
at the presence of the God of Jacob,
8      Who turned the hard rock into a pool of water *
and flint-stone into a flowing spring.

Robert Alter translates the penultimate verse of the psalm with these words, “Before the Master, whirl, O earth.”[1]  That verb, “whirl,” describes the force of the psalm as we are thrust into its immediate action in the first verse, “When Israel came out of Egypt.”  Here we have a God who is in action in history and with God’s people.  Of interest is the phrase, “Judah became God’s sanctuary”. Another way to translate the Hebrew is to render it as “Judah become God’s holiness” – which puts a totally different spin on the action of God over against the people.

There is a reprise of the ancient creation myth and its images. “The sea saw and fled,” and the waters of the Jordan react as well. The God of Israel is the one who has tamed the order less waters, and that victory is repeated here at the Red Sea. The waters remember and the earth trembles, dances, and whirls.

Breaking open Psalm 114:
1.     How is liberation like a dance?
2.     How has God entered your life?
3.    How have you celebrated that?


Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21

“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my might,
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father's God, and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a warrior;
the Lord is his name.
Pharaoh's chariots and his army he cast into the sea;
his picked officers were sunk in the Red Sea.
The floods covered them;
they went down into the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power--
your right hand, O Lord, shattered the enemy.
In the greatness of your majesty you overthrew your adversaries;
you sent out your fury, it consumed them like stubble.
At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up,
the floods stood up in a heap;
the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.
The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake,
I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them.
I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.’
You blew with your wind, the sea covered them;
they sank like lead in the mighty waters.

“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?
Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
awesome in splendor, doing wonders?”

Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron's sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing.
And Miriam sang to them:

“Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.”

Here is a section of the Hebrew Scriptures that anticipates the Gospel of Luke – the characters sing and reflect on the situation in which they find themselves. Both Moses and Miriam are given roles and a song to go with them. They are ecstatic prophets with their song and their dance. That is how we remember significant events, we sing of them. God seems, in these verses, to take on the role of the combatant, Pharaoh. God is also the warrior. And again, God is fighting the battle with the waters of chaos and destruction. It is all of a piece.

Breaking open Exodus:
1.     What songs characterize your life?
2.     What is your favorite hymn?
3.    What does it say that is special to you?


Track Two:

The First Reading: Genesis 50:15-21

Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?” So they approached Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this instruction before he died, ‘Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.’ Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.

Track One followers will be familiar with this story having just read it. Here we meet a family that has been reconciled, but is still in bitter memory of the evil done to one another. In Chapter 49 of Genesis we have the last will and testament of Jacob, but in chapter 50 the brothers seem to present a codicil, a further testament to their father’s wishes. They desire forgiveness and perhaps forgetfulness of what had separated them. The expectations of Joseph are high, and Joseph recognizes that. However, God is at the center of the transaction of forgiveness and forgetting, for it was the lives of more than this family that were at stake. There is a circular nature to this story, for in one of Joseph’s dreams the family kneels before him, and now in this pericope the brothers “fall down before him.” The dream is complete.

Breaking open the Genesis:
1.        How is Joseph an example of forgiveness?
2.        How is God involved in this business?
3.        Have you ever forgiven family?

Psalm 103:(1-7), 8-13 Benedic, anima mea

1      [Bless the Lord, O my soul, *
and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.
2      Bless the Lord, O my soul, *
and forget not all his benefits.
3      He forgives all your sins *
and heals all your infirmities;
4      He redeems your life from the grave *
and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness;
5      He satisfies you with good things, *
and your youth is renewed like an eagle's.
6      The Lord executes righteousness *
and judgment for all who are oppressed.
7      He made his ways known to Moses *
and his works to the children of Israel.]
8      The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, *
slow to anger and of great kindness.
9      He will not always accuse us, *
nor will he keep his anger for ever.
10    He has not dealt with us according to our sins, *
nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.
11    For as the heavens are high above the earth, *
so is his mercy great upon those who fear him.
12    As far as the east is from the west, *
so far has he removed our sins from us.
13    As a father cares for his children, *
so does the Lord care for those who fear him.

In this psalm we have an interior conversation, the psalmist addressing his inner being and life. Words of thanks are commended to the soul for redemption from some difficulty. It is seen as God’s work of righteousness and mercy. What is left out is the sin that seems to lurk in the background, but God is “slow to anger” and therefore the psalmist is thankful.

Breaking open the Psalm 103:
1.     What have you ever requested of your soul?
2.     How have you ever forgiven yourself?
3.    Has that led to forgiving others?

The Second Reading: Romans 14:1-12

Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written,

"As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall give praise to God."

So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

Paul in his exhortation on Christian living now comes to the nitty-gritty of life as a follower of Jesus. What do we do with the old law, which some seem content to continue to observe? Is one better than the other because of this observance? Or are all things allowed? Paul comes down on the side of knowing what it is that motivates us. “Eat in honor of the Lord…abstain in honor of the Lord.” What we do is not for ourselves, but is done for the Lord. The model is Christ – his death and his life given to God.

Breaking open Romans:
1.     What do you differ on with other Christians?
2.     How do you still allow for a relationship?
3.    What do you do in honor of the Lord?

The Gospel: St. Matthew 18:21-35

Peter came and said to Jesus, “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.”

This was a pertinent topic for Matthew to address as he reports Jesus’ parable about forgiveness. Families riven apart in first century Palestine would have found in this story a model of forgiveness and redemption. Our forgiveness must be full, in fact full of fullness, over the top and heaped up. So it is seen in the story of the slave who is not able to replicate the mercy of his lord. It is a strong message, but it is one that Jesus firmly stood by.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     How do you confront those who have done something wrong?
2.     Have you ever followed this procedure outlined in Matthew?  Why not?
3.    How do you confront your own wrong-doings?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday. 

O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2017, Michael T. Hiller

[1]   Alter, R. (2007), The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, Kindle Edition, location 8934.

06 September 2017

The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 18, 10 September 2017

Exodus 12:1-14
Psalm 149

Track Two:
Ezekiel 33:7-11
Psalm 119:33-40

Romans 13:8-14
St. Matthew 18:15-20

Background: Points of Origin

Everyone, and by this I mean, every people, have a story (I am urged by others not to use the word myth) that describes the realities from which they or their culture were sprung.  Mircea Eliade reminded us that all story was sacred and that most stories were points of origin, explaining our place in the world.  In many respects, the first reading from Track 1 is an etiological story, one that explains not only sacred ceremonial, but also its connection to even earlier points of origin and practice.  It is interesting that we often continue in a tradition without ever exploring how what we celebrate came to be – what its roots are.  The “passover” ceremonial, originally a harvest festival, is invested with new meaning here.  It moves from an agricultural ceremony that signed and protected a house to a ceremony that reached back to a time of urgency and necessity.  What was good for the fathers and mothers was revisioned as good for the integrity and liberty of the people.  Thus the story moves from celebrating the land, and protection from evil spirits, to one that celebrates the origin of the nation, or short of that, the origin of a people. 

Track One:

First Reading: Exodus 12:1-14

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.

What makes us a people?  And at what point do we see our situation as different in the world of things?  These are the two questions that the author of this pericope seeks to determine.  Its importance is more than just a continuation of the Moses story; rather it is a prelude to a people’s story – the beginning of their journey together.  What is given to the people, in this ceremony, is an act that can be “kept” or to be “watched” or to be “observed”.  Its importance then is both internal as in something to be kept, and external as in something to be watched or observed. The incidentals that surround this meal, the “flatbread” or “matsot”, and the fire roasting of the meat, indicate not only haste (making a stew in water would take much longer) but also a more archaic setting. There are no utensils, but only fire, wood, and hot stones.  These are the marks of a nomadic cuisine.  So again, the author places the readers, the characters, and us at the beginning of history – a point from which.

At this point we go back to the story of Moses and his mission, and the author indicates some persuasive arguments that Moses will use in requesting the freedom of the people from the hand of Pharaoh.  “From all the gods of Egypt” certain reprisals will be demanded, and the sign of them will be in sickness and woe, but most convincingly in the death of the first-born sons.  In effect, God proposes to take away the future of the families of Egypt, and to initiate the future of the chosen people.  The repetitive sign here is the sign of blood; blood that is shed by Moses, the blood of circumcision, the blood of the Nile, and the blood of the first-born.  God bypasses Israel in this blood revenge, and sets them on a different course.

Breaking open Exodus:
1.      Why is it important to remember sacred history?
2.      What are the sacred moments in your history?
3.      How do you celebrate them today?

Psalm 149 Cantate Domino

Sing to the LORD a new song; *
sing his praise in the congregation of the faithful.

Let Israel rejoice in his Maker; *
let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.

Let them praise his Name in the dance; *
let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp.

For the LORD takes pleasure in his people *
and adorns the poor with victory.

Let the faithful rejoice in triumph; *
let them be joyful on their beds.

Let the praises of God be in their throat *
and a two-edged sword in their hand;

To wreak vengeance on the nations *
and punishment on the peoples;

To bind their kings in chains *
and their nobles with links of iron;

To inflict on them the judgment decreed; *
this is glory for all his faithful people.

The psalm seems to be, in it association with the first reading in Track 1, a prolepsis, an anticipation of the victories that will be culminated at the Red Sea.  The phrase, “and adorns the poor with victory”, may be misunderstood by modern readers.  It is not the poor in things that are honored with victory, but rather the social poverty that was Israel’s lot in Egypt, that is met with victory here. The God-given victory is to be celebrated with song and dance, and in a delightful pun with “a two-edged sword” (the two-edged sword in Hebrew is “a sword of mouths”) that follow the verse of praises that are in the victors’ throats.  This is the antithesis to the slavery of Egypt.  It is the exaltation of freedom in God.

Breaking open Psalm 149:
1.     What role does music play in your worship of God?
2.     Why is that important?
3.    Why not dance?


Track Two:

Ezekiel 33:7-11

You, mortal, I have made a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, "O wicked ones, you shall surely die," and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but their blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, and they do not turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but you will have saved your life.

Now you, mortal, say to the house of Israel, Thus you have said: "Our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us, and we waste away because of them; how then can we live?" Say to them, As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?

In his commentary on Ezekiel, Joseph Blenkinsopp makes a careful and important observation about the prophets,

“The people we call prophets were – to risk a generalization – public orators and emotional preachers rather than authors.  They did not set out to write a book but to persuade by the spoken word.[1]

To understand this guides the way in which we listen to this particular pericope, especially in that the words are those of the Lord.  The period during which these words were either heard or spoken surrounds the capture and fall of Jerusalem, so they are spoken in dire times.  What Ezekiel experiences in his visions are hopeful expressions of Israel’s past and its future.  Thus the whole prophetic pattern is evident in Ezekiel: Denunciations of Israel’s faithlessness, and a prophetic outreach to the hope of a return from exile. 

God has called Ezekiel to be a sentry (see 3:16-21), but in these verses, the prophet is not called to be a lookout for foreign invaders, but rather the “word from my mouth.” It is to this judgment that he is to give warning to the people. The prophet has an awesome responsibility, for in his hands lies the fate of the people whether righteous or not.  In a way, Ezekiel is asked to function as John the Baptist will function in a later period.  The by-word is “repent”, in both situations.  The situations, words, and injunctions speak to the relationship that God has with the people, “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.” The injunction is to “turn back” and in doing that having a relationship with the God who saves Israel.

Breaking open the Ezekiel:
1.        What has God asked you to declare to those who live around you?
2.        How are you a sentry, seeking after God’s word?
3.        What repentances might you make?

Psalm 119:33-40 Legem pone

Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes, *
and I shall keep it to the end.

Give me understanding, and I shall keep your law; *
I shall keep it with all my heart.

Make me go in the path of your commandments, *
for that is my desire.

Incline my heart to your decrees *
and not to unjust gain.

Turn my eyes from watching what is worthless; *
give me life in your ways.

Fulfill your promise to your servant, *
which you make to those who fear you.

Turn away the reproach which I dread, *
because your judgments are good.

Behold, I long for your commandments; *
in your righteousness preserve my life.

This psalm seems ready-made for the requests made of Israel by the God of Ezekiel, “Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I shall keep it to the end.” It is a stretch, however.  The people of Ezekiel’s time need convincing, but the people of the psalm have a desire for God’s wishes.  Such an attitude sets them apart from the feckless nature of Ezekiel’s audience.  Ezekiel’s people march into exile, while the psalmist’s people “go in the path of your commandments.”

Breaking open the Psalm 119:33-40:
1.     Do you ever feel the need to purge yourself of misdeeds?
2.     How do you do that?
3.    What is the resulting feeling or behavior?

Romans 13:8-14

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet"; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires

Paul continues his musings on what one must do in being a Christian by describing what life in Christ ought to look like.  In a surprising statement, given his previous commentary on the inabilities of the Law, Paul states, “for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” We should not be too surprised, however, for Paul has also said, “the law is holy and the commandment is holy, just, and good.” (Romans 7:12).  What compels Paul here, is his sense of what is to come, what is immanent, “For salvation is nearer t us now.” There is a distinct sense of urgency here – the times demand a change of heart on our parts.  What follows is a typical Pauline list of what is to be avoided.

Breaking open Romans:
1.     What are the laws of your life?
2.     How do they help those around you?
3.    How do they hinder those around you?

St. Matthew 18:15-20

Jesus said, "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."

If any of you watch any of the “Real Housewives of (Beverly Hills, New Jersey, Orange County, et. al.)”, and I suppose I make a deep and embarrassing confession here, one can see the necessity of Matthew’s provisions for confrontation and repentance.  In fact, you don’t have to follow that television show that rejoices in the sins of others, you merely need to be an observer of our time.  These provisions in Matthew were likely quite necessary to the emerging Christian community who may have been not only at odds with one another but also with friends and families that did not agree with the belief about Jesus.  The process sums up with a recognition of the church: individual, two or three others, and finally, the whole community. 

In any close community the real temptation is always gossip and distrust of others.  Here we are warned against it, and given the difficult task of confrontation and correction.  As a Human Resource executive, I always encouraged this behavior, but also found that people were reluctant to follow it. 

The verses that follow seem to be a repetition of the tools that Jesus gives Peter following his confession at Caesarea Philippi, although it does follow well from the process for reprimanding a brother or a sister.  Verse 19 seems to more about prayer, but also about the community that gathers to pray.  Really, all of the parts of this pericope deal with the realities of being a community that follows Jesus.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     How do you confront those who have done something wrong?
2.     Have you ever followed this procedure outlined in Matthew?  Why not?
3.    How do you confront your own wrong-doings?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday. 

Grant us, O Lord to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2017, Michael T. Hiller

[1]   Blenkinsopp, J (1990) Ezekiel, Interpretation a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, page 3.