First Lesson: Ezekiel 33:7-11
Second Lesson: Romans 13:8-10
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 18:15-18
Sermon Text: Matthew 18:15-18
& Philippians 2:3-5
Years ago I read a book that challenged the church model we follow right now – pastors, elected leaders, voters. The main point of his book is we shouldn’t have pastors. There are many biblical reasons why I disagreed with him. But one reason he gave is that with a pastor in a church, it’s easy for members to assume lots of things are his job, not the job of everyone. To a point, I agree with that. Preaching, Bible class, marital counseling – that is stuff a pastor is trained to do. But there is one area where everyone wants to assume it is the pastor’s job alone, when, biblically speaking, that isn’t the case at all.
Why mention all this? Last week we started a sermon series about things you never want to hear your pastor say. We started with a simple saying, just one word: no. Our imperfect hearts often desire our will ahead of God’s, and we don’t like it when a pastor or a Christian friend lovingly tells us no. But often we need to hear that because God only wants what is best for us. That was last week. So what is it that we never want to hear a pastor say this week? “You go talk to them.”
Talk to whom? Example #1: A year ago, a family joined our church. They came to “your” service each week and you became quite friendly. You didn’t hang out outside of church, but you always sought one another out when you were here. But 6 months after joining, their attendance became spotty. 3 months later, they stopped coming. Each week you pray to see them but don’t. What should you do? Talk to the pastor, right? Surely he knows what going on. Why is it easy to say when you talk to him? “Pastor, you need to call the Smiths. I’ve not seen them for months.” Be honest. If he responded, “Why don’t you give them a call?”, would you get annoyed or nervous? Was that the last thing you wanted to hear him say?
Example #2: You’re at a grocery store, minding your own business. At the checkout, you see a mom and child who are members here. The mom is obviously having a bad day. She looks frazzled and is very short with her 3 year-old. She leaves, you check out and leave, and as you go through the parking lot, you see her car is two down from yours. As you walk by, hoping to say hi, you see something. The mom is physically abusing her child. And it isn’t a gentle swat on the hand or the rear end as a teaching tool. It is an act of frustration and aggression. The child’s scream makes that very clear.
This bothers you all night, and the next day you give pastor a call. You don’t name names, but you ask how a Christian should respond. You hope he’ll say, “Tell me the name. I’ll talk to her.” But he says, “Why don’t you call her up or stop by her house?” Would those feelings we mentioned before – annoyance, nervousness, fear – quickly rise in your mind?
“But,” you might say, “Isn’t it a pastor’s job to seek out the straying? Isn’t it a pastor’s job to call those who sin to repentance?” You are most correct. Indeed it is. But it isn’t only his job. It is the job, the calling of every Christian. Listen to Paul’s words from Philippians. And remember, he is talking to all Christians here. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.”
Back to example #1 – the Smiths falling away from church. How would you show humility and care for others? How would you show you’re about the interest of others as much or more than you care about your own? Or, maybe the easiest question comes from the last verse: “How would Jesus have handled this? What would his mindset have been?” The answer to each is to reach out to the family. A quick text or email. A phone call. Stopping by their house. Whatever the answer is, the loving, humble, caring-for-others thing to do is to reach out to them and see how you can help.
And for the 2nd
example, hear Jesus’ words in Matthew 18. He outlines clear steps there. You see what looks like abuse. The 1st
thing to do is talk to her - maybe at that moment (if the child is in danger) or maybe soon after. Jesus says we are to lovingly call that person to repent. If she does, fantastic. Maybe you keep in touch to keep encouraging her, but the matter is solved in the quietest way possible. If she tells you to pound sand, you find fellow believers to go with you so she doesn’t think it is some sort of witch hunt. If that doesn’t work, then guess who gets involved – the pastor and church leadership. Hopefully they help her see the error of her ways and come clean. But notice, a pastor is nowhere involved in steps 1 and 2, unless it’d be you contacting him and asking him for tips on how to reach out to this nameless person or to ask him to pray that God gives you the right words. To follow these guidelines for someone who is straying is not only right. It is biblical, it is necessary, and it is loving. Just as we want someone to pull us back, Christian love leads us to do that for others.
So, problem solved. Next time you think about the straying family or the person you saw caught in a sin, you know what to do and you won’t hesitate to do it, right? If only it were that easy. I don’t know if this will surprise you, but I struggle when in either of those situations. A family stops coming, and I wonder, “Was it something I did? Will I get an earful if I call them?” Someone is caught in a sin, and I know I should reach out. But the mind starts with the questions… “Maybe there is some nasty stuff going on and I now have a new problem that will eat up hours of each week. If I speak up, maybe the problem will only get worse.” I am not exaggerating when I say that sometimes I have to force myself to pick up the phone or stop by the house for either situation. To reach out is not a natural reaction. To stay silent is. And to ask someone else to do it is.
Why? Because most of us hate conflict. We don’t want to be the bad guy. We don’t want to be put in an uncomfortable position or come off as holier than thou. This story is humorous, but that is not why I tell it. Years ago, my parents and siblings were getting ready for church. Lori was there - we were dating. My sister Sara was the worst morning person in the world. She took forever to get ready. One Sunday, we were getting ready, but she hadn’t stirred. NO ONE wanted to go wake the beast. Guess who we decided should go? Lori. Maybe Sara won’t chew her head off as she would any of ours.
That is the easy answer, right, to let others do it? Let elders be the pitbulls. Let church leaders do the grunt work. Force the pastor to do it because it is his job. Easy, but is it right? And is Christian, Christ-like love at the core of those responses? No. If anything, it is a deficiency of love. You’ve heard this definition of love, that love is always doing what is best for the other person, no matter what. To the straying person, the best thing is to reach out and seek to pull them back. To the person heading down a bad path, the best thing is to turn them around, standing in the middle of their path, if need be. If we pass on this, or hope/assume someone else will do that, doesn’t that speak to the imperfect love we have in our hearts?
Also, a little sidelight here about the necessity of this. Not only should we do this because it is what our Savior calls for us to do. There is some other very practical reasons. I’m speaking as a pastor here. This reaching out on your end is needed because I’m just one guy and there are only so many hours in a day. Sure, staff and leaders here help a ton, but we have 600+ members. It is also needed because often I’m the last person to learn things. People at times assume pastors are omniscient, knowing all that is going on. At times people bring things to me, notice my curious look, and say, “How did you not know about this? Everyone’s heard.” And one other thing. There are often times I do reach out to people. But at times those people can think, “He has to reach out. It is his job to do so.” Now imagine my reaching out is followed up by yours. Don’t you think that has an impact, for the person to know that pastor and members alike are concerned about the person?
So we have the command to reach out, we have every reason to reach out, and we know how important it is to reach out. But that doesn’t make it any easier, does it? Still we are worried about offending people, hurting feelings, getting caught in an awkward situation, and so on. What is it going to take to get us over the hump? Love. But first and foremost we are not talking about our love. We are talking about Jesus’ love. Reaching out to those who have strayed, gently warning those who are on the wrong path – isn’t that what Jesus was always and is always about?
He went to that cross for people, for us, who had strayed as far away from him as possible. Being lost in sin, we could not have been further from him. But did he hesitate to reach out to us, to call us back, to speak firmly? No. Why not? Because he knew what we needed and because his love for us knew no limits. And to this day, when we start heading down wrong roads, isn’t he there, through his Word, to warn, to guide, to lead, and to help? And why does he do that? Because he knows it is needed and because he loves us. Jesus did not worry about hurt feelings, odd situations, awkward moments, or anything like that. Driven by a heart filled with love, he did the right thing.
And because he did, think about the results for us. We were lost but now we’re found. You sit here assured of your place in God’s family, your forgiveness, and your home in heaven. All that because he reached out to you when you strayed. And you sit here as people who know that whatever you need your Good Shepherd to do – lead, guide, warn, call back – he’ll do it. You are now and always will be a member of the family. All that because he reached out to you when you needed it.
Don’t we want those same blessings for others? When I teach the 4th
Commandment to the catechism kids and we talk about honoring and respecting those in authority, I ask a question. “Is life at home more or less enjoyable when parents are doing what they’re supposed to do and children are doing what they’re supposed to do?” They don’t shout out the answer, but they nod, knowing what a blessing a happy home life is. The two situations we described – falling away and falling into temptation – are upsetting, for us and those involved. Don’t we want peace, like in a well-functioning home? Don’t they?
Well, that is the goal of reaching out. Those who have strayed come home. And what a home they come back to! One filled with talk, prayers, and hymns about the love of our Lord. One filled with fellow believers who are rejoicing in the grace that all of us need and have been shown by our Savior. One filled with brotherly/sisterly love as everyone there only wants what is best for everyone else. Isn’t that a peaceful thought, for them and for us?
And what about those heading down the temptation road? They come home to a place of welcome, a place they can drop the baggage they have been carrying and rest in the promise of forgiveness. They come home to open arms – God’s and ours – just like the son in Jesus’ parable. They come home and hang their spiritual hat, for their days of running are over. Isn’t that a peaceful thought, for them and for us? And don’t we want such because a heart of love is beating in our chests?
I know this is freaking a few of you out. Chances are you thought of someone to whom to reach out while I was talking. Palms got sweaty. The heart beat a little faster. But, as much as you can, don’t focus on that. Focus 1) on your call, which is the same as mine: reach out to those who are spiritually hurting in any way, just as our Savior reaches out to us. Focus 2) on how that person needs you right now, and you may be the only one who can help them. Focus 3) on the fact that God blesses any service done in his name. And focus 4) on the truth that God will bring about the results he desires. And remember, all this isn’t my job and it isn’t your job. It is our job, the job of showing love to all in every way possible. Amen.