The story is told of some little children at play. One of the little girls approached one of the little boys and said, “Hey Billy, want to play house?” He said, “Sure! What do you want me to do?” She replied, “I want you to communicate your feelings.” “Communicate my feelings?” Billy was totally confused. “I have no idea what that means.” The little girl nodded and says, “Perfect. You can be the husband.” Communicating one of the primary building blocks in any relationship isn’t it? Communication and relationships are what our readings are about today.
It doesn’t happen very often but every now and then the lectionary readings sort of line up and give the same basic message. This weekend is one of those times. In particular the Gospel and the Epistle readings have to do with how we as God’s people are to live with each other. In the Gospel Jesus speaks of what to do when sins come between us as His followers. He speaks of when someone sins against us and we should do about it. We need to first note that He is not speaking about little things that may irritate us. We know from Scriptures that love overlooks and forgives most things and therefore for the most part we are to simply forgive others. In this passage then it is not simply a small sin of a misunderstanding or angry retort or hurt feelings; Jesus is speaking of a sin that is a big deal. But if a sin like that happens we are to first go talk to the person and lay out the problem. And then if this person listens and sees and realizes what wrong has been committed and changes, well that’s great! But if this person refuses to listen to what is said, then we are to bring someone from the church and once again bring up the matter. If the two of you are again ignored then take the matter to the church and if the offender still refuses to listen to the church then the person is excommunicated. You see, we are talking about a big deal not something that can be simply overlooked. In my Christian experience I have seen this used only once when a person had deserted their spouse in their marriage. The person refused to change and was excommunicated. The loosing and binding that Jesus speaks of reference the spiritual realities that are taking place with that person and his or her sin. If the person listens and changes and is forgiven then the person is indeed loosed from the sin here on earth and in heaven. If the person refuses to listen then the person is left bound by the sin here on earth and in heaven. So again, Jesus is talking about a serious situation and a serious sin. Even though this passage is dealing with very serious and big sins, the principle of communication is one we all need to use when we find there is something between us and another person. Rather than let something fester and then let bitterness grow within we need to communicate to each other when there is something that comes between us.
The lesson from the letter of Paul to the Romans follows up on this direction for our relationships with each other. Paul talks of owing no one anything except to love each other. Owing is a term usually used in reference to money isn’t it? Since we are not speaking of money to what exactly is Paul referring? As we just saw in the gospel reading we can owe someone to clear the air between us. Either we are holding a grudge or we know someone is holding a grudge against us. We can owe a favor or we can owe a thank you. We can owe an apology or we can owe letter or response. Paul tells us to keep up with our relationships. Don’t fall behind in your relationship duties. This is much easier said than done. Relationships require a lot of upkeep which is why love has to be the strength to undergird our relationships. Yet how can we get the strength to continue to have the love that we need to keep our relationships healthy?
The answer I think can be found in our prayer book. Every week during confession we tell God and everyone around us that we have not loved God with our whole heart and we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. And as humans, that’s our basic problem, right? It is too difficult to maintain that sort of love for God and others. We then say that we are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways. Have you ever wondered how being forgiven would cause us to delight in God’s will and to walk in His ways? This is important because if we actually delight in God’s will then we will be able to walk in His ways; we will be able to love like we are supposed to love. So what does forgiveness have to do with helping us to delight in God’s ways? To find the answer for this we need to go back to our Rite One version of the confession, some of you probably remember it. The part that concerns us here goes like this: We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness which we from time to time most grievously have committed by thought word and deed against thy divine Majesty, provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; the remembrance of them is grievous unto us, the burden of them is intolerable.
There are some significant differences between these two prayers aren’t there? First and perhaps foremost is the passion in the older prayer. We “bewail our manifold sins” we have provoked most justly thy wrath and indignation; we are heartily sorry; the remembrance is grievous and the burden is intolerable. The author of this prayer really felt bad about the sin.
The fact is though; most of us don’t feel that bad about our sins. In our culture today we really don’t think in terms of sin. But we all know about regrets and things we wish we had not done or said. We know about shame and feeling bad. We know about being left out and about leaving others out. We know about feeling better than others and feeling less than others. We know about feeling ashamed for feeling selfish and not wanting to be with or help another person. These are all results of relational sin. Regrets, shame, pride, guilt, being excluded, excluding and selfishness are the weights we feel. These are the things that weigh upon us that make us feel depressed; they make us feel bad. And it is that feeling bad that the author of the older confession found intolerable; he couldn’t take it.
But what happens when we realize we are forgiven of our sins; when we realize we have been freed from the weight of our guilt and shame for having behaved as we did; for treating others or thinking of others badly. What happens when we are freed from the guilt of looking down on others or excluding others? What happens when we feel forgiven from the shame of acting selfishly?
What happens is we feel joy and release. And then from that joy, the joy of forgiveness, and the joy of feeling God’s love It is through this joy that God through His Holy Spirit empowers us to delight in His will and walk in His way. Through this joy we are changed and now we WANT to walk in his way and delight in His will. And it is from that strength we are able to love our neighbors as ourselves; we are able to love God as we ought. In a couple of minutes we will once again say our confession and you will once again hear the absolution. You may not feel a great surge of joy—but what I would like you to do is to go home and think of all the things that are bothering you. Think of the weights that you are carrying. And then confess those to the Lord and receive His forgiveness and then you will feel this joy! Communication and relationships are difficult. The way to have the power of love to keep our relationships healthy is through the joy of forgiveness and the joy of knowing how much we are loved by God. Amen