Proper 18A Sermon (2002)

Proper 18 (Sept. 4-10)
Texts: Matthew 18:15-20;
Rom. 13:8-14; Ez. 33:7-11


We are moving into one of the most incredible passages on forgiveness in the Bible. It begins with this week’s Gospel and continues with next week’s.

But before we talk about forgiveness, I need to point out what we skipped over this week. Last week, we left off at the end Matthew 16. This week we pick up in the middle of Matthew 18. What we skipped over are the verses in Matthew with the heaviest sue of that Greek word I introduced several weeks ago, skandalon, from which we get our English word scandal. In other words, what I think we have skipped over is essentially a discussion of the nature of our sin. And I don’t think we want to begin talking about forgiveness without first taking some time to better understand what it is that needs forgiving.

When we talked about faith as not being scandalized three weeks ago, I promised to tell you more about that Greek word skandalon, so that’s what we’re finally going to do today before we can truly appreciate the graciousness of God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ.

Where do we begin? When the Bible begins with talking about sin, it talks about desire, so let’s begin there, too. When I say, “Gee, this apple sure looks good,” where does that desire come from? From the apple, that it looks so desirable? No, I don’t think so, because how can the apple indicate to me that it looks more desirable to eat than this roll — which happens to be a fake, decorative one [pounding on the table]. Does the desire for the apple come from in me, because I’m hungry? Not completely. The hunger is inside me, but not for the apple. No, a baby, for example, can be hungry, or teething, and it will put anything in its mouth. It doesn’t know yet what to eat. I was rather surprised to learn that a newborn even needs to learn to breastfeed. Not even breastfeeding is purely instinctual.

What I’m getting to here is what may seem a simple point but really isn’t. We learn our desires from each other. At some point in my life I learned from someone else that an apple is desirable to eat when hungry. Examples of ethnic foods.

The Bible understands this about desire. It tells us that for the first man and woman in the garden God taught them that they could desire any fruit …

Also, notice the tenth commandment …

So what is skandalon? Remember the Genesis story: the man and the woman fall into rivalry with God. We make idols for ourselves by looking to each other for our desires rather than looking to God. The upshot of all this is constantly falling into rivalry so that we become stumbling blocks to one another. Our relationships become stuck in rivalry so that we react in certain ways with anger, resentment, envy, and the like. Not long after Adam and Eve’s falling into rivalry with God, we see their first two sons fall into rivalry with each other, eventually leading to murder. When we take our neighbor as the model of desire, we break the first and tenth commandments. We are looking to each other instead of to God, breaking the first commandment, and we fall into rivalry, into coveting what our neighbor has, breaking the tenth commandment. And the results of such rivalry leads to all the violence which breaks us apart: the violence of slandering our neighbor, eighth commandment; the violence of stealing our neighbor’s property, the seventh commandment; the violence of breaking our families apart with adultery and infidelity, the sixth commandment; and the violence of physically hurting and killing one another, the fifth commandment. All of this can come under the heading of skandalon, of constantly falling into rivalry with one another and with God.

Examples: sibling rivalry
marriages can get stuck in this way
Addiction — the hardest to understand as about rivalry in relationships.

12 step program of A.A. — show how, after the first step which focuses on the object of addiction (alcohol, et al.), the twelve step process focuses on righting relationships through forgiveness.For every addicted person, there’s a co-addicted person, a co-dependent. Again, we see the aspect of stuck relationships. It is very difficult for a dependent person to get well if the co-dependent person doesn’t also get well — namely, both of them have to take measures to get their relationship unstuck.

What are the ultimate results of skandalon? Choosing a scapegoat. How much do all the little scandals between us disappear at least for a while when a really big scandal comes along that can unite us all at least for a time? Example: Globe magazine from last December with headline, “Bin Laden Killed Diana!”

In short, the cross. So what did God do about this? Raised Jesus as forgiveness and sent the Holy Spirit to bring Jesus’ disciples into a Holy Communion. We are a “Sinners’ Anonymous” group who gather together in a ministry of reconciliation.

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Our Savior’s Lutheran,
Racine, WI, September 4 & 8, 2002

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