Leviticus 19:17, Matthew 18:15-18
Sermon by Pastor Josh Van Leeuwen
Introduction by Phyllis Yearick
Let’s be honest: we don’t always agree on everything. Sometimes our disagreements escalate into disputes, which can cause bruised egos, hurt feelings, and damaged—even destroyed—relationships. Social media, which can be great for sharing useful information and for building people up, can also be a cesspool of rumor, gossip, and negativity. We don’t like confrontation, we say, so we talk around an issue rather than going to the source and dealing with it directly. Does that make us cowards? Maybe.
Leviticus is primarily a book of laws and regulations for worship in the tabernacle, a sort of traveling temple that the people of Israel used as they made their way from Egypt through the desert to their new home, the land promised to Abraham centuries earlier. Israel was to be an earthly representation of God’s heavenly kingdom, a theocracy, with God as their earthly king, so as you can imagine, there were many rules governing community life as well as worship. God, existing in perpetual relationship as the Holy Trinity, desired relationship with his children, Israel, and he desired healthy relationships among those children. So the instructions in verse 17 should not surprise us: “Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly, so you will not share in his guilt.”
Unresolved conflict between neighbors, i.e. our fellow human beings, can fester into resentment and even hatred. Our imaginations can inflate a small slight into a huge fiasco. Before we know it, thanks to a misunderstanding, a difference in cultural tradition, or even an unintentional (or intentional but careless or thoughtless) act, a friend becomes an enemy; a stranger becomes a threat to our way of life, our very existence. This is how hatred begins, a small seed that rapidly grows into an impenetrable forest. Obviously, this is not the way it should be, especially in the community of faith. Matthew wrote, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault.” Deal with the problem head on, our goal being reconciliation. No cryptic tweets or passive-aggressive Facebook posts. We should go to the source of the issue, and speak to the other person frankly, so we don’t become ensnared in the sin that inevitably results from smoldering anger and resentment.
In the Old Testament, we can read many accounts of the ways God dealt with his people’s sin and guilt. He expelled the first man and woman from the Garden because of their disobedience. Then, he destroyed all of creation with a flood, preserving only a remnant of humanity. But it took no time at all for sin to make its reappearance. He sent prophets and leaders to instruct and guide his children. Again and again he disciplined—and rescued—his people. Finally, he came to earth himself, in the person of Jesus, to confront the problem directly. To provide an eternal solution to the seemingly insurmountable obstacle standing between us human beings and a holy and just God: our sin. The fact is, we have done wrong. We have disobeyed God. But God, desiring a relationship with us, sent Jesus to show us our wrongdoing. To give us the chance to be redeemed and reconciled. To make a way back to God.
When we confront our neighbors about their sin against us, they can listen and take steps to mend the relationship, or they can refuse to listen. We have the same choices when we are confronted about our sin against God. We can listen, convicted, and fall on our knees before him, asking his forgiveness, which he freely gives, and opening ourselves to his redeeming and reconciling love and grace. Or we can be stubborn, refusing to acknowledge our sin, keeping the door between us and God firmly shut. In the community of faith, being stubborn doesn’t harm ourselves only. When one member of the body of Christ is living in unrepentant sin, the entire body suffers. Given the option of going it alone, shutting out God’s love, or coming before him with a contrite heart, seeking reconciliation, which makes more sense? Choose carefully: the consequences are eternal.
You are welcome at Westview Church! Join us this Sunday morning at 9:30 for worship (Children’s Worship and nursery care available), followed by Discovery Hour for ages preschool through high school.