Church Discipline Meets Classic Rock
Can anything improve the ambiance of church discipline? Two things change tones, elevate moods, sweeten things up: perfume and music. The first is in the text; the second I'm bringing to it as church discipline meets classic rock.
Take The Hollies' 1969 song, "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother." That song applies to church disicpline in that we have brothers and sisters in Christ, but contrary to the son, they are heavy. Note that Jesus says, "If your brother sins against you." Not "you all" but thou'; you, singular. Peter Chrysologus, a 5th century bishop of the church, brings in the idea of smell here. In the unity of the body is a sweet odor, but when sin creates a separation, it's like cutting apart a body. "From the separation of the viscera there is a foul, fatal, and fearful aroma" (ACC, NT, Ib,80-8).
He is heavy but he's still your brother. That's what Jesus says. You go to your brother; you seek to gain your brother. He is not yet to you a pagan or a tax collector. Paul picks up on this in 2 Thes. 3, "If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother" (14-15). Yes, his sin means he's standing outside the body of Christ, the tear in the body produces the smell, but He has not yet left it. Go and, unlike last week's text, it's not the word show but convict, refute, rebuke your brother with the idea of winning him. In last week's text, Jesus said gaining the whole world wouldn't be worth your soul. This week He says you can gain your brother by rebuking him.
The world doesn't believe this. The world believes, "I'm okay; you're okay." As long as your conscience doesn't bother you whatever you're doing can't be wrong. Whatever adults consent to is okay with God. And it's not your business anyhow. Yes, that's what Cain thought. He wasn't his brother's keeper. He was, and he was also his brother's killer. And leaving a brother or sister in Christ in unconfessed sin is killing them. Unconfessed sin is not inert. It doesn't lay dormant. David's unconfessed sin of adultery and murder led to his bones wasting away and his groaning all day long (Ps. 33:2). Unconfessed sin is unforgiven sin. Look where Judas confessed but unforgiven sin led him? To the end of a rope. How about Peter? Bitter tears and repeatedly reliving his denial of Jesus.
Music can change the mood, the tone, the scene. I'm thinking Simon and Garfunkel's 1970, "Bridge Over Troubled Waters." We've seen that unconfessed sin cuts up the body of Christ, but the first division is between God and Man. Adam sins and what does he do? He becomes ashamed and hides from God. Read the Book of Isaiah. After the great chapters about the Servant of the Lord, Jesus, after the great ones about Him carrying your griefs and sorrows, after His being whipped, lashed, and beaten heals you, you come to chapter 59. "Listen to me! The Lord's arm is not too short to save, and His ear is not too deaf to hear. No, it is your guilt that has separated you from your God, and your sins have hidden God's face from you, so that He does not hear" (1-3, EHV).
Rebuking a brother is crossing the bridge, the divide, that his unconfessed sins has created between God and him and him and you, but we cross it not because we're so holy, loving, and kind. We cross it because God in Christ first did. He is the one who sings with Simon and Garfunkel, "I'm on your sidewhen times get tough/ And friends just can't be found/ Like a bridge over troubled water/ I will lay Me down." And He crossed it for all. Listen to Paul preach in Colossians 2: "Even when you were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ by forgiving us all our trespasses. God erased the record of our debt brought against us by His legal demands. This record stood against us, but He took it away by nailing it to the cross" (13-14, EHV).
As loathe as I am to refer to a Kenny Chesney song, that right there is "The Good Stuff". In that 2003 song, Kenny learns from a bartender that the good stuff is not found in a bottle. No, the good stuff is the love between people and that's as high as the world can get. Don't get me wrong. The Scriptures goes here too. Read Psalm 133. It's short. Then you'll understand the expression "like Aaron's beard". The unity of brothers is good, pleasant, and aromatic like the oil that sanctifies Aaron's beard. And we saw that Peter Chrysologus found sweetness in the unity of brothers. But it doesn't start there. No, the good stuff starts with Jesus. Who He is and what He does. He's an aroma. Paul says the suffering, sighing, bleeding and dying with which He crosses the gulf created by our sin and sinfulness is the sweet aroma of salvation and life to those being saved. But to those perishing, all that Christ is and does stinks. It's the odor of death.
What's that smell coming from the Baptismal Font? If it's stagnant, stale water, it's not the Water of forgiveness to you. What's that smell coming from this pulpit? If it's the smell of garbage, dead words, decayed religion, keep on walking. No life for you here. What's that smell coming from this altar? Because I'm wiping the Communion rail with vinegar because of Covid-19, you smell vinegar. That's not bad. If it reminds you of what it cost Jesus to give you His Blood here as sweet smelling wine for everlasting life, then take a deep breath and live. But if all you smell is vinegar, His wine has soured for you. You neither want not think you need His blood for forgiveness.
Understand, I'm not talking about anyone else but me and you. First, we have to see Jesus laying Himself down as the perfect keeper of the Law and as the perfect sacrifice for Sin, Death, and Devil to walk all over Him till every last sin was paid for. Then He's a bridge upon which God comes to us. And that brings us to 1969, and Neil Diamond's, "Sweet Caroline." Look this up on You Tube. He changed the signature chorus for Covid-19. From "Hands, touching hands/ Reaching out, touching me, touching you", he changed to, "Hands, washing hands, reaching out,/ Don't touch me. I won't touch you." I can't tell from the video if he is being serious or funny. But I do know this whole matter of touch and not touching is significant. The older folks who've been isolated from their loved ones all report that this isolation is hard.
From 13th century Emperor Fredrick II's supposed studies on infants raised in isolation (https://www.historyanswers.co.uk/kings-queens/emperor-frankenstein-the-truth-behind-frederick-ii-of-sicilys-sadistic-science-experiments/), to Harry Harlow's 1930's study on Rhesus monkeys (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Harlow), to the 1944 U.S. experiment on 40 newborns where their caregivers touched the babies as little as possible (https://stpauls.vxcommunity.com/Issue/Us-Experiment-On-Infants-Withholding-Affection/13213), all proved that touch was important. In that last study, it was halted after 4 months because half the babies died.
The high-tech world was quickly seen to work against touch. Already in 1982, John Naisbitt, coined the term high-touch' over against high-tech (Megatrends). Today, businesses advertise that they are high-tech and high-touch. The Holy Christian Church as always been high-touch. We believe in one Baptism, one application of water on the skin, for the forgiveness of sins. We believe in the Communion of Saints, people sharing a common thing together, that being Jesus' Body and Blood. We believe in an absolution where the mouth of one person transmits into the ears of another forgiveness of sins. When I individually absolve someone, I make sure they can feel my hand on their head. No forgiveness comes through my hand but touch does. We find Jesus touching the man full of leprosy (Lk. 5:12-16). Jesus spits, makes mud, and rubs it on eyes and into ears. He sighs so a deaf and mute man can feel His chest heave in sympathy.
Several years ago, I played off Garth Brooks, song "Rodeo" where he sings of "bulls and blood/ dust and mud" applying it to the Flesh and Blood ministry of Christ. I was amazed at how many people that touched. And this text on Church Disicpline is high-touch. Hear again the last line of it. Jesus says, "For where 2 or 3 come together in My name, there am I with them." The incarnate Christ, the flesh and blood Jesus, is present wherever even 2 or 3 gather in His name. There, right there He is present on earth to bind and loose sins, but He went to the cross to loose sins not bind them; He kept the Law to loose sins. He bled, cried, was damned and died, not to bind your sins but to loose them. He rose from the dead proclaiming not the binding of the world's sins but the forgiving of them.
And for 2,000 years Jesus has been doing it in a high-touch way. In the way Neil Diamond sang, "Hands, touching hands/ Reaching out, touching me, touching you." From hand to hand, from mouth to ear, from hand to head the forgiveness won in 30 A.D. comes down personally to you in 2020. You know we don't do here the sharing of the peace which is suppose to be the modern version of the Kiss of Peace. Read Explanation to the Divine Service, on our web page or a print copy is available in back, for what the Kiss of Peace originally was and meant (pp. 15-16). We don't share the peace here because it has always struck me as forced. But we do share the peace of God that passes all human understanding; that's what keeps us together here. That's what keeps us coming back here whether in person or remotely. That's what makes us notice when peace is broken by sins in doctrine or practice. That peaceful, easy feeling of the forgiveness of sins in Christ is what drives us to heal such breaches.
In a 2006 sermon I referred to what the Russians called "the feel of cloth." They marched shoulder to shoulder into battle because they drew strength from that touch. It made the fear less intense. I remember sitting shoulder to shoulder in a C-130 plane flying to make my first parachute jump. I didn't know the term feel of cloth' but I felt it. I was glad for it. I remember the first time I jumped from a helicopter missing it because you don't sit that close. And there really was no proper way for one soldier to scoot over to another just to get close. There is for brothers and sisters in Christ. Listen to the music. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (20200920); Matthew 18:15-20