“The mission of the church is to work amongst sinners, naming and absolving sin.” This is according to Dr. Chris Croghan, the director of the Luther House of Study. Dr. Croghan says, “The mission of the church is to work amongst sinners, naming and absolving sin.”
This is very good news. It is also very bad news.
It is very good news because God is working through the church to forgive your sins. God has given you a word of hope. You heard this word very explicitly just a few moments ago. You confessed that you were captive to sin and cannot free yourself.
And then you heard the word of forgiveness. You heard the good news. God did his great work. The pastor said, “As a called and ordained minister of the Church of Christ and by his authority…” In other words, as someone who has been called and ordained by the church, by you all, someone whom you all called, to speak the words of Christ.
“I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
That is good news. So then what do we do?
We sang for joy. We sang praise to God because you were freed from your sin. Your were captive to sin, or as the old confession used to say, you were in bondage to sin, that is, you were bound to it.
But you have been loosed, that is you have been unbound, untangled, untied. And whatever is loosed on earth will be loosed in heaven. You are set free.
This is the work of the proper church, naming and absolving sin.
And this is very good news.
But…it is also bad news.
It is bad news, because the work of the church is naming and absolving sin. Forgiveness implies that you have done something wrong. When someone says, “I forgive you.” They are implying that there is something that needs to be forgiven.
And our sinful self does not like our sin to be named. We do not like it at all.
So what we usually do, instead of forgiving sin, is we excuse. We excuse sin, that is, we say it was not a sin and it was not that bad.
For example, if someone bumps into me at the grocery store, they say, “Oh, I’m sorry.” And then, I say, “That’s ok. No harm done.” Which may actually be true.
But what if someone bumps into me with their cart, and instead of saying, “That’s ok.” I say, “I forgive you.” You would hear that very differently. It might even offend the person, because we do not like it when our sin is named.
I know that I do not like it.
For example, several years ago a woman called the church where I was serving and she asked for prayer for a surgery that she was going to have. So I talked to her on the phone for a bit, and then didn’t think about it again.
The next week, the woman called again, and she was angry. She was upset, because on Sunday we prayed for people who were sick, but we did pray for her. I failed to put her on the prayer list and to pray for her in the prayers of the church. She asked me to pray and I did not pray.
So she did exactly what Jesus tells us to do. She came to me and pointed out my fault.
I did not like it at all.
My first instinct was to make excuses. And I did. I made the excuses to myself. I said to myself, “Well, she did not specifically say to pray on Sunday morning.” I said to myself, “I have too many things to remember and it slipped my mind.” I said to myself, “Is that all I am as a pastor, someone who prays for sick people?” I tried to excuse the sin, at least to myself.
I had to try and defend myself…but the truth had been told. I had sinned. I sinned against this woman because I had lied to her and had ministered to her in prayer. And I had sinned against God, because God had called and sent me to that place to minster to the people there. God had called and sent me to pray for them, to pray for her, and I did not do it.
So God sent a prophet to name my sin.
And it hurt.
It is like the prophet Ezekiel in the first reading. God tells him that he must go and tell the people about their sin, because God does not want people to die in their sin. He does not delight in the death of sinners. So God sent Ezekiel, as a prophet, to name the bad things.
Because in order for sin to be forgiven, it must be named. That woman named my sin, and she forgave me. And we continued to be a part of the church together for many years. Sin was named. It was forgiven, and the relationship was repaired, or as Jesus says, it was regained.
Jesus says, “If a member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.”
And that is the goal. The goal is to regain that one. The goal is to restore the fellowship and the relationship. The goal is reconciliation, so that the people can be united as one people.
Jesus says, “Go.” He does not say, “ Let it go and call it forgiveness.” He does not say, “Go and vent your frustration to your friend, but don’t talk to the person directly.
Jesus says, “Go, point out the fault.”
Go point out the fault with them one on one so that they may be regained. The purpose is to restore the relationship.
And if the goal is to restore the relationship, then the last thing you want to do is to publish their sin on your Twitter account, tear them down, and shame them. You go to them alone. You go with compassion. You go seeking to regain that one.
But you must go.
You cannot be reconciled unless the sin is forgiven and the sin cannot be forgiven if it is not identified.
It is like having a serious sickness. You notice that you don’t feel well. Maybe you have some little pain. And what is the first thing that you do?
You ignore it! You pretend like it isn’t there.
Then the pain gets worse, you feel more sick.
So what do you do?
You keep it to yourself, you make some kind of excuse, and you hope it gets better on it’s own!
But eventually, your wife sees that you are sick—and what does your wife do, if she really loves you?
Well, if she does not love you and does not care about you, she does nothing. She says, “That’s his problem, let him deal with.” She just lets it go.
But if she loves you, if she really loves you, she says, “Hey, you are sick.”
And then, you can no longer pretend or make excuses. So then, you reluctantly go to the doctor.
And even then, you are still hoping that the doctor will say, “There is nothing wrong, just go about your life and don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about the pain. Don’t worry about those symptoms that you have. Its not a big deal.”
But what does a good doctor say?
A good doctor says, “You are sick. You have a terrible sickness. You have a cancerous growth. It is threatening to kill you right now. We must do surgery immediately. It must be removed!”
This is how God functions toward sin. God loves you. And God is a good physician. He says, “You have sin. It is growing in you. That pain. That pain is the sin. It is going to kill you. It must be removed immediately.”
And then God….removes it. So far as the east is from the west, so far has God removed your sin from you.
Thanks be to God!
But in order for the surgeon to remove the tumor, the surgeon must say, “This is sickness, this is bad, this must go.”
And that is the difference between being forgiven and being excused.
Jesus does not tell us to excuse sin. He does not tell us to let it go. He tells us to point out the fault and to forgive.
This is the mission of the church.
The church spends far too much time excusing people and not nearly enough time forgiving people.
And I think the reason why the church stays away from real forgiveness is because in order to forgive we would have to name the sin. We would have to say, “This wrong, it must stop. It must be removed and thrown out.”
And some people will not listen. Even when there are two or three witnesses. Even when the church, the people altogether, try to forgive that sin. Some people will not listen. And then they will leave. They will become like Gentiles and tax collectors. They will choose to be on the outside.
Of course, the church is always reaching out to the people on the outside. Jesus sought Gentiles and tax collectors.
But we are afraid to name the sin and forgive it.
But God so loves the world, that he does not hesitate to name the sin. That is why he sends Ezekiel. That is why Jesus teaches us to go to people. God so loves the world, that he sends his one and only son to come and preach repentance. God sends his son to name sin and to forgive it so that you will not dies in sin, but have eternal life.
The mission of the church is to name and absolve sin. This is bad news because it means that we have to really and truly admit our sin and really and truly hold each other accountable to our sin. It is a hard teaching because some people may not listen.
But the forgiveness of sin is good news. It is good news because God, in Jesus, forgives you. God loves you enough to name your sin and to remove it. God loves you enough to unbind you and set you free.
- Matthew 18:15 - 20