Bind Us Together, Lord
Sunday Sermon, from October 6th
“If another 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. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
Bind us together, Lord, bind us together
With cords that cannot be broken.
Bind us together, Lord, bind us together, Lord,
Bind us together in love.
Jesus doesn’t expect us to do this Christian Life, to walk in his ways, all on our own. We do this together.
This short passage has some great one-liners that we keep in our pockets. We pull out these one-liners every once in a while to encourage one another in our faith and this is a great opportunity to look at how they all fit together.
Let’s start at the end and work backwards, since this is the verse most familiar to all of us:
Matthew 18:20 (NRSV): “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
This verse has been essential for me as we worship in person and online, because I hear Jesus promising to be with us even when we are isolated, even when we are quarantined, and especially when we feel alone. I think it’s also a verse of commandment to find a way to gather with someone in the name of Jesus. Whether that means calling someone on the phone or on zoom, or whether that means meeting with that person in-person, the essential part is that when we gather, Jesus promises his presence to be there, and his presence comes with peace, love, forgiveness, grace and joy.
Matthew 18:19 (NRSV): Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.
Now this verse is incredibly familiar to me, but it doesn’t make it any easier for me to understand. In someways you could say I’ve been haunted by this verse in particular when I have prayed for someone or even for myself, and the prayer has not been answered in the way that we agreed upon and detailed in our prayer. But the nature of this verse is about people coming together to pray and lift up our pain and conflicts to God by sharing them with someone else. When I think about the times that I have voiced my prayers to another human being and we have cried out to God together, I have felt the presence of Jesus, and again, that presence has brought peace, love, forgiveness, grace and joy in the moment and answers to prayers that I didn’t have the creativity to detail and outline before God. And when I imagine the prayers of a small gathering of 3 or more people sharing in that pain and lifting up demands to God, I remember hearts that were transformed and the answer to prayer coming in the acts of people sharing in the work that needed to be done to pick up the pieces or make something happen. Our father in heaven chooses to work through the caring hands of those people around us as instruments of peace in the world.
The key here is that Jesus states that he is present with us when we are gathered in his name and so we can take advantage of that presence to ask for guidance, to ask for comfort, to ask for direction, to ask for healing.
Funny, after actually studying this verse it brings me more comfort than regret.
"Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
This phrase isn’t speaking about things, it’s talking about relationships. You could rephrase it to say “With whomever you are bound on earth, you will be bound in heaven, and with whomever you are separated, you will be separated from in heaven.” We can take this as another command from Jesus, make amends in this life, so that you have no regrets in the next. And this directive to make an attempt at reconciliation is actually lined up in the previous verses. First, Jesus uses the parable of the Valiant Bo-peep, as I like to think of it. In the nursery rhyme, Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep,
and doesn't know where to find them;
leave them alone, And they'll come home,
wagging their tails behind them.
But Valiant Bo-peep can’t leave well enough alone, she has to go and find the lost sheep and bring it home. Jesus says that our God in heaven wants us to reach out and care for the lost sheep. He doesn’t say why they wander away, but he continues with these directions for conflict resolution with other church members.
Step 1: If another 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, or rather brought home the lost sheep.
Step 2: But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.
Step 3: If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
Jesus laid out for them a clear description of how their churches were to be different than other organizations in their society, and how victims are to be defended instead of cast out as weak. We are to be accountable to one another, caring for one another and forgiving each other. We are to listen to one another with a willingness to change. And when we point out how someone has hurt us, it’s not to put them down or set them straight. The purpose is to bind us together, to heal our wounds. The purpose of confession and identification of sin is reconciliation.
And when those two or three or more are meeting to share how someone has sinned against them, Jesus is there. God is listening to the prayer for forgiveness and the prayer for healing. God will grant the requests and the relationship will be bound in reconciliation.
And when reconciliation is refused after all three steps, Jesus doesn’t say the person is to be punished. The person is simply to be treated as an acquaintance of Jesus, like those whom are outside the fence, eating the same grass, but separated from the flock. Matthew himself was a tax collector, and Jesus came to him. And we’ve already seen how Jesus opened the door to the kingdom of God to the gentile mother who prayed at his feet. So, I feel like Jesus is saying never stop loving that person or treating them with kindness and entrust their souls to the great shepherd who will never abandon them.
So, I like to think of the relationship that has been “loosed” as freed rather than disconnected or lost. That person is forgiven and released of their commitment to you, but Jesus never stops caring for them. You are freed from your commitment to them, but you may still have to eat with them like Jesus ate with Tax Collectors and Gentiles, and you will most likely still have to sit at table with them at the feast of our Lord in heaven. So, until then, we are to be open to making peace in this world by working alongside our fellow members of the Body of Christ.
In each of these verses, Jesus reminds them that they are in this together. Their calling as disciples will be to stand together in accountability, forgiving one another and confessing their sins and the sins of their community. They are to meet together and be bound in peace rather than by force, to be co-workers for forgiveness and justice as opposed to inflicting punishment and pain.
I love the way Saint Francis describes it in his prayer, so let us close this study of these scriptures with his words. May we all agree on this prayer, and may God answer it in our lives and in the lives of those we encounter in person and online:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.