I desire the path of your commandments, the path of your commandments.
33Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end. 34Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. 35Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. 36Turn my heart to your decrees, and not to selfish gain. 37Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; give me life in your ways. 38Confirm to your servant your promise, which is for those who fear you. 39Turn away the disgrace that I dread, for your ordinances are good. 40See, I have longed for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life.
15"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. 16But 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. 17If 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. 18Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19Again, 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. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them."
We prayed responsive psalm 119:33-40 to open class. Everyone confirmed this acrostic poem that begins each section with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet is the longest in the psalter. Sara suggested we almost could use a section of for each Sunday of the year! Psalm 119 celebrates the obedience and freedom we receive in the gift of Torah. Different versions and translations refer to God's counsel to us as way, law, statues, commandments, ordinances, decrees, promise, testimonies, instructions, precepts, path. Hebrew has no word for "promise!" But every Word God speaks is a promise that will be fulfilled.
After the psalm section, I did a very quick rundown of thus far in Matthew's as we've journey about 75% through this Year of Grace. We started with John the Baptist's announcement of God's (the Reign of Heaven's in Jewish Matthew's parlance) presence in our very midst. Moving forward to the angel telling Joseph to name the baby Emmanuel, "God-with-us," and then to the Bethlehem stable, the manger, a baby, this Lord, who is Heaven among us. Onto the season of Epiphany that reveals Jesus for everyone, the gospel for the entire world. Then to Jesus's public ministry, passion, death, and resurrection. The fifty days of Easter prepared us for Jesus' ascension when he assumed sovereignty over all creation and prepared to send the Holy Spirit of Life (Resurrection, Renewal) that we celebrate on the Day of Pentecost that's the fiftieth day of Easter. Matthew's gospel concludes with Jesus' promise to be God-with-us forever.
On Easter evening in the gospel according to John, Jesus bestowed the Holy Spirit on his followers and counseled them regarding forgiving and not forgiving similar to our Matthew passage today. We sometimes refer to forgiving and retaining sin, binding and loosing as the "power of the keys" or the "office of the keys."
We've received instructions from Jesus via gospel writers from the communities gathered around John and gathered around Matthew. Matthew in particular is the only gospel that refers to church as ecclesia for the called-out assembly (terminology came from the Roman City Council); Matthew brings us some explicit ecclesiology, or instructions for structure, functions, and behaviors within the church as the gathered, Spirit-Inspired people of God.
Binding and Loosing
This is an extremely famous, much-discussed and analyzed passage about a central forgiveness, renewal, and restoration-related activity God calls us to. The second weekend in September is the denomination's suggested official "God's Work, Our Hands" time to enact one of the ELCA's taglines. Pastor Peg reminded this text mostly is for church insiders, and doesn't relate to our treatment of all comers. It's about restoring and maintaining community in Christ; it's not about being a social club or group (all of which can be useful and wonderful) that people tend to leave when the going gets tough. Barbara commented "treat them like gentiles and tax collectors" jumped out at her. I replied, "But how did Jesus treat gentiles and tax collectors?! He included them! This was one of Jesus' many activities that outraged the religious and political insiders: he eats with sinners and outcasts. Pastor Peg told us she was going to emphasize just that in her sermon (and she did).
In the power of the Spirit, admonition, forgiveness, and restoration is one of many ways we live as the ongoing presence of the crucified and risen Christ in the word.