Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

Christ, Better than Nextdoor

Matthew 18:15-20
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Analysis by Matt Metevelis

15If 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.”


Chatting Neighbors – Bernard Blommers (1845–1914)            From Wikimedia Commons

The connection that we have with Jesus as sinners—just doing our best in a broken world—is deeper than any connection that we seek to create.  Our neighbors sometimes can only see who they want us to be.  Jesus dies for us because of who we are.

DIAGNOSIS: Disconnected by Sin

Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem): Seeking Connection

A large part of my morning routine has become checking the feed on the “Nextdoor” app.  Unlike other social media platforms that connect me to old friends and people who share my interests from around the world, Nextdoor connects me to people who live in close proximity.  My feed is full of posts from people who live in my work and home neighborhoods, and the ads are usually for local businesses.  As strange as it is to use the internet and electronic means to connect with people that I could just as well meet by a quick stroll or a block party, I’ve come to enjoy seeing what is going on near me and indulging in a bit of local gossip.  Nextdoor aims to foster this sense of connectedness.  It’s trying to put back together what nearly a century of rapid technological progress has torn apart.  The internet has us so distracted by our screens, that we interact less and less with the world of real people around us with our lives, livelihoods, interests, and ideas.  Being a real-time neighbor has ceased to be a meaningful social construct for most Americans and is now merely a geographical term (especially in upper-income areas).  Just like trendy breweries designed to look like old time neighborhood establishments. Nextdoor tries to inject some digital juice and nostalgia into the scrapyard of neighborly solidarity and cohesion.

Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem): From Neighbors to Accusers

Nextdoor describes its mission as “bringing neighbors and organizations together to cultivate a kinder world where everyone has a neighborhood they can rely on.”  It’s a wonderful idea.  Too bad I rarely experience it on Nextdoor.  Someone is stolen from.  The power company is scamming people with high rates.  People drive like idiots.  Someone is making too much noise.  Did you see what all that police activity was about around 3 PM the other day?  People are acting weird in that one house down the block. What might that person be up to in the funny hat?  Crime is out of control because a single incident of shoplifting is witnessed .  A woman posted that someone in a white van was driving too fast around my son’s school; I was able to report that I thought someone matching the description was pulled over a block away.  But someone commented that the real problem is that kids today are too reckless, and you shouldn’t fault someone trying to get a kid to school and then get to work.  I was about to respond, “Drive like that around my kid and I will show you what reckless looks like,” but I remembered that since I use my real name, she might be able to identify me as a pastor on Google.

Aside from the occasional found pet, or shout out to a decent restaurant, most of Nextdoor is an Olympics of self-righteousness and paranoia.  I sympathize when someone is venting a little about a bad day.  I smile when someone is being called out.  I cringe a little when thinly veiled or casual racism shows its ugly face.  But as a student of human nature, I can only revel in the petri dish that is my Nextdoor feed.  People might tell you that they want a “kinder world,” but what they really want is to go about their business with as little hassle as possible, pay back all the dirty cheats and terrible motorists that wrong them, and avoid anyone who might be perceived as a threat.  The mission statement of Nextdoor proclaims a hope but the feed reveals the reality.  We want to rely on one another, but we disappoint one another all the time.  We all want to get along, but we don’t.

Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem): An Unkinder World

Neighborhoods can be pools of grievance just as much as they can be pillars of reliance.  In each neighborhood there are memories and cautionary tales of rights and wrongs, heroes and villains, suspicions and distrusts.  No matter what external laws govern them, there are as many more laws in them as there are residents.  Being a neighbor sometimes means delineating where my property begins and yours ends. But holding you accountable for your negligence may involve me denying mine.  Each of us in the daily grind becomes a law unto ourselves.  Deeper connections, whether they are digital or physical, always threaten to unleash such caprice.  These connections can serve us, or they can be to our disadvantage.  We will never always be able to do right by one another.  The law we carry around in our hearts contains our lofty expectations, our fragile egos, and our aversion to shame. Without an outside force to justify us, we will continually justify ourselves.  We shout (or type) the verdicts loudly for all to hear.  We’re not connected, because at the core we are busy denying the accusation of the law against us and levying it squarely toward others.

Reconciliation-A Space Where Mercy and Forgiveness Meet. By James Emery From Wikimedia Commons

PROGNOSIS: Reconnected in Christ

Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution): Church: What We Rely On

Nextdoor promises a “kinder world” and a more connected neighborhood through its social media tools.   Christ makes a more reliable promise in our text.  But note that he does not do so by talking about communitarian hopes.  He doesn’t say, “I will build a kingdom which is really connected, where people really love one another and can rely on one another.”  Jesus is much smarter than that.  He knows that we can’t be relied on.

But Jesus knows that he can be relied on.  That is why he closes this teaching with a promise: “Wherever two or more are gathered there I am among them.”  What connects the Christian community is not anything the people in the community do.  It is the presence of Christ among them, crucified in their midst for their sins, taking every insult, mockery, derision, and “smh” (“shaking my head”) that we dish out to one another; and he wears it on the cross.   After all, just as he tells the Father from the cross, we don’t know what we do.  It is not as good neighbors, or loving people that we are drawn together in Christ.  Instead, Christ gathers us in, sinners that we are, to be present with us even when we have to distance ourselves from one another because of our failures.  Our goal as a Church is not to legitimize our existence with bigger attendance numbers or vindicate ourselves with anybody else.  The connection that we have with Jesus as sinners—just doing our best in a broken world—is deeper than any connection that we seek to create.  Our neighbors sometimes can only see who they want us to be.  Jesus dies for us because of who we are.

Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution): Freed to be Face to Face

But Jesus does not promise to be with us just so forgiveness is for our personal benefit.  This forgiveness from Christ and restoration with God is meant to reign concretely in our relationships and not just get filed away in our hearts.  Christ is already between me and my neighbor, so I no longer need to face off against him in a chasm of hurt feelings, accusation, and superiority.  The Olympic contests are cancelled.  I am free to honestly and truthfully confront those who have hurt me, but only if the situation cannot be resolved in any other way.  In the end, the goal is not proving how right I am; the goal is “regaining” a sibling.  With my own righteousness taken off the table by Christ’s cross, I am free to speak to my neighbor—sinner to sinner—revealing my hurts, speaking about my needs.

Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution): Reconnected

Connection is not about us never fighting; it’s about our mistakes and misunderstandings being handled with honesty, grace, and care.  These things cannot be built with intricate digital tools, or with the hope that people of common interests will connect.  They are built slowly through time as people work together, endure trials together, and are able to see one another as flawed but forgiven.  The first word that Christ says after “when a neighbor sins against you” is the simple command “go.”  As Christ comes to us, we go then with courage into the difficult relationships that we endure.  And we do so because Christ has promised to be there.  The connection that every community relies on is the greatest connection of all: the connection of two sticks of wood with a God speaking forgiveness from it.  From that cross Jesus empowers us to speak that forgiveness to one another.

The Seventh Sunday of Easter

A Story of Transformation


Acts 1:6-14
The Seventh Sunday of Easter
Analysis by Glenn L. Monson


6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying: Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of[a] James. 14 All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

JESUS MAFA. The Ascension, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved May 15, 2023]. Original source: (contact page:

He knows that our thoughts are not his thoughts, but his promised Holy Spirit will change that.  As Christ is lifted up, so are we:  lifted from sin, lifted from unbelief, lifted from despair.

DIAGNOSIS: Dragged Down

Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem): Self-pitying

We have, in this passage, the names of all the apostles.  If they all had titles attached to them like Simon the Zealot, what might they be?  Peter the Betrayer?  Philip the Skeptic?  Thomas the Doubter?  We all glom onto identities that are unhelpful, causing us to live in places that leave us hopeless and destitute.  We ask, “Is this the time you will finally restore us to glory?”  We wallow in our self-pity and shame.

Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem): Power-hungry

We trust in the kingdoms of this world, not the emerging reign of God.  “Just give me some power, Lord,” we say.  “Give me some clout.  Give me the inside information on when your kingdom will be restored.  I will be able to handle it.”

Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem): Blind

While we stand looking blankly into the heavens, awaiting God to come with power and anoint us sovereign over this world, we miss the kingdom of God emerging in our midst.  God is already at work, but we don’t see it.  Lost in our shame, despair, and anger at God’s refusal to grant us our every wish, we don’t even recognize God’s messengers when they stand before us.

From Canva

PROGNOSIS: Lifted up

Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution): Christ Lifted Up

Despite our ignorance, blindness, and sin, Christ is lifted up before us.  He is lifted up first on the Cross, and then again as the Risen One lifted from the tomb, and finally, now lifted up on high.  He knows that our thoughts are not his thoughts, but his promised Holy Spirit will change that.  As Christ is lifted up, so are we:  lifted from sin, lifted from unbelief, lifted from despair.

Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution): Holy Spirit at Work

We are given the promise of power, but not the kind of power we expected; it is the power of the Holy Spirit that transforms us from self-pitying weaklings into bold witnesses to Christ’s death and resurrection.  Our fears melt away as we hear the promise that this Jesus will return.  Our only job now is to share his story to the ends of the earth.

Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution): The Church Emerging

We become the Church, meeting in prayer and service, sharing the joys and sorrows of this world, and exhorting one another to love and good works.  We are not simply individuals, left to our own devices, burdened with our past sins and chronic weaknesses; we are the Church.  We are witnesses to the Resurrection. We are the ones called to bring the good news to the world.

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Turning Us Inside-Out

Isaiah 58:1-9a, (9b-12)
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
Analysis by Jonas Ellison

1Shout out, do not hold back!
  Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
 Announce to my people their rebellion,
  to the house of Jacob their sins.
 2Yet day after day they seek me
  and delight to know my ways,
 as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
  and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
 they ask of me righteous judgments,
  they delight to draw near to God.
 3“Why do we fast, but you do not see?
  Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
 Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
  and oppress all your workers.
 4Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
  and to strike with a wicked fist.
 Such fasting as you do today
  will not make your voice heard on high.
 5Is such the fast that I choose,
  a day to humble oneself?
 Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
  and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
 Will you call this a fast,
  a day acceptable to the LORD?

 6Is not this the fast that I choose:
  to loose the bonds of injustice,
  to undo the thongs of the yoke,
 to let the oppressed go free,
  and to break every yoke?
 7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
  and bring the homeless poor into your house;
 when you see the naked, to cover them,
  and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
 8Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
  and your healing shall spring up quickly;
 your vindicator shall go before you,
  the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
 9aThen you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
  you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
[9bIf you remove the yoke from among you,
  the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
 10if you offer your food to the hungry
  and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
 then your light shall rise in the darkness
  and your gloom be like the noonday.
 11The LORD will guide you continually,
  and satisfy your needs in parched places,
  and make your bones strong;
 and you shall be like a watered garden,
  like a spring of water,
  whose waters never fail.
 12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
  you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
 you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
  the restorer of streets to live in.]

Isaiah 58:8 (from Canva)

If we are left to our own devices to remove the yoke from our necks, free the oppressed, feed the poor, house the houseless, and heal what has been severed in our created family on earth, we have a very long road ahead of us. But when we read this through the lens of our crucified and risen Lord, Jesus Christ, we see a God who goes before us to redeem and restore us.


Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem): God Is with Us (No, God Is with US)

Humans… Instead of using our religious energies to repent, confess, and heal our divisions with others, the universal human disease of Sin uses our fervor to widen the gulf between us and our neighbors. Our sinful impulse is to justify our sordid ways by claiming that God is on our side while we harm ourselves, our human siblings, and the created world that we were commissioned to steward. The result of this is an ever-present animosity towards our neighbors at best (and holy wars at worst). It’s not just those who ascribe to traditional religion who do this. This is a human propensity. This becomes clear when we look at our own partisan landscape in the US where identity politics is the new mainline religious order. Each side—left and right—has their own way of “lying in sackcloth and ashes” (v. 5) to performatively show that THEY are the ones who are righteous (over and against those on the other side of the aisle). After all, it’s much easier to signal your partisan identity on Twitter than it is to reach out and get your hands dirty serving a neighbor in need.

Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem): Put ‘Em Up

When Sin blinds us to the ways in which we harm our neighbor and disrupt God’s shalom in this world, we go through life thinking that it is not us but everyone else that is the problem. We walk through the world in a combative posture. Life becomes a kill-or-be-killed reality and we become the justified victim. So, we continue harming our neighbors, ignoring those in need, and fighting our way through life. We “fast”—so to speak—from the joy that is available to us in God and our togetherness with others. We sinfully fast by curving in on ourselves and assuming the role of the victim so that we can feel justified as we “quarrel and fight and strike with a wicked fist” (v. 4). Meanwhile, life gets harder the more oppositional we become. Our faith becomes worn and tested the more we realize that God has not ousted our enemies. Anxiety and inner turmoil become our reality and we project this onto everything we encounter in life. The yoke digs in deeper and deeper.

Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem): Your So-Called “Fast” Is Not Accepted

This is not the “fast God chooses” (v 6). God denies our fast from his shalom as rebellion and does not accept it. Instead, the proper fast that God requires is made plain: love your neighbor. God gives us the law for neighborly love and service to others (shalom), not as a way to get God on our side in opposition to them (and thusly to break God’s shalom). God calls us out in our self-interest and oppressive ways (v. 3) before making it extremely plain what God’s law requires of us: Not to build ourselves up in righteous indignation but rather to loose the bonds of injustice, undo the thongs of the yoke, let the oppressed go free, break every yoke, offer our food to the hungry, bring the homeless poor into our house, cover the naked, satisfy the needs of the afflicted, and not hide ourselves from our own kin (vv. 6, 7, 10). In other words, our “fast” (or our religious energies) should be channeled TOWARD our neighbor in love rather than (as Sin would have it) AGAINST them. God’s law is given to us lucidly in this passage. There is no wiggle room. We stand convicted.

Hands in need (from Canva)


Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution): Your Vindicator Goes before You

But we are not left convicted. God promises to go before us, be our vindicator, and serve as our rear guard (v. 8). If we read this without the cross, we see the mission set before us as… impossible. If we are left to our own devices to remove the yoke from our necks, free the oppressed, feed the poor, house the houseless, and heal what has been severed in our created family on earth, we have a very long road ahead of us. But when we read this through the lens of our crucified and risen Lord, Jesus Christ, we see a God who goes before us to redeem and restore us. Reconciliation with the Father is complete—finished—and we are invited to live in this reality that has been ushered in through Christ’s death and resurrection. Though the divisions still remain, and Sin still warps the law to turn us against each other, we have been promised a new and present resurrection hope. We have been forgiven and freed to turn outward towards our neighbors in need. This is what brings true fulfillment and it is a present reality even while we live in a world that still clings to the old.

Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution): We Can Breathe Again

When this truth hits our hearts—when the grace of our risen Lord Jesus is effective in us and that newly created reality becomes real, we experience the shalom of God in this moment. We are freed from our cramped position of being turned inward and we embrace our neighbors in need. We can then loosen our interior death grip on life and relax our combative stance. We realize that the life-consuming game of self justification is a false reality that is dead-set on guarding our false self, or self against the other (and thusly, against God). We are justified not in our work (which will always fall short of the full marching orders of the law) nor in our illusory victimhood. Rather, we find our justification in the loving embrace of a God who died and rose in our place so that we could live freely in Him. This is the freedom of a Christian, freedom FOR others and not in opposition to them.

Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution): Living in Reality

When the ever-present truth of our belovedness is made real for us here-and-now, we experience freedom. We notice that we have more empathy towards those we’ve long considered enemies (and towards ourselves who stumble boldly through this life). When God turns us away from self-obsession and combativeness, we can laugh, breathe, and love again. Authentic gratitude for each small gift that God has given us will replace the nightmares of paranoia and defensiveness that have kept us on a hamster wheel of anxiety and blame. Yes, problems will still arise. Yes, we will catch ourselves forgetting this reality every so often (okay, regularly). We will still slip into justifying our own Sin that divides us from our neighbors. People will still do awful things to us, and our loved ones will continue to suffer in various ways. But gifted with the meal and preached Word, we will always be welcomed into the reality of grace that exists beneath our illusions of separation from self, other, and God. There shalom is restored and our lives give glory to God for the continual gift of forgiveness. Amen.