We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, who are still here, and we honor with gratitude the land itself and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Lectionary, Sept 10, 2023 – Proper 18, 15th Sunday after Pentecost – Reconciliation

 I.Theme –   Differing approaches and solutions to sin.

 "Forgiveness"- Sofiya Inger (2006)

About the artist

"I grew up in Russia, in the old northern town of narrow streets, ancient cathedrals, long white snowy winters, white cottonwood blizzards every spring…

"Painting became the color, the meaning, and the way to feel and to live. It led me through adolescence, strict schooling, sleepless nights of motherhood, through the strains of marriage, deaths, and the feverish attempts to grow new roots in strangely colored soil of a new country.

"All of that fascinates me.. people, their connections, aspirations, and the mysteries of everyday life…." 

The lectionary readings are here  or individually: 

Old Testament – Ezekiel 33:7-11
Psalm – Psalm 119:33-40 Page 766, BCP
Epistle –Romans 13:8-14
Gospel – Matthew 18:15-20 

The readings today are about the ways and methods of combating sin. The message is not so much the concept of sin but how chosen individuals deal with it and from them the community at large.  We have to remember that all of this is leading to concepts of reconciliation.

Ezekiel’s prophetic ministry to his people in the Old Testament extended from 593BC to about 573 BC, from before the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. to the time of the exile in Babylon. Today’s reading harks back to Ezekiel’s concern for individual responsibility.

The sentinel or watchman, chosen by the townspeople, was responsible for warning them of the approach of an enemy. They then could come in from the fields and take refuge. In this passage, God both chooses the watchman and sends the awaited enemy in judgment. There is an implicit tension between the punishment of the wicked and the desire that they repent and live. Israel believed that mere membership in the community of God’s people guaranteed salvation; here God declares that the individual is responsible for his or her own choices.

In the Ezekiel reading, God’s threat of a death sentence as a motivation to repent is what God calls prophets to announce. The threat of death is supposed to inspire the repentance that brings life.  God calls the prophet to be faithful and have courage to speak God’s warning to the people. It is a warning to those called to speak on behalf of God, but whose desire to play it safe, to please others.  In both this reading and the Gospel, our responsibility is to call others to live rightly.

According to today’s Psalm, learning and obeying God’s commandments and fearing God will keep you from sin and lead to life.  The poet proclaims a dependence on the Lard. She wants to observe the law with her whole heart , have her heart and eyes turned away from worthless things and toward God’s law and have disgrace turned away from her. The poet even says she wants to “follow” or walk in the way laid out by God’s precious law.  

In today’s Romans reading, Paul’s solution to sin is to “love one another” and “put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” which actually are the same thing, because Jesus Christ, in his faithfulness in life even to the point of death, fulfilled the law, which is summed up by the saying “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Paul’s injunctions to "love one another," to "love your neighbor as yourself," and to lay aside the works of darkness" (vv. 8,9, 12), mean that the pervasive individualism and "privatized" notions of faith that remain all-too-common features of contemporary church life must give way to a faith that actively nurtures and works toward mutuality, solidarity, and justice in our social transactions.

Matthew’s gospel approaches the question of evil within the personal sphere. How should a Christian act when the network of relationships hits a snag? It is inevitable that human connections will sooner or later go haywire. How then should we intervene?

First, he suggests dealing with the problem directly, before it grows like a cancer. We are often tempted to ignore trouble, which then becomes more difficult to heal. 

Jesus proposes that the person who feels wronged should initiate the reconciliation. Matthew outlines a community process that gives a “brother or sister who has sinned” an opportunity to repent, either in private or in front of the community, before the community bans them from participating in the community’s life.  

The process is kept private until various channels have been tried and exhausted. In contrast, we often rush to complain publicly before we even have a clear picture of what’s wrong. When the gossip spreads, the whole situation worsens. The process involves confrontation (confronting the sinner in private), negotiation (confronting the sinner with two or three others)  and adjudication (confronting the sinner by the community).  Sin is more than a private responsibility with which to deal.

Finally, he operates from a basis of compassion. The purpose of the process is never to humiliate or to condemn, but always to restore union with the brother or sister. In contrast, we often enter conflict with the self-righteous purpose of emerging as a winner. Jesus upholds the ideal that the person takes priority over our raging opinions and the causes we champion.

In the gospel Jesus makes clear that accepting this responsibility affects the well-being of the whole community. Traditionally, the sacrament of penance has been solely a private matter among penitent, priest, and God. 

II. Summary

Old Testament –  Ezekiel 33:7-11

Ezekiel 33:7-ll in the Old Testament lectionary for this Sunday is part of a larger literary unit, Ezekiel 33:1-20, which introduces the third major part of the book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel 1-24 is regarded as the first major division of the book, and is concerned with Ezekiel’s ministry of judgment before the fall of Jerusalem. Chapters 25-32, the second major block, contains judgment oracles against foreign nations. The third major block is comprised of chaps. 33-37, and has as its dynamic center the announcement of the fall of Jerusalem and the proclamation of coming salvation.

Ezekiel’s ministry spanned the period of 593-571 B.C.E. Among the more prominent citizens of Judah, he belonged to the first group of deportees to Babylon. Thus, his prophetic ministry overlapped the tumultuous events preceding and following the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E.

Ezekiel 33:1-20 has as its essential thematic focus the prophet’s commission or appointment as a "watchman" or "sentinel" who gives warning of approaching catastrophe or an enemy amd who heralds the cry for repentance to Israel

The prophet is fully responsible: If the prophet fails to give a warning and the wicked die as a result, their blood is on the prophet’s hands. On the other hand, if the prophet warns and the wicked do not heed this warning, the prophet is exempt from any consequences. In fact, the prophet will save his life even though the wicked will die.

He will not be held accountable for how others respond to God’s warning word

The strange revelation of this passage is that God the judge does not want the guilty verdict to stand. God wants the word of judgment to be reversed. God is desperate to revoke the death sentence. As God lives, God declares, God has no pleasure in death, but cherishes human life (7:11). This verse shows us that the life of God and the life of Israel are bound up together.

The challenge God faces is this: the only way to reverse the verdict is for the guilty to cease to be guilty. God cannot make it so by wishing or by willing. God has granted free will to humankind. The choice of life or death is theirs. God guarantees, by God’s own life, that if the people choose life, God will grant it. This is the purpose of the warning. God is willing to wait. The sentinel must warn the guilty to "turn back, turn back" from the road of death, and turn instead wholly to God. If they hear the sentinel’s warning and turn, they will walk not on the road of death, but the road of life.

The message encompasses at least two concerns. First, a compassionate, merciful, and just God stands ready to grant pardon, deliverance, and relief to the unrepentant and to the self-righteous repentant ("Yet if they trust in their righteousness, and commit iniquity, none of their righteous deeds shall be remembered," v. 13b).

Second, the man or woman who is God’s sentinel is urged to be faithful in their witness to God’s great salvation. It is the sentinel who both extends God’s call to repentance, and who points the way to the God who delights in righteousness and glad obedience. Responsibility for the restoration of others to God, nation and community, and for offering others the possibility of a new and liberating way, is both divine mandate and life-giving opportunity. 

Psalm –  Psalm 119:33-40 Page 766, BCP

Psalm 119’s theme is the law of God. Verses 33-40 reflect that theme, calling for a life-long commitment to living in conformity with God’s commandments. The poet mentions seven synonyms for that law: “decrees,” “law,” “commands,” “statutes,” “your word,” “your laws” and “precepts.” While we may naturally think of God’s law as restrictive, the poet clearly views as a good thing that leads to life and well-being.

God’s leadership is the pathway to personal revival. God’s Word is not a document to be learned but a path to be followed. He does not promise His route to be the smoothest but it is the most direct route to His blessing.

The poet reflects an utter dependence on the Lord. The poet shows that a relationship with God is no mere intellectual exercise. After all, the poet fills this psalm with references to the human body and movement. She wants to observe the law with her whole heart (34), have her heart and eyes turned away from worthless things and toward God’s law (36-37) and have disgrace turned away from her (39). The poet even says she wants to “follow” or walk in the way laid out by God’s precious law (33).

Essentially, then, the poet begs the Lord to do things that will draw her closer to the living God. Three of the eight verses the poet begs God to do something so that the poet can respond in faithful submission: “Teach me, O Lord, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end.” “Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart.” “Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight.” The others are -“turn my heart,” “turn my eyes,” “preserve my life,” “fulfill your promise” and “take away the disgrace

The psalm can be broken down in this manner:

I. God’s desire is to capturing our minds (vv. 33-34).

1. God’s teaching ministry is essential for obedience. “Teach me, O Lord, the way of thy statutes; and I shall keep it unto the end” (v. 33)

2. God’s enlightening ministry is essential for obedience. “Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law…” (v. 34).

II. God’s desire is to be channeling our hearts (vv. 35-37).

1. God directs our will. “Make me go in the path of thy commandments…” (v. 35a).

2. God directs our emotions. “…for therein do I delight.” (v. 35b).

3. God directs our heart. “Incline my heart unto thy testimonies.” (v. 36)

4. God directs our eyes. “Turn away my eyes from beholding vanity. (v. 37).

III. God’s desire is to be directing our focus (v. 38-40).

1. God focuses us to understand His Word. “Stablish thy word unto thy servant…” (v. 38a).

2. God focuses us to not be fearful of men …"who is devoted to thy fear.” (v. 38b).

3. God focuses us to turn from our sinful ways “Turn away my reproach.” (v. 39).

4. God focuses us to be obedient to His Word. “…I have longed after thy precepts.” (v. 40).

Epistle –  Romans 13:8-14

The letter of Romans was not addressed to the church in Rome, but all who are called saints in Rome. Paul did not write this in Rome – Paul around 57AD was in Corinth working as a tentmaker and working with Aquila and Priscilla training them in the gospel. We know that there was a church in Rome, because Paul had sent greetings to the church that met in the home of Aquila and Priscilla. His audience were mostly Gentile, as Rome was at this time a gentile city.

The primary purpose of Romans was, "To prepare the way for his visit to Rome, to let the believers in Rome know of his plans to come, and to enlist their support for his future ministry in Spain."

Romans 13:(l-7)8-14 follows on the heels of Paul’s discussion of behavior within the Christian community (12:9-13), and within society (12:14-21).

The teaching of this passage is that there is really only one commandment that is universal and covers every situation and to which we are always obligated—the commandment of love.

Paul reminds his Roman audience that love, tested in immediate relationship with our neighbor, is the fulfillment of all laws. Even dramatic sins of adultery, murder, and stealing are variations of the more domestic betrayals of deception, manipulation, and egotism.

Paul’s injunctions to "love one another," to "love your neighbor as yourself," and to lay aside the works of darkness" (vv. 8,9, 12), mean that the pervasive individualism and "privatized" notions of faith that remain all-too-common features of contemporary church life must give way to a faith that actively nurtures and works toward mutuality, solidarity, and justice in our social transactions.

In each case it is a lack of love, a harming of the neighbor, that occurs. This is why our one duty, our sole “debt,” is to love one another. But as Christians, love is part of the deal rather than an obligation, and can never be completely discharged. Love among Christians is something special: it is mutual.

For Paul, love of neighbor is a direct overflow of our experience of God’s law poured in our hearts.  Furthermore, “love” is not a commandment or law that must be obeyed, because “love” comes from the Spirit (Rom 5.5; 15.30; and Gal 5.22). The gift is now to be poured into the lives of those around us. Since the gifts we have been given by God cannot be directly repaid, we direct the payment to others. As we become channels of grace, we discover we are fulfilling God’s law by loving others as God does

Then vv. 9-10: if we love our neighbors, we will treat them as the Ten Commandments (“the law”) requires: this flows naturally out of our love for them, e.g. we will not offend them by adulterous behavior. This is why “one who loves another … [fully satisfies] the law” (v. 8).

Paul is referring back to the law (torah, Pentateuch) in this verse.

John Stott in The Message of Romans says that we need to seek the good of our neighbors and not their harm. This is indeed difficult to do, especially in a society as individualistic as ours. Most people today are not after their neighbors interests, but the interests of only themselves.

In v. 11, Paul tells us another reason why ethical behavior is important for Christians. We know that we are living both in the present and in the age which is after the first coming of the Messiah and before the second: “salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers”. Paul expresses it in terms of night and day: we should awake, pass from darkness to light, from evil to good.

According to Stott in the above verses, three references to time are made and they are. (1) First, the hour has come (2) Because our salvation is nearer know than when we first believed. (3) The night is nearly over and the day is nearly here.

Night can mean the day of darkness, and the day can refer to when Christ returns. So one can take this verse and interpret it that our salvation is being worked on. The sinner’s prayer was the first step and when Christ returns is the last step to the salvation process

The reason given is that "salvation" is nearer to us than when we first believed. The word clearly refers to future salvation here, which will be available, only after the "night" has elapsed and "the day" of the Lord "has drawn near." The night has not yet passed away, nor has the day of the Lord arrived. In other words, the time of evil is nearly over and the day of the Lord is imminent

The image of armor is also found in Jewish contemporary writings about the end of the age; in 1 Thessalonians 5:8, Paul tells us that the “armor of light” (v. 12) is faith, hope, charity, fidelity, uprightness, etc.

When Paul refers to armor here, Stott says that this means behavior. Obviously, the behavior needs to be behavior that shows the light of Christ in us, so that others will see and hear the good news. In John, 13:35 Jesus says that men will recognize that you are my disciples by your love.

“Let us live” (v. 13), he says, as if the Day of the Lord is already here, “honorably”, not in ways that harm ourselves and our neighbors. Rather, let Christ be our armor, and let us not give in to the temptations of the flesh.

(In baptism, we have already “put on”, v. 14, Christ, but life in Christ is something that grows with experience. As we grow in the faith, we are more and more able to resist sinful opportunities.)

Concluding from the verse above this passage just tells us to live under Christ as Lord rather than under the flesh. When one lives under the flesh they are never satisfied with their life, and they constantly want more. Christ’s brings fulfillment and everlasting joy that worldly things cannot bring. Worldly things bring temporary joy, but the joy only lasts for a season and then the joy is dead.

Gospel –  Matthew 18:15-20

Jesus has just told the parable of the lost sheep. When one sheep gets lost, he says, doesn’t the shepherd “go in search of the one that went astray?” (v. 12). And, if he finds it, doesn’t he rejoice “over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray”? (v. 13)

Chapter 18 of Matthew contains the fourth of five major narrative discourses in the Gospel (cf. Matthew 5-7; 10; 13; 18; 23-25), Its essential concern is the matter of church discipline in the messianic community.

Matthew was written around 90 C.E.; hence, the context or setting of the passage is not the life of Jesus, but the post-Easter community. The need to address disputes and tensions that arose within the life of the Christian communities over time is neither surprising nor exceptionable.

Community life, whether in a family, intentional groupings, religious congregations, or the church itself, is the great testing ground of faith. St. Teresa of Avila, the mystic, thought that relationships in community were often a greater indication of one’s relationship to God than the heights of mystical prayer.

In the church we are accountable to and for one another because our manner of relating, reconciling, and praying together reveals both our commitment to Jesus and his living presence among us. Early Christians were more aware of the interactive function of behavior. It would be a mistake to think that in similar circumstances this procedure can be applied today, primarily because excommunication or ostracism today has nowhere near the same effect as it did in the first century.

The bottom line is that Christian community — all community, really — is, as St. Benedict said, a "school for souls," in which we learn not just how to live, but also how to experience abundant life. We understand best and deepest how God loves and forgives when we are, in our limited but growing way, extending that kind of love and forgiveness to others.

From R. T. France’s commentary on Matthew provides a good introduction to this section “The portrait of the church which thus emerges is an attractive one. Status-consciousness and formally constituted authority have no place. The focus is on the relationship and mutual responsibility of all members of the community, each of whom matters, and yet all of whom must regard themselves only as ‘little ones’. The resultant pastoral concern and action is not the preserve of a select few, but is the responsibility of each individual disciple, and, where necessary, of the whole group together. The structure is informal, but the sense of community is intense. And overarching it all is the consciousness of the presence of Jesus and of the forgiveness and pastoral concern of ‘your Father in heaven’.”

Today’s gospel passage presents three more strategies for conflict resolution. The advice is intended to head off conflicts between insiders; it is not intended to govern relationships with outsiders.

That’s crucial, as at each stage of this process, the goal is reconciliation.

In other words, church conflict, if we’re seeking to follow Christ in the midst of it, doesn’t have to be a distraction from the mission of the Church; it can be a training ground for mission. It can even be a mission.


Communal life requires investment. Self reflection (and self-valuing) sufficient to notice a felt rupture, and then courage to approach the one involved are required for mutual health.

So, in the church, how should a “member” (v. 15) who has strayed, i.e. sinned, be treated? First, try taking him (or her) aside and “point out the fault” to him. Do not humiliate him by having others present.

Without others around, the person you’re speaking with has room to reconsider without losing face — and you have room to reconsider if the other person can point to ways in which your behavior has contributed negatively to the situation.

The conflict arises because “sin” is an interpersonal offense. The “Message” translates it into “Hurt”. In societies where honor is the core value, it is very easy to sin against another, to offend another’s honor. People learn from an early age the potentially fatal consequences of such an offense.

If someone thinks another person has shown dishonor, the offended party is advised to confront the sinner in private (“when the two of you are alone”). The reason for this privacy is to avoid placing the suspected offense within the official arena of honor and shame, that is, the public eye

If the perception of dishonor has been mistaken, or the alleged dishonor unintentional, the conflict has been successfully defused in private. No one has lost face.

As Christians, we believe that Christ is reconciling the whole world and each of us in it to God and to one another. So when two Christians take their conflict as an opportunity to practice reconciliation, what they do in the Church can stand as a visible sign for the whole world of what we believe Christ is doing in the world. An outward and visible sign of a grace that we believe is happening in a broader and more mysterious way in the world …


The second strategy is to take along two or three negotiators or witnesses (v. 16). Now the situation is semiprivate and becomes a legal matter (see Deut 17:1-7 which requires more than one witness).

Sharing the reproof adds weight to it.

The Greek word in verse 19 translated as “anything” literally means “legal case, litigation.” The witnesses are fully aware of the seriousness of their role (see Exodus 20:16; Acts 6:13) and the consequences of bearing false witness (Deut 19:15-21). Whatever they decide is legally binding.

The hope is that the negotiators or witnesses will succeed where individual efforts failed. Honor must be repaired or restored in order to avoid the next step.

One or two others were probably not eyewitnesses to the deed – they can be protect the accused if the accusation is too harsh or based on a misperception or inadequate information; they can protect the accuser and observe how the accused responds to the charge


If the person still refuses to listen, bring the matter before the whole assembly of the (local) church. If “the offender refuses to listen even to the church” (v. 17), consider the person an unworthy outsider: in Jewish parlance in Jesus’ time “a Gentile and a tax collector”. Expel him from the church (as Paul did at Corinth, where a man was living with his father’s wife.) Or it come move reapply – inviting him for conversion and enter the community through faith

Expelling may seem extreme especially in view of the Parable of the Lost Sheep in w. 10-14, with its emphasis on retrieval (and not abandonment) of the lost. The juxtaposition of vv. 10-14 and w. 15-20 suggests that the community must balance the recognition of God’s desire that sinners be saved, with the need to guard against serious threats to Christian fellowship and community


The plural “you” in verse 18 means that all disciples of Jesus have authority to bind or loose, that is, to settle conflicts and legal cases between community members.

The "binding and loosing" tradition in Matthew 18:18 recalls the responsibility given to Peter in 16:19, and extends the responsibility to the entire church. it is quite plausible that Matthew 18:18 can signify declaring what is "permitted" and "not permitted" within congregational life.

When the community gathers in Jesus’ name to hear a legal case, Jesus is there. When the community agrees, the Father in heaven agrees. The two or three are gathered in Christ’s name, they meet in the knowledge that they belong to the risen Christ and his watchful eye is over what they do

Jesus abides in the midst of the church, the community of believers who commit themselves to him and live as he did

Is it any wonder, then, that what we bind and loose on earth is somehow bound and loosed eternally? Our human relationships mirror our relationship with God. Whenever we encounter each other—not only in prayer—Jesus is in our midst.

Then, in v. 18, Jesus broadens what he said earlier of Peter (16:19); “you” (the whole assembly) have the authority to “bind” (here, condemn) and to “loose” (here, acquit). Their decision will be ratified by God. Finally, in vv. 19-20, Jesus tells us that in common prayer, study, and in decision-making, however small the group, if we ask God for anything seeking to know his will and do it (“in my name”), he will do it, because Jesus, God the Son, is there in the community.

The largess of God does not diminish the ‘rockiness’ of who we are and the need to engage that truth together. We are not to simply shrug off our rockiness with “Oh well, we’re human.”

Our common humanity is the basis for compassionate humility and loving truth-speaking. It’s a winning combination.

III. Articles for this week in WorkingPreacher:

First ReadingEzekiel 33:7-11

PsalmPsalm 119:33-40 

Epistle  – Romans 13:8-14 

Gospel  – Matthew 18:15-20