Run for your lives! It's the attack of the footnotes!
Also, I would comment do you Chapter 15 of the Model Constitution for Congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which is a required chapter and so would be in your congregation's constitution if your congregation is in the ELCA. Unless your congregation hasn't updated its constitution since 1987...
Now settle in. There's a lot here.
<In which we are lulled into a false sense of security before the footnotes appear.>
Say to them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?
-- Ezekiel 33:11
Verse 11 is cited several times, and one could be forgiven for thinking that Melanchthon and is followers were enamored of this verse. It is first quoted in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 12: Repentance (AP 12.94) reflecting on a line from Tertullian's On Repentance to show that God's promise of forgiveness is here backed up with an oath from God. This makes God's forgiveness so sure, Melanchthon argues, that "if any are not certain that they are forgiven, they deny that God has sworn to the truth."
Verse 11 is next cited in Formula of Concord, Epitome, Article 11: Election, Affirmative Thesis 9 (Ep 11.10) with several other passages to emphasize that God "wants no one to be lost." The drumbeat of a Lutheran understanding of election.
Verse 11 is then quoted in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 2: Free Will (SD 2.49) as step one of unpacking "how the human being is converted to God" (SD 2.48) given the fact that we were created with free will. The beginning of justification is in God's desire that everyone turn from their evil ways and live.
Verse 11 is quoted twice in quick succession a bit later in the Solid Declaration in Article 11: Election (SD 11.81, 84) to unpack the point that God is not the origin of sin and doesn't want anyone to fall into sin. But for those who repeatedly hear God's word and rebel against it, God's judgment is that they will be left to their own devices. The example given is Pharaoh (SD 11.84-86) to whom Moses directly proclaimed God's will and word, but "Pharaoh arrogantly rebelled against every admonition and warning" so "God withdrew his hand from him" (SD 11.85). Yet this brought God no joy or pleasure. God's righteous judgment comes from a place of sadness that anyone would want to fight against and walk away from God's gracious love.
Semicontinuous First Reading: Exodus 12:1-14
<In which a footnote scout is seen.>
This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord.
-- Exodus 12:11
Verse 11 is quoted in a footnote to Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 23: The Marriage of Priests (AP 23.26, n. 475), which provides the section of The Confutation that cites verse 11 to claim that celibacy is a kind of girding of the loins that is pure and clean, thus implying that marriage and sex are neither pure nor clean despite marriage being a Catholic sacrament.
<In which a vanguard of the footnotes appears.>
Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes,
and I will observe it to the end.
Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
and observe it with my whole heart.
-- Psalm 119:33-34
Verses 33 and 34 are cited in a footnote in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 2: Free Will (SD 2.15, n. 62) along with the nine other times in Psalm 119 when a request is made to God for understanding God's teachings.
Lead me in the path of your commandments,
for I delight in it.
-- Psalm 119:35
Verse 35 is cited and alluded to in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 6: Third Use of the Law (SD 6.4) as a reminder with several other Psalm passages that even Christians need to hear God's law as it is something Christians should "daily practice" because it "is a mirror that accurately depicts the will of God" and so "should always be held before the faithful." For Christians, God's law brings delight.
<In which we think the footnotes have passed.>
Chapter 13 as a whole is called out by Melanchthon in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 16: Political Order (AP 16.7), but for the first part of the chapter that is not part of this pericope.
The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
-- Romans 13:9
Verse 9 is quoted in The Small Catechism, The Household Chart: For All in the Community (SC 7.14) as a general reminder that being part of community means the basis of love for the other is central.
Verse 9 is cited twice in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration. It is first cited in Article 4: Good Works (SD 4.14) as the reformers, after Luther's death, unpack what seems like the development of a second law in The Augsburg Confession and its Apology that reflect legalistic sounding language in scripture. Paul here is pointing out, not a second law that seeks to justify us, but rather the struggle between the Christian and their flesh. As the reformers concluded this thought, "we reject and condemn as false the view that good works are a matter of freedom for the faithful, in the sense that they have free choice whether they want or wish to do them or refrain from doing them or even to act against God's law while nevertheless still retaining faith, God's favor, and grace" (SD 4.20). As we are possessed by the Holy Spirit, we will do good works that are the result of faith, but as we are possessed by the will of our flesh, we cannot do good works and are called to repent.
The second citation of verse 9 in the Solid Declaration is in Article 6: Third Use of the Law (SD 6.21) to help clarify this good works issue. Christians need to hear God's law so that we can see our good works for what they are, "Imperfect and impure because of the sinfulness of the flesh" (SD 6.22). But since we are under grace, we delight in following God's law even though we know we cannot do so perfectly. This is another call to struggle against the will of the flesh with God's law helping us.
<In which the footnotes attack in mass.>
Verses 15 thru 19 are cited in a footnote to The Large Catechism, A Brief Exhortation to Confession (LC 7.14, n. 238) as the citation for the claim that "Christ himself has placed absolution in the mouths of his Christian community and commanded us to absolve one another from sins."
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.
-- Matthew 18:15-17
Verse 15 is quoted and cited in a footnote in The Large Catechism, The First Part: The Ten Commandments, Eighth Commandment (LC 1.276, n. 112) as a way to address issues that come up in such a way that we follow the command to not bear false witness by instead going directly to the person to talk. Luther then expounds on this for the next quote and footnote citation of verse 15 (LC 1.278, n. 113) as he sets the scene of the head of a household complaining in public about one of his employees who then gets told by someone in public to go and talk to that employee rather than complain about it in public. In this way, that head of household has been regained as a member of the church if they hear the word of those around and go and talk to the employee rather than slander and gossip about the employee.
Verse 16 is quoted and cited in a footnote next (LC 1.279, n. 114) to show that if the one on one conversation doesn't affect change, then witnesses are to be brought (and here's an interesting bit) either before the church or before a civil court. What matters is not where this is addresses (although to do so appropriately) but rather that the faithful person who feels sinned against does not fall into gossip and slander.
Verse 17 is cited in a footnote to Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 11: Confession (AP 11.4, n. 275) to show that excommunication is something done by Jesus' command. Here, however, the reason for excommunication is that the person attends services but chooses to not commune, is encouraged to do so but still refuses, and then is finally told that if they don't intend to commune, they need not come to services. The lines from Gratian's Decretum III are quoted (AP 11.5) to support this.
<And we regroup and engage the footnotes.>
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.
-- Matthew 18:18-19
Verse 18 is quoted twice in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 12: Repentance. The first quote (AP 12.138) comes within an argument that scripture does not anywhere provide for the assignment of penance. Either forgiveness is pronounced or it is not. No additional work can be assigned. Either the person is repentant and forgiven or not repentant and bound in their sin. The second quote (AP 12.176) reiterates this point and then recognizes that this authority to bind and loose is only good for this earthly life--a point where Lutherans and Catholics agreed even then.
Verse 18 is also cited in Smalcald Articles, Part 3, Article 7: Concerning the Keys (SA 3.7.1, n. 140) along with parallels to show that Jesus did give the church the authority to bind and loose sins.
Verse 18 is cited in a footnote to The Small Catechism, Short Order of Confession (SC 4.28, n. 95) to show where Jesus commands the forgiveness of sins.
Verses 18 thru 20 are quoted in Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope (Tr 23-24) in conjunction with Matthew 16:15 to show that the authority to forgive sins is given to the entire church, not just Peter or the apostles.
Verse 19 is cited in a footnote in Smalcald Articles, Part 3, Article 4: Concerning the Gospel (SA 3.4, n. 129) to indicate that Luther was using the Latin text that conflates verse 19 and verse 20.
<And the footnotes are finally exhausted.>
For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.
-- Matthew 18:20
Verse 20 is quoted in Smalcald Articles, Part 3, Article 4: Concerning the Gospel (SA 3.4), which is the correct verse and not the Latin conflation. (See previous citation.)
Verse 20 is also cited in Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope (Tr 68) in Luther's argument that the authority to ordain rests on the church wherever it may find itself rather that in the pope.
Verse 20 is quoted in The Large Catechism, Preface (LC Preface.9) as Luther calls out the learned and scholarly in his day to not ignore the basics of faith presented in the catechisms so that the Spirit might direct our thought and words to these central expressions of faith.
Verse 20 is also quoted in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 2: Free Will (SD 2.57) to make the argument that even though God has promised that we will encounter Jesus in the word and sacraments, people are free to ignore this promise. However they then should not be surprised when they Holy Spirit does not enlighten them. In a humorous image, the person who ignores God's word and the sacraments is set lower than "a stone or block of wood."
For a stone or block of wood does not resist the person who moves it; neither does it understand or feel what is being done to it. In contrast, people resist God the Lord with their will until they are converted... such people can do absolutely nothing toward their own conversion and are in this case much worse than a stone or block of wood. For they resist the Word and will of God until God awakens them from the death of sin and enlightens and renews them.
-- Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 2: Free Will (SD 2.59)
Finally, verse 20 is quoted in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 8: Person of Christ (SD 8.76) to note that this and other promises of Jesus are uniquely possible for Jesus because of the personal union of the divine and human natures in Jesus.
<In which we recover from the footnotes.>
I hope it's not a surprise that the passage where Jesus teaches how to deal with conflict within the church is paired with Ezekiel's declaration of God's will, the psalmist's prayer to understand God's teachings, and Paul's reiteration of love for the neighbor. Would you rather have the people you offend (intentionally or not) come and talk to you about the issue or have them publicly defame you and spread gossip about you? How we deal with conflict in the church is a reflection of our faith. When there is conflict in the church and it leads to excommunication, the result is never gossiping or shunning. Gentiles and tax collectors are those people Jesus eats with, teaches, and seeks out as people who need to hear the good news of God's love for them. Conflict is a call into deeper relationship, not a something to be avoided or made into grist for the rumor mill. The commandment to not bear false witness is one that congregations consistently break.
- How are we creating a culture that enables gossiping or shunning as a way to avoid dealing with conflict?
- Where do we provide healthy opportunities for venting?
- How do we react when people come to us because they feel we've sinned against them?