(There is a Dialogue Sketch on this gospel available at http://www.andrewknight.org.uk/dialogue-sketches/index-of-dialogue-sketches/matthew-1815-20-community-gossip-and-heaven/ )
Surprisingly, in a world where individualism reigns and everybody does their own thing, this is signing-up time. Students are committing to courses: school, college, or just evening classes and church housegroups. Of course, many things you can do on your own: buy the book, manual, video and get on with it. But its easier with a real teacher and the fun of a group. Sometimes it helps when you are tempted to duck a wet evening in February to know that you will be missed. There is support and help in belonging.
So also in Church, but sometimes we damage that. When we don’t relate to other people, or do it badly, we weaken the encouragement, and make it harder for church to challenge or correct. What! you say. You have no intention of being corrected? Well, read today’s gospel (Matthew 18:15-20) more carefully! Any community not only has values and rules, but ways of enforcing them. They can be good or bad. Bad would include gossip, and arbitrary exclusion – being thrown out without warning or explanation. Good ways of enforcement might be – well, as in Mt – a careful proportionate response, with checks for truthfulness and the avoidance of kangaroo courts.
The Romans reading (Romans 13:8-14, especially verses 8 and 9) quotes Leviticus 19:18, and Jesus, about loving your neighbour as yourself. That is not just about being co-operative when they ask for help – lending tools over the back hedge. It is certainly much more that “doing anyone a good turn”. To love your neighbour is to have a real concern for their wellbeing, so if their life looks as if it might not be leading to heaven, you need to love your neighbour. It may be to say something to turn them again to God; it may be to point out what is happening in warning; or perhaps the only opportunity you have will be to give an example. The lesson from Ezekiel 33:7-11 sets out the responsibility, and not only for Old Testament prophets.
It’s signing-up time. Perhaps you will do some course, learning a language or skill. I certainly hope you will join in with a Church (and perhaps its groups!). One way and another we need to sign up to a congregation where we encourage one another on the way to heaven, and when necessary correct and warn one another of danger in the careful way Matthew lays out.
We have to love our neighbour, and to let them love us, for that is a central part of our faith. Loving our neighbour includes not letting them wander the road to hell without warning, or encouragement to take a better route.