Gently Restore
Matthew 18:15-20

Galatians 6:1 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.
I want to start today by talking about what it means to be caught in a sin.  I’ve probably always thought that this text meant that someone had been going along merrily sinning to their hearts content and then someone caught them in the act, so now it’s time to do something about it.  The correct way of interpreting it though is the reason we had a picture of a fishing net on the opening slide of the service.  Being caught is about being entrapped, having no means of rescuing yourself. 
Think about it, if a fish is trapped by its gills in a net there is no way for it to get out, they don’t have hands to try and pry themselves free, they’re stuck there and will eventually drown.  Not a very pleasant way to go.  In most cases you could imagine that the fish was cruising along minding their own business when along came someone with a net, looking for fish seeking it out and snuck up behind it or camouflaged itself in front so it couldn’t be seen easily.  Before the fish could realise what was going on it was too late, it was trapped, with nowhere to go and no way to save itself.
Does that sound familiar?  Sin is Satan’s way of luring us in and trapping us, before we know it there is no easy way out, at least without the help of someone else or God.  Most of the time the sins that trap us start out as a subtle thing, maybe I will just have a quick look at a porn site while no-one is watching, no one will know, it will be OK.  Or maybe we will just gossip a little about someone else, thinking it’s harmless and then little by little it gets deeper and deeper and more destructive.  You might even just spend a little time daydreaming about someone else’s husband or wife, their car or their house, then it slowly develops into an obsession, until you eventually act on your obsession, having convinced yourself that it’s OK.  The list could go on and on, but either way it’s destructive, it leads you away from God and from your friends and loved ones.
Sin causes us to try and justify and protect ourselves.  There’s a great nuance in the text, the tense on being caught is a ‘future most probable’, it is saying that it is highly likely, for ALL of us that we are going to be caught in sin, trapped by it, drowning, unless someone who is spiritual, can recognize our own spiritual dilemma and come and give their assistance in a gentle and loving way.
There’s no easy way around it, there’s no quick fix, let’s watch this commercial that proves that point - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L96GSqfhFnQ
We can’t just give or take a pill and things will be OK, it can be a long and drawn out process to gently restore someone from sin, especially when that sin has caused a conflict between people or even a breakdown in a relationship.  When there is an offense that can’t be overlooked, when someone has an issue against you or has offended you or is caught in sin, then it’s time to follow the procedure in Matthew 18, to go and try and rescue them from their sin.  But gently!!!
When a fish is removed from a net or a hook, especially if it is going to be released to swim and live again you do it carefully don’t you, you’ve all watched fishing shows where they catch and release the fish.  They gently remove the hook and place them back in the water and make sure their gills are working properly before they release them to fend for themselves again.  That’s how it is when we are restoring relationships and helping each other be released from a sin that we are caught in.  We need to do it carefully and gently and make sure that the person is ready to swim all by themselves again.
When we are set free we can live out our purpose that is described in both of our readings today.  We are meant for unity in the body of Christ, to come together to worship, to pray for each other, to gather in the Lord’s name, so that we can be certain that he is here with us.  Whatever we bind on earth will be bound in heaven, whatever we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven, if we agree and ask the Lord, it will be done for us.  There is great power and strength in unity, in being one as the body of Christ, not going it alone, where the evil one can sneak up on us and catch us in sin.  You’ve heard the saying, there is strength in numbers, and it is true!
I want to conclude with the last two verses of our Hebrews reading from this morning, Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
We are being called to love one another, be reconciled in all that we do and say, encouraging one another, building one another up, so that we don’t neglect to meet together.  We should notice when two or three are not gathered together with us, and go, seek them out protect them from being caught in sin, care for them, let them know that we are here for them and so is God.  Forgive them if they have sinned against us and asked them to forgive us if we have sinned against them!
We are about to begin a new year as a congregation, we’ve spent the last three weeks learning about reconciliation and living together in unity.  Next week is the last in this series, we will hear about going and being reconciled, forgiving one another.  My deepest desire at this time is for people to reach out to one another if there is any hurt from the past holding them back, drowning them as they are caught in it.  I want us to move together into our future as a reconciled, healthy and free congregation living together in unity and Christian love.  God has great things planned for this congregation, he is building on a solid foundation, he has set us free so that we can set each other free.  Let’s live in that freedom, share that freedom with others and encourage one another as the day of the Lord approaches.
Amen