Traditional Sermon Pentecost 14
Let’s talk. Let’s talk about not talking. Have you ever had a disagreement with someone? (Raise your hand if you have.) Have you ever carried a grudge for a while following that disagreement? Now we’ll get a little personal … you don’t have to raise your hand anymore. Have you ever carried a grudge and had it change your relationship into something that was never quite the same as it was before the disagreement? Have you ever experienced real grief over one of these disagreements? Have you ever lost a friend … maybe a family member … over a disagreement like this? Yeah, disagreements are an inevitable part of relationships, and are maybe one of the most difficult parts of being in relationship with those around us.
That’s why the topic of today’s Gospel lesson is serious business. Because it addresses how we manage our disagreements. Now … before we even get started … don’t fool yourself into thinking that it is just a “church” thing. The story has a spirit of church discipline to it, right? It talks about “sins” … and “witnesses” … and “treating offenders like Gentiles and tax collectors.” The whole spirit of the text is one of judgment … as if God can’t wait to kick someone out of the club for breaking the rules. And we all know churches … and Christians … who embrace this judgmental spirit with great gusto. Heck, let’s be honest … sometimes you and I also fallen prey to a bit of judgment, right? Because if I can bring someone else down a notch or two, then maybe I feel like I then move up a notch or two, and I can hide from my own faults for a bit longer. So the solution is right here in the Bible? Throw the sinners out! or is it that simple?
Time for a mini-Bible Study on chapter 18 of Matthew’s Gospel. Let’s look at the stories that surround today’s text.
- Verses 1-5 – Topic? – children, who are humble in spirit are to be welcomed to the fold.
- Verses 6-9 – Topic? – not putting stumbling blocks in front of the spiritually immature of the world
- Verses 10-14 – Topic? – the lost sheep that we are to seek out and return to the fold.
- Then we have the six verses of today’s Gospel lesson
- Verses 21 & 22 – forgiving one who sins against you 70 times 7 times
- Verses 23-35 – the parable of the unforgiving servant, where the inability to forgive is judged.
So do we really think today’s short story … which is surrounded by stories of God’s forgiving spirit and the call for us to do the same … is about a rigid system of judging others and tossing them out of the community of faith … or any other community for that matter. Come on …you know better than that … so do I. And while we’re in Bible Study class, we can take a quick look at the word in our lesson that in English reads as “church.” The word is “ecclesia” in Greek – a word that may more properly be translated as “assembly” or “gathering.” Ecclesia is formed from a verb that means to summon, to invite, to call together. So yeah, Jesus is probably isn’t talking about the church here … but every community of which we are a part.
It’s an important topic. Because we’re not so good at this, are we? We struggle to live this out in our lives at every level. Few of us are comfortable with this level of confrontation. And so we talk to others about it. Or we make a general comment around the dinner table, hoping someone will get the message. Or we post something on FB. Or we just simmer … and fume … and allow frustration with a person to replace the gift of being in relationship with that person.
Why do we find the honest sharing of concerns and disagreements so hard to do? In part, at play is our aversion to conflict – most of us try to avoid conflict. You’ll also hear people say that they don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, so they don’t bring up their concerns. For some, there is so much conflict present in our world, that they don’t want to add to it with their own disagreements. Maybe those are the reasons for our aversion to facing conflict directly. But in my experience, our unwillingness to confront others when we are upset, is often more about control than concern for the other. We avoid confrontation, because down deep in our spirits – those places we don’t like to go – we are not sure we are completely right in our disagreements. And in going public, we might lose control over “being right ‘ because someone else might see our ideas a little differently. In our heart of hearts, most of us know that the old proverb is true – There are always two sides to every story.And if we are honest with ourselves, we know that our gripe and grudge may not be as pure and righteous as we are busy telling our self it is. It may be our desire to control the situation so as to not afce the truth.
If we read our lesson carefully today, we might see that Jesus thinks the same thing. Hear Jesus’ words about the witnesses you are to bring if the two persons in disagreement cannot resolve the situation on their own.
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.
Take witnesses so that every word can be confirmed … that means not just the words of the person with whom you are in disagreement, but your own words too. Jesus isn’t so much looking to judge people and throw them out of the community in this conversation he has with the disciples, but to insure that everyone has the best chance to resolve their differences with each other, in an environment that is always a difficult one.
Still sounds pretty difficult, doesn’t it? It is quite simply something that we do not do very well. But remember, we are not alone when we try to heed the call to reconciliation that Jesus offers as a model in today’s passage. The last verse in our Gospel Lesson reads like this: For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them. We talk about the real presence of Christ in our sacraments all the time in the Lutheran church, and we do that because of Jesus’ promise that when we eat a little bread and drink a bit of wine, Jesus enters our lives in a physical and tangible way. It is at the heart of our sacramental theology. But in today’s Gospel Lesson, Jesus says that when two or three gather in his name, he is also there. That is an extremely potent promise, too. So maybe … the next time you find yourself in conflict with a friend or family member … imagine that Jesus is standing right next to you as you seek resolution. And don’t just imagine it … believe Jesus’ own words that it is true.
The second Sunday in September is typically a homecoming of sorts in churches throughout our land. With Labor Day closing off the summer, many of us are ready to get back to the normal routine of fall living. If you scan the papers you’ll see announcements for Rally Day, Homecoming Sunday, Back to Sunday school, and here at St. Peter’s Mission Sunday. It is a time when we re-commit to education and vocal choir music and more active committee life, along with all the other parts of congregational living that we cherish. In short, we recommit to the spirit of community that is a central part of church life in congregations everywhere. With community, of course, comes the joy and the challenge of human relationships.
So as you re-engage with those you may not have seen for a while …
… and catch up on all the news in each other’s lives …
… and celebrate all the things that connect you to others …
… and remember some of the things over which you bump heads …
… and a few of the irritations that are an inevitable part of life in community.
Remember also, that where two or three are gathered, Jesus is with you. And draw from that presence of our Risen Lord, the eyes needed to see the gift of being in community as the people of God. Amen.