SERMON FOR SEPTEMBER 7, 2014
PROPER 18, YEAR A
Nativity, Bloomfield Township
READINGS: Exodus 12:1-14
MAY THE WORDS OF OUR SACRED WRITINGS BE A LAMP UNTO OUR FEET, AND LEAD US ONTO PATHS OF JUSTICE, LOVE, AND MERCY. AMEN.
Some of you may remember when I first came to Nativity, I warned you I didn’t want to hear any back-biting or gossip about anything I had said or done. I told you to come directly to me, not to the person sitting next to you in the pew or someone else. Come to me, and we will work it out.
Harry Cook wrote recently that a very savvy bishop once told him that in his experience “wherever people are gathered as a church, there is bound to be conflict.” This was no less true in the early church. Paul wrote letters to many of the churches he started because they were having trouble interacting with each other. Paul’s letters were written at least thirty years before today’s gospel was written by Matthew. Seems the late first century community to which Matthew was writing had some conflict. My, my, my.The early church wasn’t any more pure or ideal than the church we live in today.
There’s bound to be some conflict in any gathering of human beings. That’s not the problem. It’s how a community manages its disagreement that matters, not who’s right or who’s wrong. It’s how a community manages its disagreement that matters.
While many of us don’t like conflict and try to ignore it when it occurs, today’s gospel encourages us to deal with it in a most charitable way. If we don’t, it can eat away at relationships and can fragment the community. Certainly Nativity has experienced that! No one likes the responsibility of trying to resolve conflict, not even those appointed to leadership. Nevertheless, there are times when we must.
Matthew has Jesus proposing a three-step process to address conflict. This process is initiated because the offended, or sinned-against, party is seeking reconciliation, not revenge or punishment. First, the injured person should appeal to the offender. It starts with a private conversation and manifests the love that should exist among members of the community. You know, the kind of love Paul writes about… having patience and kindness; not being arrogant or rude or self-seeking. This private conversation should not be undertaken in anger nor should it dredge up all kinds of other injuries, real or perceived. We have to realize that there can be a big difference between intention and perception. What you perceived as an offence or sin against you may not have been the person’s intention at all. Yes, the offended person is to go to that brother or sister in private to try to rectify the situation. Every effort must be taken to prevent embarrassment or shame for the offender.
If that personal approach doesn’t work the injured party should take one or two other community members to speak with the recalcitrant member. This second step is undergird by Deuteronomy 19:15, which states that “only on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be sustained.” Now we’re getting a bit more formal, more legalistic.
Then, if reconciliation still isn’t achieved, the third step is to take the matter before the whole church. Only if that intervention fails is the person is to be treated like an “outsider.”
Wait a minute. Didn’t Jesus welcome outsiders and even eat with them? Yes he did, and that’s how the community should behave, following Jesus’ example, while they continue trying to work things out with the person involved. No shaming. No shunning. No excommunication. Continue sharing the table. Continue trying to work things out.
There’s a reason I’m looking at today’s gospel reading through this limited lens. Nativity is in the process of discerning how we are to be church in the 21st Century and how we are to manifest our mission to others. We’re going to explore a number of different models and options. Some of these may make us uncomfortable or even go against everything we’ve come to believe a church should be. Maybe we’ll even become angry. So, do we pick up our marbles or jacks and trot off to a different church? Do we get angry because we heard something with which we don’t agree, something that may not even be factual?
No. No. No. We follow what we have learned through the Scriptures. We are patient with each other. We are kind to each other. We listen to each other. We don’t close our minds. We don’t point fingers at people with whom we disagree. In fact, we may have to agree to disagree. You know, sometimes the Holy Spirit nudges us in directions we would never dream of taking.
What else do we do? We pray. We pray. And we pray. We know from today’s gospel that Jesus promised where two or three gather in his name, Jesus is in the midst of them. Jesus is walking with us through this entire process.
I’d like to make another suggestion. No matter how active or inactive you are at Nativity, read the book that’s been assigned. Don’t be a hindrance. Don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t believe everything you hear from others.
Rather, come to the meetings with Michelle Meech. Come and listen. Come and learn. Come and discover your individual spiritual gifts. Come and find out the community’s spiritual gifts. Come see where these gifts intersect. Come and open your mind and your inner being to the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Come be a part of this discernment process.
Michelle will be here again this Friday from 9 to 11 a.m. She will celebrate Eucharist next Sunday and then meet with folks afterwards during the coffee hour. Please plan to be here. Please plan to participate in this process.
Resources used for this sermon:
Andrews, Dale P. “Matthew 18:15-20: Homiletical Perspective.” Feasting on the Word. Bartlett, David L. and Taylor, Barbara Brown, Editors. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY. 2011.
Boll, John, O.P., and Siciliano, Jude, O.P. “First Impressions.” Matthew 18:15-20. Retrieved from the Internet August 29, 2014.
Cook, Harry. “Findings.” September 7, 2014. Matthew 18:15-20. Retrieved from the Internet September 1, 2014.
Hambrick-Stowe, Charles. “Matthew 18:15-20: Theological Perspective.” Feasting on the Word. Bartlett, David L. and Taylor, Barbara Brown, Editors. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY. 2011.
Kim, Jin S. “Matthew 18:15-20: Pastoral Perspective.” Feasting on the Word. Bartlett, David L. and Taylor, Barbara Brown, Editors. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY. 2011.
Reddish, Mitchell G. “Matthew 18:15-20: Exegetical Perspective.” Feasting on the Word. Bartlett, David L. and Taylor, Barbara Brown, Editors. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY. 2011.
Synthesis: Proper 18, Year A., September 7, 2014. PNMSI Publishing Co., Inc., Boyds, MD 20841-0335.