Today I was invited to preach at Christ Church of the Hills while their pastor is taking a much deserved weekend with family. This sermon is on the lectionary passage of Matthew 18: 15-20 and is about forgiveness. Not knowing this congregation well at all, in fact, there for my first time, I decided to stick with some general themes but hopefully invite some deep reflection. We’ll see how it all goes….
Also, it seems I am writing sermons in prose form these days. I’m going with it….
As we begin our reflection this morning on this passage from Matthew’s Gospel,
Let us begin with reflecting on some scenarios
Misunderstanding or Distance
Are themes we have recently been exposed to.
Three young Israeli boys are kidnapped, disappeared
And later, tragically, their bodies are found.
Old lines of hatred and division are stirred up once again
The ugly prejudices of one country against another,
Rise to the top
And the pot of hate boils over again.
And so now on both sides
Over 500 children are dead
Over 2000 adults are dead
Homes and communities are leveled
Old lines of hatred and division are strengthened once again
The ugly prejudices between two people
Are now even more entrenched.
Peace is elusive.
Who is to blame?
A teenage boy goes to the store
Perhaps he shoplifts
Perhaps he doesn’t
We really do not know.
But he had just graduated from high school
And was walking with his friend.
They are African-American
In Ferguson, Missouri
Something went wrong that night with the police
Of what we really do not know
The details are mixed up,
But the police officer shot that young man
Really still a child
And we have been hearing about it ever since.
Racial tensions, distrust, discord.
All rose to the top again.
Old lines of hatred and fear
Reared their ugly heads again.
And we are divided in what we think of this.
And healing is far from close in that community.
Or in the communities near us.
Places like Troy, Albany, Schenectady.
Distrust is present
Hate is present
Racism is present.
And we are divided one from another.
Who is to blame?
Also this summer, along the border with Mexico
Many children gathered.
From places like Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico.
Something was so wrong in the places were they lived
That their families
Let them try for a “better life” here.
Or the children
Desperate and fearful
Fled for “safety.”
Some of the children are now in detention centers.
Some of them endured the rage and hate of people from our country
Yelling at them.
Calling them names.
I went to Guatemala this summer to visit our partner Presbytery there.
To be with Presbyterians in that place.
And there I held a baby in my arms
A little girl
A few months old.
Her mother told us that when the baby is bigger they are going to try
To make it to the border.
I held that baby in my arms,
Who might someday make it here
Or someday die in the desert in the borderlands.
Whose fault is that?
Closer to home perhaps
Are quarrels between family members
Children at school
Or we turn on the TV
Or read the newspaper
Or take a look at the Internet
And we see leaders and politicians
And we think to ourselves,
“I don’t like him.”
“I don’t like her.”
“I don’t trust him.”
“I don’t trust her.”
Sometimes our reasons are good
Other times our reasons are maybe not so good.
Sometimes someone else is to blame, and rightfully so.
Other times you or I are to blame, and rightfully so.
But who really, is to blame for all of these problems?
Who really is at fault?
What really happened?
Whose fault is it?
It’s a question we ask all the time
Because we are indoctrinated into the idea that
We must always assign blame
That we must always figure out who is
Right and who is
That makes it easier.
That makes things simpler.
Black and white.
Right and Wrong.
And then our Gospel reading for today
comes along and everything
is turned upside down.
Jesus is instructing his disciples on how to live
in generous and transformative ways.
Jesus is explaining to them the meaning of true community.
Jesus is giving radical instruction.
Jesus is teaching forgiveness.
How desperately we need that today.
Because our way of living in this broken world we inhabit is to always ask the question:
“Whose fault is it?”
Jesus doesn’t care about that.
He cares about reconciliation.
He cares about forgiveness.
He cares about radical community.
You see, for Jesus, as theological David Lose explains it, for Jesus, “The primary goal is no longer to change someone’s behavior, or demonstrate how he or she is wrong, or even to invite him or her to repentance. Rather, the goal is to restore a damaged relationship by speaking truthfully about the breach or hurt you are experiencing, taking responsibility for your feelings and your actions and inviting the other person to do the same, and inviting dialogue and conversation that you might find a way forward together.”
The issue for Jesus is not blame, it is forgiveness.
And the #1 issue is forgiveness because the
#1 goal is community.
Conflicts will happen.
We cannot avoid them.
Either “out there” or “in here.”
The secret is, what is our witness about how we handle a conflict?
How does the conflict build community?
Jesus wasn’t interested in “conflict management” techniques
In today’s passage.
Ways to smooth things over so the institution
Or community was preserved for its own sake.
Jesus was interested in
Community that is radical
Marches to the beat of a different drummer.
Community that points to Jesus.
And that means that everyone is changed.
Everyone takes responsibility for their reactions.
Everyone is held to a high standards.
Because everyone has the opportunity to be made new.
Because we are seeking to follow Jesus.
Let me close with this:
Today is my first Sunday here.
I am a stranger to you.
And you do not know me.
But your pastor, Susan, who you love and you trust
Invited me here.
But be honest for a moment.
When I brought up the situations at the beginning of this sermon,
Between Israel and Gaza.
Between Mike Brown, the African-American community and the Ferguson Police.
Between children at our border and the laws of our country.
Even the hints of situations that are present in each of our lives….
What did you think?
Did a judgment come into you mind about
Who was right and who was wrong?
Did you get uncomfortable or angry?
Did you feel compassion or sadness?
No one is here to judge today.
We are all here as equals
Those who are committed to Christian community
Because we know that we are each as desperate as the
person next to us for the grace we only find in Jesus Christ
Our Lord, our Savior, our Friend.
So thank you for inviting me to preach
And to share what was on my heart today with you.
To share where I am seeing Jesus these days.
Where I am hearing Jesus beckon me to greater faithfulness.
As we leave this place
How can we commit to transforming just one relationship this week?
It does not have to be something big or something small
Just something of importance.
Something that is tugging on our heartstrings.
Something that keeps us up at night
Or is the first thing we think of in the morning.
As you head out of this place today
To engage the week ahead
And whatever it holds for you.
I invite you to
Reread the scripture from today.
Allow the idea of forgiveness to enter into your soul
Allow the Spirit of Jesus the Christ to enter into your life
For all of the newness that God wants for each of us.
Grace is here.
Grace is present.
God is here among us.
 Pentecost 14A: The Essential Ingredient by David Lose. Sept 1, 2014. http://www.davidlose.net/2014/09/pentecost-14-a-forgiveness-community/
The image at the front is from Testimonies of Hope.