Sermon: Sunday September 10, 2017

If another member of the church sins against you….

Matthew 18: 15-20

The Rev. Lisa Smith Fry     

“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 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. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

I’ve got to tell you— when I first read this, I was certain that this advice was not going to work too well in 2017.

Picture this: someone in a parish—say—St. Thomas’—decides that another member of the church has wronged them.  Now—I KNOW that would never happen here—but let’s just pretend.

So: one parishioner goes up to another parishioner and tells them they have wronged them.  Perhaps the second parishioner thinks the first parishioner is overreacting, but they say, “whatever”, and shrug it off.

Now imagine if that first parishioner comes back with—say—the Rector and the Wardens and repeats the accusation. Perhaps this would cause the 2nd parishioner to see the error of their ways, make amends, embrace the accuser.

Or–—they would say, “Hey—there are a lot of other Episcopal churches I can attend where I don’t have to put up with this stuff!”

The world of 2017 is very different from the world of 33 AD.

Here, we are very mobile. Some of us were born somewhere else, or even if we are from here, we may have moved around several times in the course of our lives.

In Jesus’ day, people were born, lived, and died the same town. They lived with the same people in their community often for their entire lives, and if there was a problem, an issue, it really did have to be dealt with in a civil manner–  or the whole community would suffer. If it became a big enough problem—it would affect everyone in the community and factions and power struggles could ensue.  Hmmm. . Maybe churches today are more like Jesus’ communities than I thought.

Nowadays though, if we have a problem with someone, if we feel someone has wronged us—we move along. We tend to carry those hurt feelings with us, we just do what psychologists call a “geographical fix: we change locations:  new neighborhood, new church, new school, new job.

Compromise, reconciliation and making amends are just not priorities anymore.

Jesus knew not all problems could be easily solved. Sometimes,  reconciliation is too difficult. I’m sure we can all think of a time or two when we think we were hurt too deeply: that there’s too much to forgive and forget.

For these occasions, Jesus gives us another way: if the offender refuses to listen, let them be as a gentile and a tax collector.”

Jesus didn’t tell people to treat the offender like an enemy. We all know how we usually treat enemies.

How did a good Jew treat a gentile or a tax collector? They were considered unclean, and avoided. Usually Jews went out of their way to ignore them.

But here’s the rub: how did Jesus treat tax collectors and gentiles?

This reading is from the Gospel according to Matthew. Who was Matthew? Matthew was a tax collector. And a disciple of Jesus.

A couple of weeks ago we heard about the Canaanite woman. She was a gentile.  I believe Jesus told her she was a woman of great faith, and he healed her daughter.

So, to recap: if the offender refuses to listen, let them be as a gentile or a tax collector. Turns out Jesus listened to, interacted with and even learned from gentiles and tax collectors.

I hope you’ve noticed by now that Jesus never just gives us easy answers. He never makes it that simple for us– do this, you’re in, do that – you’re out. It might be easier for us that way, and perhaps some people would prefer it, because life is so much easier to control that way. Here’s a situation: here’s the answer.

But Jesus knew communities don’t work that way– things happen, feelings are hurt, people get wounded. Jesus knows communities don’t just need rules, they need shalom. According to Hebrew tradition, the noun form of shalom always points to being in a state of wholeness or completeness. It does also means peace, but the greater definition is wholeness. To be a community within Shalom, there needs to be understanding, compassion, empathy.  We can’t just ignore problems– we need reconciliation. We need to become whole.

Jesus didn’t ignore those who didn’t want reconciliation and refused to come back into community: he loved them- because where there is love, there is hope.

So maybe this way of living in community is more important now than ever. Communities, families, churches, nations won’t survive without shalom: peace and wholeness.

“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

But never forget how Jesus treated gentiles and tax collectors. Amen.