Message: Ezekiel 33:7-11; Psalm 119:33-40; Romans 13:8-14;
We all have that someone or those people in our lives with whom we just can’t find peace; the person who has wronged us. The annoying boss who has to insist all the time that he’s right. The co-worker who can’t hold up their end of the load and we frustratingly jump in to fix it for him/her. The sibling so hurt and angry who writes the non-retractable letter causing what can be irretrievable harm. As we remember 9/11 this weekend, have we truly been able to get things right with that horror that changed our world forever? This week, our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry visited with clergy and church leaders in Charlottesville to talk about next steps as a result of the hate and violence spewed on August 12. Bishop Curry shared some words of wisdom to help us get things right.
Jesus is helping get things right in the gospel of Matthew from the lesson we hear today. Most likely Matthew’s writer is writing what he thinks Jesus might say, rather than what Jesus actually said. The writer of Matthew’s gospel is interested in the institution of the “church” getting things right. The writer writes of Jesus suggesting three steps to conflict resolution. First, Jesus instructs us to take the first steps in conflict resolution. If we are wronged, then we’re to go. It doesn’t seem right that we as the offended one should have to do the hard work of the first steps to reconciliation. But, in a world with Jesus, we don’t keep score. So, we go to the person who has wronged us. Patiently, privately, face-to-face, we engage with our offender. With just one another, lovingly, explain the wrong done. If the offender is truly listening, he will heed our words and the friendship can truly be mended, as a brother or sister in Christ.
Next, suppose our friend fails to listen, fails to heed to our mending words; fails to hear how he or she has hurt you so. Don’t give up. When we’re hurt, it’s easy to want to seek revenge and publicly blame the other. But, no, kingdom living is about reconciling love and reconciling love requires both sides of the equation to get things right. So, we try again. Maybe it is that we’re not the messengers. Are we correct in how we understand the offense? So, this time gather up a couple of others who having the best interest of both of us at heart, are those whom we can trust as good sounding boards. With witnesses and additional listening ears, we go again to the offender.
We go, not seeking revenge, not looking for a way to punish. We go seeking reconciliation. We go hoping the wrong will be recognized and amends made that as brothers and sisters in Christ, we may be united. But, if the offender still will not listen, we tell the church. Tell the wider community, the body of folks who are committed to living in harmony.
I would imagine Jesus would be in favor us reaching out to our brothers and sisters who have sinned against us. He’d applaud our efforts to seek peace, right wrongs, listen to one another. He wants us to get things right. But, it’s not likely these words from Matthew’s gospel are actually Jesus’ words. When Matthew’s writer speaks of going to tell the church in the third act of reconciliation, the writer speaks to a church, a following of Jewish Christians, in flux with the Roman Empire who has conquered Jerusalem and their religious affiliation, as they know it. The church as a faithful covenant community blessed to follow Jesus Christ, to go out, and bring others to know God through Christ, was not formed in Jesus’ time, as we know it. Only sometime after, with Jesus resurrected and ascended; with the gift of the Holy Spirit descending upon the faithful, were they able to claim themselves as the church, where two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name and he is in the midst of us.
Also, Matthew’s writer implies that should the offender fail to repent, should the healing not take place, we’re to treat them as we would a Gentile and a tax collector; walk away and discard them as a lost cause. Well, it’s not likely Jesus would have said that. Just earlier in Matthew’s gospel Jesus has been to the Gentile region of Tyre and Sidon. While there he miraculously heals a hysterical woman’s daughter. Jesus doesn’t have to be in Tyre and Sidon. It’s actually out of his way while he’s about his ministry around the Sea of Galilee. And, we know Jesus isn’t going to disregard tax collectors. Remember Zacchaeus in Luke’s gospel? The hated tax collector Jesus befriends, calling him down from the tree and inviting himself to Zacchaeus’ house for dinner as the whole crowd, offended, stands watching. It seems that the writer of Matthew’s gospel is more concerned with the unity of the ecclesiastical body; the institution of the church and its doctrine than with the actual words of reconciliation Jesus spoke. Instead Jesus would be more concerned with how we love one another and show that love in the act of reconciling forgiveness.
If Matthew’s writer were to actually write what Jesus is more likely to have said, it would be: get things right. In fact, if we have been wounded by another, says Jesus, we don’t tolerate the wrong, nor do we harbor our hurt and brood. Instead, we take the hard step, we go to the one who has wronged us and tell them so. One highly regarded commentator cautions us. Don’t send a letter. Don’t send an email. Call for a meeting, face to face. Reflecting on Deuteronomic Code, Jesus would advise checking with a couple of reliable witnesses to see if we are, in fact, correct in our understanding of woundedness.
There is a rabbinic piece of wisdom, “Judge not alone, for none may judge alone save the One that is God.” Those who surround us, are they understanding the situation in the same vain as we, the wounded one? Jesus may advise that while we may never get things right with our enemy, we may, with the help of others, see through a new lens.
Finally, while Matthew’s writers may not define “church” with the best of understandings, Jesus knows what a faith community looks like: a gathering of folks who choose to believe in a God who creates us as good, who loves us, and desires for us to love as well; a God who comes as one of us to be among us, to teach God’s way and finally to redeem us from all that is hurtful, and restore and renew us with eternal, everlasting love through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We believe in our faith community and trust one another to be that support system, that sounding board, that network of folks to help us along the way. Jesus will imagine that as a faithful body of believers, we will strive to love those we especially just don’t like, and it may be the Gentiles and the Tax Collectors. For in Christ, all are redeemable, all deserve the experience of Christ’s love.
You’ve heard me say this before, loving like Jesus is no easy task. Who is it who said, “I don’t get mad, I get even?” On Thursday of last week in Charlottesville Presiding Bishop Curry urged us, as the church, to be counter cultural and not to get even, not to lapse into indifference, but to serve as active, present agents for Jesus’ love. As Bishop Curry fielded questions, one concerned leader asked, how are we to be church in such a polarizing world? How do we confront folks with love when they don’t want to love, when they only want to relish in their hate? Bishop Curry doesn’t weaken as he tells us over and over, “love them no matter what.” So, we get things right. We get things right with God and our neighbor. Why does it matter that we get things right? Because, in Christ, we’re called to live kingdom living now. Kingdom living might just mean we have to get some things right.
Bishop Curry gave us some action steps to reconciliation. Recollecting Martin Luther King, Jr.’s practice before he marched on Birmingham, before he demonstrated in Chicago, before he protested in Montgomery and before he walked on Washington, King meditated, studied and dedicated his march to Jesus Christ.
Start first with Jesus. With certainty and conviction we’re to walk the disciplined way of love in Jesus Christ. Because, often when we’re about the hard job of reconciliation, we’re in enemy territory. And we need Jesus. So, we’re called to learn, study and inwardly digest what Jesus would do. When Jesus enters into enemy territory he strikes up a conversation with the Samaritan woman he meets at the well. What do they do? They begin to make things right. These two wayward souls who couldn’t be more different; they get to know one another. They listen with sincerity to one another’s stories. They build a relationship. And, because these two opposing characters invest in building a reconciling relationship, they are both changed.
We get things right because Jesus got things right for us. Today, many of us are sitting here on pins and needles as we once again weather the storms of life with Hurricane Harvey just at our heels and Hurricane Irma pounding up through the west coast of Florida. Needless to say, such tragedy alters lives, and most assuredly brings conflict. As we remember those so sadly impacted by the storms, may we remember also the difficulties that arise in these tension filled times. How we’re to help in a concrete fashion will be revealed to us all. In the meantime, may we take steps to confront in love. Together, remain prayerful. Get with Jesus. Get things right.