Sermon – 10 September 2017
Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity
Ezekiek 33: 7-11; Romans 13: 8-end; Matthew 18: 15-20
During these Sundays after Trinity, we are continuing to reflect on how we live our Christian life in response to God’s love for us, and about how our relationships work and could improve.
Firstly, in our reading from Ezekiel we hear God calling to be the sentinel for his people and warning Ezekiel that if he doesn’t point out people’s faults to them, he will be responsible for the crime they commit. It will be the result of his negligence. He is the sentinel for them, for their behaviour. Of course if they ignore him, then it is down to them.
This is a heavy responsibility for Ezekiel or for a priest to bear. Indeed, all of us must bear it as we are a priesthood of all believers. We are all responsible for one another’s errors, for helping one another to find the truth. God ‘desireth not the death of a sinner, but rather than he may turn from his wickedness and live’.
When we come to our gospel reading, we find that Jesus seems to expect that there will be arguments when people meet in community. He expects there to be disagreements at times. When people meet together there are bound to be differences and we need to accept this. But then find a way through, calmly and carefully, simply and directly. The whole thrust of this passage is about reconciliation.
So Jesus sets out this process for us. He sounds very Archdeacon-like here. He talks about three stages of action, keeping the whole thing as low profile as possible. If it comes to the worst and someone has to leave the community and be treated as a gentile or a tax collector, they are never outside God’s love. He actually has special concern for these too. These are the people he has come to save, he tells us.
Jesus uses this strange phrase binding and loosing which is not a familiar concept for us, the ability to judge others, the authority to forgive or not to forgive. It seems unlikely that he is trying to secure or increase the power of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, but rather that whenever this power is used, his concern is the least powerful members of the community, that they can find forgiveness and flourishing.
We all have the powers to make decisions about things, to practise binding and loosing, choosing where we shop, what paper we read, how we spend our money, which charity we support, schools we send our children to. Not a question of whether or not we wield this power, but more about the effect our decisions have on the world. Does it result in the sort of society we want to live in, is it like God’s kingdom come on earth?
When considering this reading, I was obviously thinking about conflicts, about how and why they come about, how they can be resolved to the benefit of all.
I thought about that great conflict between Tom and Jerry. Tom of course wants to eat Jerry for his supper and Jerry wants to have as much fun and sport at Tom’s expense. Tom is constantly watching out for opportunities to catch Jerry who is watching for every chance to outwit him and in turn to inflict pain and discomfort upon the poor old cat. Of course we all laugh.
How would one set about resolving their issues with one another? What would be the desired outcome? We would all like the cat to change his nature and become a vegetarian possibly. We would like Jerry to be kind and to befriend the dear cat.
It’s not going to happen.
Fortunately, we are not cats and mice and we have the ability to change our behaviour and reflect upon the consequences of our actions.
Benedict, like Jesus, recognised that conflicts might arise within communities. In his rule he forbids grumbly gossiping that only magnifies the problem, hardens positions and make resolution more difficult. Benedict and Jesus recommend attentive listening, making time and space to listen, and then responding with love.
At the end of our gospel reading we find that wonderful promise that Jesus will be there when we meet in his name. What do we need to let go of first so that we can truly be in his presence and meet in his name? Our own prejudices and preconceptions? It is only when there is true listening that harmony is produced.
I read in pewsheet the Jesus Lifestyle group is meeting to talk next week about ‘How to respond to difficult people’, so very much the same theme as today’s readings.
What a blessing to know that Jesus will be with us when we meet.
Then we come to our reading from Paul. As so often happens, he has thought about all this and helps us to find a way though. And that is with love. We need to look after one another really carefully, to watch if someone is hurting, to see if they are alright. If they are not, to know that it is mine and your responsibility to do something about it. To love them, and that means to care for them, to tend and help them. Just as I am responsible for my neighbours’ care I need to be responsible for their salvation too, to help them to know God and God’s ways. Paul talks about putting on the Lord Jesus Christ. To help them to understand what this might mean.
Paul says, All the other commandments are summed up in this, Love your neighbour as yourself. This is urgent and demanding. Don’t delay. Recognise this imperative. The night is far gone, the day is near. Do not be spend time in quarrelling and jealousy but love the other more than you love yourself. Love is the fulfilling of the law.
Jesus also says in our gospel reading, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.
And so we pray to you:
Dear Lord, we ask that this place will continue to be filled with your love, that we shall all continue to care for and tend each other, that here your love will continue to be shown to be abundant and overflowing and welcoming to all. Amen
Wendy Harvey, Minister in Charge, St Andrew’s Limpsfield Chart