- Chapel of St John the Divine
- September 10, 2017
The Rev. Robert P. Travis
14th Sunday after Pentecost Sermon – 8am and 9:30am Chapel of St. John the Divine
Proper 18 RCL Year A 9/10/2017
If we look at today’s gospel,
In the light of the other two readings,
We may see something that surprises us.
At first glance it seems
That Jesus is just instructing his disciples
With some very practical advice about
Managing conflict in the church.
It is good advice,
As dealing with someone who
Has done something wrong to you
In this three-step approach,
First going to them privately and explaining the problem.
Then if they don’t respond
Bringing one or two others as witnesses to what you say,
Giving them another chance if you will.
Before finally making the wrong a public
Issue to urge repentance.
Following this approach,
As many Christians do,
Since it is so prescriptive,
Is likely to get the best result.
Certainly it will get a better result,
Than if you took these steps out of order,
And say made your issue public,
Before going to the offender in private.
This works in our personal lives as well.
Taking your concern to the person privately first
Is certainly much better than not dealing with it,
Or than engaging in triangulation
By bringing other people into the conflict
To avoid going to the person directly.
But beneath the surface,
And when we look at this in the light,
Of the other two readings,
We see something interesting in what is at stake here.
It is about our obligations to one another,
In the community of faith,
As followers of Jesus.
In the passage from the Ezekiel,
We see the prophet being placed by God,
In a position of obligation to the people
He is bringing his prophecy.
It’s not just that he has this message from God,
But God is making him the sentinel of the people.
If he does not warn them,
And give them a chance to turn back to God,
Their blood will be on his hands.
It sounds kind of harsh,
After all Ezekiel isn’t the one
Who was walking away from God.
The Israelites were.
But it shows that God cares for God’s people,
And is willing to make the stakes so high,
By binding his prophet into an obligation,
to reach those people,
so that they might repent,
and return to God.
Then Paul describes in his letter to the Romans,
How rather than just be concerned
About following all the thou shalt nots,
In the Law of God,
That really Christians are to owe love
To one another,
The obligation to love one another,
Covers all of the negative laws,
And brings them to their highest fulfillment.
So when Jesus tells us as his followers,
This step by step process for dealing
With someone, a neighbor, who has wronged us,
It is not just for our own benefit
That he is giving us this advice.
It’s actually rather the other way around,
Out of our obligation to love our neighbor,
We owe our neighbor who has wronged us,
The chance first to hear of the wrong privately,
Then to hear about it with one or two witnesses,
Before one has to go public with the wrong.
We owe the person who has wronged us,
These loving steps to give them a chance
In the most loving way possible to make amends.
He does not urge the Christian
To ignore the wrong,
Though some of us might think
That is the best thing.
He shows us that rather than ignoring the wrong,
Confronting the wrongdoer in this loving way,
Actually is better,
It allows for true reconciliation
To have the best chance.
In each case, this is because God cares so much
About each person, and each group of people,
Even the people who are not doing what he wants,
Or the people who are sinning against his beloved.
He cares about them enough
to put his own prophet’s life on the line,
as a sentinel to warn them, in Ezekiel.
Then to Paul, who shows us that there is
No greater obligation than that we love our neighbor,
That this neighbor love takes care of
all of the commandments of God.
Then to Jesus himself, who cared enough about us,
To give his own life to bring us into reconciliation
With the father.
He urges us to seek reconciliation in our relationships
Whenever someone wrongs us,
But especially when it is a fellow follower of Jesus.
And to back up that responsibility we have to the other
Jesus promises us that whenever two or three of us
Are together, he is there with us.
Now of course that promise is great news
In other contexts as well,
Like when we are worshipping together
As a small church as we do each week.
Jesus is just as much present with us,
As he is in a larger church.
But notice that in this case
In this 18th chapter of Matthew,
Jesus is promising his presence
In the midst of our trying to work out a conflict.
How would his presence make a difference,
When we’re confronting someone
Who has wronged us in some way,
Or when we are the ones being confronted
By some way we have wronged another?
Well on the one hand,
And perhaps the most important,
Knowing that Jesus is there with you
Comforts both people.
But he is also there to emphasize the importance
Of reconciling, of owning up to the mistake,
Because for two or three who follow Jesus,
We know where that love comes from,
And what he did for us.
So his presence strengthens our resolve,
To resolve our issues.
Jesus making this promise to us,
That he will be with us whenever two or three
Are together, shows us how important
It is to God that we work out our conflicts,
And be unified with one another.
This takes the sentinel charge of Ezekiel
And raises it to the next level.
Each of us is responsible
To work on neighbor love with each other.
For when we take that responsibility,
And work out our conflicts within the community
Then the community of Jesus followers
Stands as a sentinel to the rest of the
World, that reconciliation is possible,
That love is the thing we need to strive for most,
And ultimately that the risen Lord Jesus
Is real, and among us.