Jesus is even in the conflicts: Sept 10, 2023

September 13, 2023

Year A, Pentecost 15                                         Matthew 18:15-20

first time I looked at the Gospel reading for Sunday, I thought…great…it’s my
last Sunday and the Gospel reading is about church discipline. Maybe the
epistle reading is better. I mean it starts well, “love one another.”  Then it devolves into exhortations on what to
avoid: adultery, murder, drunkenness, debauchery and licentiousness.  Fantastic. 
The Old Testament reading wasn’t much better. Of course, they all have
some redeeming qualities, but I was hoping for something a little easier for my
last Sunday.  But…as I have mentioned
several times in sermons, Christianity isn’t supposed to be easy. 

really get a good understanding of this reading from Matthew, you need to read
the whole chapter, because as is so often case, context is everything.  When we read just these 5 verses, we see the
accusatory part.  It doesn’t sound much
like Jesus.  Aren’t we supposed to
forgive 7 times 70 times. Yet here it seems he’s telling the community that
they can cast out members who refuse to cooperate.  And the language…Jesus says you should treat
them as you do a Gentile or tax collector. 
That’s not good.  The people he
was talking to didn’t like Gentiles or tax collectors. They wouldn’t eat with
them, and they definitely wouldn’t worship with them.  Yet we see Jesus eat with those
outcasts.  We see him defend them and
even name one (Matthew) a disciple.  Why
would Jesus change course and tell people there is a limit to forgiveness and
that Gentiles and tax collectors should be maligned?

it all comes back to context.  The
chapter begins with Jesus telling people that they must welcome little
children.  Now, in our day and age, this
would seem like a no brainer.  Of course
Jesus would love the little children.  We
have a song about it.  Back then,
children weren’t valued as they are today. 
Most people treated them as they would treat an outcast.  Then right before our reading for today,
Jesus tells the story of the shepherd who has 100 sheep and loses one.  What does the shepherd do?  He goes after the straggler…the one who
wandered away. Jesus has and will always care for those who are typically left
behind.  He also cares for the sinners,
which is all of us.  Jesus would not have
wanted someone cast out of the church. 
Jesus would want people to stay in relationship…not just with their God,
but with one another. 

last line is a very well known line.  We
used it a lot during COVID, when we recorded the service with only a few people
in this sanctuary.  “For where two or
three are gathered in my name, I am among them.”  We quote that line when we need a reminder
that God is in the midst of us…always. 
But it’s interesting—that this line would come right after talking about
people in a church not listening to one another.  Jesus wanted to remind us, sure he’s here for
a lovely service like this one.  But he’s
also here when we are arguing with one another, when we are in conflict, when
we are in transition.  Those are the
times when we need him the most, but also the times when we tend to ignore him
the most.

                And I
don’t like to brag….but I already knew that. 
Because we have had a few conflicts in my time here.  There have been a few arguments.  That’s normal.  One of the many things I have admired about
this church is that people almost always stay polite.  Now some might say, well that’s just keeping
up appearances.  I don’t think so. A
little kindness goes along way.  
Maintaining the lines of communication is what allows us to stay in
relationship.  I haven’t always been able
to do it, but most of the time, I have— because people have been willing and
that means everything.

                That is
what Jesus is talking about here.  It’s
about people remaining in relationship even when they disagree.  It’s not just the pastor remaining in
relationship with everyone, it’s about you all remaining in relationship with
one another.  And that is going to be
even more important in this transition period. 
There are going to be some things you don’t agree on.  That’s ok. 
Whatever you do– don’t avoid one another.  Have the hard conversations because I can
tell you from experience that you all are more than capable of that.  I know that southern hospitality makes that
tricky sometimes, but you can do it. You have to do it.  Not because I am telling you, but because
that is what Jesus is saying in this text. 
Jesus is the messiah who cares for the outcasts and the
marginalized.  Jesus is the shepherd who
goes after that one sheep who wanders away. 
And do you know why he can leave the 99…because there are 99 of them,
and they can take care of one another. 
If you notice someone is missing, don’t wait for the pastor to do
something about it.  Absolutely, tell the
pastor. But then call them.  I asked
Patrick to print some extra directories. 
They are in the parish hall.  Call
that person. 

we had a funeral for Kevin Eley, who died too soon.  His obituary said that he had no regrets or
deeds left undone.  What an amazing
thing.  Most of us do not live a life
without regrets.  Thankfully we are
Christian, which means we always have opportunities for redemption.  This Gospel reading isn’t about discipline.
It’s about how we seek redemption, with one another and with God. It’s about
how we find a way to love one another, even when we don’t vote for the same
people or have the same opinions about a confederate monument.

it’s true that we have been through our share of conflict, much of the time has
been joyful.  Do you remember that first
Easter when we could worship in person? Or the first fellowship event we could
have? Or the many baptisms and weddings. I have seen you all show up for one
another (and for me) again and again.  I
know some of you are anxious about what is to come.   That’s normal.  Change is always scary. This church has been
through 3 wars…wars that directly affected this building, hurricanes, flooding,
a lightning strike and 47 rectors.  Some
of you are new to the church and some of you sit in a pew where your great
grandparents worshipped.  Some of you are
Republicans and some are Democrats.  Some
of you have lived here all your life and some have just moved here. You are a
magnificent quilt made of many different patterns.  The back of the quilt shows something that
looks discordant and a little messy.  The
front is a wonder to see. This building is historic and precious, but the
people in this building are so much more. 
You are children of God, beloved by your creator and me your 47th

Picture of my last Sunday by Bob Harper