Sep 06, 2020   •  

The Reverend Michele Morgan

September 6, 2020

Proper 18 A

Jesus said, “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. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:15-20

Matthew has been telling stories to us of compassion and going beyond self to be in community, right before this chunk of the gospel… we hear of the Shepard going and looking for the lost sheep and right after this we will hear about the unforgiving servant. Stories of people either reaching out passed themselves or choosing not to at all. They are old stories and ones that feel so polar opposite of my experience in the world. Now in 2020 when some parts of our country fight over whether to wear masks or not…it feels a little more real. I do not understand how you can be a person of faith and not want to keep others safe. I do not understand that for those of us who call ourselves Christians cannot look out for and care for each other. For the rest of us on this journey, we too are called to care and to care for, by our principals, by our sense of right and wrong. So we are in the midst of conflict and stress as we try and move through times like these.

SO in the middle of these two stories of putting yourself out and about becoming more forgiving, Jesus stops and talks to us about how to deal with conflict in the community. The Salt Lectionary project says there are five ways we as humans in the community are tempted to deal with Conflict. We are tempted to:

  1. Avoid it.
  2. Gossip: to tell other people about the person or behavior that’s offended us, rather than to address our concerns directly to the person or people involved.
  3. Gang up on each other, to recruit like-minded people to our side and create echo chambers of grievance.
  4. Air our grievance only in such echo-chambers, or in front of overwhelmingly friendly audiences where accountability is minimal.
  5. Regard our opponents as if they are unwelcome or better off elsewhere, outside our community entirely.

I would say that a ton of people here at St. Marks are more than willing to go and talk to some one and deal with their problems. All the OG here will tell you that they took the initial CE class and made a promise that they would take praise or injury directly to the person and that would be the end of it. I appreciate that stance and Jesus tells us in this gospel to go directly to source of the issue, he says, and share your concerns.

Yet there are other ways, to feel like we did go directly to source of the issue and yet instead we end up talking to we some one else instead, in that same way we can find allies and still not deal with the problem. It all feels like we dealt with it and we have not.

This is not a St. Mark’s problem this is a human problem we are so at odds with one another, we are so quick to not want to deal with each other, we throw comments at each other on Social media, and we call each other out in echo chambers.   Jesus was talking about conflict because it was a human problem back 2000 years ago and it continues to be.

We get to practice conflict resolution here. It is actually in the DNA of this place, we just have to be careful to not THINK we have practiced and not done so. Our work is to not fool ourselves that we did the hard work and instead talked at the person, or talked to our friends about the person or found people who only agree with us so that we walk away thinking we did the work.

If we dance around conflict because we do not like it, we bind ourselves to it in a way that we will continue living in that conflict.

A great example is the mask debate, we are asked to wear them so that we keep others safe. That is it, and yet in this country we have turned it into a huge issue of being mindless sheep who do what big brother says to do and the creation of a NWO.   We are now bound to this conversation. Yelling at each other, videoing each other and putting it on social media, this is what deeply ties us to the divide.

The Salt project would say this, “Finally, Jesus’ ministry writ large is one of reconciliation, liberation, justice, healing, and (TEA Comum O LAM) tikkun olam (Hebrew for “repair of the world”). Viewed through this lens, conflicts are nothing less than opportunities to participate in God’s reconciling, reparative work. If we take this seriously, we can even learn to look forward to conflicts – imagine that! – as occasions to pattern our life together according to the “deeper physics,” the dynamics of love, with which God made and remakes the world.”

I feel that we are so far from the beloved community that we are called to, and yet in this place we continue to work and create that community, so let it start here, be practiced here and carried on in to the world.