Excerpts of a Sermon Delivered on the
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 6, 2020
Romans 13:8-14 & Matthew 18:5-20
The Reverend Joseph C. Alsay
“We’ve Got A Problem”
You can tell where this is going. You can see it on his face. You can hear it in her voice. I think we need to talk. We’ve got a problem. We’re going to have a come to “Jesus Moment” here.
You listen carefully, a bit on your guard, and then you realize that you are the problem.
Either your boss is not satisfied with your work. Your spouse is upset that you don’t do your share of the work around the house. Your friend feels you have no time for him or her anymore.
And there you have it: conflict. A part of life.
How do you feel about disagreements?
Do you avoid them?
Do you hate them?
Do you enjoy them?
Do you always win them or lose them?
Some of us are better at it than others, but most of us would rather not have to deal with it.
Sometimes people have the impression that since we claim to be Christians, we will live in eternal harmony-even here on the earth. People have expectations that all will be harmony and things will just be perfect, peaceful, and harmonious.
While most of us prefer agreement, probably few of us have these kinds of expectations. All of us have been schooled in the real world and we know and expect that we will have disagreements.
The reality is that we do not experience the world as a place where people come together to agree and get along. Our general experience is the opposite. Even now, in our city, nation and world we are experiencing: resentment, revenge and racism.
One of the insights from today's Gospel is that this same problem existed when Jesus was sharing his life and parables of insight. Human nature has not changed very much over the course of history.
You could say that Matthew 18 has a section that reads like a church discipline manual. In essence, it says that if someone offends you, confront them. “Houston, we have a problem.” If that fails, do an intervention. If that doesn’t work, cut the off and kick them out.
I learned that some Christians treat this advice from Matthew as if they were reding someone their Miranda rights. And if you didn’t know, “mirandize” is now officially a word. As in: “did you mirandize him?” So, in some more legalistic Christian circles this all leads to something like: did you “Matthew 18-ize her?” No wonder we church people get a bad rap. Matthew 18 leads to excommunicating people, and well, let’s not go there.
Most of the time we think the other person is the problem. In fact, we usually try to change them.
When we see others as the problem, we begin to see ourselves as the center of the world and others as objects whose needs are not as important as our own.
Could it be that being in community and being in relationship are the things that teach us about ourselves, about being human, and about our common need for reconciliation?
One liturgical scholar Aidan Kavanaugh was known to say that “the Christian community is the place where you are close enough to get on each other’s nerves and then need their forgiveness.”
One of the greatest challenges for me, and maybe for you, is to get along with people who are a constant nuisance.
In Romans Paul writes, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.” All commandments can be summed up in this way: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” So simple yet so hard.
We are bound together in community: in families, towns, churches, nations and even as siblings on planet earth. And heaven knows, together we have all kinds of problems. Yet, we are in this together. We all stand in need of God’s mercy. We are all self-centered. We all think the problem is someone else rather than looking closely at ourselves.
When the inevitable conflict arises, trusting in the forgiveness and mercy of God, will help us begin to see our problems in a different light.
We are confident that the spirit is with us. We can be assured that the love and care of Christ will bring about reconciliation. We can experience the Shalom of God and enjoy our lives.
~Fr. Joseph Alsay, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
Various Clergy and members of St. Augustine contribute to authoring the blog on a variety of topics.