Reconciliation in a Call Out Culture Matthew 18:15-20

The reading is a tough one to comment on. The reason isn’t because of some deep theological analysis. The reason is because of its simplicity. Jesus is very straight forward regarding the importance of seeking reconciliation and its implications in the kingdom of heaven. His words (if we are willing to take them seriously) put a mirror up for us to take a look at ourselves. The reflection is not pretty. This is why the reading is tough.

We live in a “Call Out” culture. If someone disagrees, we slam them. We attack them on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Peaceful protests are being met with armed groups (both on the right and the left) to enforce their version of law and order. Division and appealing to your base may be a successful strategy in human politics. However, this political approach runs in direct contradiction to what Jesus is teaching. What Jesus is showing us is a culture that doesn’t call each other out but calls one another into relationship.

“If another member of the church sins against you…

Matthew 18:15

This is how Jesus’ teaching began. What should we do when we are offended? First of all, we don’t ignore it and allow the offence to fester. Instead, first go to the person (in private) and resolve the issue. If this doesn’t work (or is safe to do) then pursue the other channels available. The goal is to restore the relationship if at all possible. After all, what is life in anticipation of the coming kingdom of God supposed to be like? A life bound by our sins, anger and violence? Or, a life where there is freedom to live with each other in peace? Furthermore, if we come together with the purpose to reconcile as Jesus taught, then he promises to be present. If we pray for God’s blessing in this work, then the Father will work for it to happen in his kingdom.

Now some may argue that Jesus was referring to the church and how it should resolve conflicts. As is usually the case, Jesus won’t allow us to hide behind self imposed boundaries.

…if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector…

Matthew 18:17

How did Jesus treat the Gentile and tax collector? He extended the grace of God to bring healing and acceptance to those sinful Gentiles. He enjoyed the company of tax collectors and dined with them. Jesus carried the work of reconciling to all, insiders and outsiders alike.

Jesus’ words today are tough. They hold up a mirror for us to examine just how far we have moved from the ways of God. Yet, his words provide an opportunity for grace to come. Imagine what life could be if…

-instead of grabbing a gun to enforce our version of law and order, we sought to resolve the grievances behind the protest

-instead of dividing the land for personal and political gain, we sought to unite and work toward the benefit of all

-instead of calling people out because they disagree, we call them into relationship.

Jesus invites us to live a different way that brings grace and healing to everyone. This new way is defined by the kingdom of heaven. This new way is going to be tough but we have his promised presence. Peace and blessing are possible in a “Call Out” world.

Peace.

Resurrection, Doubt and Fear John 20:19-31

A week has now passed since we celebrated Easter behind the closed doors in fear of Covid-19.  Easter was different this year.  It was more introspective.  Without the usual activities surrounding the day and filled churches, we were left to wonder what does the resurrection say to us behind the closed doors?  If we are willing to allow the Spirit to speak in our wondering, we just might discover a greater depth to what we believe and a hope that goes far beyond hurrying to open up the economy and get life back to normal.

On that first day of the resurrection, the Gospel of John tells of the disciples hiding in fear behind closed doors.  They had good reason with fear of Roman soldiers wandering in the streets making sure peace was being kept along with the fear of what will the future hold with Jesus’ crucifixion.  However, earlier in the day Mary Magdalene had told them that she had seen the Lord and passed on the risen Jesus’ words to them.  Perhaps their greatest fear was facing Jesus whom they had abandoned and denied.  Then he appeared, wounds and all.  Their fear was suddenly changed to celebration with Jesus’ words, “Peace be with you!”  The Lord who beat death and was ushering in the reign of God with the start of a new creation appeared to them, not for revenge or to judge but to forgive.  The disciples were sent out by Jesus with the Spirit and a message of forgiveness.

On that first day, Thomas was missing.  Even though he got the news, he wouldn’t believe until he had proof – he wanted to physically inspect the wounds for himself.  A week later he was present when Jesus appeared and this time Jesus gave Thomas the invitation to go ahead and even stick his fingers in the wounds.  Thomas replied, “My Lord and my God!”  I think that we would all like the opportunity for our doubts and fears to be replaced by physical proof and to have God stand before us and announce “Peace.”  What we do have in these days is the witness of others, the belief of parents and friends.  They tell us that God has not abandoned us and this world but has taken on its wounds and death giving forgiveness and life instead.  They show us that the statement “My Lord and my God” is more than a formula to be recited but an intense hope of healing as a new creation is brought into being.

Now we still huddle behind doors for fear of the pandemic.  Now our hopes may be on returning to normal and reopening the economy.  Now we worry about toilet paper shortages, masks and social distancing.  What Easter tells us is that God has shown up in this world and taken on our sickness to bring forgiveness and life instead.  What Easter instills in us is a hope of a new creation healed in Jesus Christ risen.

As Jesus said, “…blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Peace.

More Faith, Please! Luke 17:5-10

This past week Amber Guyger was sentenced to prison for the shooting death of Botham Jean.  By now, many of us have seen the picture of Botham’s younger brother, Brandt, give her a forgiving hug at the sentencing.  We find Brandt’s act of grace inspiring.  What an amazing act of faith to show the redemptive nature of forgiveness.  Deep down we wonder how we would respond if we were forced to face the same experience.  Would our faith hold up in the same way?

The reading begins with the apostles asking Jesus, “Increase our faith!”  Jesus tells them if they had the faith of a small mustard seed, they could command a mulberry tree to be  uprooted and planted in the sea and it would obey.  So often we look at faith as having the power to accomplish great things.  The reality is that we need faith more for ordinary life.  “Increase our faith!” is the plea as we work to be supportive of a family member having a terminal illness.  “Increase my faith!” is the plea if facing that terminal illness.  “Increase our faith!” is also the prayer as we try to forgive when our ego has been bruised.

Jesus had just warned the apostles about sin that gets in the way of another person’s faith.  If another sins against you seven times in one day and repents, and asks for forgiveness each time, forgive them.  This is where the apostles ask for more faith.  Jesus went on to say that this is simply doing what is expected of us.  An act of faith is more than accomplishing dynamic moments to awe others.  Faith is doing the hard work of restoring a broken friendship.  Faith is moving beyond the bruised ego to accept another person’s repentance.  Faith is so much a part of living out relationships.  Our relationship with God was so central in Jesus’ teaching, crucifixion and resurrection.

How was Brandt Jean capable of showing such grace in that forgiving hug with Amber Guyger?  Faith.  Thankfully, few of us are put in situations where faith is challenged like the Jean family.  Yet, each day we face situations where forgiveness is needed and broken relationships restored.  Restoration and the redemption of relationships is so much a part of following Christ.  For each and everyday, “Increase our faith” needs to be our prayer.

Peace.