Sep14ThuMatthew 18 September 14, 2023 by Sebastian Meadows-Helmer
- Filed Under:
- Pr. Sebastian
You know, I have a problem with one of my neighbours.
It’s a problem which has been going on for some years now.
Well my neighbour,
They have their sump pump runoff
connected to a hose which squirts out water
onto the street.
Now as I understand it,
sump pumps are supposed to empty onto your yard,
(above or underground) or be connected to the sewer line.
Well not theirs.
During most of the year, it’s not much of a problem,
but on mild winter days the runoff will freeze into a frozen pond
in front of my driveway and the driveways
of a few other neighbours down the street.
Not a huge problem, but still an inconvenience,
a slipping hazard and I’m annoyed because the frozen runoff,
it doesn’t affect their driveway at all.
Now what I really need to do is simply go up to their front door
and explain the situation and politely ask them to please fix it.
Well I haven’t yet,
I’ve been putting it off for a few years now…
first I don’t really know them…
they keep to themselves and aren’t too friendly, and well,
like many people, I’m not a big fan of conflict, as it gives me anxiety,
and it’s much easier just to put it aside for another day.
But really the only way to
hopefully get something done about the situation,
is to talk directly to them.
So what have I done so far?
I’ve talked to some of the other neighbours and they agree with me about the problem,
but they told me what I hoped they wouldn’t say…
well you go and talk to them.
I’ve thought about other unhelpful strategies,
like posting a rant on the community social media page
like some people do,
Or sabotaging their hose by putting some holes in it at night,
or writing an anonymous nasty letter and stuffing it in their mailbox,
but deep down I know the only way forward
is to go and talk to them in person.
This should solve the problem and repair our relationship…
because right now, they’re the neighbours on my street I most dislike…
and that’s not something I really want to be doing, hating on my neighbour.
As I see it, if I go and talk to them one-on-one
and by next year nothing’s changed,
maybe I’ll get the other neighbours to sign a petition
and urge them to reconsider.
Then if that doesn’t work out, then I guess I’ll call city by-law.
But deep down I know there has to be a fair and due process for communication about this problem,
with my neighbours having a few chances to make amends
and realize that their actions are negatively affecting others.
Our Gospel text this morning gives great advice for situations
where we feel wronged by our neighbour.
You could call these verses from Matthew Chapter 18:
A Christian way to restore relationships.
It is a reality that that sin happens in community
and relationships are ruined.
Sometimes the hurtful words or actions
are intentional and sometimes they’re unintentional.
coupled with impatience are often at the root of the problems,
But sometimes the hurt is caused by deeper wounds,
with trauma and mental health issues taking their toll.
However, like with the parable of the lost sheep,
where Jesus talked about the good shepherd who left the 99 behind
to find the one single lost lamb,
As Christians we are challenged by Jesus’ words that all are precious,
even the least of these:
all are worth it to try and save and bring back to the fold!
Christ models the way of abandoning the safe
to spend time with those needing the saving.
This of course isn’t easy, it’s very hard work,
And it’s also very counter-cultural: in a society which tells us to cut our losses and move forward and leave the losers or the enemies behind.
O. Wesley Allen Jr. (Matthew, Fortress Press) gave me some really great insights into this passage, which I’d like to share with you.
Basically there are 3 Steps to reconciliation presented here,
if a sibling in Christ has sinned against you.
- The first step,you should go and point out this fault, the two of you, alone.
(MSG): You want to “keep things honest, confront them and offer God’s forgiving love.”
You want to do this directly,
Not though gossip or indirectly through a third person,
Because direct one-to-one communication is the best way to resolve things.
The reason you want to do this is that if the member listens,
you have regained a brother or sister in Christ, and made a friend.
The reality is that if an offense has been made,
if someone has been hurt,
one loses a sibling in faith.
Because an essential character of the church,
is that we consider fellow members to be part of our family of Christ.
And so when we confront the sin of another, kindly, but directly,
we hope that our relationship will be fixed and that our
community of faith will be repaired.
However, as they say,
it always takes two to tango.
The person we go to
will need to listen and repent for reconciliation to occur.
The other person has to do their part too.
However if they don’t listen, and make amends,
then step 2 comes into play:
2)With the same intent as before,
you take along one or two other people as witnesses,
you lovingly talk to the person who offended you,
and try to get the sin addressed.
You want to give it a second chance, to repair the relationship.
This is an important step to have witnesses,
for everyone’s protection and to have some accountability
and outside perspective so that understanding between you and the other person is better achieved.
Due process is so important when so much is at stake.
And then the other person has another opportunity, to listen,
and repent and seek ways to make things better.
If they don’t,
Then comes Step 3
You bring the problem in front of the whole church,
the local Christian gathering,
with a final aim of reconciliation and healing.
Here the whole congregation serves as witness and helps to mediate and find a solution.
This is a last resort but a final chance, like the old baseball:
three strikes, you’re out.
And the other person has a last opportunity to listen, and repent.
And if they don’t,
Well then’s there’s
This isn’t to be a punishment but a “recognition that the deeply desired reconciliation between the two persons involved
cannot be reached”.
You finally reach the conclusion that enough is enough,
and the healing of relationship is impossible.
But at least you did due diligence!
You tried, and you have witnesses to prove you tried.
You gave it your best with clear communication
and a good transparent process.
But sometimes, like Jesus’ advice to cut off the hand if it causes you to sin :
The only way to repair the family unit is removal.
Termination of the relationship is unfortunate
but sometimes it’s the only way.
Now what’s interesting to me is the way Jesus describes this separation:
Let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
Now Jews of Jesus’ time did not hang around Gentiles (non-Jews)
and tax collectors who were considered as traitors since they worked for the hated Roman colonial power,
but Jesus loved these outcasts,
and ate and drank and talked with them.
So when Jesus says we should treat unrepentant sinners as Jews and tax collectors, that doesn’t mean that we should cut them completely out of our lives and hate them.
No it means that we should recognize that they are separate and not doing what they should, but that they are still worthy of our love and respect.
(O Wesley Allen Jr)
Next, Jesus goes on to explain the greater consequences of this three-step process of reconciliation:
what you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.
What this means is that
just as Peter was given the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven,
The church was given the authority by Jesus to interpret the commandments of God, and to settle problems within the community, with eternal consequences.
The church has Jesus’ delegated responsibility to act in a mature and patient way to fix the harms that sin has brought about,
Which in the last instance would result in setting firm boundaries around the sinner.
Finally, the oft-quoted verse from Jesus:
For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.
(V20) In the context of this passage,
this refers notto the fact that worship services with small attendances are still legitimate and worthy services,
But rather that 2 or 3 witnesses to disagreements in Christian communities are enough to settle issues and make decisions.
This means on the one hand that you shouldn’t be a lone ranger for important decisions,
but rather that you should gather a committee or task force.
Not a huge committee, but a few people to provide some diversity of viewpoints.
2-3 people is enough to get a worthy consensus.
But such decisions are a big responsibility that you shouldn’t take on lightly, because Jesus is there among you.
And here I’ll exaggerate a bit to make the point:
One could say that:
Jesus is an ex-officio member on all church committees!
By virtue of being the head of the church,
Christ is on all committees.
Now that sounds pretty daunting.
How would we act differently if we kept a chair open for Jesus
at all meetings?
A quick opening prayer is one thing,
but being mindful of Jesus’s presence throughout the meeting is another thing altogether.
Esp. when we have disagreements here at St. Matts about pews or service times,
remembering that Jesus is there among us,
in the midst of the discussion is something to keep in mind.
(Wesley Allen Jr.)
As Christians, we live in Hope:
that in the church we can recognize each other as family
While also recognizing the reality of sin,
and how all are responsible for reconciliation.
For the good of the group,
we sometimes have to do the hard work of healing in community as outlined by Jesus.
Recognizing that open the one hand we are a community of Grace,
but to tolerate sin without bounds can destroy the community!
Yet the good news is that it’s
Jesus’ church not our church!
We are just the managers, not the owners,
And so we trust in God’s grace to lead us through challenges of sin and alienation.
Living in hope that we can be a Community governed by love,
Seeking healing, with hearts opened by the Holy Spirit. Amen.