Sermons from St Faith's     

Jackie Parry, 7th September, 2014

When my sons have done something I’m not in agreement with, or they are angry about something, I will generally take them to one side and have, what I would describe as, a “little chat” with them.  Normally, when they are still angry, I get the response “why are you shouting at me?”  To which I respond, “I’m not shouting at you, I’m just telling you”, to which they say…”yeah, that’s the same thing!” 

Well, maybe it is, but either way, the issue in hand still needs to be discussed and hopefully lessons learnt.  I wouldn’t say they always agree with me, and sometimes, when I listen to their point of view, I can see things from their perspective and realise that maybe, on that occasion, I was over-reacting.

Of course, that’s when things go well……which isn’t always the case!  Relationships, of any kind, are not easy.  They have to be worked at in order to succeed.  However, when things do go wrong, and it’s dealt with in a reasonable manner, lessons can be learnt, progress can be made, and the relationship may even be strengthened and become more fruitful and loving.

I detest arguments, and I admit that on some occasions I may have sat on the fence in order to avoid confrontation.  But usually this doesn’t help in the long run as, invariably, the situation is not really resolved and bitterness takes over.  And once bitterness takes over, people are hurt and often it is hard to go back and heal what may result in being a very deep wound.

Scripture can sometimes appear to be contradictory and therefore giving mixed messages.  For example, in Matthew, chapter 5, Jesus tells us to “turn the other cheek”, and yet in today’s reading from Matthew 18, we hear that “if someone sins against you, go and point out the fault”, which is slightly different to turning the other cheek.

But as we know, that is actually in a different context to this morning’s message, because Jesus is trying to deal with something more than a couple having a disagreement.  He is highlighting concern for his followers who stray from the fold; because when people stray, they hurt themselves and their communities, and when it is Christian leaders who stray, then this causes even more disruption and upset, and they may become further away from the values and Kingdom of God.

One of the highest values in Judaism, and which was carried over into the early Christian church, is life in community that embodies God’s love and will for justice.  Every relationship and situation within the community is to mediate love.  Every relationship and situation is to embody justice – that is, a community of mutuality and support in abundance for all. 
The quality of community life in the church is supposed to be a model for the way in which God’s love and justice make it possible for all people to live together in harmony. 

He wants us to love our neighbour, as He loves us.

Unfortunately we, even as Christians, are merely human and have our human frailties and weaknesses, and we probably don’t always live up to be the best we can.  And in so doing, we can sometimes lose sight of God’s Grace and the community that God empowers us to be.  People can stray from the path, and people who stray are often hurt, and hurt others along the way.

So, what is Jesus saying we should do about this? 

On occasion, we are not to turn the other cheek, but to quietly take them to one side, talk to them and listen to what they have to say, because God wants us to try and guide them back onto the right path. 

If this doesn’t work, then ask more people to join you in the conversation, to get a different perspective.  We have a new saying in work which is “fresh eyes”. This is where we ask a colleague to review a situation, to take a fresh look, because he or she may notice something different. 

This is a useful concept in many ways because, possibly, you may be the person who has unknowingly strayed, and fresh eyes, another’s perspective, could highlight this.

And if this still doesn’t work, then Jesus says “let such a one be to you as a gentile and a tax collector”.  In other words, don’t associate with them; cast them out of the community.

Sounds really harsh; after all, doesn’t Jesus tell us that God forgives all.  Shouldn’t we also forgive?  Does casting out of the community really help?

When my children were younger and misbehaved, I would often send them to sit on the step in the hallway, on their own, for five minutes.  In fact, what I was doing was giving us both some time out.  I might have been annoyed at what they’d done and needed some time to calm down; and they needed time to reflect, to “think about what they’d done.” 

Often, when removed from a situation, it gives us time to reflect on it, and sometimes we can see things more clearly.  Jesus may be saying that by casting a person out of the community, the negativity would be removed and that person is given some time to reflect, and hopefully draw near to God once more.

So, why does Jesus consider it so important to give advice to his followers on how they should behave? 

Perhaps it wasn’t just that he was aware of the frailties of human nature, but that he knew the damage which could be caused to Christian fellowship, as disputes can hinder the witness of the Church.  Remember, Jesus refuses no one who is ready to receive pardon, healing and restoration.  The call to accountability is inevitable and we can’t escape it, both in this life and on the day of judgement but, while we have the opportunity in this life, we must not give up on those who stray from the fold, but make every effort to guide them back, with the grace and power of God’s healing love and wisdom. 

We do not do this alone, for Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”   He is not saying that he is only present when a few are gathered together, but that He is always present, all of the time, with each and every one of us. 

When we talk to others in God’s name……. He is with us. 
When we gather together in a crowd……. He is with us. 
When we sit alone and pray…… He is with us. 

And in His presence, may we be an instrument of his love and peace, and have the wisdom and courage to bring His never ending love to those in need of healing and restoration.

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