September 6th: Proper 18, the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for Sunday, September 6th, was preached based on the below manuscript . The gospel text was Matthew 18.15-20.

In his classic text,
Life Together,
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote,
“Nothing can be more cruel
than the leniency
which abandons others to their sin.
Nothing can be more compassionate
than the severe reprimand
which calls another Christian
in one’s community
back from the path of sin.”
That’s what Jesus is telling the disciples
this week and next.
Life in community is messy,
and Jesus and Matthew know this.
Jesus in the passage
is giving a model for being in community together —
looking to resolve conflict
and seek reconciliation after sin has been committed.

What Jesus calls for here,
is not only when individuals are wronged,
but when a member of the church
brings the mission and ministry of the church
into disrepute.
First, go to them,
and discuss it alone.
go to them and take witnesses.
Not people who saw the offense necessarily,
but people who can witness the confrontation.
These witnesses can keep everyone in line,
help keep tempers from flaring too harshly
and report out what actually happened.

If they still won’t listen,
bring the matter to the whole church.
Let everyone know,
for the sake of accountability,
what the issue is.
If after all that, Jesus says,
treat them as outcasts,
people that his disciples —
respectable Jews —
would never hang around.

For generations
members of the church
have been calling us to repentance.
While some people may say
that we can’t project modern values
onto our founders,
there have always been people
working against white supremacy.
Abolitionists existed long before the civil war,
and Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color
have been asking for our repentance
for centuries.

We as a church,
we as individuals,
and we who benefit from systems of white supremacy
have ignored them for far too long.
They came to us — or at least our forebears — individually,
and they were ignored.
The came to our forebears in groups
and they were ignored.
They came to our churches as a whole,
leading to both Baptists and Methodists splitting,
and mostly they were ignored.

Demonstrations have occurred
for 100 nights since George Floyd was killed
earlier this summer.
Greg Doucette,
an attorney in North Carolina,
has documented 924 instances of police violence
since this round of demonstration started.
It’s been 55 years
since the Watts Uprising
when again we ignored
those against whom we and our forebears sinned
coming to us for redress.

Before someone says,
“I didn’t live in Watts” or any such thing…
I wasn’t even alive then!
Police violence against communities of color,
and systems meant to handicap people of color for generations,
from the GI Bill to Redlining,
aren’t new.
They have always been wrong,
and they have always been sin.
Even when we haven’t personally committed acts of harm,
most of us benefit at some time or another
from systems designed for that harm.
When called out as a whole church,
as Dr. King did in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”
we’ve refused to listen
or at best been slow to hear and act.

Jesus says after all of that,
the Church
should treat the unrepentant as outcasts,
people that his disciples —
respectable Jews —
would never hang around.
Treat them like gentiles Jesus says.
Treat them like tax collectors.
Jesus has told his disciples
that he has come to save his Jewish family,
not gentiles.
Jesus healed as Canaanite woman’s daughter
because she had the faith.
Tax collectors were people who sold out their own people,
lining their pockets by over charging
and collaborating with the empire.
One of them wrote the gospel
that we’ve heard from for most of the year.

When Jesus tells the disciples,
tells the baby church that is learning how to be in community
to cast out those who bring scandal
and harm the ministry of the gospel,
he’s saying that maybe they need a break.
They may need a break,
but for Jesus no one is lost forever.
They may have ignored calls to repentance,
so they need to keep hearing them,
just without hurting the body.
It’s in holding people accountable
to the high calling of following Jesus
that God’s reign becomes manifest.
The Church has to care enough
for some things to be out of bounds.

In marking those out of bounds things —
like personal, interpersonal, specific racism
as well as systemic racism —
the Church cares enough about
the cruelness that is abandoning ourselves to sin
and the compassionate reprimand calling us back from its path.
There’s a reason that for decades we have heard,
“Ye who do truly and earnestly
repent you of your sins,
And are in love and charity with your neighbors,
and intend to lead a new life,
following the commandments of God,
And walking from henceforth in his holy ways…”

There’s a reason that we’ve answered back,
“We acknowledge and bewail
our manifold sins and wickedness,
which we from time to time
most grievously have committed,
by thought, word, and deed,
against thy divine Majesty.”
Time and again,
we’re called by individuals,
called with witnesses
and called by the church to repent.
Time and again
we fall back into sin
and have to return to the Lord.
That’s a baptismal promise,
as is respecting the dignity of every human being
even those with whom we disagree.
Dehumanizing them
is just as much sin as racism.

Life in community is messy.
It’s particularly messy
when we’ve vowed in our baptisms
to live a certain standard
and proclaim Jesus’ truths.
This passage from Matthew
gives us opportunity
to heed the call of repentance
and intend to lead a new life
following God’s commandments.
We’re going to start that concretely
with some discussions
and book groups
about anti-racism work.
We’ll keep at it
by adopting practices beyond reading
that show us leading new lives.

Life in community is messy,
and the community calls us back
to Jesus’ love and unending grace.
By holding one another accountable,
we see more clearly God’s reign made manifest.
In Jesus’ community,
we hold one another up
and shine a light when we’ve fallen.
In her commentary on Matthew,
Anna Case-Winters writes:
“Sometimes we talk one another
back from the edge of self-destruction,
down from the ledge in times of despair,
back to the path in times of disorientation.
“This happens where people love one another.
And the new community is to be a place
where the love of God is taught and lived.”

Teaching and living God’s love,
requires us to hear those
who have called us to repentance.
Let’s get back on the path
and have open ears.

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