• St. Andrew's Benefice

Pippa's Sermon - Trinity 13

Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity

Collect

Almighty God, you search us and know us:

may we rely on you in strength

and rest on you in weakness,

now and in all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Thoughts on the gospel – Matthew 18: 15-20


This gospel reading so worries me. It could be read as a practical road-map for kicking

someone out of the church. It is, should be, however about something that is indeed

desperately important – unity, community in the church. And, too, our relationships with

one another are connected – very closely connected – with our relationship with God.

First of all, let's be clear I am all in favour of a church that tries to be Christ-like.

But, let's face it, this isn't always the case. It happens today – it has happened in the past; - all those schisms - and, above all, it happened nearly two thousand years ago.

For Christ offended the Pharisees, the congregation, the Jewish establishment. Christ

was accused, brought before the Sanhedrin; the ‘church’. And cast out, crucified.

Can the gospel be saying those who thought he offended, who brought witnesses against him, were doing the right thing, had gone about it the right way?

This accusing, this casting out, even to death, is this what Christ came amongst us for, to

teach us?

So what can be done about it? Does this passage solve the problem? For it's talking about a proper procedure when Christians fall out with one another. Start with a private word; but this way, if that doesn't work, we may go on and have to end up with one person being estranged from the community. If someone is upsetting the wholeness of the community they must go. And, practically, from an earthly standpoint, it sounds OK. Maybe. Certainly it makes it clear that what you should not do is leave the thing to fester; but should you trot off and tell two or three of your friends, "Do you know what so-and-so did to me?" Muttering; and gossip. Like you sometimes get on Twitter and Facebook today. But that expression I've just used says a lot. The story's being told from the point of view of the person who thinks they're right. Told to those in their ‘bubble’. But at every stage of the matter, there is the other story to be told - for the trouble is, the passage doesn't say unbiased witnesses. They weren't in Jesus' case, were they?

Confrontation can be fine as long as it carries with it the awareness that accusation has

the power to destroy; but with forgiveness and understanding it has the power to restore. Too, the first part of the text is about reconciliation within the community, rather than with God. And God ... has, is, the big picture.

So it is very important that we look beyond those first verses to the verses surrounding it; to the bigger whole. In the text we have...'if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.' This is, basically, about seeking

reconciliation, both of accuser and accused. And it's saying if you can get there, the two of you, if you can agree,

God's with you all the way. ‘Where two or three of you are gathered in my name, I am there among you.’ And then the gospel context, the stories either side – before, comes the parable of the lost sheep. God wants all to be saved. And what comes immediately after is Peter asking Jesus 'If another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive him? Seven times?' But Jesus comes back to him - 'Not seven times, but seventy times seven.'

Not accusation and destruction. But forgiveness; and salvation. And the risen Christ in the midst of each stage of what happens.

So if someone offends you, or the congregation, before you rush in, with accusation or

complaint, remember the lost sheep; remember the seventy times seven; and open your heart to Him; hear him. For then you will truly be saying Thy kingdom come.

Amen.


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St. Andrew's benefice sits within the Anglican diocese of St. Alban's.

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St. Andrew's Church

Rectory Lane

Ampthill

Bedfordshire

MK45 2EL

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