Sermon, 25th A Ordinary, September 21, 2008, Matthew 20:1-16

Read the texts at Vanderbilt’s site

the Labor Market
the Labor Market

Jonah 3:10-4:11
Matthew 20:1-16

Fairness is not God’s Strong Suit

Worry and anxiety are probably the words for this past week. When I was younger, swings in the stock market did not seem to matter too much to my daily life. Has that ever changed?!

Jesus never had to deal with a stock market – but he did deal with business issues – and the underlying issues that everyone of us deals with every day, and especially in times like these.

It is amazing that on a week in which all eyes seem to be riveted on the stock-market, this week’s lectionary text is set in the market place, and in fact speaks to market-issues.

But really, the setting of this parable is the human heart – and what it has to say to us in our Wall Street-conscious, anxious world is powerful – and we need to hear it.

Who are We in this parable?

First, a question: with whom do you identify as Jesus tells this parable – the landowner looking for laborers, or with the laborers?

As the story goes, it becomes clear that the Landowner is God, deciding whom to call and how generous to be.

So that leaves us identifying with the laborers. But which ones?

Those chosen early in the morning who have, as it says, “born the burden of the day and the scorching heat“?

Or with the ones who came last, who only worked an hour, but got paid a whole day’s wage?

It appears that we are stuck identifying with the all-day long workers: the others disappear having spoken no lines.

The center of this parable is the dialogue between the owner and the all-day-long workers. We identify with them.

Life is not fair

It is not a very happy state of affairs. They clearly come in for a rebuke which is no fun, and that’s after they have grumbled against the landowner. No pretty pictures in that bunch.

But they are us, and the long day they have born is life, and that’s exactly how it goes. The classic line from the film Princess Bride sums it up like this:

Life is pain, Highness; anyone who says differently is selling something”

(like mortgage-backed securities?)

And the most obvious thing you can say about the life whose burdens we have born in the scorching heat is that it is not fair.

We heard it first from our mothers when we were five, we have resisted believing it all our lives because – well, it just wouldn’t be fair for life to be unfair. But it is unfair.

It is not just that wealth is enjoyed unfairly – everything else is as well –

  • health,
  • happiness,
  • good marriages,
  • good children,
  • grandchildren,
  • and yes, even pensions.

Nothing about life is distributed to us on the basis of fairness- considerations made by a higher power.

And of course, it has to be that way or else the world would not be real, and no one would ever need to get out of bed in the morning.

But the burden of the day can be cruelly unfair. We are not talking only about the unfairness of front lawn size, we are also talking about the unfairness of who gets to eat today and who does not. There is nothing fair about that.

Life is not fair; so the question is, what do we do about it?

Jesus spent a good deal of time bringing God’s love and care to people who were at the bottom of the fairness barrel – feeding them, healing them, accepting them as people – regardless.

And he taught us to think like he did, (does), love like he does, extend care to others as he did – but this time the lesson is not about that. It’s about us. It’s about what is going on in our heads as we live this unfair life under the scorching sun.

Back to the story: if we are identifying with the workers who were hired first, let’s follow their story.

Life not gone “to plan” for fairness

First, they had a plan and they were willing to get out of bed early, get themselves down to the day-labor market, and get to work.

– By the way, this was real for many of Jesus’ followers who were landless; day-labor was how they survived.

They had a plan and they believed they knew what to expect. Yes they would have to work hard. Yes it would be heavy and and hot. It would not be an easy day – but they would get paid.

And they knew how much it was correct to expect. The daily wage for a laborer was not a mystery to labor or management.

And their plan worked. They were hired, they labored, and they were paid in full – just as planned.

But of course they were miserable. Why? Because everyone else got paid the same amount – for far less work. The plan was for fairness, but it ended up feeling unfair.

This is a simple situation of envy; soul-killing envy.

Suddenly this day that had gone so well, completely to plan, is now a day to regret, not one to celebrate.

It is not a day of joy, but misery.

It is amazing to consider that 2,000 years after this story was told, humans have not changed at all. We want all the breaks and the advantages that the lucky few get.

  • We want the good job, not just any job.
  • We want the promotion – let the other guy get passed over.
  • We want the compliment,
  • the prize for being the best,
  • the one that the others talk about.

Moral Hypocrisy – Dr. DeSteno

And we think we deserve it. In a fascinating study of human behavior conducted by Dr. DeSteno, a psychologist at Northeastern University, we see that moral hypocrisy is what we do best.

It went like this: you tell a person that he has two tasks to do, one is hard, one is easy, and that another person will be brought in as well, so each of them has one of the tasks.

How should the tasks be assigned: let the first person simply choose who gets the hard and who gets the easy task? Or let a computer assign the tasks randomly?

Ask which way is fair; most people felt that the fair way would be the random computer way.

But when the time came for the tasks, and when given the choice of using the computer or just choosing one – (note: the other person would never know how the tasks were assigned), of course most people took the easy task for themselves and assigned the more difficult one to the other person.

Then afterward, when asked to reflect morally on the way the tasks were assigned, there were all kinds of rationalizations given for choosing the easy one over the difficult one.

We are guilty of what is called the self-halo. We are the ones who deserve easier, more, better, larger, whatever.

And so when someone else gets what we think we deserve, we are angry.

Jealousy is a soul-killer now just as it has been for as long as we have walked the earth.

Who is guilty for unfairness?

There is something deeper operating here. Who are the long-laborers upset with at the end of the day? Not at the other workers who were paid the same wage for less work, but at the Landowner.

The source of the unfairness, is God. Who else could give someone else:

  • the straight teeth,
  • the parents who stayed married,
  • the genetic code that keeps them cancer-free,
  • the family with the good income?

God is on the hook for this unfairness, right? How will he defend himself?

It is not easy to admit that you are mad at God – until you see it laid out so clearly in a parable.

And this is also the beauty of a parable: you get to see the story from another character’s perspective.

This parable is a dialogue between two speakers: we have heard our side – the jealous long-day workers. Now we get to hear God’s side.

Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Envious because God is generous?

God’s generosity: characteristic, not mistake

To think that God’s generosity is his mistake is to miss the essence of his character: God is gracious.

The fact is, that everything we have is gift – not pay-back.
Everything good we have received is not a reward for labor, but a sign of God’s generosity.

This is what Jonah knew about God, and resented, like those laborers. Quoting the phrase used repeatedly throughout the Old Testament that describes God, Jonah says,

I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.

Yes, he is. And that is not only why he has had mercy on the Ninevites, Jonah; that is why he has had mercy on you!

All is gift, all is grace

I may have born the burden of my days in the scorching heat but-

  • Who gave me life?
  • Who gave me health and strength enough to work?
  • Who gave me skill to do a job?
  • Why did I get to this moment and this good place?
  • Why do I have health insurance?
  • Why do I have the luxury of retirement?
  • Why was I born here and not in Darfur?

Not because I deserved it. Only grace alone.

Gratitude

And so my response can only be one: gratitude. Gratitude is the opposite of and the antidote to jealousy.

Gratitude is the balm that heals the soul that jealousy tries to kill.

Gratitude means that the calculations we do are not the calculations of the long-day workers.

They had their fairness plan:

  • they knew how much they were owed,
  • how many hours were in a working day,
  • they calculated their own worth to the landowner
  • and they expected his fair pay,

– and were miserable miserable when they got exactly what they were worth.

The grateful person, by contrast, calculates at the end of the day. Counting a list that begins with gratitude:

  • thankful for life itself,
  • thankful for work that needs to be done,
  • thankful for the strength to work,
  • thankful for the income to keep body and soul together,
  • thankful for rest at the end of a work day,
  • thankful for a God who gives and gives and gives on the basis of his generosity, on the basis of grace,
  • thankful that he has graciously forgiven me

– for all the times I have been:

  • prideful,
  • arrogant,
  • indulged in moral hypocrisy,
  • and jealousy,
  • and accused him of being generous to others more than to me.

Life is not fair.
We have not gotten what we deserved.

Instead, we have been given so much more than we could ever lay claim to. We have received everything by God’s generosity: by grace.
Now is the time for our response of pure gratitude.

Sermon, September 14, 2008, Year A, Ordinary 24, Matthew 18:21–35

Drinking the rat poison
Drinking the rat poison

Drinking and Waiting

Click here for Bible texts for this week’s sermon

This past week we commemorated the 7th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, 2001.

Seven years after that tragedy, we are still experiencing loss, death, and injury in a fight that is not over.

And the lectionary brings us this text about limitless forgiveness. So what do we do with this?

It seems to me that we can either:
turn this discussion off as pious nonsense that has no possibility of being meaningful in the real world of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban…
or become complete pacifists,
or ask if there is a third option.

I am a follower of Jesus, so option one is out for me. I want to hear his words and follow them – but of course first I have to understand them…
– in their original setting,
– and understand how to integrate them into my 21st century setting.

The second option is open – become a complete pacifist, and I have a great deal of respect for people who take this position, but I cannot.

– I want policemen out on the streets, especially at night, ready and willing to use force to restrain evil,
– and if they are not able to prevent an attack on my family, I am ready and willing to use force to defend my family.

Having crossed that line, ethically, I have to say that I believe that the use of force, or threat to use force, is at least sometimes and at least in some circumstances justified.

So how do I integrate that with this teaching of Jesus about forgiveness?

It might be easy to jump to another solution: privatize Jesus’ teaching. Make it exclusively about inter-personal relationships so that it has nothing to do with nations and terrorists.

This is especially tempting here because the question Peter asks is not about forgiving, for example, the Roman Empire or even the Herodian dynasty: it’s about forgiving a “brother or sister” (not “church member as NRSV says, but that’s exactly what is meant in this context).

Yes, it is true: this text begins with the question of inter-personal relationships in the community of faith, the church. But it is also true that Jesus intends his answer to have much wider implications – as his own words demand that we see.

So, in the end, no, these words of Jesus cannot be privatized and excluded from having implications in the world of nations and terror. So we are back to our problem of looking at the text closely.

Jesus did not live in good, happy, quiet times in a nice place. He did not teach people these lessons between holes on a lush golf course, nor in air-conditioned living rooms.
Jesus lived during a time in which many small farmers had been forced off of their land, and many were literally debt-slaves.

This was not a concern off at the margins of society, like inner-city urban problems that the majority can avoid dealing with. It was so bad, for so many people that by the time Jesus would have been 66 years old, the whole land he walked in erupted in revolution.

The first thing the revolutionaries did was to break into the temple treasury where the debt-records were kept and burn it down. Indebtedness was a huge problem to everyone who heard Jesus tell this parable.

So already we can see that although Peter asks a question about forgiveness in the personal, limited context of the church, Jesus’ very parable pushes the issue outside of the walls of the church, into the public sphere of kings and debt-slaves.

Let us start where Jesus does, and watch how he makes the connection.

First, Peter’s question: “how many times must I forgive my brother or sister?” by itself is off to a bad start according to Jesus.

Seven times? Peter suggests. Last week we heard Jesus’ advice about going to a person who has wronged you. Peter, in this context, is going above and beyond.

Instead of treating them like a “gentile or tax collector,” he is ready to forgive; even multiple times.

But to Jesus, if you are keeping count, you have already missed the point.

In this community, the church, Jesus’ followers do not keep track; we forgive. And we forgive. And we forgive.

This is because of who we are. As we saw last week: we are not a golf club or a bridge club. We are not a voluntary association or a any kind of club.

The reason we are together at all is not because we are similar to each other or find each other interesting and likable. We are together because we have been called by God to be a part of his alternative community.

We are people who have been gathered on one basis alone: that we all have experienced God’s mercy, God’s forgiveness.

It would be absurd to have received forgiveness of all of our sins and turn around and fail to forgive those who sin against us in this community. The very basis of our community is forgiveness.

What is going on is this: Jesus was forming a radically alternative community out there in the provinces of the Roman empire.

In this community, relationships can never become toxic and poisoned because we have discovered the truth that has set us free: forgiven people can be forgiving people on the same basis that they have been forgiven: pure mercy.

A point of clarification is in order (especially if you were not here last week). One small text like this cannot deal with this question exhaustively – and we are not pretending it does.

What should be done with a person in a community who is the aggressor, the one doing all that sinning against the other? That question was partially dealt with last week but this time the subject is the one who has been wronged.

What happens when, to use Peter’s words, someone in the community “sins against” us?

  • It hurts.
  • It wounds.
  • It angers us.
  • Depending on what they did, it may humiliate us,
  • or even cost us dearly.

What is the one thing we want the most after we have been “sinned against”?

Even more than we want revenge, we want that sin never to have happened. We want our condition to return to the state it was before the wrong was suffered; before the loss occurred.

And that is the one thing that will never happen.

No matter how much revenge you could ever get, no matter how much pain you could cause to the one who caused your pain, you will never undo what was done.

Pain + pain never removes pain; it only compounds it.

In fact, the very wish for vengeance itself is a cancer that eats away at us from the inside, and is never satisfied.

Anne Lamott said it best:
“Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rats to die.” (from Traveling Mercies).

Dr. Frederic Luskin, co-founder of Stanford University’s “Forgiveness Project,” says that research shows that forgiveness “reduces anger, hurt, depression and stress and leads to greater feelings of optimism, hope, compassion and self confidence.

The point that Jesus was making was this: we are a community that practices values based on our new identity as children of God. We are not a community of bitterness and grudges. We are not a community of vengeance and quid pro quo. We are a community that refuses to drink the poison.

And this is the crucial next step:
because we have learned this ethic between ourselves;
because we have embraced the kingdom value of forgiveness when wronged,
and because we have seen the results —
that there can be, and is such a thing as a community of shalom, peace, wholeness, and healing,
– we understand what God the Father’s will is for the entire world. We understand the goal of Shalom.

This is where the private and personal becomes public and political.

If we have learned this ethic of forgiveness, we radically change our orientation to the world: now what we want the most is for God’s shalom to come to every country, every people group, every person.
What does it mean to forgive?

It means that we no longer wish evil or suffering upon the one who harmed us: we wish instead, for their redemption.

Because we will never undo the damage they caused, the pain, the suffering, the humiliation, the loss, our choice is either to long for their suffering in return, or long for their redemption.

To forgive means that we long for the day when no one would will evil and cause suffering. To forgive means that what we want most is for the evil of terrorism to be eradicated because no one believes in that tactic anymore.

What we long for is a world in which Osama bin Laden is a redeemed man whose heart is no longer filled with hate and violence.

We do not wish for a world strewn with the bodies of dead rats and empty cans of rat-poison; we long for a world of shalom; of peace and well-being for every creature on this planet.

We are not so naive as this sounds. We do not expect that this will be true in our lifetimes any more than we expect to be able to dispense with our local police.

What this does mean, however, is that we are the people whose goal is first, a world of forgiveness, not vengeance.

We cannot change the debt-system of the world. There will always be kings throwing peasants in jail until they repay every penny.

But we will demonstrate, in this community, that there is an alternative. There is the possibility of living differently. We will not be a community that keeps track; we will be a community of forgiven-forgivers, saying, “thy kingdom come“.

The Endemic Scripture Conundrum

In a recent Bible Study of Joshua we had to reflect on the fact that in 2:8-14 the spies make pact with Rahab, a Canaanite, despite the direct prohibition given by Moses in Deuteronomy 7:1-5 (presumably, the Deuteronomist was not unaware of the tension, but let it stand*).  Then of course Joshua makes another pact (covenant) with the Gibeonites (chapter 9), albeit by means of their deception, again breaking Moses’ prohibition.  This shows me that even within the canon of scripture itself, the people of God have struggled with the question of what do to with scripture.

This is not a new struggle, rather the struggle seems endemic to “people of the book.”  Zillions of examples of this could be brought forward, as we all know: this is well worn ground.  It is the most difficult when the bible says a clear, “no” but we now feel free to say “yes” – like the issue of women in ministry.  The hermeneutical move is made by everyone, conservatives (who allow women to cut their hair and wear gold) to liberals who think the door is open for homosexuals).  The hermeneutical move is the same: all of us find adequate and compelling reasons to put some scripture in a category of “no longer applies.”  The only question is what is in and what is out of bounds.  Slaves no longer have to submit to masters: actually being a slave-master is out, but all of us feel obligated to “love one another” (even if our performance is faulty).  The abortion issue is miserably difficult because there is no unequivocal biblical “no”.  But the “no” to divorce from our Lord himself (“let not man put asunder” in the traditional language, Matt 19:5) seems negotiable today – at least it is no longer an automatic deal-breaker for ordination.  So, we all sit uncomfortably with the very scripture in which we hear the word of God still speaking.  It has always been so.  Even the 10 commandments written “by the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18 and Deuteronomy 9:10) are not identical in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5.  Literalism is impossible – literally – and yet other alternatives are non-objective.
My wish is that we could start the discussion here, at this fact, acknowledging that what we are at loggerheads about is not hermeneutics but rather application.  We read scripture, praying for guidance, open to the Spirit, heavily influenced by the history of interpretation and our tradition(s), and fully within a cultural context of assumptions and perspectives (apart from which no human has yet to exist).
The PCA is a bit more consistent for forbidding women – but I’ve noticed that their women do cut their hair.  The EPC cannot tolerate the notion of an ordained gay person, and yet they would never hire a slave owner as pastor.  Even fundamentalists (OPC?) have to choose which version of the 10 commandments is “unchanging forever.”  We are all stuck with this conundrum; no one has the high ground hermeneutically and no one escapes the difficulty.  We are in this together.

*in fact, the tension was purposeful and crucial to the reason Joshua was written down according to L. Daniel Hawk, Joshua in Berit Olam: studies in Hebrew Narrative & Poetry series, (2000).

Sermon for Sept. 7, 2008, Ordinary 23, Matthew 18:15-20

The Hatfield Clan

The Hatfields, the McCoys, and the Christians

The feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys is part of American folk-lore now.  It was just after the Civil War in the back country of West Virginia and Kentucky.  It started – well there are several versions of how it started – perhaps over a pig.

Whose pig is it if it’s on my property?  The issue was really whose property is it?: a land dispute.

The fight over the pig and the property went from the woods to the court house and then back into the woods where the first dead body fell.

Between 1880 and 1891, the feud claimed more than a dozen members of the two families.

How are we supposed to respond when someone sins against us?  Of course the Hatfield and McCoy method is bizarrely extreme, but what are the alternatives?

One summer when I was in college, I had a little house painting  business.  I was giving an estimate to a lady who had a son about 10 years old.

As we walked around the house she complained about the previous painter’s work.  Her son kept saying, “Just sue him mom, sue him for all he’s worth.”

I have read that every law suit is a triumph: it is a victory of civil society over vigilanteism and vengeance.  I agree, but does that mean every suit is justified?

How are we supposed to respond when someone sins against us?  What is at stake in our choice of responses?

And one more question: what is the spiritual relevance of this discussion.  If we are not murdering like the Hatfields and McCoys in our quest to get our needs met, aren’t we on safe grounds with God?

There are several important issues here – and we need this text.  But let me start here.

Christianity puts a lot of emphasis on forgiveness.  Next week we are going to hear Jesus speak strongly on that subject.  But we start the discussion here for an important reason.

This thing that we are a part of together – the church – is not what it appears on the surface at all.  Look at us: we look like we could be having a Rotary meeting or a Town Hall forum.

But something is going on here that is far more significant.  We are a community of people whom God has called into being.  We are not just friends, we are now a family, brothers and sisters of the same Father.

God has brought us together into this family for an enormous reason: we are the point of his spearhead into a world of evil.  We are meant to be demonstrating by our life together what God is able to accomplish.

We are not just people who heard the Good News of the gospel and responded; nor are we simply people who have the Good News to share with others.

Rather, we are the church: the family of God: the people whose relationships with each other are a demonstration of the power of the Spirit of God.

We are not just a community: we are an alternative community, standing out as light does against the darkness, showing what it means that redemption is real.  This is what this text is about.

Let’s look at this text closely:

1.  Bad things happen

First, a reality check:

We start with the fact that in every community, friction happens:

15“If another member of the church sins against you

The “if” can also be translated “whenever” – it happens.

2.  Response can be pro-active

The next word is crucial: “go“.  Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche accused Christianity of being a slave religion because it taught people to forgive and turn the other cheek instead of defending themselves.

Is that what Jesus taught?  Should battered wives just keep silent?  Should victims suffer while perpetrators go free? Forgiveness is a huge topic and Jesus has a lot to say about it, but the conversation starts here:  When someone sins against us, we do not have to remain passive.  We can work to bring justice to the situation.

3.  The goal is restoration, not revenge

So, bad things happen, we do not have to be passive, we can act, so now notice something huge: the goal of our responsive action is always restoration, never revenge.  Listen again:

15“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.

The goal of our responsive action to being wronged is never to punish for the sake of personal satisfaction – that is called vengeance – and it is just as true whether the method is the Hatfield and McCoy strategy or the legal law suit.

Are we against all lawsuits? No; as we said, they are civil society’s alternative to the vigilantes and the Hatfields.

But the primary function of a lawsuit is to hold people responsible: when they become merely a tool for seeking  vengeance the motivation has become evil.

And this easy evil of revenge in the courts hurts us all.  One of the huge contributing factors to the astronomical rise in health care costs is the price of legal vengeance in the courts – and we all pay for it dearly.

But let’s get back to the point.  The goal is to “regain” the one who wronged us.  The goal is restoration.  Why?

This community called the church  puts a high value on  relationships.  It is not a light thing that there is a conflict in the family.

  • Neither side to the conflict is dispensable.
  • Both are made in the image of God.
  • Both have been redeemed by Jesus Christ.
  • Both have come to know his loving mercy: it is of highest importance that we find a way through our conflicts – for to do otherwise denies far too much of what we believe.

Implication:

  • If God loves you, can I not?
  • If God has forgiven you, can I not?
  • If God has adopted you into his family, you and I are in the same family – neither of us wins if one of us does at the expense of the other.

Can you imagine how a father would feel if two sons fought and the winner came to him and proudly announced his victory? The father would have cause to grieve, not to celebrate.

So, to this point, this text has taught us that yes, conflict happens, and that when it does, we do not have to stay the victim; we can respond, but that our response is always for restoration of family relationships, never for revenge.

4.  The Community is affected

Sometimes it is impossible to accomplish restoration alone.  So the next thing that this text says is that there are times when the community has to get involved.

16But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church;

The mechanism for this step is not spelled out in detail, but I want us to see the underlying assumption here: conflict in the family is a concern of the whole family, not just the parties to the conflict.

Conflict happens, and when it does, the community, the family has a stake in the outcome.  There are no disinterested parties.  If the conflict is not resolved, we all loose.

Why?  Because, again, we are the Church.  We are that alternative community in which every one of us has personally been touched by grace and experienced mercy.

Of all people on the earth, we are the ones who have the capacity NOT to be a toxic family of poisoned relationships.

And if we ever fail, the failure is not just of a pair of people to reconcile, it is a failure of our family to be who we are in Christ; and that failure is huge.

5.  There is a limit

So, when conflict happens, it affects the entire community.  But what do we do when the conflict seems to be interminable?  What if one of the parties simply refuses reconciliation?

Pause: life is complex and this small text cannot consider every possible situation.
Is an abused wife supposed to go for more if the church is satisfied that the abuser has repented?  We all know that it is far more complicated than that.

But most human conflicts are about pigs in the woods.  Most of them are about:

  • getting our feelings hurt;
  • feeling snubbed,
  • being insulted,
  • feeling put down.

These are the vast majority of our family fights.

In these cases, the only reason reason a person would have to refuse reconciliation is simply pride.

And here is the problem:

  • if a person has no intention of living as a member of this alternative community;
  • if a person’s pride is so strong that they will not show mercy,
  • if a person is content to live with a permanently poisoned relationship and will not apply the antidote,

then, there is a limit to what the community can take.

Too much is at stake to allow a poisoned person to make the whole family toxic.

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

In other words, an outsider.

There is a deep irony here – and I’m sure Matthew intended it.

Those two terms, tax collector and gentile, are formulaic; they are slang that everyone recognizes for the “bad guys who are not in our group and not like us.”

And yet Matthew has already narrated for us the stories of Jesus accepting tax collectors and gentiles into his new alternative community.  (8:5-13; 9:10-11; 15:21-28)

The irony is that the door is open to this family of radical relationships, but there is a door.

The tax collectors and gentiles are able to receive grace and mercy; they are not excluded; but when they do, when they come in the door, then they must be people of mercy in return.

Jesus prayed a prayer that is as alarming as it gets, that sums up all that we have said today.  In what we call the Lord’s prayer, he says, “Forgive us our debts, AS we forgive our debtors“.

That “as we forgive” scares me.  Forgiveness and reconciliation are never the default position.  But to this we have been called.

And look at the affect of that call.  We have the opportunity to live into a family of radical mercy and reconciliation.  What an alternative to the small, dark, miserable family of Hatfields or McCoys.

Conflicts happen: and because they do, and because resolving them is so crucial, it is in the context of resolving conflicts that we get this promise:

20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.

Do you think resolving conflicts is important to our Lord?

He reserved his promise of being present among us to the moment in which he was instructing us about conflicts – those times when he feels the most absent.

Conflicts happen; but God is present in them to teach us how to be god-like: to be a radically alternative family of reconciled relationships: the church!   Praise be to God!