Mother Katherine’s sermon preached Sep. 6, 2020

Posted by on Sun, Sep 6, 2020 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The 14th Sunday after Pentecost

September 6, 2020

Today Paul is again speaking of loving each other, about “genuine love.” Last week, Mother Ann noted Paul’s laser-focus on this; “God takes a personal stake in our human actions. God cares deeply that we learn to live with one another in loving ways.”  He instructs, “Be slow to retaliate when you have been offended, doing whatever you can to keep the peace.” This week’s gospel reading from Matthew picks up where Paul left off. Jesus instructs us on healing damaged relationships in the community, a respectful way forward which genuinely seeks reconciliation —instead of in seeking to show how right we are. Our goal is not to win or come out ahead on a deal, rather to regain that brother or sister whom we think sinned against us or us them. While living together in genuine love is a pretty phrase and a noble goal, here Jesus calls us to do the messy heavy lifting of what it takes, and to seek ‘no credit’ for it. How often we see Jesus’ gospel as countercultural!

To live this way means to see ourselves in one another’s face, even in faces of those we are sorely challenged by. That’s what it means to love our neighbors as ourselves is to build up the whole body. Our culture constantly urges we seek what makes us ‘happy’ —usually by near immediate gratification. Jesus’ gospel goes much further than mere happiness; through his vision of love we glimpse the greater sense of a community being at peace. The cost of that peace is in intentional reconciliation, letting genuine love drive our choices and actions, and we can do it whomever and with wherever we are. We can’t really get to what God calls us to without putting eyes-open love first. If we focus on judging someone less valued or worthy it not only hurts them it destroys a part of oneself and hurts the whole community. In comparison Paul’s message is that love builds up, it attracts others, it invites the best from people, and has the power to transform lives.

This is the time, Paul tells us, the moment to wake from whatever else we let drive us or hide us, “for salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.” In truth, every day brings us nearer, so we live these tenets publicly, this day and the next, putting on “the armor of light.” Many of you learned of the death of Bud Harmon yesterday and our community grieves this loss. We pray for June and their family. At Saint Michael’s one chorister recalled his readiness to make wry little jokes (occasionally during worship) and the Weisenberger girls will recall him as a beloved grandparent figure. Bud could sound grumpy at times; but, if you stayed and listened, you’d hear it was almost always about something that failed to honor God’s love. Well-hidden for many years in the disguise of Saint Nicholas, we saw clearly where his heart was, his spirit revealed as he sought to connect and build joy in this very community. Paul began by saying “Owe no one anything, except to love one another” and today I hear it inversely restated; we owe love to each other as one might satisfy a debt—and this the only currency accepted. Bud and June have long exemplified this. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” and people mostly hear it as calling out our bad behaviors and sins, linking them to eternity. Today as we think of Bud and June, (or other loving pillars of faith, if you didn’t know them) we hear those words as a promise, not castigation. Both the hurts we release and the goodness, the love, which binds us to each other are also building that heaven.

Jesus’ words about resolving problems between two people have a pretty formulaic approach, arranged in an escalating order, from the privacy of one person to one person (not on twitter), then to a small handful selected to help (not an Instagram moment), and finally failing to resolve they take it to the whole community to attempt reconciliation. (Maybe this is akin to a Facebook group question?) While it’s important to the end that problem or solve a dispute, that act is critical because it is in service of the whole community. Matthew emphasizes that sin is not about the individual, such things affect the whole Body of Christ. Was this ever more evident than today? A handful of people who ignore distancing or refuse masks gather for a party, precipitating so many others being infected and even dying. Politicians focus so much on their opponent that we scarcely can see their plans for the good of the whole. Faithful people are set to hard work for that genuine love, to put care for community ahead of a me-first-I’m-always-right attitude. This is our time to decide what sort of people, leaders, and community we are. Do we build moats or bridges? If we do judge, are we willing to go in private with someone to resolve it instead of posting it for a thousand likes? Would we rather choose up sides or listen and work with creativity and hope for reconciliation?

We are repeatedly led to focus on sensationalist sound bytes or outlandish insults because they entertain so well, while more serious concerns of national stature slip by with too little attention. Attempting resolution to a real problem feels impossible in this instant media 24/7 news world. Often social media can lead to distorting our sense of self, make us see opinions as only right/wrong with little room for nuanced grey. At the same time it can reveal blessings. Like this moment with you right now, we can use the internet to provide vital community and loving connection, enriched knowledge and creativity. Yes, it can also be the vehicle for people’s vitriolic attacks and deceptions, pushing us into ever more polarization. Amidst all this we recall that The Episcopal Church, from the start of our Anglican roots, has been known as the via media or middle way. Not because we’re too wishy-washy to choose or afraid to push the edges, (we do that well!) but via media means there is much more room for others to gather in the middle, people different from ourselves who also seek to live this genuine love, and we can find ourselves blessed by gifts from both ‘edges.’

The last words Jesus speaks in this passage; “Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” One clergyman’s sermon this week was titled, “Where two or three are gathered in God’s name … there is always an argument!” True as that might be, we still undertake resolution with Jesus’ urging and blessing. This isn’t like a genie granting wishes if a certain number can agree, it’s more miracle and promise when we work beyond that conflict point to the building up of the whole body. It brings with it untold possibility, divine guidance and blessing. In this work of healing, repairing, resolving and being community, anything is possible because Christ is present among us.

When Jesus spoke of “where two or three are gathered in my name” he likely assumed within physical reach of each other,       and yes we look forward to that.     Even so, because of technology, this community, gathering in Jesus’ name, is not limited to those who have a ride to church or who live nearby. Those unable to sit in a pew, those hooked up to IVs, and those who travel are ‘here.’ I know of kids enjoying the benefit of home church in pajamas, and we now have people worshipping who have not and may never enter the building, and they too are part of this family of faith. One Body in Christ. A Body of Christ’s reconciliation, healing, hope and love-in-action through Him and through each other.

Seeing armed people face off in Louisville, Portland, and other cities this weekend makes us imagine what could happen in November, no matter who is elected. I cannot believe our best outcome and path will be thanks to weaponized confrontations. My faith and prayers are in hope that the majority of people can find the humility to put the country, our communities, and justice ahead of partisan raging, holding peace and mutuality as a value, listening and working to find some illuminating guiding order. Both of which, columnist David Brooks writes, would be “epic acts of self-discipline.” (September 3, 2020) Paul exhorts us to “then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day.” I don’t know exactly how, but  we need to gather together the reaches of our human tapestry and move from violent extremes into deescalation, into the via media which listens and values both individuals and whole communities. Lately it feels rather like we can scarcely recall Palm Sunday’s throngs calling ‘Hosannah,’ and are now stuck in a repeating loop of Jerusalem crowds who call ‘Crucify him!’ —whomever the ‘him’ of the crowd is against. Will we be an Easter people? Even from these ashes we can lead and love those around us by gathering, reconciling, loving, listening, inviting, and being the Body of Christ.

No, I don’t know exactly how, but we’ve heard a promise of greatest hope in the gospel; “Truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

© 2020 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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