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Date: September 10, 2017 (Pentecost 14) 1. Texts: Exodus 12:1-14; Ps. 149; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20. 2. Subject: discipleship. 3. Topic: discipline on behalf of the marginalized. 4. Aim: challenge the privileged. 5. Proposition: “Taking the Bible seriously means treating the marginalized with the love of Christ even in cases of conflict.”

 

NOT US—THEM

 

If you read the Bible seriously, you will know that the end is coming. No one knows when or how. We know only a tiny bit about what the end will look like. But from the Book of Daniel to the Revelation of John, we know that the end is coming. St. Paul would have us be ready for the end by living righteously, justly and lovingly. He was very practical about it all. We live now as Christ lived back then so that we might live in the future as Christ lives now. It’s actually quite clear: the approach of the end forces us to show, prove and demonstrate our saving relationship with Christ in our daily lives. According to the Bible, the approach of the end means that there can be no secret or hidden Christians—it all has to be out in the open, where everyone can see and hear Jesus in our lives. As much as modern-day believers really don’t want to face this truth, it is nonetheless the truth: the end is coming and the disciples of Jesus should be prepared for the end by living Christ’s life in the here and now. We could just end the sermon now and give you some minutes of silence in which you discover how you will live the love of God in your daily lives so that others will recognize Jesus at work in you. [The preacher may choose to end the sermon here: “Please take a few minutes now to put your life in harmony with Christ so that he may prove himself to others through you. Following the silent reflection time, we will proceed with the Creed, which is the statement of faith on which we will base our actions.”] However, the reading from Matthew’s Gospel puts a different slant on this topic. Page 2 of 5 -It’s not about us: it’s about them.- Usually preachers focus on Matthew’s practical application of the discipline of the Church. If you have a problem with someone, speak to them directly. If that doesn’t resolve things, take a couple of other disciples with you. If that doesn’t work… Ok, we get it: deal with conflicts openly, honestly and in the context of the Church community. This will ensure that the same standards and understandings will be used in settling the dispute. If one of the antagonists won’t accept the standards and understandings of the Church, then that person has effectively excommunicated himself from the Church—which Jesus then links to the end times with those verses about binding, loosing and agreeing in his name. But I think it is more intricate and deeper than the just the discipline of the Church. At the beginning of this chapter, Jesus dealt with the power and authority of the apostles—and in a way that suggested they will misuse that power and authority. Jesus went on to make emotional pleas about treating the marginalized and lost. This passage about the discipline of the Church is not about your personal grudges against someone else: it is about the use of the power and authority of the Church leadership. It is the power and authority of the privileged that needs to be disciplined. This passage about taking other members with you when confronting conflict deals with those in leadership limiting their own power for the sake of those on the margins of the Church. This passage is all about using the discipline of the Church to control the excesses of those in leadership—which is doubly important considering that the end is coming. Of course, you will want to apply this only to bishops, archdeacons and other people who wear plastic collars. That’s quite natural—and it is quite impossible to do so. When Jesus is cautioning the Church leadership about the use of the authority and power, there were no bishops, no archdeacons and no ordained clergy. The only “ordination” was baptism and the only Church leaders those who were recognized by Jesus and the other believers. Leadership belonged to disciples amongst other disciples. The authority and power they exercised was that of the gospel. It was the community of the faithful that recognized the leadership of some and it was clearly those leaders who were tempted to misuse the power and authority that the community granted them. Page 3 of 5 -It’s not about us: it’s about them.- So, now the reading from Matthew takes on a far more immediate and very personal role. Firstly, each of us is encouraged to examine our leadership in the Church. Let’s be honest: each of us in this congregation is a Church leaders whether we hold an office or not. We are so small, that we all have to take on some leadership roles. Each of us is looked on as representing Jesus in a special way in our congregation. We may want to get lost in a crowd of believers, but let’s face it: we don’t have a crowd of believers. So, in some ways, each of us in this congregation is a leader whether we like it or not. This means some kind of examination of how we lead is required. Our leadership, according to St. Paul, is to lead in ways that uphold and support others, especially those who are on the margins of the Church. We are to live as if Christ is made visible in each of us: Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.1 When such living brings us into conflict with others—whether because of their actions or ours—we are to use the Church, its understandings and standards, to resolve the conflict. And, because we are the leaders, we must avoid misusing our power and authority, whether such is formally bestowed or informally recognized. 1 Romans 12:9-18. Page 4 of 5 -It’s not about us: it’s about them.- According to both Paul and Jesus, the urgency of such actions is increased by the impending end of things as we know them. We dare not waste time defending our own power and authority. Rather, we have to expeditiously apply Christ’s gospel of self-sacrificing love to our conflicts so that harmony may be restored and the fellowship of the Church healed before the end comes. In all this, there is an assumption by Jesus that we will treat the disadvantaged and marginalized with greater care than we will treat the privileged and advantaged. The conditions of the marginalized require a more intense application of the law of self-sacrificing love and a gentler, more caring use of the authority and discipline of the Church. So, here’s the challenge to those who are both formal and informal leaders in the Church: in the midst of conflict, you must bring your needs, wants and desires to the cross of Christ to be crucified along with him. As leaders of the Church you are obligated by Christ to sacrificially love those involved in the conflict back into the fellowship of the faithful. The standards by which you assess the conflict and your own actions are those of the gospel: I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God— what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.2 2 Romans 12:1-5. Page 5 of 5 -It’s not about us: it’s about them.- This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 3 All this is made the more urgent by the coming of the end. And whether that end comes with the end of all things or the end of our own lives or the end of our congregation or the end of things as we know them is irrelevant. There is a diving urgency to our need to be reconciled to one anotherin Christ Jesus, which we do on the basis of his sacrificial love. It’s funny in a way: this is what happens when you begin to read the Bible seriously. AMEN.