Renewal, Revival, and Reconciliation
#RenewalRevivalReconciliation is the podcast for Sept. 10, 2017. This passage from Matthew 18 is one of the most abused passages of the Bible. Unless we have context, remember what the main goal of Christ is, we are going to head down the wrong road. Listen here and find out more: Download it into your phone. #Gossip #Madge #Marge #Betty #Reconciliation #TwoOrMore #InJesusName #DispensersofRevenge #RevengeIsMine #ToxicWorkplaces
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For The Church of Saint Raphael the Archangel, Munster, IN and My Spiritual Advisor, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 9/10/2017 The 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Please pause this audio and read Matthew 18:15-20.
[Thank everyone by name about the buckets. Explain that you will be preaching to the choir today. One of the reasons that we wanted to do something more than just give money is because actions reconcile us. They give a demonstrable example of our intent for the other person’s good. Actions are renew, revive, and reconcile.]
Jesus is relentless about reconciliation; reconciliation in the world and reconciliation in our faith communities. Jesus is relentless about reconciliation.
There are two ways we can read today’s Gospel. One way is as if it is off the front page of the National Enquirer. The National Enquirer way would be about scandal. It would be about winners and losers.
Madge approached Betty about Marge. Marge was offensive to Madge. So, Betty told Madge to go talk to Marge, “like the Bible says so.” Then Betty adds, “But you know Marge! She isn’t going to change her mind.” So, Madge goes to confront Marge, knowing she is not going to get anywhere.
“Marge,” says Madge, “I know you don’t care about how I feel but you were offensive to me and you owe me an apology right now. Admit it. You know you were wrong.”
“Madge,” says Marge, “over my dead body.” Then she walked out of the room.
“Betty,” says Madge, “you were right. Marge just won’t listen and refused to say she was sorry. I am going to tell all the girls that they just cannot trust Marge. We need to shun her like a tax collector and a sinner. The Bible says so.”
“Madge,” says Betty, “I knew it! Next time, I will go to back you up and we will take care of her. The Bible says, ‘bring a witness and whenever two or more are gathered He will do anything for us.’”
If we were to look at this scenario, it doesn’t have to be in the Church. It could be anywhere. It could be in one of the many dysfunctional employment situations we have. It could be in a dysfunctional family situation. Under the guise of being about “reconciliation” the issue is really being handled like it is about “revenge.”
For us in the Church, the problem is that we are not dispensers of revenge. That is the Father in Heaven’s job at the end of time. Until then, we are to be a conduit between what Jesus did on the Cross and the world at large. We are dispensers of grace, reconciliation, and renewal.
Too often, though, this passage from the Gospel of Matthew is seen as a way to make submissive a person who has done us wrong. It has some powerful words: witnesses, bind, loose, whatever you ask in my name. These are powerful words. When put in the context of power, authority, and ‘being right’; then putting them in the hands of humans who are more interested in being right than being reconciled, they can cause serious damage. In fact, I would say that my ministry over the last 30 years is to people who have been damaged by Christians who thought the Gospel was a gun and not a bandage.
This passage in the Gospel of Matthew falls in a series of parables and teachings about reconciliation. Jesus has just said to leave behind 99 sheep to get the one that is straying, hurting, and lost. Before that he said, “Woe” to the one who causes others to sin. Before that he said true greatness is in service to others, or it is to “be last.”
After this passage is the response to Peter that we should forgive countless times. After that is the passage about the servant who begs forgiveness for himself, gets it, then fails to forgive those who owe him. In this context, how do we get that the method of reconciling a person to ourselves and the community is with a verbal sledge hammer and a righteous smirk? It can only be if we assume that the Gospel is about making us better and others less than we are that we would take that approach. That would be a mistake. The Gospel is not about power to subjugate and hurt. The Gospel is about renewal, revival, and reconciliation.
The same could be said about toxic workplaces. When they become solely about the bottom line rather than making an amazing product or providing an incredible service, then it has become about power, not mission. The Church is no different in this regard, but with the Church we are dealing with something much more powerful and important. When a business violates someone’s career, it is understood that it is about money. When a church or family violates a person, it is about their soul and identity. A career is an earthly temporary thing. A soul and identity are eternal things. The damage can be permanent without the healing of Jesus Christ.
Through these eyes, then, “whatever we bind on earth” we want to be something good that needs to last- renewal, revival, and reconciliation. “whatever we loose on earth” we want to be death, discouragement, and division. I have a message: God loves you. When I wave high to someone on the street, I am waving that God loves them. When I smile at child who is just too adorable for words, I am smiling God’s love at them. When I do my job day in and day out, I am doing whatever I do in such a way that spreads God’s love. At least, that is my goal and my hope. We need to approach things in this way so that we respect the power of reconciliation we have been given by Jesus toward one another.
So, let’t think about this with Madge, Marge, and Betty. Instead of the National Enquirer approach that creates winners and losers, bad people and good people. Let’s think of the scenario with renewal, revival, and reconciliation as our goal.
Madge approached Betty about Marge. Marge was offensive to Madge. So, Betty told Madge to go talk to Marge, “like the Bible says so.” Then Betty adds, “Be sure to remember that Marge is a sister in Christ. She probably didn’t mean to hurt you.” So, Madge goes to confront Marge, hoping that Betty is right.
“Marge,” says Madge, “I know you probably didn’t mean to, because you are such a faithful sister in Christ, but you offended me the other day. I can’t bear to have these feelings about the situation and I want to just clear it up and make it good again.”
“Madge,” says Marge, “honey, I never meant to hurt you! I am so sorry that I hurt you. Please forgive me and can we move on from there?” Then they spent the rest of the afternoon laughing and talking.
“Betty,” says Madge, “you were right. Marge is a wonderful person. I should have known not to be worried or think she meant me harm.”
In this scenario, even if Marge was not receiving the message, Betty’s role would be to go and remind the girls to reconcile, be loving, move forward. Her role would not have been as a conspiratorial witness to defeat the offender.
Jesus is relentless about reconciliation; reconciliation in the world and reconciliation in our faith communities. Jesus is relentless about reconciliation. He expects us to be reconciling as well. Amen.
This audio is under the copyright of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated and may not be used, reduplicated, or distributed for commercial use without the express written consent of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated. My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated, 2017.
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Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian