Sermon of The Rev. Trudi Shaw- 13th Sunday after Pentecost

Sermon: Exodus 12:1‐14; Romans 13:8‐14;

Matthew 18:15‐20

When I was in my early twenties, I observed a court case for the first time.
I remember feeling quite uncomfortable by the open animosity between the Crown
Prosecutor and the lawyer for the defense. It seemed very clear that they did not like oneanother
at all. So it was quite a shock to me when court was adjourned for a lunch break they
came together in a friendly discussion of where they might go to share a meal. It was the first
time in my life that I was able grasp the fact that it is possible to disagree with one‐another,
and still remain in mutual relationship.
I dislike conflict. I am sure that I am not alone in this.
And I don’t like the way that this passage from Matthew’s Gospel asks me to think about
dealing with conflict.
But the fact is, conflict is all around us. It is in our homes and our families; in our schools and
work places; we see it in our political systems and in the ways we have of being human; we
even see it in our churches.
Unless one lives in complete isolation, it is impossible to go through life without being at odds
with others from time to time.
There seem to be some common ways with which we humans deal with conflict: There is the
“I am right and you are wrong” method of confrontation that digs in and waits for the other to
come round to the ‘right way’ of seeing things. This is often what we see acted out in the
public sphere, especially in the political arena, where each side attempts to gain public
support for their viewpoint. Another way is to eliminate all opposition to a way of thinking by
suppressing the ideas of others, often through violence, coercion and oppression – much like
what we see in the actions of organizations like ISIS, and the Taliban.
I think that a case can be made for the fact that at times in our history the Church has used
both of these methods ‐ perhaps to deal with theological or doctrinal conflicts that have arisen
within the community of the church, (I am thinking of the controversy surrounding the
ordination of women); or to eliminate conflicts that might arise from our encounters with
other cultures, (Seen in the way we have dealt with Aboriginal people in a number of
countries, including Canada.) Thankfully, we have been able to eventually discern the Spirit’s
leading and have come to a deeper understanding of how our actions in these matters have
been contrary to the way of Love ‐ but not without cost to ourselves and those with whom we
have been in conflict.
Yet another way of dealing with conflict which may be most familiar to us in the church, is to
not deal with it at all! We are, after all, people who try to be nice. We turn the other cheek,
we forgive those who hurt us, we try to be good people loving our neighbours…
When you think about it, the community of the Church is unique. Where else would we
encounter such a culturally diverse population – young, old, wealthy, poor, professionals, the
unemployed… And though we are bound together in Christ with the purpose of serving God
in the world, it is not realistic to think that we would always see eye‐to‐eye. We are the Body
of Christ, but we are also human beings who are often going to be at odds with one‐another.
And sometimes our egos will get wounded.
When we do not acknowledge and deal openly with the things that irk us, we run the risk of
letting our small disagreements become huge problems that can infect our communities like a
cancer, and destroy us from within.
14,09,07 Sermon: Exodus 12:1‐14; Romans 13:8‐14; Matthew 18:15‐20
2
Jesus, understood this, and gave us another option for dealing with those differences that will
inevitably come up: we are encouraged to confront the person in private to seek
reconciliation and understanding. If this proves unsuccessful – we try again, but this time
before witnesses. And if the situation is still unresolved, we are to speak publicly about the
matter to the whole church. The final option when all else fails to bring resolution to the
conflict is to exclude the person from the community all together.
This may seem like a harsh treatment, and contrary to Jesus’ usual inclusive and forgiving way
of dealing with people. But if there is discord within the body, it is important to act to
preserve the health of the community so that we might be effective in our witness in the
world. One of the greatest threats to Christianity is the conflict that keeps us distracted from
our purpose. Those of you who have read C. S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters”, will remember
the senior demon suggesting the creation of discord within the church to render us impotent!
Difficult as it is, I know from my own experience the freedom and healing that comes from
listening, and being listened to in love. Often, our insurmountable problems, when brought
into the light, prove not to be so very big at all and are easily conquered.
But I still have issues with this text because it gives great power to us – power that can easily
be misused when we allow our own egos to take over. In the words of Spiderman’s Aunt,
“With great power comes great responsibility.” In the hands of the self‐righteous these words
can be used as weapons that can destroy – not just the individual we feel has wronged us, but
also can have repercussions for the whole community.
This text does not give us permission to get rid of, or make life miserable for those we do not
like. We must never forget Jesus’ warning about being obsessed with the splinter in another’s
eye, while we ignore the timber in our own. Words of caution for all of us.
When two or three come together in the context of the church to ask something of God, it
must always be with the understanding that God’s will is more important than our own.
Hopefully, we will leave our egos at the door and listen for the leading of the Spirit in
whatever we do.
Paul’s words of how we are to be in community with one‐another are a good counter for my
concern about this text from Matthew. What is most important in this time when the day of
the Lord is drawing nearer, is that we operate in all things by the law of Love as we have
encountered it in Jesus. It is not an obligation but a way of being that we bring to all of our
relationships with others. Love moves us beyond our ego needs, and helps us see in the other,
despite our differences, the face of the Beloved. If Love does no harm to a neighbour – neither
does it seek to destroy a brother or sister in Christ.
We are about the business of becoming disciples. Which means we are serious about “putting
on Christ” and nurturing and encouraging others to grow in faith, even as we deepen our own.
I can’t help but think of the EFM community here. In our seminar groups we come together to
share our sense of faith, what we profess to believe, and what we understand of theology –
and believe me, there can be some interesting perspectives out there. But if we dismissed
everyone who was in a different place, none of us would learn anything.
This is one of the blessings of the Anglican Church – we can disagree and still be relationship
with God and with one‐another. Our Unity in Christ is not about being the same; of thinking
14,09,07 Sermon: Exodus 12:1‐14; Romans 13:8‐14; Matthew 18:15‐20
3
about things in the same way. It is about living Love in the Church, so we can support one
another to live it in the world.
We “put on Christ” in our baptism, but it is a pretty baggy garment! We need to grow into it in
faith, and in community.