Scripture: Matthew 18: 15-22
Advent 2 – Peace
“Speaking Up and Shedding Light”
The other day, I got out of a meeting, and my phone popped up a message with a map. “20 minutes to get to church of the Good Shepherd.”
How does it know that I’m planning to go to Church of the Good Shepherd?
Well, it turns out, it has paid attention to my habits and knows about what time I come into work.
And so I got curious – how much do my electronics actually know about me?
I recently did a search, “What does Google know about me.”
And it probably won’t surprise you that Google knows an awful lot.
It knows that I like to search for hymns on YouTube.
For those of you who haven’t turned off location services, if you have a smart phone, it probably also knows all of the places you’ve been recently.
It may even pop up a message from time to time telling you how to get there.
You can turn all of this off, of course. All you have to do is Google “What does Google know about me,” and you can find videos and articles about how to restore your privacy.
(Of course, Google will know that you googled “What does Google know about me.”)
All of this is not to make us paranoid about Big Brother, but to remind us, that there are a lot of companies who know more about us than we think.
And it’s frankly none of their business.
But they’ve MADE it their business in order to make money.
Our business is a bit different. Our mission statement is to “Create a just world through community one life at a time.”
Our business is creating a just world.
So why, if that’s our mission, are we so afraid to step in when people are doing things that interfere with our mission?
Maybe it’s because we want to protect each other’s privacy.
We see someone acting out, and we think, well, that’s none of my business.
Or, he’s not hurting me, or she’s only hurting herself with that behavior, or it’s not my place to interfere.
Well, today’s text, which was written specificially for the church, says that actually, it IS our business.
When it comes to this community, it is our RESPONSIBILITY to pay attention and also to speak out when we see people behaving in ways that go counter to our mission.
It’s our RESPONSIBILITY to act on what we know and speak up in love when we notice that something’s wrong.
We talked about the spinach in the teeth example.
We’ve all had that scenario when we have a piece of spinach or something in our teeth? Or when we’ve said or done something that accidentally stepped on people’s toes.
Don’t you hate it when you get home and realize that spinach was there the whole time and no one told you about it?
Or when you find our months or even years later that someone was hurt by something you said and never told you about it?
If we see someone with something in their teeth or someone doing something that hurts us or our community, of course, we could just say it’s none of our business.
But the loving thing to do is to tell them.
And the Gospel message takes it even a step further.
The text uses the word “sin,” which at its core is about broken relationship. Broken relationship with God, with other people, or with ourselves.
And the translation we have says “If someone sins against you, take them aside privately and talk to them,” but the oldest and most reliable manuscripts we have of this passage do not contain the words “against you.”
So they don’t’ say “If someone sins against you,” they just say, “If someone sins,” speak with them privately about it.
And so the Gospel of Matthew is suggesting that it’s not just when someone hurts us personally that we step forward and say – hey, that wasn’t okay.
No, it’s saying when we see ANY sin in our community, anything that’s keeping someone from God or from community from personal wholeness, that it is our RESPONSIBILITY, it is the LOVING thing to do, to take them aside privately, and talk to them about it.
This doesn’t mean being nosy. This doesn’t mean talking about people behind their backs or gossiping about the things they’re doing that irritate us. It means taking the offending person aside privately, and in love, telling them your observations.
And that requires a measure of trust and relationship.
Someone the other day just randomly came up to me at the supermarket and handed me a lint roller and said, here – you could use one of these.
I thought that person was a total jerk.
But if someone I love and am close with came to me with a lint roller and said – you mention all the time how much your dog sheds. I thought I’d get you one of these, because I know you probably need one with such a big fuzzy dog!
I’d probably respond very differently, right?
The key is relationship.
When we confront people about “sin,” or if that word’s too loaded, when we confront people about behavior that we believe is breaking relationship, it’s important that we don’t shame them or point out who wrong they are.
It’s important instead that we go with an intention of compassion, telling them, in love, that we care about them and that we’re concerned about them.
The Gospel of Matthew reframes confrontation as an opportunity to invite members of our community, people that we love, into dialog about something that brings us concern.
And this could not be any more salient than now.
There’s been a lot in the news lately about harassment.
And I know a lot of people are just now coming forward and talking about what happened to them as victims of this behavior.
The church is certainly not immune from that.
As a clergywoman, I’ve both experienced and witnessed inappropriate behavior in churches before.
And as a victim, especially a victim in a situation in which I had little power, it was difficult, if not impossible to confront the person behaving in a hurtful way.
One of our responsibilities in a community such as ours IS to care for victims.
And a big part of caring for the victims may be not having the expectation that the victim be the one to confront the person behaving badly.
When there is a power imbalance or a major conflict, it’s really courageous for the person who is a victim to go forward and tell the bully, “Hey, what you did hurt me.”
It’s really courageous for the victim to say something, even if the perpetrator was clearly not aware that they were behaving badly. Maybe they said something innocently or did something that was truly offensive, but they had no idea.
It is courage and loving, just as it is to tell someone they have spinach in their teeth, to tell that person, “Hey, I don’t know if you know this, but what you said or did was really hurtful to me. It was really offensive. And because I love you, I want you to know that.”
But I also want to be clear, that a lot of times, it’s just not fair to ask the victim to have the sole responsibility to correct the behavior.
Honestly. It’s great when victims can.
But this passage today reminds us that it is ALL of our responsibilities ALL of our roles to step in when we see sinful behavior in our community, behavior that breaks relationship.
This is OUR business. Stepping up in order to build a just world through community one life at a time.
Because I wonder, in the cases coming to light today, how many people observed the behavior in question, friends of the bullies or harassers, How many friends or colleagues, and saw that they were acting in ways that were hurtful or inappropriate, and yet didn’t say anything because it was “none of their business.”
Or because they simply wanted to avoid confrontation?
Some of the men are coming forward and saying they had no idea that the language they were using or the things they were saying were hurtful.
Some of them are full of it. A lot of this stuff is common sense.
But I really believe that some of them had no idea the degree of damage they were doing. Or even that they WERE doing damage.
In Christian community, in an intentional community like ours that seeks to build a just world, one life at a time, it is ALL of our responsibilities to take people aside and talk to them when we notice behavior that might break relationships or hurt people.
And let me be clear – because Matthew is clear – in this community, if we see harassment or bullying happening, the Christian response is not to publicly shame them, or punish them, or scold them in the media or kick them out of the community.
It’s to take them aside personally, speak with them privately, in a loving manner, and create a dialog about how their actions break the bonds of community.
And if they don’t listen, we can take someone else with us to talk with them.
And if they STILL don’t listen, we can take the issue to a a larger group.
And if they STILL don’t listen or change their behavior, they will be to us like a Gentile or a tax collector.
Which in the life and example of Jesus, does not mean cutting them off.
It means that the bully is someone that we must go out of our way to care for, to love, and to welcome into community and offer healing to, because their unwillingness to change their bad behavior means that there is a deep deep wound somewhere that needs to be tended.
Now, if we’re the victim of their abuse, cutting them off may be what we have to do to keep ourselves safe.
But for those of us who are allies, both of the victim and the perpetrator, there’s no way we’ll be able to help heal their wounds and restore wholeness to the community if we cut them off.
When there is brokenness in relationship, any relationship, there cannot be a just world, there cannot be wholeness in the Body of Christ.
When there is brokenness in a church member’s relationship with another church member, there cannot be wholeness in the Body of Christ.
When there is brokenness in our relationships with people who disagree with our politics, there cannot be wholeness in the Body of Christ.
When there is brokenness in a church members’ relationship with their own body, there cannot be wholeness in the Body of Christ.
This is our business – loving one another and creating a just world, one life at a time.
That’s our business.
So may we take the time to build relationship and build the courage to speak up in love, that we all might be part of building God’s reign of peace on earth.
If the supermarket cares enough to know what kind of food we buy, and smartphones and computers know where we go and what we like to search for, if all of these companies make it their business to know and care about what we’re up to so that they can sell us more stuff,
I have faith that we, as a Christian community, with all of our strength that comes from God and one another, can forego our fear about violating people’s privacy in order to love people and bring more wholeness to the Body of Christ.
Advent Candle lighting
Worship Leader: In Advent, we light candles to remind us of God’s light in the darkness. Today, we light the candles of HOPE and PEACE
Sarah: In the season Advent, we prepare for the birth of Christ in the world. And yet we also know, from our place in history, that Jesus’ life was limited.
Worship Leader: This baby, this child that will be born, will bring us hope, and he will also preach peace. But ultimately, it’s up to us to follow through. To do the hard work of MAKING peace on earth.
< Worship leader lights 2 BLUE candles now>
Sarah: Today, we light the candles of hope and peace, knowing that the hard work is not just up to the baby coming, but up to us, the Living Body of Christ. As we light these candles, we offer a prayer that God’s light of hope will shine a path for us, and that God’s light of peace will illuminate the places in our lives where darkness dwells.
May God hold us in the light, and may we also shed God’s light on the lives of others. With love and compassion and understanding, may we bring wholeness to the Body of Christ and support one another on our journeys to peace.