Hmmm. Think a minute - Reflections 9-10-20

Texts for Sunday September 13, 2020
15th Sunday after Pentecost

Genesis 50:15-21
Psalm 103:8-13
Romans 14:1-12
Matthew 18:21-35

Conflict is an inevitable part of relationships and of life together. Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, (OK. It was St. Louis in the 1990's), I was trained to be a teacher of conflict resolution with children and youth. A large part of what I taught was simply helpful ways to communicate with each other. Then, of course, there was also the process to discuss and resolve the conflict. It is important to note that the final resolution can be to not have any contact with the other ever.

Important because that essentially is what Jesus taught in last week’s lesson, Matthew 18:15-20; he describes a conflict resolution process for the church community. If all those steps fail, the final resolution, Jesus says, is to treat the offender as a Gentile and a tax collector.

But think a minute: How does Jesus treat Gentiles and tax collectors? Hmmm.

Now this week, Jesus adds something to make conflict resolution even more difficult: forgiveness. Peter, who asks the dumb questions for us so we don’t need to look bad, asks how many times do I have to forgive the turkey who keeps sinning against me? Well, Jesus says, a lot. And, according to the parable, if you don’t forgive, you are going to be miserable… for a long time.

I love that this Gospel is paired with the big climax of the Joseph story where he forgives his brothers who at best, sold him into slavery and at worst, had planned to just leave him to die in a hole. Their transgression against him is big – probably worth seventy-seven smaller ones. He does not “forget” that their intentions were harmful but he sees how God has used the situation for good.

From Psalm 103 The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…You have not dealt with us according to our sins nor repaid us according to our iniquities.

So, think a minute: How does God treat sinners? Hmmm.

This week Paul addresses a dispute among the church community. Stop judging people. He sounds like a frustrated parent dealing with siblings: you’re the oldest, if they don’t want to do that, then don’t do that. It is not essential to our common faith. Jesus died and was risen to be our Lord; that is essential.

Last week Paul summed up what it means to live authentically in the Christian community as one who seeks to follow God’s ways: Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no wrong to the neighbor.

Think a minute: Who is my neighbor? Hmmm.

Did you notice that all these instructions and comments were written for a community who believed in God/Jesus? Does that mean it is not necessary to follow these rules when dealing with people outside the believing community? 
Do you think God means that?

How about the woman going the wrong direction in the supermarket, or the guy who honks before I even have a chance to take my foot off the brake pedal? How about the one who doesn’t wear a mask? Or the non-mask wearer that spits in my face? Or how about the troll on-line who disparages my opinion on climate change and calls me names? How about the non-military guy with an assault rifle across his chest blocking the protest march I’m in? How about the person who votes for the candidate I am decidedly NOT voting for? What do I do with all of them and their friends?

Think a minute: Sinners? Gentiles and tax collectors? Neighbor? Hmmm.

Really. Think a minute.

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Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245