Reconciliation and community

Revd. Heather
Sunday, September 6, 2020 - 9:30am

Over the past couple of weeks our readings from St Paul’s letter to the Romans have given us cause to reflect on how we are as a Christian community. Two weeks ago, we thought about the different gifts that we each bring to be the body of Christ in this place; and last week, we were encouraged to reflect on the common attitudes that we are encouraged to share.

In our readings this week, we continue to reflect on what it is to be a Christian community. St Paul sums up his teachings about how we live with those words of Jesus that are at the heart of the Christian faith: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ And Matthew looks at how we seek reconciliation when another in the church hurts us. Matthew’s use of the word church is a little suprising, as we tend to associate the church with the community of believers that gathered after Jesus’ resurrection; but the church of which Jesus speaks here very much resonates with St Paul’s image of the body of Christ, the Christian community. 

The body of Christ is one, and it needs every one of its members. There’s a powerful image of the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 12, which you may be familiar with. Paul talks about each part of the body having a place: the foot, the hand, the ear, the eye. We hear it clearly: one part of the body cannot tell another part: ‘I have no need for you.’ Moreover, how one part of the body is, impacts on the whole body: ‘If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.’

This excerpt we hear today from Matthew’s Gospel is one that seeks to encourage us to stick together as a Christian community, to be one. It’s not always easy. Our Gospel reading acknowledges that even Christians sin against one another, hurt one another – nobody is perfect. Sometimes when we’re hurt it can be tempting to walk away, or to push others away, but our Gospel reading calls us instead to work for reconciliation. Jesus’ concern is about bringing healing and reconciliation when there is pain between members, and ultimately keeping the Christian community together. 

We all know that hurts not addressed can fester if we are not careful. There are some behaviours we cannot pretend don’t happen, or else they will split a community. And if we want to have any depth of relationship within a community, for relationships to be more than superficial, we do need to be willing to engage in honest discussions. 

However, before we proceed any further - a word of caution, for this text is also one that if we’re not careful could be used to justify harm, to make hurtful accusations with no intention listening to the other. Reconciliation is something that always needs to be done from a place of love. It needs openness. It needs a willingness from the accuser also to learn and be challenged. If not, there is a risk that accusations become a means of bashing others, of putting them down with no intention to help them up. It feels as though the situation with Covid has sometimes made people into judges of others and bashers of people. Bashing others for being too worried about Covid or not worried enough. All the businesses and organisations that keep telling us to be kind to each other and their staff, clearly know how easy it’s become to take the stress of our situation out on each other. 

Covid aside, this passage is not an instruction to be zealous against other people’s sin, but a reminder of the need to be honest about the pain that sin causes – and we have to remember our own sin in this too. We’re wise to remember Paul’s words earlier in the letter to the Romans, ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23) – that includes each of us (none of us is perfect!) and Jesus’s stark warning ‘For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.’ (Matthew 7:2). 

And so if we have a hurt at risk of festering and feel the need to address the sin of another, we need to examine ourselves, and especially our motive. It is wise to reflect on the words of Jesus at the heart of our faith which we heard quoted in St Paul’s letter to the Romans today: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ 

Love, as we know from 1 Corinthians 13 is patient and kind. ‘It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.’

If we are going to approach someone about a hurt, it is wise to check first that we are really prepared to do so in the spirit of love: that we will be kind and patient; that we will not attempt to delight in self-righteousness.  Be sure that we are not seeking to dishonour anyone. Because the hope – the desired outcome, must always be reconciliation and forgiveness. 

It is challenging. And even more so when we consider one final detail in the passage we heard from Matthew. Even where healing does not happen, we are still not to exclude the one who has hurt us. Jesus tells us that we should treat them as the tax collectors – and as we see through the Gospel, tax collectors are a group of people whom Jesus still loves.  

Being a Christian is not always easy! Jesus calls us to live in a radically different way. To live as a community that seeks to include all, and that cares about keeping everyone in the fold; to be a community in which self-righteousness is diminished and true love flourishes. And when we are living well together, to rejoice in being a community where the power of love, healing, forgiveness and reconciliation that Jesus offers to each one of us is truly known. Amen.