23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

by Bishop Marty Shanahan

Matthew 18:15-20

I recently heard a wonderful podcast by the head of the Theology department at Grand Canyon University, Dr. Jason Hiles. He said…

“Tragically what we are often missing in our world today is the grace of civil discourse.  We have lost the ability to dialogue with one another and agree to disagree, and have developed, as a culture, into believing that one is always right and the other is always wrong.”

One of the reasons I believe the insight of Dr. Hiles is so true is because, as Christians, and as a worldwide community, we have lost the art of restoration and reconciliation.

Let’s be honest with one another. In as much as we believe in the Gospel when it says, “Whenever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there”, we could also add, “Whenever two or three are gathered in my name, there will be conflict as well.”

Jesus knew it. Jesus knew that we are “Saints in the making” and given that fact, he knew that conflict in the Body would be inevitable. Jesus also grew up in the Ancient Mediterranean culture that often used conflict in deceptive ways, to gain honor at the cost of another.

So in Matthew’s gospel, he lays out a way to resolve conflict; a way that is based in, and grounded on the fundamental tenant of the entire preaching of the Good News – love. Love of God and love of neighbor. That, he says, is the basis of the entire law.

So how do we act in love?

Just a hint – the answer is not “Minnesota Nice” – denying, or stuffing the uneasiness of conflict results in anger, resentment, and fear. And if I have learned anything in my life, it is the fact that anger, resentment, and fear only lead us to destroying ourselves and others. That is not love. Conflict is an opportunity for grace – but only if we allow ourselves to deal with one another in the conflict.

Jesus is quite clear. We are human beings. We will offend one another. We will be in conflict with one another. There will be disagreements, there will be times and decisions with which we will not agree. Jesus knew that. It had happened to him with the disciples. We have been listening to it for weeks. And finally in this Gospel, Jesus says yes, there will be conflicts, and when there are, act in love.

Go – address the issue between the two of you – keep it between the two of you. If restoration happens – awesome. If not – take one or two others – sit down and see if the relationship can find healing. If not, then take it to a wider gathering and try again.

There is something that many of us miss. You see, I believe Jesus is saying, don’t give up. Keep trying – keep striving for love, for reconciliation, for restoration. The work of reconciliation is not easy – but do not give up!

I am quite certain that I was taught as a child that I could not come to this table if I was not in “the state of grace” – as if we ever really know or understand what that is. I have come to believe that we are constantly in “the state of grace”. Grace is the opportunity that God uses in our lives to bring reconciliation, restoration, and hope.

So we gather every week around this altar – not pretending to be perfect people – not somehow, or someway, better than anyone else in our lives, or our world. We gather around this altar and in this space, elbow to elbow, arm in arm, hand in hand, and admit to ourselves – and to one another – that we are not perfect. We admit that we need God’s grace and wisdom in our lives. We admit that to this table all are welcome even in our wounded-ness. And it is here that we re-ground ourselves and re-commit ourselves to living our lives in love as best as we can.

We commit ourselves to set each other free from the chains of our own sinfulness so that we can walk out those doors in hope – not is despair. It is a little known fact to most of us, but when Jesus said, ”Whatever you declare bound on earth and whatever you declare loosed…” refers to us all. The “you” is a “plural” in the biblical text, so to put it in southern English – “Ya’all”. Binding and loosing – those are not reserved to the leaders of the Christian community – that responsibility is ours!

We set each other free or we hold each other bound – I wonder how we will approach this table tonight? Maybe we can give birth to civil discourse; maybe we can be the instruments of restoration and reconciliation for ourselves, our families, and our world.

Wouldn’t that be awesome!

– Bishop Marty

Photo Credit: Jordi Corbilla, “Winter”.  Some rights reserved. Available at www.flickr.com.