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Sermon for Ordinary 23 Year A

The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman

Living together, reconciled together, with a sense of urgency

There was an old BT advert which featured Bob Hoskins in it which had as its strap line ‘It’s good to talk’.  It could be the strap line for today’s readings.  Today’s readings are all concerned with how God’s people live together in less than ideal worlds.  For the Israelites, this was when they were just about to move out of their oppression in Egypt. 

For the readers of the book for Romans it was as they sought to live out a Christian life under Roman rule at the very centre of the Roman Empire.  They were almost certainly persecuted but Paul underlines that judgement is near and their priority is to love one another and to live their lives with a sense of urgency for the task in hand.

For the early ‘church’, or body of believers that Jesus speaks to in Matthew, it was about living together in harmony and not splitting into different factions and sub groups, perhaps something we should learn from in today’s church.

Communication (in an era before the internet, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the rest), talking to one another, seems to be critical.

But coming through in Matthew’s reading is also that same sense of urgency to resolve differences and live together as a church in a manner which is fitting to God.

Time and time again throughout the gospels Jesus speaks out against those things which would bring division and disunity to the believers with an absolute focus on those things which build up a common life together.

Seen in that context, the reading from Matthew today is less about the process of dispute resolution but about the process of reconciliation when differences of opinion occur.

Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t seem to say, ‘Let’s get back to scripture to prove the point one way or another’, he indicates the process that should be followed to come to agreement with the clear assumption that everything that will be said and done will be in accordance with His will, His words and His actions.

It seems to be a lot to do with communication.  And lack of communication is often how misunderstandings and resentment between individuals can grow. 

We went to see ‘Top Hat’ in Milton Keynes on Friday, a musical based on a humorous lack of communication and misunderstanding about who one of them was between the two main characters.  Think of how many comedies or dramas are based on the same plot.

Sometimes when we read about our brother or sister sinning against us we think of some of the sins that Paul talks about in Romans, adultery, murder, drunkenness, debauchery.  We can see sin as big and major incidents. 

But we all know to sin literally means to miss the mark.  We talk about misunderstanding, misinterpretation, miscalculation, misconstruction and mistakes, all of which can happen between individuals.

And often it’s not the big things that cause us to fall apart and break relationships, but the little things which, if we don’t address them, fester and grow out of all proportion.

That’s why Jesus is so keen that we address them quickly.  To be reconciled to one another.  That’s part of our Christian responsibility.  To let go of the things which divide and separate us. 

It’s easy to be reconciled if the other party concedes, or gives in because we just won’t let something go.  But that is not what Jesus is talking about here.  He talks about being reconciled together in agreement, being of a common mind, with both parties being open to change.

Being reconciled as quietly and discretely as possible.  Not publishing things and allegations on twitter as we have seen some celebrities do in the past.  Not going round the church to ‘get people on our side’, to garner support for our position, but to resolve differences as peaceably as possible.
Rather than resolving differences and building harmony through reconciliation this does exactly the opposite as more and more people are drawn into a difference that can be minor in nature but major in the effect it can have on a church or community

Jesus understands that in the less than ideal world and circumstances we live in, differences will occur.  Sometimes that can be the way in which we grow. 

So it’s not a case of pretending that differences don’t happen, but more a case of what do we do when they do.  In fact, we know from the example of our families, the closer we are to each other the more likely it is that friction will occur!

But when they do we are called to work hard and quietly to resolve them with the minimum of fuss and bother.

And ultimately, if we can’t be reconciled Jesus suggests that we treat the person with which we have a difference as a pagan or a tax collector.  How did Jesus treat these type of people, He simply loved them and befriended them. 

The very phrase used in today’s passage is an echo of Matt 11 v 18, 19.  “For John came neither eating nor drinking and they say, ‘He is possessed’.  The Son of man came eating and drinking and they say, ‘Look a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’

Even if we can’t resolve differences our love for each other should prevent resentment building up.

The types of people Matthew uses in these passages is no coincidence.

Firstly there is the pagan, (or the Gentile) perhaps representing someone who does not acknowledge the sanctity of God, or even undermines His true nature, or who perhaps have a different perspective on God than ourselves.  Perhaps even a disbeliever. 

But we could read into this that one of the most important areas for people to resolve their differences and be reconciled is for those people who profess faith in God, the Christian faith, but then seemingly either focus on their differences of interpretation of the scriptures and doctrine or fail to live in unity and harmony, or fail to demonstrate reconciliation to a divided and broken world. 

If so, the second most important area seems to be for those who would be broadly labelled ‘Tax collectors’.   Those who would seemingly undermine the welfare of the community and fail to acknowledge the sanctity of human life and undermine justice and economic equality.

In both cases, it would seem, that being reconciled, over the big things and the small things, with the degree of urgency that underpins Paul’s writings, is a priority for everyone in the church.

Under God, He calls us to be reconciled to each other and the world.  Working to resolve any differences quietly and with the minimum of fuss. 

Understanding that there can be misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and that mistakes do happen between people living in a fallen world.

But despite that, be reconciled to each other, not expecting that the other party will back down or concede our point, no matter how much in the right we think we are, but holding out to them the hand of friendship and love.

Perhaps taking the first step, opening the channels of communication, so that we can be fully reconciled to each other, the world and to God.