The Pas Proper 18 – Ordinary 23 – Pentecost + 14
10 September 2017
Psalm 119:33-40 pg 870
God of unity and truth, encourage the fervent, enlighten the doubtful and bring back the wayward. Gather us all together in mutual love, so that our prayer may be pleasing to you. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.
The movie, “The Love Punch”, starring Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson, has a great set up scene. One company is taken over, and corporately ‘run into the ground’ by a new company, and when the retiring CEO of the first company confronts the new owner he says “Ok, ok, you got me. What I did was wrong, reprehensible, evil, even. In a normal world illegal. But that’s the beauty of it. Its completely legal!”
And this seems to be the idea of ‘business as usual’ for many corporations, and companies, today. We’ve stopped asking if we should do something in the face of the fact that we can get away with it.
At the same time, in today’s readings we’re dealing with the issues of light vs dark. Good vs bad, salvation vs condemnation.
These are all strong categories and we often call them ‘black and white issues’, but as humanity, it seems that we spend so much time in the grey areas of life, of morality, of decisions, that they have the ability to affect every aspect of our lives.
We know that two wrongs don’t make a right, yet here we are.
In our lives, it seems that we spend a lot of time ‘hedging our bets’ not wanting to openly declare for ‘team dark’ or even for ‘team light’ in our desire to come out on top of every situation, in the end.
But on top of what? In the end of what?
Are we not assured, guaranteed, that to do the right thing for the betterment of our fellow human being is, truly, the right course of action in and for not only their life, but ours as well?
There we are – hedging our position. Here we find ourselves hoping people won’t notice that we’re not fully on one side or another of any given issue, ever.
And today’s readings look at this oh, so human tendency. They look at how humanity has, ever since the fruit in the garden, looked around and tried to say, with all the innocence of a two-year-old “it wasn’t me.”
And we can see this in many of the issues of today, as well. For example, the new hydro line is taking property where and how it sees fit to put through, yet another hydro line, to manufacture and sell energy to the United States.
In their attempts to ‘smooth the way’ they’ve offered incomes to the towns along the path of electrical transmission, but at the same time, they have no consideration for the ecosystems, the usages to which the lands have been put until now.
I’ve even been told, that, say they wanted to put a hydro tower on Christ Church land, as an example, whether they ask or not, that to interrupt the construction of such a project, or attempt to disable or remove the equipment is seen as vandalism, although it’s not on hydro’s property, nor is it there by our invitation.
We’ve seen similar issues with the placement of oil pipelines, we’ve seen this kind of disregard of the use of such lands by corporations who resemble more “the king in his counting house” of the Mother Goose rhyme, “Sing a Song of Sixpence”, than a concerned and dedicated corporation looking out for the people in the communities in which it operates; instead of just looking out for their dividends and bottom lines.
So, today, in the readings, we’re openly addressing how we deal with each other, how we often live by these dual standards.
The gospel tells us of what pattern of follow up we should employ with those with whom we have disagreements. But I want to draw our attention to what happens should the individual with whom we have a difference of opinion not listen.
All the appropriate steps have been taken – to talk to them, to talk to them with a witness and still “17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (Mt 18:17)
And I find this very interesting.
We are all the body of Christ, we are all the children of God. Those labeled ‘pagans or tax collectors’ are those on the outside of our community are those to whom we need to pay attention, to whom we are mandated to minister, in all circumstances.
These are the ones who need to feel the love and the compassion of God the most in their lives because they’re outside of the body of Christ.
And yet, our human inclination is to wash our hands of such individuals and see them as irredeemable, as undesirable.
At the same time, we can see that God respectfully disagrees with our human assessment and encourages us to that next mile of service, of ministry.
Jesus tells us to treat such people with compassion and with love, as we would the stranger in our midst.
And perhaps this ‘hedging of our bets, of our position in the world today has much to say to the world of how the church has seen its position of privilege, of influence with the words “on the other hand…”
Even Ezekiel has a message for those who see wrongs in the world but make no move to correct such behaviours in what was seen by the people of God.
“8 When I say to the wicked, ‘You wicked person, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade them from their ways, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. 9 But if you do warn the wicked person to turn from their ways and they do not do so, they will die for their sin, though you yourself will be saved.” (Ezek 3:8-9)
And with messages like this, it’s no wonder that the prophets found themselves in sticky situations; found themselves in defamed and reviled throughout the regions, after all, such things aren’t easy to listen to, absorb, or even make a turning point in our lives.
At the same time, God only wants what’s best for each of us, and for all of humanity. God wants us to treat everyone like tax collectors and pagans because then we will put our best foot forward. Because when we do that, when we treat them as brothers and sisters in Christ then we find the body of Christ increasing by their participation at our sides.
In the meantime, this means that we need to stop living in that grey area. We need to begin to trust God to direct our lives. We need to begin to stop trying to direct God, and begin to listen to what it is God has to say to each of us, at all times.
After all, if God was meant to be kept at arm’s length, then we wouldn’t have the words of the prophets. If God didn’t want to be an active part of our lives, we wouldn’t have the teachings of the Christ, nor we wouldn’t have the working of the Holy Spirit in and for our lives, every day.
At the same time, we are the ones who build walls, put up barriers, fiddle with grey areas and moral vacuums, and attempt to hide our indiscretions not only from each other but from the light of God’s love, as well.
We still strive to hedge our bets, to come out on the best side of all issues, and we ignore the morality of the situation in order to do just that.
We go out into the world refusing to be taken advantage of by the world around us, by the tax collectors and the pagans. And in playing the game by their rules, we give up who we are, we forget that we are the children of God, and we get lost in the darkness.
Ezekiel defines our situation in his own words. “10 “Son of man, say to the Israelites, ‘This is what you are saying: ‘Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?’” (Ezek 33:10)
Jesus teaches us that we are the ones who need to be open with our hearts, with our intentions, even when things don’t go as we envision them.
Jesus reminds us that we are truly the children of God beloved at all times, no matter what burdens we carry in our hearts, in our lives.
“18‘Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
19‘Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.’” (Mt 18:18-20)
With ever fibre of God’s being, we are loved. We are loved for what it is God sees of our potential, of what God perceives of our good intentions toward each other and the care of creation.
God knows we fall off the wagon, and encourages us to pick ourselves up, dust off the bible and fall back into its pages, once more.
God encourages us to look beyond our own welfare, and trust God to look to our welfare. In looking beyond, we are encouraged to take care of the tax collector, the pagan in our midst, to look after the brother and the sister who has, also, fallen off the wagon and needs our love, our care, and our concern to pick them up, dust them off, and remind them that we are all loved by God, we are constantly surrounded by God’s loving grace.
Every day, we continue to be supported by the love of God in and for our lives, every day. Every day we are encouraged to treat others as we wish to be treated, no mater who they are, where they come from, or what burdens they carry.
Although the world sees ‘fleecing each other’ as the business model of the day, God encourages us to look beyond such aims an treat each other as brothers and sisters, as siblings who are as beloved of God as we are, here, today.