13 after Trinity

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Readings

Ezekiel 33.7-11
Romans 13.8-14
Matthew 18.15-20

Sermon

Hello, I’m Paula Honniball, Assistant Curate at St John Baptist Claines, and St George’s Barbourne.

When I was a young girl, my father told me of a time when, as a boy chorister, he and the rest of the choir witnessed a row between his vicar and the organist and choirmaster. The argument quickly escalated by all accounts – so much so that the organist stormed out of the church never to return. Rumour had it that the vicar disposed of all the sheet music he’d left behind, though it’s not known for sure if he actually did. Clearly, though, the argument was enough to fuel such gossip. Can you imagine the upset and divided loyalties the choir and indeed all of that church community had to cope with? My father told me he, and the other young choirboys thought it was highly amusing, but I remember being shocked when I heard the tale. How could this sort of thing go on in a church with people who claim to be Christians?

Being a Christian doesn’t make us immune to conflict. We are all human. In fact, Jesus seems to assume there will be disagreements between his followers. Remember the argument the disciples had when they discovered James and John had requested to sit either side of Jesus in his glory? Jesus knows our weaknesses. He doesn’t recommend we engage in a verbal casting of stones; instead he issued a set of rules to help us overcome them. So, it’s not about if and when we will wound one another, it’s how we go about resolving our issues. Christ’s love has to be at the heart of any reconciliation. “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them,” says Jesus.

St Paul goes so far as to say that agape love is something which should keep us indebted to one another. He urges us to “live honourably” and “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Agape is what identifies the Christian community: it defines our attitudes, our behaviour and holds us accountable for the welfare of each other. Love promotes equality and the desire for justice. Love subverts selfishness and greed.  Christian mystics define the love of God and the love of neighbour as something that is inseparable and simultaneous. God becomes neighbour.

So then, conflict can be something to celebrate. It offers the opportunity to learn from each other by expanding our thinking and challenging our views; it can deepen our love and respect for one another if we are willing to listen as well as making our own voice heard; it can help us to discover creative ways to settle on a compromise. When we live well with others, our lives are enriched and Christ’s image in us is much more clearly visible.

If Christians are serious about joining in with God’s work to transform the world, it’s imperative to bear in mind that mission begins with how we interact with one another. The integrity of our faith is inextricably linked to the integrity of our relationships.

I like Paul’s challenge to “owe no one anything, except to love one another,” because, put simply, love is the essence of discipleship and the basis for transformation. Love involves all that we are and do, both as individuals and as faith communities. 

I’d like to think that I would’ve handled things differently to the vicar in my Dad’s church yet I am aware that buried deep inside me lies that basic human desire for self-preservation – if I allow anger to take a hold in the heat of a situation, the ego starts to raise its ugly head and insist on its own way when it might not be appropriate. When that happens, I become the sinner as well as the one sinned against.

Let’s pray that love will abide in us through those difficult times we might face with others.

Questions for Reflection

  1. How might the mystics’ definition of God as neighbour impact on your relationships with others?
  2. What does it mean to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ?”
  3. Is there any unresolved conflict in your life? What do today’s readings speak into that situation?


Page last updated: 15th September 2020 9:44 AM
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