Text: Matthew 18: 15-22

So there we were, attending to a whole host of details to get ready for today … the kinds of things that make for a welcome place, that convey a warmth, a gladness, a readiness to receive, to feed. Things were going really quite well until we brought the Bible into it … this passage that’s given to us for today. Daniel and I in our conversation together didn’t get much past “What on earth?” A few days later when I read the passage to Bev she said, “you’re going to read that on this Sunday when we’re going to party?” “I know,” I said … “but listen to this!” And I began to read to Bev this gem that I came upon just that morning.

This person begins by asking, what’s at really the heart of this passage … is it about rule-keeping or relationships?[1] 
If it’s the rules, then what we’re given is a neat, clear formula for addressing hurt within the Christian community.
If someone offends you, confront them -- just you with that person.
If that doesn’t settle it, take the next step: bring in a couple of others … and if that doesn’t work, take it to the church as a whole.  And if that fails, out she goes. Or so it seems.

It makes good sense, doesn’t it, to anticipate ahead of time that stuff is going to happen between us -- hurtful, even damaging things -- yes, even in the church … so best to have a plan in place about how we’re going to deal with it.

But what if the focus of what we’re hearing isn’t just the formula?
That’s the question I came upon that I think shifts everything in how we might hear this passage.
What if these steps outlined aren’t coming from a place of simply setting up the rules of engagement, but from a heart that’s trying to build authentic Christian community?
What if the point is less about having a code of conduct to follow and more about regaining a relationship? striving for reconciliation?
And what if the underlying concern isn’t actually settling disputes but creating an environment where Christ’s presence continues to bring forgiveness, healing, and joy? [2]

The exchange between Jesus and Peter urges us I think to see it in that light. Peter asks how often must I forgive someone who sins against me.  He comes up with his own response … 7 times … that perfect number! … as though he was overstating what might be expected. Imagine Peter‘s shock when Jesus says, “well, actually Peter, if you want to talk numbers, 70 times 7!” In other words, forgiveness isn’t something you track and record and finally accomplish. It is your life’s work, a way of being. 70 times 7 … at that point who’s counting? … it’s beyond any formula … it’s a habit of the heart … one that clearly asks of us to go the second mile, and then some.

With that perspective in mind, those instructions for what to do when someone in the community hurts you … we can hear it as a journey of sorts … that asks of us a commitment … to keep pursuing the possibility of a healed relationship … not to walk away but to move toward … again and again. To keep trying yet further ways in the hope of mending the hurt.

It’s a process that reflects a knowing that life together takes work … a knowing that authentic, robust community is harder to forge than we might imagine… how it is that “going to someone with your concern or grievance is a lot harder than talking behind their back. Bringing others to listen closely to what is said takes a lot more courage than posting something on Facebook. And working out disputes as a community together rather than simply dispensing judgment can be really, really hard.” [3]

But sharing in that hard work is also powerful … and so worth it.
Because not only between us will there be the stuff that happens that’s hurtful. We also have between us the way-making, transforming presence of Jesus, which is one of the beautiful and profound mysteries at work in our life together in Christian community.

That’s what we are being invited to trust …that we have Jesus’ assistance right in our midst … so when hurt arises, here’s how it could go among us … here’s how one person paints that picture:

If someone hurts you,
go toward them, not away
and name the hurt.
Neither hide nor retaliate, even politely:
simply, gently, tell the truth.
Claim your part of it
even if just to receive it,
and to give the other access to their part of it.
Not to nail them, not to relieve yourself,
but because you love them.

Be prepared to listen
to their journey and to your own.
Think of it as opening a door
to a place neither of you have gone before,
and can’t without the other.
Think of it as opening the door
to that Jesus place.

Imagine how refreshing the air would be
in a community of open, caring honesty,
without that hidden bucket of hurts
fermenting under the kitchen sink.

In the dark place where our hurts lie
is the tomb from which Christ rises, alive,
the very Christ who
wherever 2 or 3 are gathered in his love
is among us. [4]

Of all the things that we could be about to create a welcome place this or any day -- balloons and burgers I suppose have their place.
But what we really have to offer -- what is given to us all -- is the healing, mending, freeing presence of Christ.
Between us … among us.
Right here with us … for us …
for the sake of this world God so loves.

How wild is that! And wondrously hopeful.
God be praised!

[1]David Lose, Pentecost 14A, Christian Community, posted on September 6, 2017 

[2]David Lose, Pentecost 14A, Christian Community, posted on September 6, 2017 

[3]David Lose, Pentecost 14A, Christian Community, posted on September 6, 2017 

[4]Steve Garnaas-Holmes, “Name the Hurt,” posted on September 6, 2017