Man, this is hard. This is hard. But I don’t know how to preach this sermon this morning without telling you this. So, I’m just gonna rip the Band-Aid off right at the beginning. Here goes: Freshman year of college I got an F—it gets worse—I got an F in my Intro to Photography class! Not easy to admit! I had never failed a class before. I was an A student. I was on the National Honor Roll. But I got an F from Boston University’s College of Communication, School of Journalism—JO305 (I’ll never forget it!) BASIC PHOTO. An F! Oi.
In my defense, kids, this was way before the days of digital photography. Everything was on this stuff called film, and I was good at taking pictures but really bad at developing film—you’re in this dark room and it smells weird and you’ve got to mix all these chemicals together and put the pictures in just long enough but not too long, and there’s sort of an intuition to it. It’s like cooking, and I was burning the salad every time. I just didn’t have it.
Also, my transition to college was tough. I started struggling with depression and anxiety second semester, and I had no idea that was even a thing you could get help for, so I just kind of pulled the covers over my head when it came to this photo class because it was stressing me out. Don’t do what I did, ask someone for help.
Anyway, because I failed this class, my GPA dropped, and I lost my merit-based scholarship. Which meant that, to send me back to school for sophomore year, it was going to cost my parents thousands of more dollars than they thought it was going to cost them when they sent me to school based on a fairly simple agreement: You’re gonna work hard, you’re gonna do your best, you’re keep your grades up, you’re going to maintain your scholarship, you’ll work part-time for spending money, and we’re gonna bankroll the rest (which was still the vast majority of the cost and a lot of money.)
My dad felt that I had not lived up to my end of the bargain. He was right. I hadn’t. He thought the fair and right thing to do was to pull me out of school, let me get a full-time job and start earning my own money, and figure out my way through college. He was annoyed and disappointed with me, sure. But this wasn’t a punishment. He really felt that holding me accountable, letting me suffer the consequences of my own failures, and making me responsible for my own path forward was the best thing for me. When my dad graduated from high school there was no money to send him to college. So, my dad went to Vietnam. And he made his own through war and life after that. So, there was nothing unfair about what he was offering me here, right? It was still a way better deal than anything he ever got.
But my mom wouldn’t let him do it. She wasn’t soft or anything. That wasn’t it. She wasn’t anything goes. But my mom, who got pregnant out of wedlock while she was in college, and who was put into a Catholic home for embarrassed young ladies, and lost the support of her family, and who was forced to give her child up for adoption by a system that never really gave her any choice, understood in her bones that when someone is drowning—first, throw them a line. First, save their life, then from there hold them accountable. It’s not that my mom didn’t want to hold me accountable. That wasn’t it. It wasn’t even a calculation; it was just a decision. In the end, my parents decided to put my need ahead of their fairness.
What’s incredible to me is that despite this fact—despite the fact that I have been and am in need of mercy (in so many ways! Not just this one!) despite this fact that I am in need of mercy, whenever I read our scripture reading from this morning, I immediately identify with the complainers who are saying, NO FAIR! No fair! We’ve been working all day in the sun, and these Johnny-come-latelies, who showed up just a few hours ago are getting the full day’s wage just like us. NO FAIR. I hear their complaint and I feel it, I understand it. They’re right. That’s not fair. And I bristle and I worry and I get upset on their behalf.
I’ve received mercy in my life. Why don’t I identify with the workers who are given the extra money? Why don’t I feel their joy? I’m not rich, but I have resources. And I could use the money I do have to benefit people who need it. So, why don’t identify with the vineyard owner who has no obligation to be generous, but does it anyway? There’s just something about being human. We’re obsessed with fairness because we’re made sick by the idea that someone else may get something that we didn’t get—someone else may get ahead of us in line, get a handout they don’t deserve.
But let’s not go too far here. I mean, fairness is very important. Civilization, in part, depends on there being some sense of law and order and fairness. If we’re going to come together and freely form a society, then we have to trust that there will be some means of enforcing fairness. And civilizations are rocked by unrest and protest and civil war when trust in our institutions and in our neighbors fails, right?
Not everyone agrees on what fairness looks like, right? But no one ever argues before the Supreme Court, for example, in favor of unfairness, right? Both sides of whatever the issue is will make the case for fairness. We saw this in the Affirmative Action in college admissions case. Both sides made arguments appealing to fairness.
And so we might think that fairness is a more-than human desire, right? Selfishness is the human desire. So, fairness must be divine. It must be God who inspires us to fight for fairness. And certainly that’s true to an extent. But for those of us who cling to fairness like an immovable rock, Jesus has an unwelcome message for us: God is not fair. God is not fair.
I think Jesus understands that there is virtue in the human longing for fairness. No doubt about it. I have no doubt, for example, that the civil rights movement of the 1950 and 60s was inspired by God and watched over by heaven. God cares about justice in human affairs. But God is not fair.
The reason that fairness is not a divine attribute is because fairness, despite all its virtue, has a shadow side. The light side of fairness is exactly what we all know it is—equal treatment, equal opportunity, nobody taking advantage of anyone else, no one getting ahead by cheating, fair and square right across the board. But there’s a dark side to this kind of thinking too. A fair world can be a world of terrible consequences for even small mistakes. It can be a world that doesn’t offer second chances. It can be a bloody, violent world with little to no mercy. A society that was truly puritanical about fairness would be a mean, hard, cold world—a world without mercy and a world without comfort for all those who had ever fallen off the wagon of perfection.
Being human means being kinda messed up. It’s hard. It’s painful. There’s a lot that can go wrong. Fairness just says, Tough. That’s not my problem. You made your bed and now you’re gonna have to sleep in it. Is it fair to have to feed the hungry? I put food on my table. Is it fair to have to heal the sick? I take care of my health. I maintain my health insurance. Is it fair to have to visit prisoners? I haven’t done any of those terrible things.
But, beloved, our God isn’t fair. Our God is more than fair. And sometimes when God is more than fair to someone else, it can feel like God is being unfair to me. And when that happens, it’s a good time to engage in the spiritual practice of being thankful for God’s mercy. It’s a good time to remember—because it really was hard to tell you I failed my photo class 26 years ago! I really would rather forget about that—so, it’s a good time to remember the mistakes we have all made and the mercies we have all received. We bury those memories. We like to forget that stuff in preference for the story of how we deserve everything we’ve got. No doubt you’ve worked hard. No doubt you’ve made good decisions. And no doubt you’ve received mercy and been forgiven and been given second chances and been helped out from time to time.
I stayed in school. And I took responsibility for myself. I talked to a therapist about my depression, I earned straight As the following year, I reapplied to and won my scholarship back, and to my mother’s never-ending delight and pride I graduated Magna Cum Laude. That propelled me on to seminary, which led me right here, standing before you this morning. Is it fair? Nope. It’s not. Thank you, God, that you are more than fair. And thank you, God for this vision!
I see it! At the end of time after the last trumpet has blown! The whole human race is lined up before the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven. The gates open, and Jesus emerges with a serious expression on his face. He looks at the line, billions and billions of people long. And he starts walking—slowly, intentionally—looking each and every one of us in the eye. He walks past saints. He walks past popes. He walks past presidents, and activists, and humanitarians. He walks past Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He walks past Rosa Parks. He walks past every historic name and every famous face, every contributor to human goodness and flourishing. He walks past me and he walks past you. And he looks each of us in the eye, until we look away.
Until he comes to the end of the line—to the souls who just barely made it all: the last, the least, and the lost. And he walks until he comes to that very last soul in line—some wretched old fool who made every mistake and made it twice. And he’s such a fool, he doesn’t even know to bow his head when Jesus stands beside him. He just looks up without any pretense, without any posturing; he just stands there, the last of us all, staring into the eyes of judgment. And Jesus’ stern face finally breaks into a smile, his eyes crinkling with joy. And he reaches out and takes that fool by the hand and he says, “I’m so glad you made it.” And may it be so for all of us. Amen.
Whenever a minister asks a congregation, “What do you want me to preach about?” one of the most common responses is “forgiveness.” Some people say that the reason for this is that Jesus’ teachings on forgiveness are really difficult. I think of it a little bit differently: Anybody’s teachings on forgiveness are difficult because forgiveness is just difficult.
It’s interesting that forgiveness is difficult and that despite that we still want to hear more about it. Because there are plenty of difficult things that we’d rather not hear anything about at all. But forgiveness is different because deep down inside of us—even though we think that forgiveness is unfair and maybe too hard—deep down inside we know it would be good for us. We long to let go of the hurts that have bound up our thoughts and our lives; we long to be free!
But sort of like moderate exercise three times a week and eating leafy green vegetables, despite the fact that we know it would make us feel better, we find ourselves stuck on the couch of resentment, eating a greasy bag of high-calorie curses and processed grudges. We get overwhelmed and we get stuck in the groove of anger, and bitterness, and hurt—which are the toxins that are best cleaned out by forgiveness.
So, I want to talk really practically this morning about what forgiveness is and isn’t. First, we’ve got to get rid of this idea that forgiveness is exceptional. If you search the news for stories about forgiveness, what you’ll find is these incredible stories of forgiveness and reconciliation. I read a story this week about a man who became a close friend to the man who murdered his brother. He befriended the man who was in prison for murdering his beloved brother. It’s an incredible story. It’s a beautiful story. And it’s an exceptional story. And it is not what forgiveness typically looks like or what it absolutely requires of us. That man is winning gold in the forgiveness Olympics. God bless him. But don’t let him intimidate you. You do not have to be friends with the person who murdered your brother in order to experience the vast majority of the very real, life-changing benefits of forgiveness.
Next, we’ve got to let go of the very unhealthy stereotypes of Christian forgiveness. Offering forgiveness is not ever about being a doormat, staying in an abusive relationship, accepting injustice, being taken advantage of, or putting yourself in any way in any kind of dangerous or potentially harmful situation. I’ll give you a very simple rule about forgiveness: If it’s not to your benefit, it’s probably not forgiveness. If you don’t feel like you can afford it, it’s probably not forgiveness. It’s some distorted version of forgiveness.
Also, forgiveness is not a way of avoiding conflict. We talked about this last Sunday—Jesus has some pretty good, direct advice for us about how to deal with conflict and the possibility of reconciling with someone who has sinned against you. There is a difference between reconciliation and forgiveness. Jesus says forgiveness is always required—and I believe that’s as much for our benefit (and oftentimes more for our benefit) than it is for the benefit of the people who have done us wrong.
But reconciliation is not always required. Jesus says we have to go through the process of conflict resolution together, but whether reconciliation happens of not, it depends on the person who did you harm taking responsibility for what they did. If they can’t do that, Jesus is clear, you should cut them out of your life AND you should forgive them. And even if you do reconcile, reconciliation might just mean peaceful coexistence. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to invite this person over for dinner and become their best friend. Forgiveness is much simpler than all that.
So, forgiveness is always for your benefit. It should always come from a place of power. If it doesn’t feel like it’s to your benefit, it’s probably not forgiveness, it’s some unhealthy, twisted-up version of forgiveness. Forgiveness is the way we clear the toxic mess of hate and anger and obsessive thinking and the desire for revenge out of our lives. So, how do we do that?
When I was at Union Theological Seminary in Morningside Heights, there was this one beautiful, warm early spring day. And that evening I just the bug, I wanted to go jogging, so I went out to Riverside Park and headed north. Lovely evening. Gentle breeze. It was getting dark. The little lamps were coming on in the park. Other people were out enjoying the river. I was just in my own head, not really paying attention.
Suddenly, I realized I wasn’t on the main path anymore, somehow I’d taken a bad turn. I was basically in the woods directly under the George Washington Bridge. It was dark, there were no lights, and I was on like a dirt path to who knows where. And suddenly up over the hill in front of me comes a group of about 15 teenage boys.
And I was a little scared. They just had an energy to them that made me think they were out that night looking for trouble. And I had to figure out what to do. Do I just turn around and run the other way? That seems a bit disrespectful. So, I decided I’m just gonna give them the benefit of the doubt and run past them. And they beat me with a baseball bat.
And I was lucky, because I realized something was going to happen and I checked over my shoulder and saw the first swing coming at me and I managed to take the blow in a way that it didn’t just end me right then and there, and I was warmed up and bigger than them and I managed to outrun them. Nothing was broken, but I was bruised and injured, and I was scared. They wanted to mess me up. I heard later that probably these same kids were assaulting women in the park and they put a Columbia student in the hospital.
So, what is forgiveness here? How do I get started? First and foremost, I remember that I am not better than anybody else. I am not better than anybody else. I am luckier than a lot of people. I am probably luckier than those 15 boys.
When I was in the 6th grade, some big kids jumped me and two of my friends after school and beat us up a little. And so I went home and I got a knife. A knife. It was a utility knife, but it was a knife. And I went back out, I guess to like cut up these kids. I don’t know what I could have possibly been thinking. I was angry. And I got lucky.
Because I caught up with these kids, pulled this one-inch blade of this utility knife out, and I was like, “Let’s go!” And the big kids laughed and one of them whipped out a butterfly knife and he was like (butterfly knife sounds), and it looked like it was about a foot long. And they beat me up again, without stabbing me, and I went home and told my mom. And so of course my parents went over to their parents’ house. And then they came home. And they were like, “Did you pull out a knife?” And I was like, “Oh Yeah.” And they grounded me.
I’m not better than those boys. I know what it’s like to be angry. I bet they were angry. I know what’s it’s like to want to hurt someone. I pulled a knife on someone when I was like 12. I did that. And I’m simply morally lucky that it didn’t go way worse than it did. And I’m morally lucky that I had parents who had the time and capacity to unambiguously and forcefully correct my mistakes. I’m not better than the kids who beat me with a baseball bat, I’m luckier. So much luckier.
Even if the sin against us is far beyond anything we’ve ever done to another person or even anything we think we’d be capable of doing, the path to forgiveness starts with a sort of realistic humility about our own righteousness and perfection. It is very difficult to forgive someone when you feel like they’re less than human or when you think about yourself as somehow better than them. I am not better than anybody else. If I remember this, I’m setting the stage for forgiveness.
The second thing we need to do is to actually forgive. Now, this might not sound too profound, but I really mean it. Forgiveness is an act. It is not a feeling. Many of us feel like we’ll have forgiven someone once our feelings stop being hurt. So, we wait for our feelings to stop hurting. But that’s not the way it works. It’s the exact opposite. Once we forgive, our feelings begin to heal.
The king in Jesus’ story doesn’t just sit there until his feelings stop hurting about losing all that money. Right? We don’t know exactly how the king feels, but we know he makes a decision to forgive the debt—from a place of power and having the capacity to afford the loss. He doesn’t say, “Oh, well, for some fortunate reason I just happened to get over it now, so I guess you’re forgiven.” He acts.
We have to do the same thing. If it’s a small thing, you may only need to say it once. But if it’s a big thing you may need to say it more than once, more than seven times, more than 77 times. We act consciously to affect ourselves unconsciously—to affect the way we feel. We can’t just decide we want to be over something. We don’t work that way. We have to act out our forgiveness, and slowly over time, your heart and your soul catch up with your act. And then you’re free.
It’s the way magic or any kind of inner transformation works—you must find a way to enact the forgiveness. You cancel the debt. You write, “I forgive Bob,” in a journal 50 times every night right before bed. You take one of those pages, you tear it out of the journal, you fold it up, and you stick it inside your Bible or you hide it somewhere here in the sanctuary, put it somewhere on the altar. Your unconscious mind, your soul, remembers that little ritual of forgiveness, it holds onto it, and forgiveness begins to take a hold of you. The transformation of forgiveness begins with you decision to act despite the way you feel in order to transform the way you feel.
Are you willing to say it with me? I forgive! Will you say it with me? I forgive! Say it one more time, this time say, “I forgive you!” Say it to the person who’s got you bound up with hate and anger, “I forgive you!” Say it to them! Say, “I’m no better than anyone else!” And say this one, “I forgive myself!” Say it again! “I forgive myself!” And say this, “Thank God for mercy! Thank God for forgiveness. Thank God I am free!” Amen!
Well, I'm really happy to be back here with you all after two Sundays off. Thank you so much for the break and the opportunity to spend some time with my family on vacation. We went down the shore, as we New Jerseyans say, and we were in Wildwood on the beach. We had a wonderful time together. I never realized exactly how much sand could get caught in the cracks and crevices of a one-year-old after just about five minutes on the beach, but as soon as I accepted the fact that sand and grit was our new reality, everything went just fine.
Bonnie asked me, well, hey, where do you want to go on our vacation? And I said, anywhere where we don't have to fly will be fine with me. I've never loved flying. I don't mind being way up in the air. That's not the problem. I just don't like all of the little procedures that you have to go through to get on the plane and waiting in line constantly and, you know, the near constant snafus of cancellations and delays and the tiny little seats. I never liked any of that. But over the last few years, since the pandemic, really, something has shifted in flying. And now I'd say that the worst part about flying is other people, right? Your social media feed and your news feed, they're probably full of the same kinds of news articles and viral videos that mine are full of—showing lots of people behaving really badly on planes. The old saying goes that misery loves company, but the airlines should maybe rewrite that line: Company is misery.
I was listening to a podcast recently, and this eminent primatologist and evolutionary anthropologist made me think about this a little bit differently. He said that one of the remarkable things about human beings, when you cram a couple hundred strangers into a flying sardine can, one of the amazing things about human beings is that any of us emerges alive at the end of that flight at all. Because if you did something like that with our closest genetic relatives, chimpanzees say, they would just eat each other's faces off. It would be total pandemonium. No one would survive.
Now of course, you know, we often worry and we grieve about our tendency towards violence as a species. And that's as it should be. No violence is really acceptable or good at any level. But according to this scientist, we're angels compared to our closest animal relatives because part of being human is suppressing a deep-seated instinct for conflict and for violence. And that's fine if you're on a plane. It's good if you're on a plane. It is what allows you to survive that flight and reach your destination alive and then just—walk away. Just walk away. You never have to see those people again. You don't need to be a part of their lives. Just walk away.
But Jesus is very clear with us. And we read it in our scripture reading this morning. That kind of total suppression is a necessary evil in certain situations, but it is not ever a spiritual virtue. And it is not the way, not the way that we should behave in a healthy community. Now what Jesus is telling us this morning and what he tells us throughout the Gospel of Matthew is that when it comes to your spiritual journey, when it comes to being a Christian, you can't go it alone. We need each other. Community, being together, loving and serving one another, working together, showing grace, receiving forgiveness—This is how we Christians transform the world together. Christianity is about serving and loving others. You can't do that alone. It requires others. Christianity is about forgiving and being forgiven. You can't do that alone.
Christianity is like dancing, okay? You can dance by yourself, sure, you can. But there's something just magical about stepping out onto a dance floor with other people. And I'm sure you've felt it, moving with them, responding to them, allowing them to carry you along, to challenge you, to do that move, to bust out that move that you haven't busted out in a long time. It's possible to dance in your room by yourself. But if you're going to dance all night long, if you're going to dance until your feet hurt, if you're going to dance until your cheeks ache because you've been smiling for so long, that is a magic, a grace, a dance that only other people can provide to you. Christianity is like dancing. We need partners. We need a party. And Christianity is like dancing because once you get out there on the dance floor, somebody almost certainly is going to step on your toes. It is inevitable. And what do you do then? Oh boy.
When somebody hurts you in community, (you know, in church, but it could also be at home, in your family, among your friends, in school, at work), you could hurt them right back, right? You stepped on my toe, I stomp on your toe. A toe for a toe, to paraphrase the Bible. Chimp justice. Jesus taught us not to do this. It's not the way. However, for most of us, it's not really a temptation, right? It's not how we do things. We have other ways of handling this kind of thing.
One of those other ways is to pretend like it didn't really happen, pretend like it didn't bother me, and then sometimes without even realizing what we're doing, we seek out revenge. We're not going to stomp on their foot. That would be too obvious. But we start secretly plotting their downfall. How can we get them? How can we expose them as the dirty foot stomper that they are? What is something they want? What's something that they love, that we can oppose or ruin without anyone ever being the wiser that we're actually acting out of malice, acting from this small and wounded place within us, acting out of a conflict that we just haven't dealt with yet?
Now, just below that is another way that we can deal with things. We can complain to everybody else. I'm not going to say anything to the guy who stepped on my toe. That might be awkward. But within an hour, everybody at the dance is going to know that he stepped on my foot and know that I think that he did it on purpose, and he didn't even say that he was sorry. And by the end of the night, he might be the only person left in the room who does not know that he stepped on my toe. How's that for dealing with conflict?
Now just below that is old reliable, the cold shoulder. I'm not going to do anything at all. I'm too mature for that, except I'm never going to dance with you again. I'm never going to dance near you again. But if you really tick me off, maybe I'll just never dance again. That'll show you. Or I'll go find somewhere else to dance all together. I've got options. There are options out there. So why be the bigger person? Why? When you can just walk away, and it's so much cleaner and easier, right?
Now just below that is the level that I think that most of us aspire to, or we think we're supposed to aspire to. And that is, just forgive and forget. It's no big deal. That's life. It was only a small fracture. It was just my pinky toe. The ER bill was mostly covered by my insurance. I only had to wear that boot for like two months. It only hurts a little bit now. Only sometimes. You know, some people don't even have feet at all. If you think about it, I'm very lucky. I should be thankful somebody stepped on my foot. I have no right to complain. I'll just let it go.
And this is actually the caricature of the Christian ethic of forgiveness—that forgiveness is just this weak and wimpy thing, that it's all about rolling over and letting yourself be abused and not seeking any kind of reconciliation or justice whatsoever. And to be very fair about it, this has been the way that forgiveness has actually been preached by some Christians in some places and at some times and still to this day. You know, for example, male clergy advising women in abusive relationships to remain in their marriages. Or state churches preaching to the poor that they must accept their lot in life, their place in the world that God has foreordained for them. Or white clergy preaching tolerance and forgiveness to black people for “historic wrongs,” right? But Jesus tells us unequivocally that this just forgive and forget, let bygones be bygones, get over it, approach to forgiveness is not the Christian way. It is not. Because, and we know this from our own lives, we know this from our own lives, it just doesn't actually work. Instead, Jesus teaches us against every instinct that we have, to directly, personally, and publicly deal with sin and conflict in our community. Now my guess is that most of us have never really done anything like what Jesus is telling us to do here. And even if you have, you probably don't do it often. You certainly don't do it every single time because wow, what Jesus is asking us to do is really hard work.
So just imagine with me for a second. You know, speaking of bad behavior on an airplane. Imagine you're sitting in your pew one Sunday. When out of the corner of your eye, you notice that someone sitting right behind you has taken off their shoes and put their stinky feet up on the back of the pew right next to your head where you're sitting. I think we can all agree, way out of bounds. Don't do it on an airplane, don't do it at church. So step one—let me get this straight—I need to go to Stinky Foot and confront him directly. Now hold on. Stinky Foot should be apologizing to me, shouldn't he? Why do I have to go to him? That's not fair, that's not fair. And you're right, that's not fair. And as much as Jesus cares about fairness, and Jesus does care about fairness, he cares more about community. Fairness is good, fairness is necessary, but fairness will never be a party. It takes community to dance. It takes community to dance. And so what we want is a community where we can dance together, party together, be together. And that sometimes requires a little bit of a sacrifice of a little bit of fairness. And so Jesus does as he often does. He assumes that the aggrieved party is wiser, stronger, and smarter, and he says, you the aggrieved, it is your job to deal with this—personally, one-on-one, you’ve got to deal with them. Before you complain to anybody else, you’ve got to deal with it. Now this is of course, with the caveat that the sin here wasn't a criminal act. This person isn't dangerous to you. It is safe—it's uncomfortable, but it's safe to do. You go and deal with them one-on-one.
And what if they don't listen? After all that, after you put yourself out there like that, what if they don't listen to you? What if they don't give you that reassuring, oh, I'm so sorry, I can't believe I did that, I didn't think of it that way, please forgive me. Well then, can you write them off? No, says Jesus, not even then. No, no, no, no, no, no. You’ve got to go get some friends, and then you’ve got to go and talk. Now can you imagine the Saturday after the Sunday of the foot incident? You're standing on Stinky Foot's front porch and ringing the bell with two or three friends, knocking on the door. Can you imagine the kind of conflict that that could cause? That could embarrass him. He could get really angry. He might stop coming to church. He might stop paying his pledge. I bet he wouldn't answer the door at all, right? But Jesus said it's worth it, because we can't have that kind of behavior at the party, and we've got to deal with it somehow, right? And you know, if church is a dance, and if Christianity is a dance, you know, sometimes you might be a good dancer on your own, you know, but then you start dancing in community, and you realize when you're dancing out on the dance floor with a lot of other people, there's certain things that you can't do that you can do when you're alone, right? And sometimes it might take a couple other people to come over to the house and say, hey, we're going to give you a little dancing lesson. We're going to teach you a few moves. We're going to show you how it goes.
But what if he doesn't open the door? What if he doesn't listen? Well, this is where Jesus's advice just goes way over the top. This has got to be hyperbole. This is just too much. He tells us then, you’ve got to get the whole church involved, right? It seems like that could cause all kinds of conflict, could split the church, people could take sides. It seems like it's just too much, it's too strict, it's too mean, but I don't think that that's the way that Jesus means it to be. Because I think Christianity is like a dance party, and the best way to learn how to dance is for the whole church to turn the music up and just start showing people how to move, and showing people how not to move, and showing how we move around one another, and show one another grace, and showing that when you step on somebody's foot, you turn and you say, oh, I'm so sorry. And the best way you can teach that to somebody is by bringing them back on the dance floor as one big church and trying to show them what to do.
You know, this thing that we do, this thing called church, this community, this dance party, this is how we make Jesus Christ come alive for people. It's how we make Christianity come alive for people, and the only way we can do that is if we are 100% engaged with one another to show one another that kind of grace. You can't do that if you're secretly plotting somebody's demise. You can't do that if you're gossiping about how awful they are. You can't do that if every time they come near, you turn away and you shut your heart down. You cannot do it if you just say, well, my feelings don't matter. Nothing's really important. I'll just let these people walk all over me. Because if they're walking all over you, they're going to walk all over somebody else as well, and the dance party can't survive that. So what it takes is all of us together dancing, and it's a dance when everything is going well and everything is beautiful and everything is fun and fine, and it's a dance when somebody gets their foot stepped on, and then we all show one another how to deal with that, how to dance around it, how to make it work again, how to get back into the rhythm.
Beloved, we need one another. As Christians, as human beings, we need to be in community with one another. It is the most important part of our faith, Jesus tells us, the place where everything comes together. You can be in a relationship with God, but in some significant way, you can't be a Christian unless you're together, working together, loving together, and healing one another. So my prayer for all of us this Celebration Sunday is that we dance with one another, and we dance and we dance and we dance, and we love one another, because when we dance together and when we don't run away from the party when our toes get stepped on, when we don't avoid conflict, when we don't allow people to come into the dance party swinging their elbows around and hitting us in the face, that is the way that we heal the world.
Jesus the Imagination
Thoughts and dreams, musings and meditations