Sermon–September 7, 2014


13 Pentecost—Proper 18-A

September 7, 2014

William Bradbury




Exodus 12:1-14

Psalm 149

Romans 13:8-14

Matthew 18:15-20

Jesus said, “If another member of the church sins against you…”

Two weeks ago we looked at the image of the church as living stones built up and held together by Jesus Christ—which our wall behind the altar shows us.

Today I want to offer a less exalted image using stones: the church as a rock tumbler. As kids we threw some rocks and grit into this tumbler and after a month of the rocks bouncing off each other you find you now have polished stones revealing an inner beauty you couldn’t image before.

That’s what Christian community at its best does…except when we short circuit the process because it’s just too hard, too painful.

For example, when someone says something that causes us pain we often go into an automatic, and largely unconscious response called our emergency defense–which is usually one of three types:

For some people their emergency defense is to attack immediately. You say something that hurts me, well I’m going to give it right back to you. I’ve always admired people who could do this. The rector of my seminary field work church in Georgetown had been a reporter for the Washington Post so when a parishioner criticized him he just gave it right back.

Of course some people don’t attack the person directly and instead they run to let their friends know what a jerk that person is. Used to be they’d wait till everyone is out in the parking lot to start the attack going. Now it may well be through an email blast.

Other people don’t fight, they flee. They leave the room, they leave the church, they just have to get away to protect the powerful feelings that are being unleashed. That’s my default response when I feel attacked. If you have a dog he’ll get a lot of extra walks.


Other people’s emergency defense is to freeze: they just shut down. They don’t fight and they don’t flee, they just go inside and get real quiet, but it’s not an open silence, but an enforced resistance to everyone.

Our emergency defense is how we protect ourselves when we feel threatened. The problem comes when our emergency defense becomes our only strategy so that we stay unconscious and the connection to the other person remains broken. Something in us says, fine by me! I’ll think about talking to that Bozo again when he crawls back on his knees to apologize. Until then, nothing doing!

Yet as we heard in the gospel this morning Jesus invites us to consider another way forward. The first thing to notice is that he tells the person who has been hurt, the one who has been offended or attacked:


TO TAKE THE INITIATIVE in healing the relationship!

 This bears some pondering: we’ve been taught that when we’ve done something wrong that we should go and apologize. Therefore we’ve assumed it is always up to the offender to make the first move.

But Jesus says, “If someone sins against you go to them…”

Of course when we’re caught in our emergency defense that’s the very last thing we want to do. No, when I’m throwing a pity party for myself and celebrating how much of a victim I am, I don’t care about healing the relationship because I’m enjoying luxuriating in the deep feelings of anger or hurt.

And of course when I’m sitting out on that park bench rehearsing how justified I am to feel the way I do, I am in no position to go to the other.

So before we are in any position to go to the other person we need to take the time necessary to get over ourselves—this is the time for prayer where we sit with our emotions in the Lord’s Presence.

But then Jesus says we are to “go”.

And he adds that we are to go to them alone.

That means we go to someone who has just hurt us and we go without an army to protect us from being hurt again.

 Of course he means, go without other people, but I also think he intends we go without our victim story which proves how right and innocent we are and how wrong and guilty the other person is. Our story is just the way the ego links together selected memories and feelings that give us a sense of identity. Our story may be interesting but it certainly isn’t true.

But if I drop my story then what will I say when I get there?

Eckhart Tolle gives the example of being at a restaurant and getting served a lukewarm soup that’s supposed to be hot:

When we’re in our story of the victim, we may say, “How dare you treat me this way, what kind of place is this that does this to me.”

When we drop the story, however, we call over the waiter and say, “would you mind heating up this soup, it seems to have gotten cold.”

So when we drop our story we can go to the other and simply explain without rancor or attack what has happened from our perspective.

When we do this the other person is much more likely to listen to what we have to say, since it will not come across as a personal attack from which they will have to go into their emergency defense mode to protect themselves from us.

We will talk next week about forgiveness as Peter asks Jesus how often we have to forgive this Bozo who keeps hurting us. But for now we are looking deeply into ourselves:

Jesus invites us to spend time processing what’s going on inside us so we can get to that place where we drop our story of victimhood and move into a more mature place where we find our True Self.

Saint Paul offers us this way forward. He says: “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”

This doesn’t mean we deny our pain or repress it or pretend it isn’t there—it simply means we recognize there is a bigger Self–with a capital S– that contains us and protects us and defines and describes our lives much better than the small self that is always getting offended and hurt.

Jesus puts the same thing this way: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

To be gathered in Jesus’ name means we have dropped our own names, because “my name” is just a short hand way of referring to my story. This is why we get so upset when someone gets our name wrong.

When we put on Christ and drop our attachment to my name we find that our sin is not the most interesting thing about us nor is it the most interesting thing about the other person. See more on this in Gray Temple, Jr’s excellent book The Molten Soul

The most interesting thing is that we are both IN CHRIST. As Saint Paul puts it: Our life is hid with Christ in God.

 Jesus says go alone if our brother or sister hurts us, but if we go in Jesus’ name we never go alone.

It is Jesus who sits with us while we recover from our emergency defense. Imagine him with his hand on your shoulder as your process your pain.

It is Jesus who gives us the courage to give up our story of how much we need to defend ourselves, and gives us a Bigger Self in God so we can take the initiative and be peacemakers.

It is Jesus who awakens the connection with our True Self, our Deepest Self, which is connected to God.

It is Jesus who walks with us into the presence of the one who hurt us, as our protection and guide.

It is sounds corny to be sure, but it just happens to be true: we never walk alone, we only think we do.

So if we’re not alone we can stay in the rock tumbler and see what God does with us!