St. Matthew.jpg

Boast In His Mercy

Matthew 18:15-20

The Rev. Jon Roberts

7 September

2008

Good Shepherd Episcopal Church

Venice, FL

15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 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. 18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be[d] 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.”

Keep watch, The Prophet Ezekiel, by Michaelangelo
Sistine Chapel, Rome, Italy 1508-1512

Pride is the enemy of trust. And the Christian can only boast in the mercy of the Lord.[1]

Our collect this morning goes like this, and mercy, by definition, is unwarranted compassion shown by one person to another for a wrongdoing.

There is a childhood game that comes to mind. Boys, mainly, at a tender age, would find it most useful to try their strength from time to time. To do this they would grab each other’s hands, and on the count of “three,” tighten their grip. They squeezed and pushed as hard as they might, to bend back the hands of their opponent. They did this to the extent of double-jointing the weaker, and the object was to make that person cry out, “Mercy.” Upon this plea, the stronger and more dominant one grins with a deep satisfaction, feeling a bit better about their journey into manhood. But it is a journey, most likely, that leaves the one defeated, feeling a great loss. “These are simply children behaving like children,” one might say. “There was no wrongdoing here.” “They were simply testing their strength,” so it would seem.
As we reflect on the playground of our life we can observe the many moments when the strong and the weak, have equally tested their strength. When winners and losers were decided. Is this what we find in our Gospel today?[2] Is Jesus telling his disciples that if you can’t convince your brother that he has sinned against you, then take one or two others along in order that they can help? And if he refuses to listen then, tell it to everybody else on the playground, so that he is embarrassed or shunned? No, this would be an absurd message. But this passage in Matthew prompts us to take a more cautious look, avoiding the thoughts of power that go along with excommunication and absolution. There is an old saying, “Discipline is something you do for the child, not to the child.” [3]

For we are not only the teacher, but one day we are also the child. For we are not only the one who points out the fault of our brother, but one day we are also the brother who will be at fault. The key element of God’s mercy, is not that we take action to right the wrongs of this world. The key element of God’s mercy, is that we put aside our pride; that we rely on the one who is in the midst of us; whose words are in our minds, on our lips, and in our hearts. The mercy of the Lord is the only thing that we can boast, for out of it trust can be restored between two brothers. That is powerful. That is what the mercy of God can do.

As one who Jesus called forth into the midst of his disciples, it is the child, he reminds us, who inherits the Kingdom of God. To be the child, we need to go further back beyond the childhood games; back to the place where we acted with humility and loving affection. These are teaching moments as we watch and learn how Christians are called to deal with life’s situations. We are to see how well they are disciplined, when they are challenged to bind or to loosen. In what way are we called to discipline others, in knowing the good news of Jesus Christ? As a teacher and a child of the Christian faith, our own discipline is interwoven with the formation of others. Let us not lose sight of that and if we believe for an instance, that all such things will simply work out for the best, if we just let children behave like children, I beg you to reconsider.

To this end we shall turn to a delightful anecdote. The English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was entertaining a visitor one day when the conversation turned to children. “I believe,” said the visitor, “that children should be given a free reign to think and act, and thus learn at an early age to make their own decision. This is the only way they can grow into their full potential.” “I would like you to see my flower garden,” Coleridge interrupted, and he led the man outside. The visitor took one look and exclaimed, “Why, this is nothing but a yard full of weeds!” “It used to be filled with roses,” said Coleridge, “but this year I thought I would let the garden grow as it willed without my tending to it. This is the result.”[4]

When do we know when to let go and when do we know when to weed out? Our teaching moments, should never be too far distant from our thoughts of the child in our midst. The child in our midst prefers to love others with brotherly affection. The child in our midst prefers to hold fast to what is good. The child in our midst, is our Lord and Savior who lived and died for us, so that we may have eternal life. Unwarranted. Compassionate. Let us keep watch over the garden he has made, in order that roses and not weeds, will grow within it. During moments where our strength and courage are under test, trust in the one who did no wrong. Trust in the one who will help us overcome our own pride and selfishness. When we do this with all our heart, then may we all boast together, as Christians can, in the mercy of Lord.

[1] Marion Hatchett, Commentary on the Book of Common Prayer,
[2] Matthew 18:15-20
[3] Kelly Watts, 2007.
[4] Cal & Rose Samra, Holy Humor, 1996, p.129-30.

© 2007 Black & White Chi Rho Ministries 

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