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Short & Sweet

Matthew 18:15-20

The Rev. Jon Roberts

6 September


Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, 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.”

Short & Sweet

Suffer the Children by Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1834-1890

Short and sweet, to the point.
Give them three tries.
It will not disappoint.[1]

Everybody knows the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, or at least they should. It is a classice from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” What we find is this calloused, self-centered, mean-spirited, shrewd “Scrooge.” If someone calls you “Scrooge” it is not a good thing. The story begins with showing how his wealth was based on turning people’s misery into profit. Caring for his fellow man was not his business, he would often say. The world would actually be more suitable without so many in poverty, but he wasn’t going to lift a finger to do anything about it. His mentor, Bob Marley came to him one night and prophesized that he would be visited three times by the ghost of Christmas past, present and future. It was a warning that he was to repent from his evil ways or else he would join him in this hellish place where chains would be placed upon him for all eternity. The story unfolds into each visit where Ebenezer was shown what his life looked like, what it now looks like and what it would be like. In each example he is confronted with a harsh reality that he wanted nothing to do with until the life of Tiny Tim. He felt something he never felt before, when he observed the sorrow of this child’s death. He felt remorse. Somewhere deep inside, he couldn’t place it. He felt that he could have prevented this death if only…he cared. It took three visits, three tries to help him turn from his ways. They were short confrontations presented by three ghosts, sent to help Ebenezer turn and eventually become sweet.

His story is an easy one to see the errors of his ways, but what about those who sin against us? Where are the Ebenezers in our life? How do we persuade others to change from doing what is wrong? The small business advocate, publishes a number of self-help articles to support those who work in environments where compromise is a part of working together. One of their editorials is titled, “Forget Facts: 3 ways to Change Someone’s Mind.”[2] They say you can have all the facts in the world but they do not win arguments. People really do not want to admit they are wrong. The first bit of advice is to give that person and “out” since nobody likes to be judged. Secondly, show empathy. People do not argue facts, they say. They argue beliefs. If someone doesn’t agree with you, it is not because they are right and you are wrong. It is because you do not believe the same thing. Thirdly, practice getting out of your bubble. Intellectual humility means you are able to change also. Do you think the ghost of Christmas past, present and future chose beliefs over facts, empathy instead of judgment, or compromise vs. aggravate? This approach is short and sweet, and may help the business owner retain clients, but does it get to the point? What is the business of the Christian and what must we use to get to the point.

The Gospel today certainly gets to the point about confronting someone as Jesus gives us the three ways we are to persuade others to repent and to change.[3] It should also be pointed out that these were intended for only fellow Christians, the “Ecclesia” of believers in “The Way” of Christ. This means there is an implied moral compass that comes from God and begins in the model of the church. This is where we see the ghosts of the past, present and future, coming together, fulfilling the law where love does no wrong to a neighbor.[4] This is about abstaining from behavior detrimental to the life of a Christian. We will not murder, commit adultery, steal or covet. These should be common laws shared by all of our society but they are not, at least not for two of them. What happened?

Inside the body of Christ, Jesus tells us how to reconcile with those who have sinned in a way that is short and sweet and reestablish his laws. First, you go privately to that person and tell them what they did, or are doing is wrong. How many of us wake up each day saying, “I can’t wait to confront my brother or sister in their wrongdoing?” This is not easy nor desired. Second, if they do not repent, you take two other people to be witnesses. Imagine that person and what they must be thinking; “I am being ganged up on!” If they still do not repent, you tell the Church, which is important and serious. Have you ever been in a church where people were compelled to go to the priest, informing them about a serious behavior of another member, and asking for intervention? This is rare, but it does happen. Having the Church leadership aware of this and confronting the person has a high probably of separation if we lead with the facts, instead of the beliefs. Belief for us is found in doing what is right, repenting for what is wrong, and coming together in what is complete. We are not infallible but with Jesus’ help we can do what is hard in order that love comes easily.

Loving your neighbor will never disappoint. When you do, give them three tries and in the love of Christ, be short and be sweet.

[1] The Rev. Jon Roberts
[2] Jessica Steelman,, October 3, 2017.
[3] Matthew 18:15-20
[4] Romans 13:8-14

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