the penultimate WORD
Series 1999 - Proper 23 Canon Jim Irvine
My pain can make my world and my Lord very small.


 "If your brother commits a sin," said Jesus, "go and take the matter up with him, strictly between yourselves, and if he listens to you, you have won your brother over." Matthew 18: 15 (NEB)


I have my favourite scripture passages. We all do.

Mine, I have gathered over a number of years. Many of them I have committed to memory. Not because I wanted to memorize them, but rather because they came to mean something to me.

Itís good to have favourite passages. We can remind ourselves of significant moments in our life when the Word of God has spoken to us. And in troubled times, this can be of great solace.

But the risk is clear: content with our favourites, we read the scriptures selectively. There is a great deal we do not read.

The church has been selective in its reading of scriptures as well. The lectionary of Epistles and Gospels in the Book of Common Prayer, while broad in scope and a link to our heritage, limits our familiarity.

The three-year cycle of the Revised Common Lectionary helps address this limitation and todayís Gospel gives us an example to make the point.

Christians generally neglect the passage from Matthew.

We recall some of the parables Jesus taught his followers. And we can remember several of his miracles, and particularly the turning of water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana. And there are much of St. Paulís writings that we refer to from time to time.

The difficult passages are forgotten, however. And by "difficult," I donít mean those passages that seem to be beyond our mental grasp of understanding. I mean instead those passages that we understand all too well, and that challenge us!

Confrontation is such a blind side for us a s Christians. We neglect Jesusí direction here. We follow our own path for a way.

"If your brother commits a sinÖ," said Jesus. Experience tells us that Jesus might have been more accurate had he said, "When your brotherÖ"

Jesus draws the argument tight. The relationship of perpetrator and victim is seen within the confines of a family. The sin doesnít dissolve the relationship. And the process towards reconciliation is driven by that relationship, as Jesus is quick to remind us!

Our choice is clear. We take the hurt, the wrong, and the pain up with our brother; or we take the hurt, the wrong, and the pain up with someone else.

Someone else almost always gets our attention.

Jesus teaching in Matthewís account of the Gospel provides us with a pattern for the Christianís restoration of a falling out. Cliché and pious phrase wonít restore the life once enjoyed. And the effort is not dependent on the otherís contrition and sorrow. Simply put, my concern for our relationship in the fellowship with Jesus prompts me to strive to include you. Failure to do that results in your exclusion, leaving me in fellowship with Jesus and you out in the cold. Thatís about as clear as it can be stated. My hurt can exclude you from your fellowship with our Lord. In fact, Jesus then ceases to be our Lord at all, and I have limited him, because of my hurt to his being my Lord.

My pain can make my world and my Lord very small.

Restoration is the goal of the disciple, the follower, and the believer.

Not someone else, but you and me.

Not grasping at the name of Jesus in mindless superstition, reciting a name as an ancient talisman. And not manipulating an other by righteous condescension. Reflecting, rather, the nature of Jesusí life and ministry that led him inexorably to a cross for the purpose of restoring relationship. Reflecting his life of courage by risking all, we discover restorative inclusion where fellowship is not compromised and Jesus is not diminished.

He put it this way, "For where two or three have met together in my name, I am there among them."

Copyright © 1999 James T. Irvine

Series 1999