Homily: Sept. 7, 2014
Proper 17, Year A: 7 September 2014 I lost my temper the other week. I don’t do this often because I grew up in an angry household and subsequently I try to restrain that impulse in myself. On this particular occasion, however, I felt (hold that thought) that an injustice had been done and I responded angrily from my gut. Now, I'm a strong Myers-Briggs "J," as well as an off-the-charts "F," which for those who don't know the lingo means that I tend to have strong emotions that govern my decision-making and I decide quickly. That's not an excuse for bad behavior, it's simply another part of who I know myself to be. And knowing this I might have stepped back and waited for my cooler self to reflect on what had happened; I generally try to. But this was an in-the-moment thing in a public forum. And so I responded…in the same public forum. Oh, so wrong, right?
What do we do when such moments trip us up, which, as we are each of us human, they are going to from time to time? The Prayer Book would advise us "to repent and return to the Lord," to try to find the Christ-like thing to do. Sometimes easier said than done. In this instance, I am grateful that the other person and I agreed to sit down with others and talk about what had happened. We each tried to understand the other's point of view and what led to our actions, we each ate a little crow, we each apologized for miscommunication and rash judgment, we determined some steps to take to avoid this happening in the future...hopefully. And then we prayed together.
And then we still had to deal with the damage our actions had caused in the larger public body that witnessed them. So we sent out a notice explaining that we had found common ground. And all we could do after that was offer more prayer that others would understand the work we had done and do whatever their own work might be around feelings that this incident might have raised in them.
This is not easy work, my friends, nor is it cut and dried. The author of Matthew makes it sound like a 1-2-3-4 process: I do this, you do that, if it doesn’t work out, buh-bye. But let me tell you it's a lot more complicated than that, frequently a lot messier. Because I don't believe for a minute that Jesus ever intended us to cut anyone off as beyond the pale of relationship. Oh, we may want to do that. We may get into that position of grandiose self-righteousness or its perverse opposite grandiose self-pity and want to protect our hurting core by saying "That person is dead to me." But this is not of God. I say this because today's gospel is all part of a series of passages in chapter 18 of Matthew that all deal with forgiveness and humility. It begins with Jesus telling his followers that the point of life is not greatness, which by extension in this context we can stretch to not being right, not winning. The point, Jesus says, is to approach one another in humility, caring for the other even as for yourself, even when you disagree, especially then. Then we get today’s passage, where the central intent seems to be that in any disagreement an attempt at reconciliation is the first goal. If we can get to forgiveness, good and even better, but first try to stay in relationship, and relationship that recognizes our mutual dependence on one another in community. Next week we will hear Jesus say that if it takes our whole life we are to keep seeking reconciliation and forgiveness with the one from whom we are estranged. I'd say spoiler alert but I have no idea where the Bishop will take his sermon, so I'm getting in my points now. Notice that this says nothing about excusing a perpetrator or releasing an abuser from accountability or sacrificing self-worth and dignity to mitigate the offense. Jesus has lots to say about those things in other places. But even so, back in the fifth chapter of this good news, right at the very beginning of Jesus’ teaching ministry, we were told: “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who despitefully use you and persecute you.” Not “Let them do anything they want to you,” but “Remember that they too are children of God and precious in God’s sight, although their actions may grieve God’s heart.” So do what you can to stay in relationship, because these are your brothers and sisters. On page 8 of your service sheets this morning there are some… what to call them? Suggestions? Practical tips? Rules of life?... for ways to stay in healthy relationship: with others, with God, with yourself. I really think they are closer a rule of life than suggestions. I think they are powerful and true. I try to follow them as guides for my own behavior; imperfectly, of course, being human; just as you will do if you decide to adopt them. But think of them as modern good news: how many taglines from Jesus’ repertoire could be read into these?
I’ll summarize them: Show up. Pay attention. Tell the truth without blame or judgment. Be impeccable with your word. Don’t take anything personally. Don’t make assumptions. Always do your best. Don’t be attached to the outcome. And I’ll add one more to this list: always be willing to say “I’m sorry.” Then the kingdom of heaven—a realm of true mutual relationship—will be yours. The Four Agreements
Be Impeccable with your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.
Don’t Take Anything Personally Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
Don’t Make Assumptions Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
Always Do Your Best Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.
From the book by the same name; Don Miguel Ruiz, 1997
The Four-Fold Way
Show Up. Bring the body and the mind will follow … but showing up is much more than taking attendance. This requires a willingness to make a conscious choice to be present, to stay in the moment, to create value for yourself in the process, and not to look to another to do it for you.
Pay Attention. To be fully attentive is a profound gift both to yourself and to another person. To pay attention outwardly is to believe that this present moment is worthy of all that we have to offer and that what we are doing matters. To pay attention inwardly is to track the feelings that are happening—excitement, resistance, confusion, anger, fear, hope—and listen for what the deep story is and where healing needs to occur.
Tell the Truth without blame or judgment. Truth-telling … to yourself … to those you love and to God who loves you more than you can imagine … It sounds easy, but it’s not. Find your voice and add it to the collective wisdom; speak of your own experience; practice the discipline of naming your own feelings and your thoughts.
Don’t be attached to the outcome. This is often the hardest. To let go of the results that we want is to provide the freedom and space for something new to happen. It is the challenge of believing that God is bigger than our best idea and that grace can do what we cannot. Offer your gifts, talents, opinions, and ideas—and then let them go; be willing to give up certitude and be changed by the process.
Attributed to many sources over centuries, but popularized in Angeles Arrien’s The Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer, and Visionary, 1993