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Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Ezekiel 33:7-11, Psalm 119:33-40, Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20

If another member of the church sins against you . . . followed by a detailed protocol of what to do, how to respond. When Jesus tells us to do something, we pay attention—we love our neighbors, we feed the hungry, visit the sick and imprisoned, and so on. “Behold, I long for your commandments”, from the psalm. Well, we try to do all those things.
The instruction here seems pretty straightforward. If a brother or a sister sins against you, here’s plan A, and plan B, and plan C. And the plans are sensible, much like what we’d do about a problem in our workplace, or in our own family. First, you talk to the brother or sister privately. Then you take someone else with you to have the discussion—both to keep the stories straight and, you hope, to keep the words polite. Finally you go to the whole group and try again. And then….
But let’s go back for a minute. If a brother or sister—and the term is specific in the Greek, ADELPHOS, brother (I add “or sister” for us English speakers in this century). The important part is the relationship: if a close member of your family sins against you, here is how to respond. Commentaries talk about our modern, Western assumption of voluntary association as individuals—but that’s not the relationship we have as Christians. This is family; we all are family by baptism, we are children of God—therefore brothers and sisters. We’re family, and you don’t get to choose family.
So now we are talking about a close relative who sins against you. But what is a sin? Physical injury? Theft? False witness (or slander)? Hurting your feelings? Not noticing what you’ve done lately for them? Not inviting you along for lunch after church? Choosing someone else for a job or an honor? Not being respectful? Being really annoying, or being really annoyed?
The Greek here is HAMARTIA, a frequent word for sin, though it’s original meaning is “a mistake”—from archery, missing the target. Maybe you thought it was a joke, but it was not funny to the person who heard it.
We don’t want to make sin a trivial thing, but neither, I think, does Jesus want us to limit Sin to breaking one of the Ten Commandments. Are seemingly small, but hurtful actions or words somehow in the category of “sin”? something you shouldn’t do to your brother or sister?
Think for a moment about the concept of “microaggressions”; the concept didn’t exist when I was young; I think, as young women trying to make life choices different from our mothers’, we were into “consciousness raising”. And maybe that’s another way of saying, recognize when you’re being put down. What’s a microaggression? I asked my daughter: “Oh, I guess women of your age don’t know what microagression is”—answering me with an example. The dictionary says:
a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized    group

or, I might add, to anyone you feel superior to or somehow different from in the moment. There are many examples on line; most are collections of common hurtful statements made to members of racial or ethnic minorities, but to other groups, too.
But back to the Gospel. What do you do when a brother or sister says something that hurts you? Or, God forbid, does you some injury (the invitation or the job you didn’t get, for example).
Jesus tells us—go talk to that person. You have a relationship; build on it, and talk. Pay attention to that person and ask what he meant, or what’s on her mind. You can always fall back on the “I feel, when you, because”. Go pay attention to that person. Then, if you need to, go with two or three others to pay attention to that person.
It’s really not about you, here: it’s about the love you show to someone else, one perceived as having done wrong. There is nothing in this passage about you getting apology, or recompense, or anything—except the possibility of a renewed relationship with a brother or sister.  “Owe no one anything except to love one another,” Paul says.  It’s about the other person, and treating them as you’d like to be treated. Not shunned, but listened to, engaged in conversation.
The Gospel goes on to Plan C, which sounds as if the church excludes the person who won’t enter the conversation, who won’t talk and listen. Let that person be to you as a tax collector or a Gentile. It sounds harsh—one commentator says, “this isn’t Jesus speaking.” Let that brother or sister be to you as a tax collector or a Gentile, huh? Who did Jesus sit down to eat with? Who did he talk to, listen to bring into the family? Sinners. Tax collectors. Gentiles. Plan C: keep talking, keep breaking bread together, keep loving each other, even if you disagree, or maybe especially if you disagree.
It’s another command from Jesus we would like to follow, and it’s hard. We know, and God knows, that we want to be Christians, we want to be more loving, we want to be like Jesus, in our hearts. We come here to reaffirm our hearts; we go out into the world to try to show in our lives the love of God that is in our hearts.

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