Care for the Little Ones

Sermon Title: Care for the Little Ones

Date: 7 September 2014

Preacher: Rev’d Jonathan Chambers

Church Calendar Date: Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost 2014

Lectionary Reading: Matthew 18: 10-20

As some of you know in a previous life I was Human Resources Manager for an
American company and while undertaking my theological training I did some
consulting work to keep body and soul together. Over two long vacations I worked
with a large Law firm and my initial task was to introduce a new pay structure for the
para legal staff, who had for some considerable time complained, with good reason,
about the inadequacy and equity of their remuneration. I was also to introduce
some policies regarding pay and treatment of staff. This had been a firm which was
owned and run by lawyers, who, though passionate and effective, were more
concerned about their cases and legal performance than caring for their staff. So I
had been brought in by the newly appointed Business Manager to help address
some of these issues.

I recall one Friday afternoon soon after I commenced when one of the senior lawyers
called me at about 3pm and said.
“Your now the HR Guy right?”
“Yes I said “
“Good well I want you to sack my secretary this afternoon and can you arrange for
a replacement for Monday morning?”
I was speechless … for a moment. I’d come from an organisation of 420 with 7 unions
on site where you would end up with a strike if management adopted such a
cavalier approach. So I said
“So your really unhappy with her performance ?”
“Yes she’s hopeless .. always has been”
……..“So how long has she worked for you ?”
“Five years”
“Really? ….well you must have been happy with her to have her that long surely?”“No she’s never been any good”
“Well have you given her a warning?”
“Yeah, I’ve always told her she’s no good ..she knows”
I went on to say that no, I wouldn’t sack his Secretary, that he needed to clearly
identify where her work was inadequate and then we could sit down a talk to her
together about how she might be able to address his concerns.
Early in my career I learned about the importance of ‘Due Process’, so than
employees were treated fairly.
So with this background I’ve always taken the passage in today’s Gospel to be a
good Biblical basis for a Dispute Resolution procedure- the Churches’ Due Process for
dealing with someone who doesn’t stick by the rules
If you look, it seems to be fair… giving honour to the person who has sinned against
you, but with a warning system, which if followed, gives you a fair way of ‘letting them
go’ after having given them every chance of making amends.
And it makes good sense for honest community relationships. If you feel someone has
done something to hurt you, then don’t go straight to the Vicar to complain or go
and tell a whole lot of others, Jesus says be brave and go and tell the person directly,
when just the two of you are together.
(Now I must insert a caveat. Jesus is proposing Guidelines here not Rules. Clearly in
some circumstances- like where there has been sexual abuse, it would be completely
inappropriate for the victim to go back to see the perpetrator on their own as they
might be re victimized- such an offence needs to be taken directly to someone with
the authority to commence the process of investigation).
Jesus guidelines are for the everyday hurts of life that occur in community, which are
inevitable because we are human. So if you feel hurt by something that was said by
another – go and talk to them about it and tell them how you felt. If they understand,
they apologise and you are reconciled, then you will have even gained a friend,
because sorting things out like that tends to build and strengthen relationships.However if they don’t acknowledge the hurt, ask to meet them again with another
two. And if that doesn’t resolve the matter take it to the whole church.
Now we need to recognise that Matthew’s community of Christians existed in a
completely different culture and didn’t have the heritage of the Church of England
polity of St Paul’s Canterbury. We probably wouldn’t take an accused person in front
of the whole congregation……..- though I can recall in one parish some
congregation members who would like nothing better than seeing another dragged
before everybody. (That has some sense of a lynching mob).
Jesus goes on to say ..if they don’t repent, then they should be treated as a Gentile or
Tax Collector.. and because Matthews community had a Jewish heritage it means
that they should be cast out. Tax collectors collected for the Roman occupying
forces and so they were traitors and Gentiles were not ‘chosen’ by God like the Jews
and so were regarded as unclean.
As I started reflecting and praying about this reading for this sermon last Monday, the
passage spoke to me with the message as I had always understood it. I thought,
maybe a bit harsh about excommunicating the unrepentant sinner at the end, but
they had been treated fairly and given a number of opportunities to mend their ways.
They had eventually brought it on themselves—everyone had tried so hard to include
them and they wouldn’t give way … and so it was probably fair that in the end they
had to go.
Then during my prayers on Tuesday morning God spoke to me. When I read this
disciplinary process in context, I noticed that today’s passage starts with
‘Take care that you do not despise these little ones’. A shepherd who has one
hundred sheep and one goes astray, does he not leave the ninety nine and go in
search of the of the one who went astray and when he finds it rejoice more over it
than the ninety nine who never went astray.
…..And this is what God does so that none of these little ones will be lost.It struck me that this whole passage was really about the little ones who went astray
and that the one who sinned against another was also lost. Buddhist teaching
doesn’t have a concept of sin; Buddhists think of it more as misaligned thinking or a
psychological stuckness. There isn’t the same concept of blame. And so when
someone lashes out and says horrible things to another, its recognised as being about
their fears and insecurities.
This insight enabled me to see the passage not so much from a management
perspective of power, as how the organisation can deal with ‘trouble makers’, but
from God’s perspective of how to save the little one who was lost. The various phases
of meeting with successively lager groups was not so that the organisation could
expel them with a clear conscience, but it is a protocol aimed at keeping them in the
community. If they wont repent, Jesus says treat them as a Tax Collector or
Gentile…….This led me to think, ‘well who were these people to Jesus and how would
he look on them?’. ……
Jesus’ attitude to the Gentiles????… he welcomed the Syo-Pheonecian woman, and
told a story about a Good Samaritan who was more godly that the smug Jewish
religious leaders. And what about Tax Collectors? He invited himself to dinner with
Zacheas’ and then declared salvation had come to his house. In fact the very Gospel
from which this story is told is named after Matthew…. who was a tax collector.
On Wednesday night I took this reading to our Men’s Spirituality Group which meets
fortnightly over pizza and wine in the Parish Centre. After we had eaten we spent
nearly 1.5 hrs considering the passage. Initially I told nothing of my new understanding
and when we had all read it once , a number commented that they were glad it was
me and not them that had to work out a sermon around it.
We used the lectio devina method with different people reading the passage
followed by silence, and then we identified the word or phrase which struck each of
us. Each told us what touched them without discussion. This ancient method, which we used here during Lent in 2013, helps as hear what God is saying to us in the
moment, as scripture speaks into our life situation.
The phrase which resonated with many was the needs of the ‘little ones’ and the
vulnerable. Most of these men have held responsible positions with large
organisations and I was interested that what resonated was not how to deal with the
recalcitrant- but the lost…. in fact one comment was that it was a bit harsh – almost
old Testament, and how over a period of time of listening to God they have come to
understand that deep down, behind their competent façade, they often feel like to
lost .. who through circumstances of life which were not their fault, it has left them like
the lost sheep which went astray.
With this understanding has grown a gratitude and knowing of the God who has
come searching for them. One shared that after many years, when he bravely told
his Dad about his lostness and feelings of vulnerability as a result of his past, that their
relationship has now developed to a level which they never knew before.
Gods cares for the little ones who go astray. Period
God didn’t come into the world to condemn but to save all and offer eternal life.
Because of our own fears and insecurities we set up systems to deal with those who
break the rules. Reflect on the story of the Loving Father and the prodigal son ..the
lost son is welcomed back before he even apologises.
Deep down we are all lost ones- longing to be loved.
I was deeply shocked by the recent death of Robin Williams. I’d like to play you an
excerpt from his Farewell by Billy Chrystal
VIDEO
I’d like to Finish with an extract from my own Journal which I wrote soon after his
death.
I was surprised today when I found myself crying about the death of Robin
Williams. I sense that the resonance for me is the sadness about the need to be funny. For me I learnt this very young, in order to get the love and
attention I needed. I wonder if it was the same for Robin?
I’m surprised at 63 (the same age as me), that he was still haunted by the
demons of depression (aloneness)…. it makes me feel really sad- for him …
and for me.
The fact that he had 3 wives and sought solace in alcohol and other drugs,
again points to the desolation.
I recall that he was an Episcopalian- he talked about ‘pew aerobics’ – that
we had liturgy where we talk to God, but which also keeps you fit. This
suggests to me that he sought solace in organised religion and maybe in
God. I feel sad that he didn’t find what I’ve found, but I have a sense,… a
constant sense of what he feared…. that he wasn’t really loved.
But this isn’t all sad. As I look into his eyes I sense a deep and understanding
compassion that knows the pain of God-…… maybe that’s why there has
been such a public outpouring of grief…… because in Robin people sensed
that the kingdom of God has come near. That in Robin being Robin he
somehow met people in their deep longing… and they knew in some
profound way that he understood what it was all about. His suicide may
point to the fact that he did-… or he didn’t, know what it was all about. ….I
don’t know?…..But its good for me to wonder.
When I see Robin walk off that stage, as a little boy with his hand in the hand of his
Dad I sense that Robin was expressing his deepest longing.
And I’m reminded that God cares for us little ones and……. I’m so thankful.
The Lord is with you