Is everyone awake? Perhaps you were awakened by the start gun for the Ironman this morning. Yes, there are Ironmen and women out there today, while we are here. And we are grateful for each of you who are in this circle. Bathed in the light of God’s love, and in this sweet sunlight, you are golden.
In the privileged time I had over the past year with our grandchildren I was reminded of the Wakefulness that accompanies parenting little ones. So I smile to read this Gospel after having a visit with Ziggy, our little grandson yesterday, and to see now at least one baby among us: so precious.
In this 18th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel Jesus’ focus is on protecting the “Little Ones”. It began with Jesus bringing a child into the circle. This was in response to a tussle among disciples over who was the greatest in God’s home. He warned them to protect the child at any cost. In the next story the ‘little ones” were sheep, a stray lamb of which was worth abandoning the flock for. In today’s text Jesus teaches his followers how to support the most vulnerable of believers. These need extra protection, maybe at times correction, and always reminders that God’s forgiveness is unconditional.
The terms binding and loosing this Gospel may fall oddly on our 21st century ears, and the authority they conjure is not easily embraced. This authority is both granted- and cautioned. Simply put, binding and loosing refer to forbidding and permitting, as stated by authorities of Jewish law who were beyond dispute.
Coming from Jesus this authority gives great responsibility to the community. It is based on their acceptance of the Gospel, and meant to help them reflect the presence of God, and the life appropriate to a those living in a New Creation.
Most commentaries I found on this passage focus on church practices relating to boundaries, resolving conflicts, and restoring members who had been disciplined.
But one Charles L. Aaron, Jr. of Farmersville, TX, a United Methodist pastor and academic goes deeper in his reflection:
“The point of Matthew 18 is not that the church or its leaders possess special authority or insight when dealing with disputes, but that whenever it does exercise authority, it must pay ceaseless attention to the least powerful members of the community. Whenever and whatever we bind or loose, the Christian community is called to defend the interests of the least ones in our midst, as well as to create the space and conditions for forgiveness and restoration to flourish.
And a bit further:…Binding and loosing are practices in which we take part on a daily basis, usually unconsciously. What we bind and loose is integrally related to worldviews, values, and life scripts. Binding and loosing are not just about doctrines, but about where we shop, the neighborhoods where we buy houses, and our decisions to turn some people into friends and others into enemies, some into heroes and others into terrorists. This constant activity sets in place and reifies relationships, which, according to Matthew 18:18, even the powers of heaven may not be able to undo.”
Alert ears may hear the resemblance this process Jesus taught with present day practices of “restorative justice,” These too focus less on punishment, and more on the restoration of dignity and wholeness -for both the conflicted parties and their communities. This practice can also allow us to bring to light the conscious and unconscious ways in which we allow racist practices and divisions to persist.
For we are called to the practice of attentiveness,
To the humility required to truly listen to one another, that is, to listen with great care.
It requires us to develop critical thinking skills, to question what we think we know, and to practice grappling with new information.
O what a timely call in these days, when our ears throb and hearts seize for all the shouting, lying, and destruction in this world; when we feel such peril: to practice the speaking of truth and weaving of just relationships gives us direction!
Paul instructs us to WAKE UP and look around: Mercy is being shredded with reams of health, legal and environmental protections. The water that sustains us, the young and the old, the poor, the sick, immigrants and black citizens are threatened. God’s vulnerable are in danger!
When we are Woke and informed, we bear a burden of our own history and complicity with injustice.
But we can also see that we have at least this day, in which to seize its Light and speak God’s truth. While that has never been easy, it has always been happening.
One who was unwavering in speaking truth to power from 1973 was Capuchin Fr. Michael Crosby. After 5 years living in the calculatedly segregated city of Milwaukee he began to buy his way onto powerful corporate annual meetings, starting with tobacco companies. He believed that shareholders, no matter how small their stake, were responsible for urging executives to protect human dignity by advancing the cause of workers, the environment and human rights. In his words, “We’re not a bunch of Marxists trying to take the company down. We’re just faith-based people saying we’ve got to balance our fiscal responsibility with our social responsibility. We’re not in the market on the terms of Wall Street; we’re on the terms of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Fr. Crosby became a highly respected voice sharing and upholding the Gospel truth, and he persisted for 44 years until his death last month. \Did he see a huge transformation of society? We wish, but he never gave up, and so contributed to the coming of the Justice of God’s own home. As we say, our only Home.
My coworker Kenyatta often cautions me to “choose your words carefully. Each word has power.” This comes from her reverence for God’s word, sharpened by the experiences of her life as a black woman in our society. Reminded of how we once considered that addressing God only as Father impacts people differently, I think of how that word HOME resonates differently for people whose housing is insecure. Is God’s justice only to be known in an afterlife?
In 1973 the South Shore Bank attempted to relocate from the economically declining South Shore of Chicago to the Loop. At the time, one third of all apartment buildings in South Shore were tax-delinquent and in danger of abandonment by landlords.
Angered by the bank’s racist lending practices, community banker-activists with the investment of $13 million of several women’s religious orders –who were thus share holders – became the nation’s first community development bank.
During its 37 years of operation, ShoreBank played a critical role in stabilizing and rebuilding many of Chicago’s low-income neighborhoods through home ownership, setting the standard for the development finance industry and expanding later into low-income communities in Detroit, Cleveland and eventually around the world. They later advised early micro financing efforts. Such victory for the little people! Such good stewardship by these nuns and others!
But often we do not follow our money closely enough. I was chagrined when I learned that the holder of our mortgage, Associated Bank, had been found disproportionately denying the loan applications of African-Americans and Hispanics from 2008 through 2010; they were subject to the largest HUD-initiated redlining settlement that agency has reached. Associated, the largest bank headquartered in Wisconsin was also cited for, “under serving” neighborhoods with significant African-American or Hispanic populations, despite rising demand for residential mortgage loans in those areas. You may have heard of this, almost 2 years ago. But we never heard it from them.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development decried these injustices and the agreement they reached included situating additional banks in lower income areas, and offering multimillion dollar additional lending at reduced rates in the very neighborhoods offended, most in our state.
We, who are called to be alert, to be sentinels to the wicked, to be awake, were asleep even as families who were eligible for investing in homes were denied housing because of the color of their skin. I am among those who have some complicity there.
As Paul writes to the Romans “All that we are to owe one another is just love, love – and justice.” Clearly it was never easy!
To owe nothing but love to one another is to recognize that we all are completely dependent on God’s grace for our forgiveness, but also for our very existence. Being Woke to this reality shifts how we live in relation to one another on every level. To “owe nothing” is to declare that all are free and none is preferred – or less deserving. That requires breaking ourselves free of our society’s history, hierarchy and the biases we have absorbed. The cross accepts no arguments for superiority.
We have our life’s work before us!
Together around this table, may we accept forgiveness, take courage and discover strength. By the gift of Gods own Spirit may we find guidance and perseverance in the mission of reconciliation to which we are called by Jesus, who was crucified for his fierce love of the “little ones”.
Let us pray:
For all who dare identify themselves as Christians, especially those in political, corporate, or financial power. May they speak only truth, and work for justice and the protection of all who are vulnerable, and for the earth that sustains us, let us pray.
In times when any of the above fail to speak the truth, work for justice, or protect the vulnerable or our earth home, may God raise up a large number of believers and other people of good will to confront these transgressors, and may God be with these truth speakers and bring success to their call, let us pray.
For all the vulnerable who suffer, especially those who suffer wrongs in which we are knowingly or unknowingly complicit, let us pray.
For what else shall we pray?
Taking a moment, let us raise the names of those for whom we are especially concerned……For all these needs, and for all whose names are written in our book of intentions let us pray.
Loving God here we are, gathered in your name. We thank you for being here among us, and ask you to accept our prayers in the name of the Creator, Jesus the Christ, and your Holy Spirit, Amen.