Second Sunday in Season of Creation
Today we continue with the second in a five-part preaching series for the church’s Season of Creation. The theme this week is “Learn.” As many of you will know I spent six-weeks this summer learning from and collaborating with Navajo Episcopalians. I learned so much, and I’d like to begin by sharing one of my experiences.
I was driving a rental pickup truck along the winding, narrow highway that snakes its way through Monument Valley, Arizona, but I returned the gaze of the woman in my passenger seat at every moment I could. It was urgent that I do so, because her eyes shone with the sorrow and righteous anger of generations. She gestured all around us at the sunbeaten landscape of rock and endless horizon that she called home: Dinétah, the Navajo Nation. Though nothing appeared unusual to the naked eye, she told me how this iconic region contains 63 abandoned uranium mines. This is only a fraction of the total number in Navajoland, over 500. Beginning in the 1950’s private, white-owned companies hired primarily Navajo workers to extract this radioactive element for nuclear weapons. Increasing rates of cancer afflicted Navajo people at alarming speed throughout the sixties. Though studied and documented, nothing was done to protect Navajo people. In spite of the founding and intervention of the EPA in 1971, to this day large amounts of radioactive waste remain – in the earth, the air, and in vital aquifers. As she listed the lives of family and friends cut short or diminished by radiated lungs and failed kidneys, my companion’s tears spilled over and her voice trembled as she asked, “Why do they do this to us?”
Ezekiel 33: 7 – 11
Psalm 119: 33 – 40,
Romans 13: 8 – 14
Matthew 18: 15 – 20
Our confessor was here yesterday, to hear the confessions of the Brothers. I was at Emery House for the day and so I missed the opportunity to make my confession, so I’ll confess to you …… I’ve never really been terribly interested in clothes. (You thought you were going to get something juicy, didn’t you?) It was my older brothers, Charlie and Chris who were the clothes horses in my family. In fact, in high school both of them got jobs in a men’s clothing store, and for a while after high school, my brother Chris was the manager of the store. My family recognized that I wasn’t all that interested in clothes. On one occasion Brother Jonathan and I happened to be in Toronto at the same time as my parents. The four of us arranged to meet somewhere for dinner one evening. When we got to the restaurant my Dad took one look at Jonathan and one look at me, and turned to my Mum and said I told you that we could at least count on Jonathan to be properly dressed! As I said, I’m not terribly interested in clothes. I hate shopping for clothes and usually buy the first thing that I think will fit.
It’s probably a good thing that I am a monk then. I don’t have to spend a lot of time thinking about what I am going to wear on any given day. Even before I went to bed last night, I knew what I would wear today, and I know what I’ll be wearing five years from now. I bet you can’t say that!
“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:15-20).
This passage appointed for today from the Gospel according to Matthew is undoubtedly helpful, but it requires some digging. First, a disclaimer. If you have a presumption that Christians, the followers of Jesus, are always going to be right and do right and never experience or cause an offense or breakdown in their relationships with other people, it’s simply not so. We can presume otherwise from this passage. We also know otherwise because of the endless squabbling between Jesus’ closest disciples. Remember how Peter, on whom Jesus said he would build his church, seems to have reached his limit on forgiving fellow Christians when Peter explodes and asks Jesus, “if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus answers him, “Not seven times, but, seventy-seven times,” which is code language meaning forever.1 Of course the subtext is this: offensive, disappointing, inappropriate stuff is going to keep happening between members of the Church. Jesus says our posture is to forgive. I’ll come back to that.
‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector.