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September 6, 2020

“From IOU to I <3 U”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Matthew 18.15-20

Romans 13.8-14

September 6, 2020

I’ve probably used this quote before from ELCA minister Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, but it’s one of my favorites. She talks about how she begins her work with a community by asking them “What are you going to do when I upset you?”[1] The question isn’t if she will offend, but when. I love this, because 1) we are human and make mistakes and 2) if gives us an opportunity to prepare for disagreement before we are emotionally invested and stressed and overwhelmed by a situation. Conflicts will happen because we make mistakes and because we think and act differently. So we have to decide how we will respond to conflict, and the scripture passages we read today help to outline this process.

I might be listening to a little too much Hamilton because as I read this I thought to the song: The Ten Duel Commandments. This song offers nine routes to take to find negotiation before ending in a duel, which is number ten. There strangely is some overlap between our first scripture and the dueling rules, but there is a clear cut after number five.

The first rule of dueling is the same as what we read in Matthew. When there is a disagreement, it should always start with talking and apologizing! If you work it out, there’s no reason for moving forward in anger, but to continue to heal the relationship. If all disputes end this way, we’d be on easy street. Though, sometimes we know that the first step of addressing the issue can be the hardest. We might need to take some deep breaths or some space or a couple days before responding, but eventually it has to be addressed, and we have to be ready to listen. Think back to Bolz-Weber. If we begin a disagreement ready for a duel, we’re probably going to end in a duel. If we enter ready to listen, we don’t know the outcome yet.

The version we read talks about the other person rather remotely, but the original Greek suggests brother, or brother and sister. We are to imagine this as family. If the two people can’t solve this, there’s nothing to be ashamed of, but to take the next route. Our passage tells us to bring in an outsider’s opinion, or as Lin-Manuel Miranda writes in his Commandments, you bring in a second. The song even reminds us, “most disputes die and no one shoots.” We should be able to resolve this with a few people!

Of course, not everything can be for a variety of reasons. The next route is to take the issue before the church. Churches did not exist when Jesus said this, as churches did not come to exist until after Jesus died and was resurrected. Most likely this is to be considered going before a community, maybe more specifically a faith community.

Here we begin to drift apart from the duel – we go back to purpose. The purpose of the story Jesus is telling is for reconciliation. The ultimate goal is for the people to be welcomed back into community, for the relationship to be strengthened. If you’re starting a duel, you’re probably looking for a fight. These steps have a different purpose. Jesus came to reconcile. The Confession of 1967 tells us: “The Lord’s Supper is a celebration of the reconciliation of all with God and with one another, in which they joyfully eat and drink together at the table of their Savior.” (Confession of 1967, 9.52) When we feast on communion later today we do so as a sign of that reconciliation with God and each other.

We are called to the work of reconciliation, which is very hard. It’s not a matter of forcing one’s will to match the community or individual, but to really listen, to grapple with questions, and decided if everyone can agree to being part of this community again. It isn’t just about agreement, but committing themselves to actively working through issues and continuing to fight the good fights.[2] The outcomes might look like welcoming people back into community, or it might be wishing them well in a place that suits them better. What it doesn’t look like is, well, a duel. It doesn’t look like actions that are only self-serving or “woe-is-me” complaining. It doesn’t look like gossip, ignoring, or passive aggression, all which can tear a community apart rather than reconcile.[3] It looks like bringing wholeness as part of the plan, or attempting to separate in a way that can be healthy for all involved.

A small caveat, though. I think that for this reconciliation to work, for this good work of bringing forth people in disagreement to bear any fruit, the community has to be diverse in thought, in culture, in beliefs, and more. When we surround ourselves with like-minded people, with people who look like us and act like us, we can easily feel righteous anger that is not always accurate. Neutral parties are helpful, as are people with other perspectives who can see what we cannot.

As my children continue their lesson plan on bats, as driven by the bats that took over outside the church, we read Stellaluna. In the book this baby bat, Stellaluna, is separated from her mother when an owl scares her. Stellaluna struggles to find her place, and ends up in a bird nest with three babies and a mother. She eats their bugs, even though she is a fruit bat. She sleeps at night, and is awake during the day, and when she tries to teach the babies to hang upside down, the mother scolds Stellaluna. Eventually Stellaluna figures out she is a bat, and all her gifts of night vision and hanging upside down to sleep are more clear, and she’s able to share that with the birds. If these birds had never met Stellaluna or the other bats, they would have grown up thinking their way was the only way. If Stellaluna hadn’t met other bats, she would have continued as a bird, until perhaps the mother had kicked her out, or Stellaluna had run away or felt incredibly alone.

The Romans passage reminds us that we owe nothing to anyone, except love. When we try to summarize the commandments, it boils down to love. Even when we let go and wish others well, it is out of love, not hate.

Loving seems to be harder and harder each day. How do we love the person who us on the opposite political side? How do we love people shouting offensive comments? How do we love that person who is maskless, walking down the wrong way of the grocery store aisle?? It is only through the grace of God, who loves us all, who made us all.

The Romans, to whom Paul writes, weren’t living in a pandemic, but they weren’t living in simple times. Their major separation came between the wealthy and the poor.[4] How do you love the one seeming to take everything from you? How do you love the one who hoards? How do you love someone you don’t know? Again, this isn’t about owing – but love. For, when we love one another, we share because we are compelled out of love, not out of obligation. The passage goes on to call for “an awakening.”[5] If we aren’t living in a time of awakening, I don’t know what is. It is a time to change from the old ways of doing things and try something new. It is a time to look at what wasn’t working, and take a risk. It is a time to act out of love and not fear. It is a time to seek reconciliation with listening.

I want you to think of the changes you have made since COVID began. Can you name one change you made but didn’t want to, and perhaps are still dragging your feet about? Can you name one change you’ve made without any hesitation? Can you name one change you need to make?

Be bold and owe no one anything but love. Seek reconciliation, and be willing ready for an awakening, as the world changes before our eyes, and God is leading is through it. Amen.


[1] Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix, (New York: Jericho Books, 2013).

[2] Jin S. Kim, “Matthew 18.15-20” in Feasting on the Word: Year A, Vol. 4. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 46.

[3] Jin S. Kim, 46.

[4] Karen Chakoian, “Romans 13.8-14” in Feasting on the Word: Year A, Vol. 4. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 20.

[5] Ibid., 20.