Were some of you confused by my reflection title? It’s a quote by Dr. Brené Brown.
Dr. Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston; she has spent the past sixteen years studying courage, vulnerability, empathy, and shame. She is the author of four books: The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, and Braving the Wilderness. I have read all but the last one, which is sitting on a table at home waiting to be read.
What does that have to do with the readings you ask? It has to do with how we live in relationship with one another. If I asked you to name the most important thing in your life, what would your answer be?
The congregation responded with family.
Family… or relationships…
And what is at the heart of family and relationships?
The congregation responded with ‘love.’
But not just soft, gentle love. But love that is strong enough to discipline, even though it breaks your heart. Love that does not put one person in the family’s needs/wants above the others. Love that speaks truth, even when it hurts, because silence becomes oppression, suppression and disconnection.
The first reading is so familiar to many of you that that you may have a tendency to tune out. But strip away everything you think you know about the passages you heard today and listen to them through the lens of love and relationships. What does it take for a family to flourish and thrive together? What does it take for a community to flourish and thrive? Some sort of guidelines, or rules or laws. These can be both formal and informal…both spoken and unspoken…
The Ten Commandments are ‘house’ rules for how the freed people of Israel are going to be in relationship with one another. We don’t know how long it had been since Moses had led them out of the bondage of Egypt…but if they were going to truly be free, they had to learn new ways of interaction than when they had been enslaved. Let’s listen as we hear the ancient covenants that God offered to the people as written in Exodus 20: 1-17:
20:1 Then God spoke all these words:
20:2 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 20:3 you shall have no other gods before me. 20:4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 20:5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 20:6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. 20:7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. 20:8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 20:9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 20:10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work–you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 20:11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. 20:12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. 20:13 You shall not murder. 20:14 You shall not commit adultery. 20:15 You shall not steal.20:16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 20:17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Last year, at the first meeting of the new executive, we adopted the following guidelines for our meetings:
- Only one person speaks at a time. No interruptions.
- Conversations, especially spiritual (mostly during grounding meetings) are confidential and not to be shared outside the meeting.
- Be respectful
- Speak in the “I”.
- Cell phones on silent.
- Be on time.
- Accept others’ ideas
- Attendance is crucial. Please make every effort to attend.
- Be positive
- Be open and honest.
And last November, at the Can We Talk Session, the following were offered by the people who attended when I asked how we can improve communication:
These were YOUR words:
- If we don’t understand something then ask someone who can answer your question. ie. If you don’t understand an announcement, ask Pat or Rev. Catherine.
- Go to the source if you are unhappy with something or someone. ie. If you disagree with a decision of the Executive, speak to Rev. Catherine or the Chair. If you are unhappy with someone, go speak to them!
- If you uncomfortable speaking about your concern, ask a third party to go with you.
- If someone complains about the same thing repeatedly, ask for possible solutions or ask that person not to tell you this anymore
- Diligently read the announcements and circles and other information sources
That’s only five!
When we live in covenant with each other, when we live by the ‘rules’ we say we want, then we can more likely live with love between us.
I will let you sit with that for about 30 seconds before moving on to the gospel reading.
We have an angry Jesus and we are not accustomed to thinking about Jesus like this. Some version of this story is found in all four gospels, which tells us something about its importance. Over the years this passage has been interpreted as there should be no talk of money in places of worship. That is one interpretation. But there are others. It can also be interpreted to mean that he was upsetting the community norms of temple worship practices. First of all you have to understand that temple worship involved ritual sacrifice. Sacrifice required pure animals or birds, etc, and their purity had to be guaranteed, so it made sense to have them at the Temple site. But you would not buy a pure sacrifice with impure money, so having a Temple currency made sense, and money changers were therefore required. It also made sense to have such a market in the outer, rather than the inner and more pure courts. But this cut into the court intended for Gentile enquirers. (Rev. Stew Clarke & Rev. Catherine MacDonald: Scripture Introductions Year B)
Jesus overturning the tables was not about money at all… but rather community living. And upsetting the tables, upsetting the community norms, ultimately led to his death. Let’s listen as Jesus turns over the tables in John 2:13-22:
2:13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.2:14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 2:15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 2:16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 2:17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
2:18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 2:19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 2:20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 2:21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 2:22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
What tables in our time do we need to ask Jesus to turn over? Tables of privilege? Of secrecy? Of sowing dissension? What tables of behaviour do we need to ask Jesus to turn over? This congregation, this former pastoral charge, has a history of handling conflict in inappropriate ways. Secret meetings, parking lot conversations, and attempts at control are part of your history. But you can have a different future, but you have to choose it.
You may have noticed that there was no Passing of the Peace this morning, it wasn’t an oversight, it was deliberate. For two years I have reminded you that Passing the Peace isn’t the time to catch up on news, to arrange meetings or make appointments or decisions, but it is a time when we meet Jesus face to face in one another. It is a time when, no matter what our personal differences, we can greet each other in the name of Jesus.
It probably isn’t news to most of you, as the church gossip line seems to work exceedingly well, that Bill Parks and I, the former Chair of the Executive have had a deep disagreement. Last week, during the Passing of the Peace, I extended my hand to him and started to say, ‘The Peace of Christ be with you.’ He looked at me, ignored my outstretched hand, and kept walking. He also went up to Martha, leaned over to her and whispered in her ear, “I know more than you think I do.”
You may be wondering why I name this act of inappropriate behaviour when it seemingly is between him and me. But it’s not just between him and me. It’s about behaviour that is allowed. Did any of you who witnessed that say anything to him about how inappropriate that was? In staying silent, you implicitly are saying that it’s okay. For those of you who are new or newish to the congregation, you might be wondering what kind of church we are! And you might have come with the idea that conflict doesn’t or shouldn’t happen in the church. But it does, because we bring who we are to this place, the good, the bad and the ugly. And conflict doesn’t have to be destructive, but it can become destructive if not handled in the right way.
Some of you may not have a clue what I am talking about, but most of you do. Some of you will simply go along with bad behavior in the vain hope that it will disappear. Some of you will offer a silent nod, not realizing that encourages the person who engaged in bad behavior. Some of you will attempt to hide or run away because you are afraid of doing the wrong thing, but this also empowers the bad behavior. Naming bad behaviour is very scriptural.
Matthew 18 isn’t part of the lectionary readings for today, but it is the basis of how we are to deal with conflict and how we talked about it last November:
15 “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. 16 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. 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church;
I am telling it to the church.
Believe it or not, I love each and every one of you. I may not like some of the ways in which a few, a very few of you are behaving right now, but I still love you. For better or for worse, I am your minister for the next 16 months, and if you want to be able to call a new minister, you are going to have to start dealing with things differently. Because right now, I cannot say to Halifax Presbytery that I feel confident that you have worked through many of the issues that brought me here. And here’s the thing folks, this behaviour didn’t start when I arrived as your Interim Minister, it is part of your history, a history that you have said you want to leave behind. It is simply being exposed to the light of day. There is so much potential here and so much to celebrate. But God’s dream for this community will never be realized until you decide you want to behave differently.
I am deeply grateful for a Ministry and Personnel Committee who takes their work seriously and goes about it with intention and integrity. I am deeply appreciative of the Transition Team that has supported the work you said you wanted to do. When we held the Listening Circles in the first year of our time together, these are the things that you said you wanted to focus on and name as Core Values:
Focus on Faith,
Welcoming, Accepting and Inclusive,
Caring for and Being Open to One Another, and
Connecting with Wider Community.
The things the congregation said they wanted to let go of are:
- Negativity, worry and woe x 20
- The past x 12
- Unhelpful behaviour such as animosity, gossip, blame, guilt, closemindedness, cliques, complaining, secretiveness, judgment and wanting our own way.
These are the things YOU said, not me, YOU!
Who among you wants to forget a new way ahead? Who among you wants to help Jesus flip over the tables? If you are, I ask you to stand, as a visible commitment to forging a new path. This is not about me, it’s about changing patterns of behaviour that have gone on for years, sometimes decades. United we stand, divided we fall. No one person can do it alone, we need each other’s support.
There are healthy ways of living in covenant and community with each other. I have every confidence in your ability to change how you interact with each other and your minister. It is hard work and it will take time, but I KNOW you can do it. You must do it… for the sake of the congregation that you love so much. The truth will indeed set us free, even if it hurts like hell right now.
Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity of flipping over some tables, amen.
Exodus 20:1-17, John 2: 13-22, Matthew 18.
March 4, 2018 – Lent 3 – Riverview United Church