No finger pointing please

Holy Child and St. Martin’s

Matthew 21:23-32

 The Rev. Leonard B. Oakes

September 25, 2011

 

What do this sign mean? (Pointing)

It means pointing towards a direction, pointing towards something else. It may point at something revealing or it can mean to accuse someone for doing something in particular. But if you examine it closely, you will find that two fingers are pointing at that direction and three are pointing at yourself. Let me see how you point at something? Try pointing your fingers at me. Try to accuse me with your fingers. Examine your fingers, aren’t three pointing at you?

 A group of students we’re having a campfire. At dinner, the leader led them in prayer, so everyone closed their eyes in deep thanksgiving. When everyone opened their eyes, someone screamed, “Who got my food!” Everyone started to point fingers at each other. Obviously, there were eyes whose concentration is the food, not the prayer.

Similarly, I remember back in seminary during breakfast time. Served in each plate are two boiled eggs, a dried fish and rice. After prayer, one of the eggs is gone and everyone would accuse their neighbor. Since then during breakfast prayer, one eye is open, the other closed or hands over the food.

 Our gospel today is a continuation of last Sunday’s further questionings of the leaders of the Sanhedrin and the Pharisees finger pointing on Jesus’ authority to teach about the kingdom of God. They asked, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority? Jesus wisely answered them, “I also will ask you a question; and if you tell me the answer, then I will tell you by what authority I do these things.” “The baptism of John, whose authority was it, from Heaven or from earth? Aha! Stalemate! Trapped in their own dishonesty and insincerity. The Pharisees grasped for an answer. They asked themselves, “If we say, from heaven, he will say to us, why then did you not believe John?” But if we say, “From men, we are afraid of the multitude for all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” Such a clever Jesus, he set the Pharisees in a lose/lose situation. He knows they feared the people and he expects them to remain non-committal when they said, “We do not know.”

 But here’s another trapping question asked by Jesus, “what do you think? A man had two sons; and he went to the first and said, son, go and work in the vineyard today, and he answered, “No dad! I won’t go. I’ve got other plans. I can’t make it. No way. It’s not my turn. Get my brother to do it. You are always after me. It’s not fair. Forget it!” but afterwards he repented and said, “Ok dad, I will go.”  And he went to the second and said the same;
and he answered, “I go sir” but did not go saying, “Huh! Why should I? I’d
rather play deaf” Which of the two did the will of the father? They answered, “The first!”

 Jesus intended audience (The Pharisees) was represented in the parable by the son who said, “Yes” to his father, but did nothing. They paid lip service to obedience, but their inaction rendered them ineffective and empty. They talked the talk but refused to walk the walk. Words without action mean absolutely nothing.  Anyone can talk holiness; it is quite another thing to live it authentically. The son who refused to go out in the field, but later relented and obeyed his father represents the sinners whose lives were once the antithesis of righteousness. After heeding the message of John the Baptist, they changed their minds and turned their lives toward God. These
reformed sinners were thus offered an honored place in the reign of God.
Obedience was important, but honor was more important. This is Jesus’ message. Both sons were sinners, but at least the son who initially refused to obey his father, and then changed his mind by doing it, displayed substantive transformation by his actions. He remembered the mercies and the love of his father and chose to do the right thing. He did not say one thing and do entirely different. Matthew’s primarily accusation against the Pharisees was that they said the right things but failed to do them. Jesus trapped them into pointing the accusing fingers at them.  

Those sinners and outcasts who are scorned by everyone are the very ones who do the will of God. They will also be the ones who are first to enter God’s reign. All who make a showy display of piety, yet changed nothing and do nothing, are really the non-repentant sinners.

In pointing the one finger at the sinners, the Pharisees pointed four at themselves. They will be usurped in the kingdom by none other than the despised harlots and tax collectors they castigated.

Another way how people point at something is by using their lips. It’s the Filipino way.  They said you are a Filipino if you point at something with your lips. Uhmm.. “Where?”…Uhmm.. And if it is farther….you will point with your lips this way…hmmmmmmmm. Try to point with your lips sideways. Let me see..

We have a lot of things to learn from each other rather than accusing each
other by finger pointing who support what. We should reflect on obedience and honor. Maybe the campers and seminarians should really focus in their prayer and thanksgiving, rather than keeping themselves busy taking someone else’s food.

 Fellow followers in Christ, there are lots of things to remember in the road to discipleship, obedience to the will of the father in one of them, honor is another. Honor is offered to Him who gives authority over all things there is. Let us not be trapped with dishonesty and insincerity, lest we end up answering, “We do not know” “not me” or the sign “hmmmmmm” Amen.

Let us make Peace and Love not hatred

Matthew 18: 21-35

 The Rev. Leonard Oakes

 Holy Child and St. Martin Daly City

 

I see troubled faces today. Would you try to smile and look around and with that smile say, “The Peace of the Lord be with you.” Let us give each other the sign of Peace.

One of the easiest acts a Christian could do is to forgive, forgiving someone whom you have a grudge with, someone who has been inconsiderate to you or treated you differently, who did injustice act towards you. And in this occasion, a group of extremists with some ideology to cause endless memory of pain and hate in the heart of our nation and the family of those innocent victims in Pennsylvania, those in the twin towers and the pentagon. But in the same manner, the hardest act a Christian could do is to forget, forgetting the bitterness, anger and hatred of a conflict that many times result to a violent act. For how can anyone tell the little child to forgive and forget on what happened to her dad aboard that flight when she was just 5 years old and now she’s 15; The family of the pilot who had to rearrange his flight schedule so he could celebrate their wedding anniversary the following day. What about the victims of those thousand innocents at the twin tower merely working for a living, how can you tell their family to just forgive and forget?

 In our own loss, whatever and however cause it was done, how can we forget. Teresa was just 5 when she lost her father. She has been missing the
love of a father. The Beltran family loss of their mother this week must be a difficult time. Losing someone you dearly love is painful.

 It is hard to even have the grace to see beyond the pain to the gain. To have the grace to see that while pain was done – God was able to use that pain for good. Often for us that is a most difficult thing. We can’t see anything good coming out of the harm that others have done us. We can’t see any reason for mercy – for forgiveness – even if, in other areas of our life, we prosper. We carry the wounds of the past with us, we remember the hurt done us, we think of what might have been, rather than looking at our life as it is now and seeing in it the hand of God to do good for many, and from that point of view, forgiving the harm done to us by few.

 

It was said, “To err is human, to forgive Divine.” When God had to sacrifice His Son to death on the Cross for our sinfulness, it must have been a hard and painful decision for Him. But God looked beyond what that event had to
give, the Grace of our Salvation, the ransom of many from eternal death to
eternal life.

Our Gospel today is a continued reading this season’s readings on Church Unity and reconciliation. The parable in Matthew 18:21-35 tells us of a king who wished to settle account with his slaves. As one who owed him ten
thousand talents could not pay him, he summoned him to be sold together with his wife and children and all his possessions but the slaves fell on his knees and pleaded the king to have patience with him and he will pay him everything. Moved by compassion, the king ordered the slave to be released and he forgave him.

But as the forgiven slave went out, he met one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii, he seized his fellow slave and asked for payment. His fellow slave pleaded him and fell on his knees, but he did not listen to the plea. Instead, he threw his fellow slave into prison until he could pay him.  When the king heard of it, he was furious and handed the unforgiving slave to be tortured until he could pay his debt.

Forgiveness as here described, is the bestowal of mercy and the cancellation of indebtedness. Doubtless, when it is exercised, normal relations are restored. But the peculiar nature of the action described is that, it makes the restoration possible. When the lord of the unmerciful servant asked, “Should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant?” He did not mean, “You ought to have had restored him to fellowship.” But “You ought to have remitted his debt of one hundred bucks?”

True fellowship indeed, with the merciful lord is actually lacking. So little is it present that the servant can take his comrade by the throat and cry, for the sake of the debt “pay what you owe!” and yet he has been forgiven! The conclusion is inescapable that Jesus is speaking of a stage antecedent to reconciliation when he applies the teaching of the parable in a somber words, “so shall my heavenly father do unto you, if you forgive not everyone from your hearts.

Forgiveness means reconciliation, and it must mutual, it can not be one sided. Though the advance may be made by one party, both parties must concur. A hand is extended, it must be grasped.

The barriers on either side must be thrown down. Jesus was telling
Peter, “If your brother or sister sin against you, rebuke him and if he
repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seventy times in a day, seven
times he turns saying, “I repent” you shall forgive him, knowing that it is of
genuine repentance.

One of the things Satan could not understand or perhaps wouldn’t like to understand is when he complains to God about forgiveness. He says,
“God, you’re unfair, so many sinners do wrong and you take them back. In fact some came back half a dozen times and you always welcome them.
I make one big mistake and you condemn me forever, it is not fair.” To which the Lord said, “Why, did you ever ask forgiveness or repent?”

Very often we pray, “Forgive us our sings as we forgive the sins
of those who sinned against us.” We often ask the Lord for forgiveness and
claim that we have forgiven those who have done us wrong. But after a while, we find ourselves digging into the past offenses done to us. In divine
forgiveness, the guilt and debt of sin are cancelled and repentant man is
received back into fellowship with the father.

Let us take note of the terms “repentant man” although forgiveness
is a gift, it won’t be given to us unless we repent for our mistakes. Divine
forgiveness is not meant to be kept, it has to be shared and given to those who need it. Just as God has forgiven us and has cancelled our trespasses, we ought to forgive and cancel the trespasses of others with all our hearts. Healing of wounds take a long time and it may even leave a scar. That scar could be itchy at times, calling us to scratch it and wounding it again, worst, inflicting it further damages. Forgiveness is impossible by our own human effort. We need the help of the Almighty.

The business of the Christian Church is to make peace and love not
to wage hatred against hatred. Let justice do its part without the stain of
hatred. Let us forgive those who were just used by few individual powers whose aim is to wage hate and pain. Let us not submit ourselves to that same
feelings. An eye for an eye will leave everybody blind. Let us instead chose
light by leading others about true forgiveness and love so that our Father in
heaven will be pleased.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the reason I asked you to give peace in the beginning is because I had the question in mind that, “How can we be sharing one meal today if we have hatred in our hearts to those whom we share the body and blood of Christ?” Were we not taught that before we come to the altar, first, we must reconcile ourselves and to others before we receive the gift? And whatever miracle happens in the Eucharist, we shall go out full of joy telling the whole world the greatness of God! Now when we do this, let the beauty of your heart be manifested in your face and your lips, SMILE! For when you smile, you will find the secret of life walking in you. May God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit give us strength and joy to proclaim the truth. Amen.

Misbehaving and Labor Day weekend

                                           Misbehaving and Labor Day Weekend      

                                                        Matthew 18:15-20

The Rev. Leonard Oakes

 

Last Sunday, we were confronted with the letter of Paul to the young church in Rome full of advice. Paul gave guidance in the early days of the church to a young community that is already experiencing some problems, some conflict and challenges, as they learn to live together, rooted in a clear, “community,” interdependent kind of love.

Today, our Gospel reading according to Matthew, our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us how to confront conflict in the church. We all know that even in the most Holy Ground, when our feet are bare to feel the presence of God, there is still bitterness and hatred in the heart of some. This bitterness will sometime escalate supported by gossips, and lack of prayers. People are nice on face to face value, but when they turn their back, eyes are twisted to the side, jaws dropped. People cling to the very hatred they have been keeping every single time and remain at a perpetual distance from each other. Try to reminisce those mischievous past, they sometime either make you smile or make you swing your head.

I was blessed to have been visited by two of my elementary and high school mates over the weekend. It was great to reminisce the past, some were fun and some were to remind of my mischief.  They reminded me a story of the time when there were no intercoms yet in school. 

 A story is told of an incident that took place when intercoms were first introduced into this one school. The story goes that there was this one little boy that was disrupting his class. For the sake of the story we will give him the name Leonard. Leonard had disobeyed the teacher quite often and had been sent to the principal’s office. The principal had a long talk with Leonard, after which, Leonard promised to do what the teacher said.

Well the very next day the principal decided to use the intercom to listen in on Leonard’s class to see if he was keeping his promise. And guess what? Leonard was giving his teacher a hard time. The teacher would tell him to sit down and he would make an excuse. When he did sit down he would get up again in a few seconds. Finally the principal decided to remind Leonard of the promise he had made to do what the teacher said. So the principal used the intercom and said, “Leonard, do as your teacher tells you.” That sound resonated around the room. At that, Leonard sat down in his chair, broke out in a cold sweat, looked around and said “Yes God, I will.”

The point of the story is that when the cat’s away the mice will play. It is human nature to be good when you know you are being watched, but it is when there is no one watching that’s when misbehavior breaks out. Those days just couldn’t leave me alone at times.

Just as children sometimes make misbehaviors in class, God’s children sometimes misbehave in church. People who are part of the church make unbecoming behaviors that could be misconstrued as un-Christian, people in the church acting as if they were out of it.

Our Lord Jesus Christ perceived that this would be a problem for the church so he gave us some guidelines on how to deal with it. Jesus said to his disciples, “If another member of the church sins against you…” Jesus is talking here about those who confessed Christ as their Lord and Savior but are not following his teachings in an open way.

Jesus offered us a model of a step by step process for dealing with sin in the community of faith. It is the biblical basis for excommunication and church trials.

Jesus said, “The first step is to go to the offender personally.” Don’t go anywhere else telling anybody about the incident trying to gain support to validate your opinion. This is a private meeting. The purpose is not to embarrass or humiliate the person it is to help them to live right. They may not realize that what they are doing is wrong or they may be ignoring that fact. This is a sensitive way of calling them to their moral senses and saving them from the pain that the sin will cause if it continues.

The next step is, if the person does not turn from that sin, then you go with one or two friends. The purpose of the extra people is to engage a little positive peer pressure. Maybe it is also to enable the offender to realize that the one who came to him before is not alone in their belief that their actions are sinful. The biggest advantage in this approach is it provides witnesses. That way if the offender refuses to repent, then there is more than one witness who can testify to it.

If it gets to this point then Jesus says that it is when the whole church should get involved: The priest, the bishop committee and others. At that point the whole church confronts the person. If then they refuse to turn from their sin they are to be treated as an outsider. In baseball, you have heard of three strikes and you are out. Here are the original three strikes and you are out. If an offender refuses to repent when an individual comes to them that is strike one. If they further refuse after a small group confront them then strike two. Finally if they refuse to repent when the whole church confronts them then strike three and they are out.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there. If he had, I wouldn’t be wasting my saliva prolonging my sermon to meet the 10 to 15 minutes guideline. After laying out a rather simple plan Jesus lays some serious theology on us. He says, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he follows it with “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.”

This concerns us. If God gives a rubber stamp to what we decide, then we are all in trouble. The church here on earth is notorious for making bad decisions. If we take these verses literally then where had Galileo been between the time of his death and the recent proclamation by the church that they were mistaken in excommunicating him? Certainly God does not enforce the decisions that we humans make out of prejudice or ignorance. I believe that what these passages are talking about is our responsibility. If we fail to live out the righteousness of God then those who fail to see it are the ones that pay for our mistake. Our decision not to live righteously is ratified in heaven by those who remain unsaved because we did not proclaim the truth to them in our community life. Likewise if we go around excommunicating people from the church without sufficient cause, then we cut them off from the influence of godly people and give them up to the world. Then our decision is realized in heaven by those who suffer eternally due to our legalistic zeal.

But Jesus puts all this into context in his final verse. He says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” We often refer to this passage as a way of affirming God presence in our gatherings no matter how humble. But here, it has a quite different meaning. It is saying that God is always watching.

 We often get careless in our conduct when others are not watching. It is easy for even the most devote Christian to become frustrated with a misbehaving believer who refuses to repent. Sometimes we act rashly with those who are hurting themselves and others through their sinful conduct. But Jesus reminds us that God is in our midst.

 Even if it is just you talking to a friend about his or her sinful actions God is there. And we can call on God to work on that person’s heart to bring them to repentance. Like Leonard in the story, we need to be reminded that God is watching us in church. And we should be careful how we deal with those who are misbehaving; after all we are God’s ambassadors in this world.

 

 It is Labor Day weekend. I am glad to see you around. Day in and day out most of us go to work, even with the economy as bad as it is. Our culture sets aside a day, Labor Day, to celebrate work by taking a day off from labor. A person’s work often is used to define them. When people first meet you, they ask, “What do you do?” They are not asking for your hobbies. They are asking what kind of work you do. That is why unemployment can be so psychologically and emotionally devastating. In the words of the unemployed, “I have labored so much to find a job and yet it continues to hide from me.”

Since work makes up so much of people’s lives and is so important, maybe the church ought to say something about it. Maybe we should start by celebrating what we do for a living and thank God that we have such a blessing and pray for those who are seeking, that they too may enjoy the fruit of what labor can give.

So take the day off tomorrow and enjoy your time together with your family and friends. But on Tuesday morning, don’t call in sick to extend you vacation, and please refrain from coughing on the phone to prove that you are sick, instead go to work, or wherever you go, including the unemployment office. And go to play your part in redeeming the world as you serve God in your workplace!


Amen.