A reflection for Proper 18, Year A
Prepared for Red Door healing service, Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church (Richmond, VA)
Jesus said, “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.”
A few weeks ago, classes started back up again at VCU. Now, this probably comes as no surprise to any of you, because the streets and sidewalks around campus have gone from occasional strolling visitors to (literally) thousands of people who move en masse from class to class, turning every corner of this city campus into their second home. It’s definitely interesting immersed in an urban campus where when school is back in session, it feels like an entirely different world.
I have a whole new cohort of students that I’m teaching…some graduate students, and some undergraduates. My undergraduate students are sometimes barely more than teenagers…and some of them actually still are! They are trying to figure out everything from how to get up on time for an 8 a.m. class, to how to balance the need to study with the desire to have fun, to how to not use up their entire food budget in the first few weeks of the semester. But, VCU being what it is, the students in my classroom are also really diverse. My students are of various races and ethnicities and blends thereof; they are from different backgrounds and cultures; they have a vast array of identities that help define who they are. Some of my students come from families with generations of college graduates and professionals who have long encouraged and coached them up to this point, while others are first generation college students who are trying this all out on their own, sometimes without any help…or even support…from their families.
The undergraduate class that I teach is called, “Social Work with Oppressed Groups.” It is a class that helps my students understand from all of these diverse perspectives that in this society in which we live, there are groups of people who are not given equal access to experiences and opportunities. I am helping them confront and grieve the fact that the idealism with which many of them were raised is going to be constantly confronted by injustices that they have to see and name. For some of my students, those injustices are a very real and present part of their every day lives. We learn to call that unfairness what it is: social injustice. We learn to call the ability to turn a blind eye to that injustice what it is: privilege. Sometimes, those are hard lessons. But they are lessons we have to learn so that we can then strategize how to deal with these issues, individually and collectively.
In my classroom, I spend the first few weeks moving us from a group of distinct individuals who happened to sign up for the same class at the same time, into a community where we can deeply confront, reflect, and together learn and practice ways to make the world a more socially just place. We engage in a number of learning activities to get us there. And, one of the things that I do is to teach my students a process I like to call “calling in.” While it might sound familiar, “calling in” is different from that other thing that people often do when confronting injustice: calling out.
Calling in…like it’s cousin “calling out”…is a way to address oppression and injustice when we see it. But, unlike calling out which points out bad behavior in order to set it apart, calling someone “in” means that we pause to point out how something that was said or done doesn’t fit with the norms of justice, equity, and respect that we have agreed to share together. When we pause to call someone “in” it is about offering an opportunity for the person engaging in the problematic behavior to come back into community, for the community to voice their experience of what they heard and what they think happened from their diverse perspectives, and ultimately offering up the opportunity for the person to make amends, with support of the community, so that we can be whole again.
Lo and behold, it would seem that when I read our Gospel lesson for this week, I realized that Jesus was instructing his followers about “calling in” long before any of our modern social justice advocates ever thought of applying the term. In fact, Jesus offers an example so clear and so profound that it is a gift to his followers back then, and to the Church today. Jesus invites us to continually invite each other back into community. First, by having a one-to-one conversation with people who are our church family when something happens that rubs us the wrong way. Jesus doesn’t say, “shout at them and tell them how rotten they are!” Jesus invites us to share with them privately how their behavior impacts us and offer the possibility of reconciliation. Reconciliation is beautiful; Jesus knows that and we know that. In fact, this whole instruction in today’s Gospel is really about getting to that place of reconciliation…of calling each other back in to relationship as people of God…as members of the Body of Christ. Jesus’ invitation to us includes that powerful reminder of what happens when we are reconciled: we recognize God’s presence in our midst.
Think about that. In fact, think about a time when you have experienced reconciliation with someone you love: family, friends, children, parents, partners. We have all been in a place where a relationship that is filled with the love that comes from God becomes disjointed by our human failings: broken trust, dishonesty, slander, hurt, silence…the list goes on. But there are times that with the loving support of a loving God, those human hurts are transformed through healing and reconciliation. Maybe it is reconnecting with a family member who has been outcast, or making things right with a friend. Maybe it is someone extending you another chance, offering up reconnection. Maybe it is passing the peace with someone who has once wronged us. I guarantee you, when that happens, when two or three are gathered…God is in the the midst.
So, I pose to you this possibility as I ponder of this week’s Gospel: maybe Jesus is calling us in. Perhaps Jesus is pointing out to us in the still, small voice in our soul the areas where we are in need of growth, and healing, and reconciliation. Maybe we listen, maybe we don’t. We are still not lost. Jesus uses the people around us as second chances to keep practicing how to come back into community. Perhaps Jesus calls us in to spaces like Red Door where we are met with love, exactly as we are, and reminded of the transforming grace of reconciliation which exceeds our human imagination. Perhaps Jesus is calling us in, and the way in which we reconcile is by seeing Christ in each other.
This place…right here…where we are gathered in the name of God bringing our prayers for hope, healing and reconciliation…God is here, with us, in our midst. Offer up that good news to someone today. God’s grace is calling us in.