Twentieth Sunday of Pentecost
Please click the image above to open the video link of the Rev. Nancy Dilliplane’s gospel reflection for this Sunday on whether or not church and politics should remain separate.
Nineteenth Sunday of Pentecost
Please click the image above to open the video link of the Rev. Nancy Dilliplane’s gospel reflection for this Sunday on the parable of the Great Feast.
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Please click the image above to open the video link of the Rev. Nancy Dilliplane’s gospel reflection for this Sunday on St. Francis of Assisi.
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Please click the image above to open the video link of the Rev. Nancy Dilliplane’s gospel reflection for this Sunday on lessons from the time of Exile and today’s time of pandemic.
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Please click the image above to open the video link of the Rev. Nancy Dilliplane’s gospel reflection for this Sunday on the Parable of the Sowers.
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Please click the image above to open the video link of the Rev. Nancy Dilliplane’s gospel reflection for this Sunday.
Here is the text:
Sermons at Trinity Buckingham
September 13, 2020
The Rev. Dr. Nancy Burton Dilliplane
In the name of God, Holy One, Holy Three. Amen.
Today’s gospel reflection is brought to you by the letter “H” and the number “7”
Holy. Hallowed. Halleluia. Hope. Heaven. All churchy sounding words that begin with the letter “H”. But the word I’d like to focus on this morning is “Hyperbole.”
Hyperbole is the use of exaggeration as a rhetorical device. It is a figure of speech designed to evoke strong feelings and create strong impressions. In most cases, these exaggerations or figures of speech are not meant to be taken literally.
We use hyperbole all the time in our daily lives—“I’m so hungry I could eat a horse!” “I’m sick of hearing that. If you say it again I’m going to throw up!” “Sometimes he makes me so angry I could kill him!” Mostly we know how to interpret statements like these and we don’t phone the ASPCA, grab a bucket and mop or call the police homicide division.
When it comes to scripture, thought, we are often slow to recognize hyperbolic speech. And that’s too bad, because Matthew’s gospel this morning is just full of hyperbole. Jesus uses exaggeration after exaggeration to make his point about the importance of forgiveness.
Let’s take a minute to put today’s passage in context. It follows the story we heard several weeks ago—the story of Peter’s confession of faith—the story of how Peter was the first to call Jesus Messiah—the son of the living God. In response, Jesus called Peter the rock on whom he would build his church. And then Jesus gave Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
In my gospel reflection on this story, I told you that I thought that the keys that opened heaven were mercy and forgiveness. And I invited you to send me a story or a reflection or an experience or a question you had about mercy and forgiveness, in exchange for a secret treasure from my personal treasure box. By now those of you who accepted the invitation should have received your secret treasure in the mail.
And the rest of you? Well, I’ll give you one more week, and if you don’t send me something, I’m going to take your name out of the parish directory and stop sending you the eblast until you do.
But enough of my hyperbole. Let’s return to gospel.
First comes Peter’s question about forgiveness: If a member of the church sins against me, how many times must I forgive? As many as seven times?” That’s already a bit hyperbolic. It’s as if Peter is saying, how often do I need to forgive? EVERY SINGLE DAY? Is forgiveness really something I have to practice that often?
Jesus picks up on this and says, “not seven but seventy-seven times.” In some translations it reads “not seven but seventy times seven.” Jesus takes Peter’s exaggeration and inflates it even more. He makes forgiveness not a daily, but an hourly occurrence. Jesus’ hyperbole suggests that forgiveness is more than a once-in-awhile thing, it is a way of life.
This is gospel math along the lines of how five loaves of bread expand to feed a crowd. Jesus’ exaggerated response to Peter’s points to the abundance of kingdom of heaven, and to God’s compassion and mercy and abundant forgiveness. Forgiveness of this magitude is a God thing. And this God thing is meant to become the way of Christian life.
To drive home the point, Jesus then shares a parable drenched in more hyperbole.
A servant owes a king 10,000 talents. In first century economic terms, a talent was worth about 6,000 denarii. And a denarius was about what a servant could expect to be paid for a day’s labor. If I’ve done my math correctly, that means that the servant owed the king about 60 million denarii. In today’s terms, that’s the debt of a small nation, not an individual! No person could ever hope to repay it. Not even by selling themselves and their family into servitude for several lifetimes. The debt is outrageous.
But in an equally outrageous act of compassion and mercy, the king forgives the debt. The servant is set free. His life is restored many times over.
Now it happens that a second servant owes the first servant100 denarii. That’s a large amount of debt, but payable. And it is miniscule by comparison to the debt that has just been forgiven by the king. And yet, the forgiven servant refuses to forgive the debt of his fellow servant.
The parable doesn’t tell us why someone who has been forgiven an almost unimaginable debt would be unwilling to show mercy to someone else. But it’s not, perhaps, an unfamiliar story. How often, throughout history, biblical and otherwise, have the oppressed, once freed from oppression, turned around and become the oppressor? What makes human beings behave that way? What keeps us from extending compassion and mercy to others when we, ourselves, have received so much? When we owe our very lives to the mercy of the Sovereign God, who are we to withhold mercy from others?
Why, when God forgives us over and over again—not just seven times, but seventy times seven times—and welcomes us home with open arms, are we so stingy when it comes to forgiving others? Why do we not use the keys we’ve been given to open the gates of heaven for other people? If the parable leaves us asking those questions, it has done its job. We could leave it right there, and have enough to reflect on and repent of for the rest of the week.
But Jesus doesn’t end the parable there, he drives his point home by speaking of the king’s terrible disappointment and anger. “In anger the king handed the unforgiving servant over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Does anyone else find this jarring? What happened to the merciful, forgiving king from the first part of the parable? Is there a limit to forgiveness, after all, despite that seventy times seven thing? What are we to make of how this parable ends?
The answer, I think, is that this, too, is hyperbole. Have you ever been so disappointed or so angry that you thought or said, “Oh, I could just murder you right now?” Or “burn in hell?” Judgmental, unforgiving, unmerciful over-the-top statements sometimes fly out of our mouths. The thing is, we don’t intend to act on them (I hope). Instead, we use exaggeration to try to convey the depth of our feelings. The utter seriousness of the matter at hand. If the end of the parable unsettles you, good!
Jesus is that serious about the importance of forgiving one another. As I have loved you, so you should love one another. As I have forgiven you, so you should forgive one another. Just as it is the nature of God always to have mercy, and to bestow on us humans unmerited grace, it is God’s deep desire is that we would extend that grace, mercy and forgiveness to others. It’s the key—or one of them—to living on earth as in heaven.
Despite the warning at the end of the parable that God will act like the angry king, God does not, in fact, act that way. Rather than handing us over to be tortured until our debts are forgiven, God gives us Jesus, who speaks forgiveness from the cross, and on the night before he died, instituted a new covenant in his blood, poured out for us all for the forgiveness of sins.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Please click the image above to open the video link of the Rev. Nancy Dilliplane’s gospel reflection for this Sunday — on addressing conflict with mercy, forgiveness through the power of the presence of Jesus in the midst of us.
Here is the text:
Sermons at Trinity Buckingham
September 6, 2020
The Rev. Dr. Nancy Burton Dilliplane
In the name of the one holy and triune God, Amen.
You know, I don’t usually think of Matthew’s gospel as a roller coaster of excitement. But over the course of the last few weeks, he really has taken us on some ride!
Two weeks ago, Jesus asked the disciples “who do you say that I am?” We soared high with Peter’s sudden insight and his confession of faith: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” We thrilled to Jesus’ ringing affirmation that Peter had got it right: “Blessed are you, Peter! You are the Rock on which I will build my church!”
Then last week, Peter plummeted from grace. He scolded Jesus for saying that God’s Messiah could possibly be arrested, tried, convicted and executed. Suddenly it was no longer “you rock!” but “get behind me, Satan.” In a matter of verses Peter went from high to low and Matthew took us along for the wild ride.
In this week’s Gospel lesson Matthew takes us on another loop-de-loop, this time with regards to the church. Matthew is the only gospel to use the word “church”—ecclesia—to refer to the community that follows Jesus. He first used the word church two weeks ago in a very positive way when Jesus proclaimed that the gates of Hades would not prevail against his church.
But this week….well….fasten your seat belt! The mighty church appears to be awash in sin and conflict. Zoom! The church is established. Whoosh! It falls.
Before the church is even a generation old, it appears as if sin and broken relationships are par for the course. Sorry if all this is making you dizzy, but it would seem that from the very beginning, the church was not perfect.
And well, maybe we shouldn’t be all that surprised. Not when the church is founded on the likes of Peter: Clear-sighted and faithful one moment, and missing the mark completely the next.
Truth to tell, I think most of us are like Peter. At times we are willing to turn our lives inside out to follow Jesus, and at other times, we deny and betray him. We, flawed human begins are at once chosen to show the world what God’s love looks like, and pretty much guaranteed to behave in unloving ways. When God chose to love humankind, God pretty much chose to ride a roller coaster.
Matthew’s gospel takes a good hard look at human sin and conflict and confirms what the church in every generation has known to be true: despite our best intentions, challenges, division and conflict are part of every church community. But, if we take a closer look, we find that Matthew’s focus isn’t really the sin and conflict, his focus is on reconciliation and forgiveness. In today’s gospel passage, he is showing his community how to use the keys to the kingdom of heaven that Jesus entrusted to Peter. Matthew is showing his own church community how to deal with division and conflict when they occur, as they inevitably will.
First: communicate! If you have a problem with someone else, first go and try talk to them directly. Don’t go around talking behind their backs, fueling the gossip mill and assembling a judgmental, self-righteous faction to take sides. Don’t go on an unfiltered rant on Facebook or Twitter. We don’t need to look farther than the evening news or the op-ed page of the pater to observe how conflict escalates when people complain and gossip about one another but are unwilling to talk to one another. Matthew’s advice: Be radical and courageous and seek out the person with whom you are in conflict and try to reconcile with them.
A word of caution though, before we take Matthew 18 uncritically as a how to manual: I don’t think Matthew intends for us to go into threatening or unsafe situations alone. Someone who is being bullied, for example, shouldn’t be made to approach the bully in private. And there are clearly some situations that call for us to go directly to the police, or leave and find a safe haven. And there are times we need to enlist the aid of someone skilled in handling conflict.
But I don’t think those extremes of sin and conflict are what Matthew is envisioning here. Matthew isn’t addressing relationships that are built on abusive power. He is addressing the Christian community which is founded on Jesus’ example of self-giving love and service.
Matthew is addressing a community who strives to base their relationships on power-for rather than power-over others. He takes as a given that member of the church are invested in loving one another, reconciling their differences and mending broken relationships.
He imagines that members of the church are willing to listen to one another and hear what the other person is saying. If we truly take the time to speak to and to listen to one another, we may indeed gain or regain one another as brother or sister. One-on-one communication may keep conflict from spreading and calcifying into divisions within the community.
Of course, sometimes, even when it is undertaken with good intentions on both sides, private conversation just cannot resolve differences. Matthew then offers a second principle of conflict management: enlist a few other members of the community to help you reconcile.
Matthew counsels the presence of two or three witnesses. Jewish law, based on the book of Deuteronomy, required two or three witnesses to uphold a complaint, and to assure that the accusations against the other were just. This isn’t 3 or 4 people ganging up on somone else, it is a small group of people dedicated to love and reconciliation seeking to help restore a loving relationship between two others. And there is more. Today’s gospel passage ends with Jesus’ promise to the Christian community “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
Jesus promises to bring the power of his own healing, reconciling love to any gathering where loving relationships are the goal. Jesus is in the midst of those who dedicate themselves, as he did, to forgiving and reconciling.
That’s how I make sense of the next part of this morning’s gospel passage, which otherwise I find very troubling. Matthew writes: if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
Gentiles and a tax collectors were two examples in Matthew’s time of people who were outside the bounds of community. Very often this statement gets interpreted as a kind of “three strikes and you’re out” policy: a justification for excommunication—casting an offending member out of the church, excising him/her from the body of Christ. If the offending member can’t be reconciled by one, several or the whole, then let him or her be put out of the community.
But wait! Is this really what Jesus means? Remember that Jesus could usually be found in the company of those who were outside of the community. Is it what Matthew means? Remember that Matthew was a tax collector. I have to wonder what it means for Matthew the tax collector to say “let one be as a tax collector”? Could it mean that, rather than casting the recalcitrant member out of the community, the community is to try all the harder to reconcile with him, to forgive her, restore him to community, to bring her back into the fold.
This position is made all the stronger when one looks at today’s Gospel in context. The story that precedes today’s reading in the Gospel of Matthew is the story of the lost sheep. The shepherd leaves the 99 to go in search of the one who has left the fold. And immediately following today’s verses we have the story of Peter asking how many times one should forgive. Should we attempt reconciliation as many as 7 times? No, as many as 77.
When we read Matthew 18:15-20 in isolation, as we did this morning, there seems to be a clear three-strikes and you’re out approach to sin in the community of faith. But in the larger context of chapter 18, Matthew insists that seeking out the lost, relentlessly working for reconciliation and restoring the sinner to the fold is the primary work of the community of faith.
And that brings us to Jesus’ words about binding and loosing. This is the second time that Matthew has used those words, both in connection with ecclesia—the church. The first was 2 weeks ago, when Jesus established the church upon Peter the Rock. Matthew seems to be pretty insistent that Jesus has empowered the church to act in his name and to carry on his ministry in the world.
The church has long interpreted these words as its commission to act as God’s proxy in passing judgment on sin—its authority to declare or withhold forgiveness. And maybe it is. And yet, today’s passage about how to deal with a sinner are surrounded by a gospel that proclaims mercy, forgiveness, seeking the lost, and our need for every one of our brothers and sisters.
Today’s collect reminds us about God’s mercy and compassion. We are the people who boast of God’s mercy. And I think that, finally, is the context for our hearing of today’s gospel. The church, with all its imperfections and conflict, is the primary witness to God’s reconciling, redeeming mercy in the world.
Anglican theologian Sarah Dylan Breuer writes:
As Christians, we believe that Christ is reconciling the whole world and each of us in it to God and to one another. So when two Christians take their conflict as an opportunity to practice reconciliation, what they do in the Church can stand as a visible sign for the whole world of what we believe Christ is doing in the world. An outward and visible sign of a grace that we believe is happening in a broader and more mysterious way in the world.
Maybe that’s what Matthew had in mind in today’s gospel. The way we, the church address conflict, and live in fellowship with one another despite unresolved differences among our members is a testimony to the world that God’s love and mercy are real. The ways in which we listen to one another, and seek to draw one another back into relationship may be our truest proclamation about who God is, and the best hope for our nation and our world.
Jesus founded his church among flawed, sinful, conflict ridden human beings and said that it would be a place where God’s presence could always be found, so long as we hold onto the keys of forgiveness, inclusion, reconciliation, mercy and love.
Who do you say that I am? You are the Messiah, the merciful and forgiving one, the Son of the living God. And who do you say that you—the church—are? We are the people who make our boast of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Thanks be to God! AMEN.
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Please click the image above to open the video link of the Rev. Richard Vinson’s gospel reflection for this Sunday — “It Is What It Is.”
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Please click the image above to open the video link of the Rev. Nancy Dilliplane’s gospel reflection for this Sunday on mercy and forgiveness being “keys to the kingdom.”
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Please click the image above to open the video link of the Rev. Nancy Dilliplane’s gospel reflection for this Sunday on The Story of the Canaanite woman.
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Please click the image above to open the video link of the Rev. Nancy Dilliplane’s gospel reflection for this Sunday on Matthew’s stories of Jesus and Peter walking on water.
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Please click the image above to open the video link of the Rev. Nancy Dilliplane’s gospel reflection for this Sunday on the Feeding of the 5000.
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Please click the image above to open the video link of the Rev. Nancy Dilliplane’s gospel reflection for this Sunday on the Parable of the Great Pearl.
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Please click the image above to open a video of the Rev. Matthew Simpson’s gospel reflection for this Sunday.
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Please click the image above to open Trinity’s Sunday worship service in its entirety. Pastor Nancy’s gospel reflection on the Parable of the Sower appears at the 10:00 minute mark.
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Please click the image above to open the Rev. Nancy Dilliplane’s video sermon on this Fifth Sunday after Pentecost.
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Please click the image above to open the Rev. Nancy Dilliplane’s video sermon — a meditation on water — on this Fourth Sunday after Pentecost.
Third Sunday after Pentecost
Please click the image above to open a Facebook Live recording of Deacon Matthew Simpson’s Morning Prayer service including his gospel reflection beginning at the 25:00 minute timestamp.
Second Sunday after Pentecost
Please click the image above to open the Rev. Nancy Dilliplane’s video sermon of the twelve disciples on this Second Sunday of Pentecost.
Ninth Week of Easter — Trinity Sunday
Please click the image above to open the Rev. Nancy Dilliplane’s video gospel reflection for Trinity Sunday 2020.
Eighth Week of Easter — Pentecost
Please click the image above to open the Rev. Nancy Dilliplane’s video gospel reflection for Pentecost Sunday 2020.
Seventh Week of Easter
Here is the Rev. Nancy Dilliplane’s gospel reflection on the challenges and the assurance the Ascension Day gospel might bring to us.
Please click the image above to open the Seventh Week of Easter gospel reflection.
Sixth Week of Easter
Deacon Matthew Simpson’s reflections on his personal experience as a nurse during this pandemic and on the power of Jesus’ command to “Love one another.”
Fifth Week of Easter
This Mother’s Day Sunday Gospel Reflection is on Julian of Norwich’s life and teachings of the God’s nourishing and sustaining love for us.
Fourth Week of Easter
This Sunday’s Gospel Reflection is The Parable of the Good Shepherd Godly Play Story. You are invited to sink into the profound quiet moments throughout the story, full of wonder, to consider what meaning the story might hold for you in your life.
Where are you in this Godly Play Story?
Third Week of Easter
Here is something new and wonderful —
In her sermon during Trinity’s Sunday worship service this week, the Rev. Nancy Dilliplane introduced us to the practice of Visio Divina, the thoughtful contemplation of a painting, a photo, a work of art, or really anything visual that invites God to speak to us in a deeper way.
“Visio” is very meaningful and exciting and fun for all ages.
(And for a Visio lesson oriented to children and their loved ones, click here to open this week’s Pajama Vespers video)!
Palm Sunday Sermon 2020
“Why this huge turnaround? … How is it that glad Hosannas turned into angry cries for death? …. Why?
In no small part, I think it’s because Jesus didn’t live up to all of their hopeful expectations of him. The crowds expected one kind of Messiah, and they got another kind.
They didn’t’ get someone who came in the name and power of God to rescue them. They got someone who came in the name of the power of God to be WITH them.
I’m struck today with how similar this Palm Sunday to that one. This year we too are living in occupied territory. We too are not in control of our land, our lives or our livelihoods. Our enemy is not Rome. It’s Covid-19 ….”