Go ahead: I dare you. I double dare you!

Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20

       ‎In the summer of 2003, I attended the General Convention of The Episcopal Church, out in Minneapolis. You all know that Convention – that’s the one where Gene Robinson’s election as bishop of New Hampshire was consented to by the Deputies and Bishops. If you remember, after the House of Deputies consented to Gene’s election, but before the Bishops voted, allegations of sexual misconduct were raised against Gene.

My job at General Convention is not to be a deputy but to be a reporter for the Diocese of Virginia’s daily newspaper, the Center Aisle. Because I spent so many years as a journalist, I also spend time as an informal adviser to the secular press who come to cover Convention and often don’t know very much about the Church, about who we are and what we believe, much less what we do.

When the controversy erupted over the misconduct allegations, I was but one of many Episcopalians trying to explain to the world that an allegation made between votes by the separate Houses was something new to us; that no, we actually did not have anything in our canons that covered this; no, we were not trying to hide anything from the world, and that yes, that we were investigating the allegations, for which we had a procedure.

       Forty-eight hours later, it turned out that the allegations were not valid, that Gene had not been involved in sexual misconduct, and the charges were dropped.

        Now, what was interesting is that as soon as that happened, my friends in the media rushed to ask, “What will you all do now? Will there be retribution against the person who made the allegations? Will Gene or the Church retaliate?” They were practically daring us to live out our revenge, our retribution, on the front pages of their newspapers and at the top of their newscasts.

         But we didn’t. We didn’t retaliate. There was no retribution. We simply asked forgiveness, gave forgiveness, sought understanding, and most of all, we loved.

         We did such a good job that a few days later, the Dallas Morning News, in an editorial, wrote:

         “…We have been struck by the calm and deliberative process the Episcopalians followed in reaching their conclusion. … Watching these Episcopalians of all beliefs reason their way through their disagreement on this issue could serve as a guidepost for the larger society. … Perhaps their thoughtfulness and mutual respect for one another on this issue will have a positive impact on how all of us Americans carry on our larger societal debates. At least we hope so.”

Now, I know that you, more than the majority of the Church, know how much pain the ultimate decision to consent to Gene Robinson’s election, and his subsequent consecration caused. You lost your home. You’ve spent the last four-and-a-half years in exile.

But you did not retaliate. You have not sought retribution. Instead, you have focused on the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who told us exactly how he wanted us to act as Church in this morning’s Gospel.

            Jesus says, If a brother or sister (and yes, he actually says “brother,” which in the Greek would include “sister,” and not just a “member of the Church”), if a brother or sister sins against you, go talk with him or her. Try to work it out.

            If that doesn’t work, Jesus says, go get one or two others, and all of you go talk to the one who has sinned against you.

            And if that doesn’t work, Jesus says, well, heck, tell the whole church (and here Jesus does say Church), and try to work it out in church.

            And if that doesn’t work, Jesus says, well, “let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

            Now, most people believe that in this passage, Jesus is telling us, “If you can’t convince a person that you are right and he or she is wrong, cast that person out. Make him an outsider. Turn your back on her. Shun that person.”

             But I don’t believe that’s what Jesus means. In fact, I think that right here, Jesus is being both subversive and subtle. Because he certainly didn’t do what most people think he did. He didn’t shun Gentiles and tax collectors, did he?

            Remember, this is the man who healed the centurion’s servant, who was a Gentile. (Matthew 8:13) He was the one who casted the demons out of the two demoniacs in Gadarene, which was Gentile territory. (Matt. 8:28-34) He healed the daughter of the Canaanite woman, a Gentile, who wouldn’t take no for an answer. (Matt. 15:22-28)

            And did he not say that we are to “go … and make disciples of all nations (meaning, the Gentiles), baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you”? (Matthew 28:19-20a)

            Jesus treated Gentiles with love and compassion, not with hatred and condemnation. He did not exclude them. He welcomed them in, showered them with love, healed their sick, fed them, preached to them, prayed over them.

            And how did he treat the tax collectors? Well, you know all those examples I just gave you? They come from Matthew’s Gospel … Matthew, the tax collector, whom Jesus called to be one of his disciples, a member of the inner circle, (Matt. 9:9-13), who was sent out by Jesus (Matt. 10), along with the other 11 disciples, to preach, teach, pray with and heal.

            What I’m saying is this: When Jesus said to treat those who disagree with us, who sin against us, as Gentiles and tax collectors, he was not telling us to turn our backs on them, to disparage them, to make them outcasts. Not if the examples from Jesus’ own life and ministry are to make any sense to us.

            In essence, Jesus was saying, Go ahead. I dare you. I double dare you. Treat those people the way I do: Love them!

            If you read Matthew the way most people do, which I think is the wrong way, you end up excluding people. And you all know about that – because that’s what happened with you.

            But if you read Matthew the way I think Jesus intended for us to read it, then you end up loving people. You end up doing exactly what Paul says in his Epistle to the Church in Rome:

            Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments … are summed up in this word, Love your neighbor as yourself.

            Love, Paul says, does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

           The great German theologian Karl Barth, in his commentary on this epistle, sums up Paul’s words this way: “Love of one another ought to be undertaken as the protest against the course of this world, and it ought to continue without interruption.”[1]           

            Even when people sin against us.

Imagine what would happen if we actually took Jesus at his word, if we actually took him up on his dare and dared to love people, no matter what? Imagine what the world would look like then?

You all already know what it looks like when people read Matthew as permission to exclude. And you all already know what it looks like when you read Matthew as an injunction to include.

Now imagine what would happen if everyone read Jesus’ words as a dare to love … Wouldn’t that be a protest against the course of this world?

We live in a society where partisanship is our way of life. Look at the gridlock in Washington, just across the river. Look at it! Our leaders – with a whole lot of help from the rest of us (and yes, we are just as guilty as the politicians and their staffs are) – can’t get anything done because everyone, it seems, is committed to excluding, to condemning, to making sure that our way is the only way.

Is anyone in Washington – anyonedaring to take Jesus up on his dare?

You and I both know there are some people who are attempting to do this, but louder, more strident voices are drowning them out.

Which is where we come in.

We, who follow Jesus, are the ones who are called to set the example. To say to others, “Wait. There’s a better way.”

To say, “Actually, Jesus didn’t mean we were to shut people out. Jesus wants us to love one another, and we can’t do that if we exclude them.”

And we are the ones who are called to love one another – again and again, no matter how hard that is, no matter how many times we want to walk away, no matter now many times others walk away from us.

           We are the ones who have to dare to stand up against the vitriol, dare to include those with whom we disagree, dare to be with those who do not like us, much less love us.

My friends, this Gospel, which so many have used to exclude and to hate, is really a command to include and to love. It’s an instruction manual about how we are to love one another even when we don’t like each other, even when others are pushing every button we have, annoying us, hurting us, making us feel like dirt. In Jesus’ eyes, none of that matters.

Because above all else, we are still called to love.

One person at a time, one community at a time.

Edward Everett Hale, a 19th century author, historian and Unitarian minister, points the way for us when he says:

I am only one.

            But I am still one.

            I cannot do everything.

            But still I can do something:

            And because I cannot do everything

            I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.[2]

Each of us, alone, may not be able to do much.

But all of us, together, can change the world.

Jesus is daring us to do that. In fact, he’s double-daring us.

To love.


 Sermon preached on the 12th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 18, Year A, at The Falls Church (Episcopal), Falls Church, Va., on 4 September 2011.


[1] Karl Barth, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, 492.

[2] Edward Everett Hale, “The One,” via Emergent Village Daily Communique, 29 August 2011.

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