We’re back (mostly)! And we’re here with our worship service for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, September 10, 2023!
I say we’re mostly back, because we are without a musician this week, but thankfully we have an archive of recorded music from way back in the pandemic days. So while this service will be live and in the space, it will have some recorded bits to it.
But the bulletin for the service can be found here. In it you’ll find the order of worship, the words of the liturgy, and the hymn and page numbers out of the ELW. We are in a different setting this week, Setting 8. The words you need to know will also appear on your screen.
If you wanted a fuller online worship experience, you are invited to have a candle lit from the beginning of the service and extinguished near the end after the sending hymn when the altar candles are extinguished. And if you wish to participate in communion, you can do so by having something small to eat and drink, ready to be consumed at the appropriate time in the service. Further instruction will be provided at that time.
May God’s unending love and grace shower on you this day and always!
O God, may our hearts and minds be awakened by your Word, that we might have the understanding of the Spirit on how to live in your ways of love and grace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
So as you’ve noticed, I am back. We had a great time away, and honestly for the first time in a long time I do feel somewhat refreshed. I don’t know if it’s because the Canadian Lutheran and Anglican Youth Gathering was very fun and fulfilling although it was a lot of work, or the trip I took with my family right after came with a lot of new and good experiences although it was really expensive, or the fact that the worry and stress around the pandemic is pretty much behind us, although my family and I caught it anyway. Whatever it was, I feel pretty good and am ready to be back here with you all (not like I have a choice).
I did have a lot of fun on our trip though. With the exception of my wife, this was our first time there. So everything was new: the language on the most part, the food in a big part, and the culture in very surprising part. The funny thing is that before we went, a few of my friends warned me about how snooty the people can be in Quebec, so I was kind of expecting the worst.
So we were surprised with how very gracious and hospitable the people were. Like, they were really friendly. Locals saying hi to us on the street, restaurants and shops being so accommodating due to our very limited to non-existent French, and just how generally welcoming they were was really a breath of fresh air when compared to… well… here. So it was nice.
Until it wasn’t.
There was a thing that happened. It was our second day in Montreal, and we were visiting the famous Mount Royal, from which the city got its name. I don’t know if you have been there before, but if you take the hike up, it’s quite a hike. Not as gruelling as the Grouse Grind but it was enough for us who did it to feel the burn. So we were tired, thirsty, and maybe a bit grumpy as we were making our way down a different easier and much wider trail. We were walking down on the right side of the path, which is what we just instinctively do, but one of our sons was so tired he ran up ahead to sit on a bench on the left side of the path. Our daughter, in spite of our tired and perhaps exasperated warnings to not, slowly and lazily wandered to the left of the path to join him. We saw an older fellow riding his bike up the path on the left, and we told her several times to get out of his way.
She was tired too, and as you know when kids get tired, they just don’t give a crap. But she saw the man as well and came back to the right a bit until he passed as his very leisurely pace. We told her to stay close but she started wandering back to the left just as I heard another bike, considerably faster than the first, barreling down the path. I remember yelling at her to come back but by the time she decided to heed to my voice, it was too late.
I heard the screeching of brakes as the second biker skidded sideways down the gravelly path, dropping him to the ground. His bike kept going a couple feet, enough to knock our daughter’s feet out from under her and she fell as well. I got there a split second too late and immediately picked her up and checked her over. No major blood spots or disfigured limbs, so I handed her to my wife and turned to the biker and asked him if he’s ok. And this next part just went so fast.
This guy let us have it. He didn’t call us names or anything but he did very clearly question our intelligence and knowledge on how these paths work. I apologized profusely and looked him over visually and noticed that he was bleeding a little. But he kept yelling at us to the point that I made sure I stood between him and my family. I asked him again if he’s ok, and he responded with a “I don’t know, I fell pretty hard” as he looked his bike over and sort of pretended that it was completely trashed as though he wanted me to compensate him for damages. I didn’t. His bike was fine.
I wasn’t though. I was shook. I didn’t even know what to think as finally the second biker left. The first biker we encountered earlier kindly came back and he assured us that it wasn’t our fault. He said that the other guy was going way too fast and is an idiot (those were his words), and he extended his hand to our daughter and said “you’re ok, you didn’t do anything wrong” in a very gentle and grandfatherly way.
I appreciated his gesture, but as I thought about it, I was angry. I was angry at how the second biker held himself, how he instantly blamed us for what happened, and how he didn’t even apologize or care that he knocked over a little kid. I was angry at how everything played out. And maybe above all, I was angry at myself for not doing more to stand up for our daughter, for not protecting her, or at very least, for not using these principles from today’s gospel lesson to show this guy just how wrong he is and how bad his transgressions are.
I mean, that’s what this is for, right? According to this, when someone wrongs you, like hits your kid with their bike, it is our God-give right to call them out on it. I should have done that. And if they don’t listen, then we could bring in a third party to back us up on how bad they are. I had that with my family who saw the whole thing. And if that doesn’t work, which probably wouldn’t have with this guy, then I can take it to a higher power, in this case maybe that other local who admitted that this biker was an idiot. It should have been in the bag for me as really, he was in the wrong and I had the biblical precedent to prove it. Ugh, if only I had read this passage earlier so it’d be in my back pocket ready to use against this guy.
Because how dare he? He hurt my daughter, he bruised my ego, and he tarnished the image I had of the people of Montreal up to this point. I needed him to know his wrongdoing. I should have done more.
After we calmed down a bit, I went up to our daughter and picked her up, which wasn’t easy as I had to navigate around her bumps and scrapes. I held her and said, “I’m sorry that I didn’t protect you more, and I’m sorry that I didn’t stand up for you against him. Are you sad that I didn’t yell at that guy?” And what she said in response was probably the biggest shock I had the whole trip. She looked at me deadpan in the eyes and said, “No, because if you yelled at him, you’d be just as bad as he is.”
Who the heck raised this kid? But dang, she was right. I just wanted him to hurt like how he hurt us. At that point it wasn’t about healing, or community, or any kind of reconciliation. It was about retaliation and revenge. And our daughter saw that it was wrong.
And so then these guidelines that we get out of the Matthew text hit me in a new light. I can see how these texts aren’t about accusations, pointing fingers, or shaming. Now I can see how they’re about relationship, grace, and forgiveness.
It’s about smoothing over conflict, yes, but it also leaves room for us to see what our role is in the situation, how we might have participated in the wrong, and maybe even learn to take a bit of the responsibility. I can see that Jesus isn’t teaching us how to see who is at fault, but showing us how to reconcile, heal, and re-engage in community with each other. I can see how the goal isn’t to fight and cast blame, but it’s about opening our hearts to love the other, just as we have first been loved.
This isn’t easy, as some people are really hard to get along with, but we have a God that acts as our support, our strength, and our example and inspiration. For Jesus promises us that when two or more are gathered in his name, he is surely there with us. And thanks be to God, he totally is. Amen.