PostScript: Confronting with love
Confronting sin with love following Jesus’ words (Matthew 18.15-20 )
“Where two or three are gathered”. We live in odd times where gathering together is an exception and not the norm. For children and teachers, this week marks a return to school and life as normal - but we know that it isn’t normal. Schools have drawn up new codes of behaviour to reflect the times (e.g. no aggressive coughing) and students are in bubbles to minimise contact and potential contamination. There is a need to reinforce and maintain these new boundaries whilst accepting the fears and anxieties both students and teachers have. Jesus’ teaching is that transgressions are not to be met with aggression but with love, gentleness and grace. It is right for the church to be praying for everyone involved in the coming weeks.
In America protests continue against police brutality and systemic racism. We often take Jesus’ words to be about what we do when someone sins against us directly but some sins can be built into the way organisations and societies work. Again, the call from Jesus is to confront such sin, not aggressively but with a clear sight of God’s truth that all people are made in God’s image and are worthy of love and respect. Just because a ‘sin’ is not directed against us personally does not excuse us from seeing where something is wrong and standing with those affected.
News released in the past weeks has shown us something of how our lives have been shaped by the coronavirus. Builders are busy working on extensions and loft-conversions, sales of sofas are up as people have spent more time on them and the article above shows sales of LEGO have surged as families look for things to do together with their children. Lego bricks themselves are (in my opinion) beautiful things. Simple, nearly indestructible but able to fit together in so many different ways due to their clever design. Similarly, Jesus’ words remind us that we are made for community, designed to fit together in a variety of ways. However, for us to be united like a finished LEGO model, we need to be able to address behaviour that can upset or hurt other people. Jesus is clear that we do this in a loving way, never becoming aggressive, but seeking support if someone will not listen.
As a prayer of confession you might use these words:
Loving God, we confess that sometimes we see sin in the world around us and turn away. Sometimes we see people acting in ways that hurt themselves and others but we look the other way, putting our own comfort ahead of the good of others. Forgive us and help us to address the wrongs we see in truth and in love. Amen.
- What kind of things do you see people doing wrong as you go about your week? (littering? fare dodging? queue-jumping? harassment?)
- On a scale of 1-10, how likely are you to challenge someone if you see them doing something wrong?
- What holds you back from challenging wrong behaviour? Would you support someone else in challenging it?
- Are there wider ‘sins’ affecting your community that need to be confronted in love?
Place small pieces of paper (about A6) on each chair. Ask people to think of things that they have been told off for and to write these on the pieces of paper. On one piece of paper write things that were fair and that you knew were wrong (tidy your room would have been one of mine) and on the other piece of paper write things that were not fair or not your fault. Ask people (if they feel comfortable to share them) to place one piece on a table on the left and the other piece on a table on the right. Read some from each pile out to get a sense of what ‘sins’ people feel they have been told off by someone else fairly for - and which words have been said unfairly.
People confront behaviour for a variety of reasons, not always loving. However, if we are following Jesus then we should be open to constructive criticism from others to help us follow Him more closely. The passage addresses what to do when you see someone ‘sin’ but we know that all of us sin on a daily basis and sin breaks relationships. For us to be united, we need to all be open to rebuke from others (not just children) - but receive it knowing that God loves us, forgives us and will always help us to do better.
If you are worried about touching paper that others have touched then people can write on the sheets and speak out answers they are happy to share.
Ask the young people to create a sliding scale of confrontation where #0 is crossing the road to avoid the situation and #10 is running up to a person screaming “STOP THAT RIGHT NOW!!”
What are the steps on the scale in between? Would #1 be a disapproving look? What about ‘tutting’ or shaking your head? Where would you place “excuse me but that’s not okay?” on the scale? How about silently acting to undo hurt done (e.g. picking up their litter)?
Once you have the scale completed, suggest some scenarios such as noticing someone drop some litter, jumping a queue or becoming aggressive towards a shopkeeper. Ask the young people to say where on the scale they would feel comfortable responding to each situation. Does that fit with Jesus’ words in the gospel reading? What would help them take more action when they see something which is wrong?
Steve Taylor is joint-vicar of St James Alperton CofE church near Wembley. He shares the job with his wife, Ali, and shares his house with their two daughters, two cats, a hamster and a lonely fish.
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