22 January 2017
PSTH 506 – The Church at Worship: Preaching
Assignment 12: Sample Full Sermon
Text: Matthew 18:15-34
Seminary Student: Hi! Can you help me? I’m writing about those verses you assigned me from Matthew, for a pretend Baptist church. The other assignment was to preach Colossians to Episcopalians, which really gives you an advantage, Colossians being Colossians.
Seminary Prof: Hard to go wrong in there, yeah.
Seminary Student: But of course I had to draw these verses from Matthew 18 instead. My life sucks.
Seminary Prof: And it’s a tricky part of Matthew. If you read it, it reads like Jesus was in a really bad mood for three or four chapters.
Seminary Student: That’s understandable. (both laugh)
Seminary Prof: There’s a verse in there that basically reads, “You will show compassion to everyone, or I will kick your teeth in.”
Seminary Student: Heh. Can you believe that?
Seminary Prof: I know.
Seminary Student: (reading) Man that’s a challenging text!
Seminary Prof: Forgiveness is another one of these concepts in Christianity that screws a lot of people up. The ones who say they worship God the most, for some reason they have this strange temptation to act like they are God, and, um, it gets tricky.
Seminary Student: What is my job/responsibility/role in other people messing up? Just tell me.
Seminary Prof: Ok, good start. Try: I think in my life– screw that sentence.
Seminary Student: Whatever. How about this: who should I forgive?
Seminary Prof: Whom. Try: I think maybe it’s just my — oy, screw that sentence too.
Seminary Student: Phillip’s head, but this is hard. I mean, can I say, ‘Just don’t let anybody wrong you, and then it’s easy to be nice?’
Seminary Prof: Hmm?
Seminary Student: I don’t lend money; as a rule; for a reason; nobody ever has to pay me back–because I didn’t lend them anything. What do we expect of people, just from the get-go, that makes us think we’re going to need to forgive them? Like, a baseline?
Seminary Prof: Your mom has a baseline. (laughter) Ok. (coughs) It’s right there in the book that we should forgive.
Seminary Student: I don’t know about the word ‘forgiveness’ though. In the book, does it mean what we think it means? It sounds like it might be just about money.
Seminary Prof: I don’t know. I’ll do it, whatever it says.
Seminary Student: But I think the word is very strange. I don’t know. I don’t know enough about the word.
Seminary Prof: How do you say ‘forgive’ in Aramaic?
Seminary Student: Oh, that’s perfect.
Seminary Prof: What?
Seminary Student: No, I’m stealing that, that’s my title. “How Do You Say ‘Forgive’ in Aramaic?”
Seminary Student: Oh, before I forget. My translation, I think it was like 19:21 or something, Peter says to Jesus, “How many times–.” In my translation it said, “How many times should I forgive my brother–seven?” but in your translation it said, “How many times will my brother sin against me, that I should forgive him–seven?”
Seminary Prof: Both translations Jesus says, “No. Many many more.”
Seminary Student: But I thought that was hysterical. He just lays it out: your brother will always be a jerk!
Seminary Prof: If your’s is the right translation, everyone I know has gotten that line wrong.
Seminary Student: It almost makes it sound like his brother is going to sin just to make Peter forgive him. That could be in fun, or that could be serious.
Seminary Prof: In a way it’s both, I think. As we grow in — no, screw that sentence.
Seminary Student: Over and over again with anything about justice and forgiveness, you get it tied to the words ‘Brother’, and ‘family’, and ‘clan’.
There are seven billion people on the world at least. If there are seven billion people in the world, am I expected to hang out with all of them? I’ll have to choose. I’m just going to have to; there’re too many and life is too short.
Seminary Prof: Ok.
Seminary Student: So if I have to choose anyway, can I choose based on how people act?
Seminary Student: I think we learn to hold a grudge against anyone who hurts us over and over. It’s hard for me to make sense out of a message about forgiveness, if it’s about people who hurt us and not just about money, that doesn’t also include maybe shake the dust off of your behind and go somewhere else.
Seminary Prof: What are you doing just now?
Seminary Student: That’s how you shake it.
Seminary Prof: Shake it?
Seminary Student: You know, shake it.
Seminary Prof: Shaaake it.*
Seminary Student: Shakin’ it.
Seminary Prof: Oh yeah, shake it some more.
Seminary Student: (shouting over music) Why should you waste time mentally grappling with someone else’s failings when there are so many other people in the world that want to be around you?
Seminary Prof: (shouting, shaking it) I think that’s actually the absolute best lesson we can give someone, sometimes: just to leave.
Seminary Student: I’m not going to fight with you; I’m not going to sink–
Seminary Prof: I’m gone. Next time you’ll think about that.
Seminary Student: We should all do that to each other!
Seminary Prof: We should all do that to each other!
Seminary Student: I don’t like the things you do; I told you I don’t like them…
Seminary Prof: …you are still doing them….
Seminary Student: Good bye!
Seminary Prof: Really? (music ends) Good song.
Seminary Student: How much better would the world be if I had to meet my own standards, and yours?
Seminary Prof: Right, but isn’t it that world?
Seminary Student: No, we think we’re helpful. We try to fix people.
Seminary Prof: So if we didn’t …
Seminary Student: Didn’t help mean people.
Seminary Prof: Say we all made a pact. Just now.
Seminary Student: That anyone mean should go.
Seminary Prof: They can come back when they’re nice?
Seminary Student: Jesus did it. He shook it.
Seminary Prof: Yes. He told other people to shake it too.
Seminary Student: There’s only so much of you and there’s a lot of world, and a lot of people in it. And it’s easy to forgive people from a distance.
Seminary Prof: (looking at watch) Very easy.
Seminary Student: Could add a story from my own life: “Well, you know, he was terrible. He used to make me pick his teeth, for him! I told him I didn’t like it. He said he didn’t care. Now I don’t pick his teeth for him anymore.”
Seminary Prof: Short story.
Seminary Student: Yeah, that was the end of it.
Seminary Prof: So forgiveness has these two sides: we get to make these choices, and we have to make these choices.
And we have to show others compassion.
Seminary Student: If you are busy picking some loser’s teeth, you’re not going to be able to show others compassion: your hands will be occupied. And probably gross.
Seminary Student: Well, you know, it wasn’t his fault: he just didn’t know which ones looked the best.
Seminary Prof: Oh. In that case, that’s just a reasonable request. That’s different.
Seminary Student: I’d pick the really big ones. A sign of strength.
radiation: Ok, I wrote it all down; I think we’re done!
Forgiveness’s actual meaning then, has changed quite a bit. Also added to ancient texts were some interesting ideas about reprisal, most of which are too childish to say with a straight face, but prevent us from ‘shaking it’ the abandon that we might otherwise demonstrate, or from shaking it at all; these “reprisal equations” have changed over the years themselves, but still lead us to excuse the behavior of others if we have acted badly ourselves. I insulted you, then you insulted me, then I felt I had to condone your insult because I myself had fallen short.
There is absolutely no logic to this; there is no pairing of moral equivalence; the past has no effect, ‘doing the right thing’, I suppose, being a sort of Markov chain. All of the shame and guilt and prolonged misery this [reprisal equations] piece-of-crap of an idea deals out has exactly the same logical founding as “You took my cookie, so I can take yours,” but read backwards, for even less effect: “because I took your cookie, I’d better stay here with you after you take mine.”
Why? Is our behavior any kind of moral standard? People say the Bible doesn’t make sense as a moral standard. My own life should be a better one? Our behavior being the rapid and often ill-informed decisions of a single thinker, the Bible being the finely-tuned product of thousands of years of life in community?
And also for this we use others lives: if someone else behaves worse, we are ok. As if only the world’s most evil person should be in trouble.
As long as you know you were wrong, in cookie-taking, your act should have no bearing how you react to another’s cookie-taking. If you think cookie-taking is ok, that’s different. But either way you cannot cause another human being to do anything, unless you have one of those transcranial thingies, so everyone else’s behavior can be evaluated in isolation. As can yours.
Seminary Student: WHEW! I ALMOST SOUNDED REPUBLICAN BY ACCIDENT
radiation: Luckily you caught it.
Seminary Student: If this sounds harsh, trust me that I could have said harsher, as I don’t think anyone can ever say “You made me upset” and not be lying.
radiation: Fantastic, very diplomatic of you, thanks.
Big picture, these dumb reprisal escape clauses drag the moral level down unbelievably: I was bad, you were bad, let’s keep hanging out and both be worse. Compare that to the trend we’d experience if many people choose by a different pattern: I was bad, you were bad, and I’m not going to associate with you anymore because I have standards. If you want to have standards, that’s up to you, and not my problem if you don’t. And I’ll work on not being bad, maybe after a few more people refuse to be around me.
So thank you, “FORGIVENESS”. For making us all misbehave and think we had a good reason why.
SHAKE IT – NO CLEAN SLATE REQUIRED
Seminary Student: I’d call it Morals for An Overpopulated World, except that makes it sound like you need another reason not to believe in reverse-revenge, other than that there is no reason to. The psalm stands alone, the psalm stands alone, hi ho the derr er er er O o the psalm stands alone.
*See if it repeats exactly it makes a rhythm and you sound like a cheerleader, so it has to be different, and yeah, I realize it’s not great; i don’t want to do the onomatopoeia either, no, i don’t like it much– but when you have only one word to use and you need it to be different, what are you going to do. i’ll send myself to somewhere and work this out eventually, but meanwhile i’ll just have to put up with feeling trashy because the english in the dictionary ought to be plenty enough for everyone, no exceptions, except maybe mark twain, hater.
radiation got the ordination but still won’t marry YOU