Matthew 18:15-35

I’m sure that many of us have morning routines and habits. On most days, I come into the church, drop off my coat and laptop in my office and then head to the kitchen to turn on the Keurig – for those of you who may not know what that it, it’s one of those coffee machines that takes individual pods of coffee or tea so that you don’t have to make a whole pot of either. Once the machine heats up, I pop in a k-cup of Chai Latte tea to start off my day.

Drinking one of these cups of Chai Latte is a routine that I enjoy – and it seems harmless – but, the truth is I should probably stop. The little plastic cups that I use each day just wind up polluting the environment and the tea probably has more sugar than is good for me. So, maybe it’s not the best habit for me to continue.

For many, Lent is a time to think about giving up bad habits. Last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season. Just this past Monday, my doctor told me that I should try to cut down how much caffeine I drink. Her advice, coupled with the pollution thing and the sugar thing, makes it sound like giving up my morning tea might be just the Lenten practice I need.

I mean, the tea’s not really that bad for me and it probably wouldn’t be that difficult for me to stop drinking it. It might even make me feel healthier if I give it up. But, in all honesty, I’d probably be doing it just to make myself feel better by saying that I’m giving up something for Lent.

One of the temptations of Lent is to look at it as a second try for our New Year’s resolution; another attempt at going on a diet or cutting out sweets or junk food. Maybe we need to think a little bit bigger this Lent. What if, instead of giving up habits of coffee or chocolate or cheeseburgers, we used Lent to break some more substantial habits?

Our reading this morning talks about some of the habits we as individuals and communities have when dealing with each other. Jesus gives a few different examples of conflicts and offers some thoughts about resolutions.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the Sudbury Clergy Association has begun working with the Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program to take a look at how we interact with each other as a town. Students from Harvard have put together a plan on studying the perceived incivility in Sudbury and have already started some preliminary interviews.

Recognizing that incivility is an issue in many different community circles in our lives maybe this Lent is a good time to talk about breaking the habit of incivility. That idea seems to go well with this morning’s Gospel reading that Andrea shared with us.

You may have noticed that the Narrative Lectionary that we’re using this year gives us longer readings each week. It’s been very interesting to hear a lengthier portion of the scripture than we have in the past because we get more of the story.

In previous years, today’s reading may have been covered over three weeks. There are three distinct parts of the story and, to be honest, until I began preparing for this morning’s service I’d forgotten that these three pieces come one right after the other.

Actually, it was easier to deal with each of the three ideas separately; seeing that they come one right after the other makes each lesson a bit confusing. In the first section, Jesus gives an outline of how to deal with someone who has done you wrong. First, he says, go to the person in private and try to work it out. If that doesn’t work try again but this time, bring a friend or two so that there are witnesses to you airing your grievances. If it doesn’t work to have just one or two people with you bring the issue to the whole church community. Finally, if the other person still doesn’t listen to the wishes of the whole church “you are to cast out your unrepentant sibling.” That seems a little harsh… but Jesus gives other options at first so I guess it all makes sense in the end.

But then the reading continues. Peter asks “Lord, when someone has sinned against me, how many times ought I forgive him? Once? Twice? As many as seven times?” Jesus replies “You must forgive not seven times, but seventy times seven.” And I’m pretty sure that Jesus wasn’t saying specifically 490 times. I think he was trying to say “keep forgiving until one of you gets it right.”

Those two pieces of advice paired together – not to mention the story about the slave who is forgiven but refuses to forgive – all of that advice together just confuses me. Are we supposed to cast people out if they don’t listen or are we supposed to keep forgiving over and over again?

The truth is: forgiveness and love are confusing. It takes a lot of work to understand what it truly means to love and to forgive and to be forgiven. Maybe we won’t be able to figure it out in just a few minutes.

My vision of being church is that we gather together to do that kind of hard work. Each of us here has chosen to develop the habit of joining together as a church to be a community together. If we are to take our relationship seriously, we’re going to need to take the time to understand and talk with each other about what it means to love each other. These texts can help get us started because a big part of love is learning to give and receive forgiveness.

What if, instead of thinking of Lent as a time to give up bad habits, what if we think of it as a time to develop new, useful, God-inspired, Spirit-led, habits?

As a church community the theme of this year’s Lent will be “creating new habits of love and forgiveness.” We’ll look at this in a few different ways.

First, we’re encouraging everyone in the church to share your love of MCC and your faith with the children of the church. Sign up to teach just one Discovery Kingdom class to help our children develop a strong foundation of faith, let them see how many grown-ups in the church care for them and are interested in them. Even if you haven’t taught, ask them questions during coffee hour about what they’ve learned that morning. And share your stories about why you come to church and why you chose to follow Jesus.

This Saturday, Sandra and I will be facilitating a training to develop a new ministry at MCC. Called to Care is a UCC curriculum that will give us an opportunity to explore how we are called to care for our neighbors. We’ll spend time discussing how we can grow the church’s network of caregivers and to help you gain the resources you may want to make visit someone in their home or to just learn how to be with someone who is looking for support or even just someone to talk to or pray with.

Another opportunity will begin on Monday, March 9. On Monday evenings in March, you are invited to a series of conversations that will help us develop a Behavioral Covenant. Each Sunday we recite our Covenant together. It is a great statement about why we gather together, now we can create one that covers how. As a community, it’s important that we name our expectations and agreements about how we will interact with each other. Having a conversation and creating a Behavioral Covenant will help us name those expectations so that we can learn to speak our truth in love, even when we disagree.

And for the next few Sundays, we’ll have a series of meditations on the theme of forgiveness. We’ll talk not only about what it means to forgive but also how we can ask for forgiveness from someone else – and just as importantly, how we can learn to forgive ourselves.

On Ash Wednesday this year I noticed something for the first time. After Sandra placed the ashes on my forehead during the Noon service, I often forgot they were there. Even after the service ended, I was only reminded of them when I saw someone else with the same marking. Sometimes we can only see ourselves in the actions of others. Being in community helps us to reflect on our own choices.

I could use this Lent to get rid of my somewhat “bad” but simple habit of drinking tea each morning; we could each spend the time making such a token gesture. Instead, let’s work to develop new habits that really mean something. Let’s put in the hard, sometimes confusing work of exploring how we can best care for and love each other and use the season of Lent to help us grow stronger in our relationship with each other and with God. This Lent, let’s journey together, breaking old habits of incivility and creating new habits of forgiveness and love. As always, we pray for God’s guidance and presence on our walk together.



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