Be the Bigger Person

Post Script: This sermon unfolded differently than the manuscript I prepared. Check out this link to my YouTube channel if you would like to compare the two: Sermon on 9/6/2020

Message Title: Be the Bigger Person
Theme: Life Lessons from the Playground
Season: ORDINARY
Main Text: Matthew 18:15-20
Scripture Reading: Exodus 12:1-14
RCL Scripture: Exodus 12:1-14; Psalm 149; Ezekiel 33:7-11; Psalm 119:33-40; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20
Focus: Jesus speaks about conflict resolution.
Function: To acknowledge our desire for restitution or reparations and God’s calling for us to ‘be the bigger person’ as God is ‘the bigger person.’
Determine which fights are worth fighting and which fights require us to be ‘the bigger person.’
Other Notes: COMMUNION

SCRIPTURE READING: Exodus 12:1-14 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month will be the first month; it will be the first month of the year for you.[a] Tell the whole Israelite community: On the tenth day of this month they must take a lamb for each household, a lamb per house. If a household is too small for a lamb, it should share one with a neighbor nearby. You should divide the lamb in proportion to the number of people who will be eating it. Your lamb should be a flawless year-old male. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You should keep close watch over it until the fourteenth day of this month. At twilight on that day, the whole assembled Israelite community should slaughter their lambs. They should take some of the blood and smear it on the two doorposts and on the beam over the door of the houses in which they are eating. That same night they should eat the meat roasted over the fire. They should eat it along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Don’t eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over fire with its head, legs, and internal organs. 10 Don’t let any of it remain until morning, and burn any of it left over in the morning. 11 This is how you should eat it. You should be dressed, with your sandals on your feet and your walking stick in your hand. You should eat the meal in a hurry. It is the Passover of the Lord. 12 I’ll pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I’ll strike down every oldest child in the land of Egypt, both humans and animals. I’ll impose judgments on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be your sign on the houses where you live. Whenever I see the blood, I’ll pass over[b] you. No plague will destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. 14 “This day will be a day of remembering for you. You will observe it as a festival to the Lord. You will observe it in every generation as a regulation for all time.

LORD’S PRAYER

SERIES INTRO: Life Lessons from the Playground

During the month of September, we will channel our inner child to remember the lessons we learned from the playground. As we dive into Jesus’ teachings from Matthew, we will also see parallels to our lives from 0 to 90.

PLAYGROUND LESSON: “Be the Bigger Person,”

I am the middle child and only girl. My older brother, Josh, is 2 years older than me. My younger brother, Micah, is 4 years younger. I have to say; we were perfect children. (I can say that because my parents aren’t here to contradict me.) On the rare occasion we fought, it was natural for us to escalate the argument until we were hurt or crying.

PHOTO OF US ADORABLE KIDS W/ GRANDPARENTS: I know, it’s hard to imagine these cute kids acting up, right?

Consider your childhood. Do you remember the words of adults as they would break up a fight? Kids yelling ‘they started it!’

If they broke a fight up before bloodshed or tears, you could almost bet that an adult would tell you to “be the better person” or “take the high road” when you wanted to get even with the sibling who wronged you.

“Be the bigger person.” BLEGH! Who wants to do that? And what does it mean, anyway?!

“Be the bigger person” is an idiom I’ve heard adults tell kids when a conflict arises and retaliation is due. But what do we mean by this phrase? (AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION)

Urbandictionary.com defines “the bigger person,” this way: The person that does the right thing despite not being advantageous to oneself. It is a type of moral high ground.”. [1]

TRANSITION: We’re supposed to know better and rise above even in those difficult moments when our anger is boiling. In our Text for today, we see Jesus break down how to resolve conflict without punching your sibling until they cry. Is this a solution for every debate and conflict, or is this solution conditional?

SCRIPTURE & EXPLAINATION: Matthew 18: 15-20

VS 15-17 15 “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and correct them when you are alone together. If they listen to you, then you’ve won over your brother or sister. 16But if they won’t listen, take with you one or two others so that every word may be established by the mouth of two or three witnesses. 17But if they still won’t pay attention, report it to the church. If they won’t pay attention even to the church, treat them as you would a Gentile and tax collector.

  1. Disclaimer about abusers harbored by the church: Churches have taken this scripture and twisted it and used it to protect the wrong group of people. They’ve protected abusers and blamed the victims. But something deeper is going on here than a blanket solution for all conflict.
  2. Outline for conflict resolution:
    1. Correct them alone
    2. Bring 2-3 witnesses to speak truth
    3. Bring them before the church
    4. treat them as you would a Gentile and tax collector.”
  3. If you don’t listen to my perspective, then you must be an outsider… a HEATHEN! Obviously, you’re damned if you don’t see my perspective as the right perspective.
    1. A common interpretation of this passage includes the conclusion that if the wrong-doer still doesn’t change their ways, the offended should abandon the offender or cast them out or “treat them like a heathen” as some translations state. Consider those heathens hopeless, they’ll never change.
      1. But that perspective doesn’t fit the God who gave us Jesus. That interpretation doesn’t fit the God who patiently walked with the people of Israel through their stubbornness, unfaithfulness, and indecision.
    2. Alternate interpretation: “Treating them like a Gentile and a tax collector” should mean someone that doesn’t know any better. Treating them like a heathen, means they learned how to live differently in their childhood and you need to find common ground.
      1. I would push this even farther into this thought. We recognize that Christianity is a diverse group of people who interpret scripture in different ways. My dream is a day when we can recognize the fights worth fighting and to let go of preference differences.

VS 18-20 18I assure you that whatever you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. And whatever you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven. 19Again I assure you that if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, then my Father who is in heaven will do it for you. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.”

  1. Community matters. As we gather in community and listen for God’s guidance, we move in the ways God directs.
  2. ‘In theory,’ if we are gathered in community, listening for God’s direction, and living it out, then our actions coincide with God’s will.
    1. Fasten & Loose- our ministry will be focused on what God calls us to.
    2. Agree & God will do it—our ministry will be equipped by God.
    3. Where two or three are gathered—We will be God’s representatives on this earth.

INTERPRETATION:

  1. Jesus is teaching us about maintaining relationships with those to whom we disagree.
    1. Frequently, Jesus takes the laws of Moses or the cultural norms of the day and elevates the expected behavior of God’s children.
      1. No longer is restitution enough, as the Jewish laws outline.
      2. We’re looking to repairing the relationship and community damage.
  2. This conflict resolution chart that Jesus introduces doesn’t match the systems Jews had in place.
    1. When you dive in to the laws in Exodus, Leviticus, or Deuteronomy (for some light reading) you will see a detailed list of what God requires providing restitutions for wrong doings. The Old Testament has an extensive list of scriptures about restitution.
      1. 2 types of restitution
        1. Making ourselves right with each other (Exodus 22)
        2. Making ourselves right with God
        3. Resource links[2] [3] [4]
      2.  “An eye for an eye” came from Leviticus with the concept of restoring the damage done. Pay back what you have wronged.
  3. There has been a culture of restitution and righting your wrong doings for centuries. Jesus seems to shift the conversation about conflict deeper than expecting only restitution but towards a deeper resolution.
    1. God’s people aren’t called to make things even.
    2. God’s people are to demonstrate the very grace that God gives on us to others; they are to surpass the expectations of culture and repair relationships.
  4. Back to Abuse: Unfortunately, Society knows churches can harbor abusers and sexual predators under the cover of Matthew 18. We’ve all heard those tragic stories in the news.
    1. Terrible Scenario: The abuser repented… they said sorry. They said they’ll stop. So, we can move on. It’s what Jesus would do….
      1. STOP! Jesus died on the cross. We do not have to hang victims on the same cross for the salvation of their abusers.
    2. You may develop questions about broadly applying this scripture:
      1. But how does Matthew 18 work in relation to abuse or sexual assault?
      2. What does Matthew 18 mean for the criminal justice system?
      3. What does Matthew 18 mean for capital punishment?
    3. I will not solve this riddle for you today. I have baggage attached to abuse and forgiveness. I encourage you to wrestle with this text and let God direct your heart.
      1. God will never use evil for good. No person is stuck in an abusive situation for God’s will.

APPLICATION: To acknowledge our desire for restitution or reparations and God’s calling for us to ‘be the bigger person’ as God is ‘the bigger person.’ To determine which fights are worth fighting and which fights require us to be ‘the bigger person.’

  1. Setting aside the questions about abuse for another time. I’m willing to get together throughout the week to chat about these questions.
  2. Jesus is changing the way arguments end. Jesus is raising the bar on expectations. No longer is it about being the bigger person and letting things go. It’s about rebuilding what we have torn down.
    1. Let’s consider if we are acting like God’s representatives. Are we exposing ourselves as God’s people with grace and mercy?
  3. Social Media has stunted our ability to navigate tough conversations. Social media *seems* to help us make social connections, but it has destroyed our ability to connect face to face.
    1. My social media problem: I’m part of the problem. I get riled up, like anyone else, when I scroll through Facebook and see: A misinterpretation of scripture; Putting words in God’s mouth; False information being spread that perpetuates distress; or Assumptions about my demographic/generation
      1. I catch myself wanting to pull out my keyboard and attack the offender with skillfully chosen words as my weapon. ‘I’ll show you.’ That isn’t healthy! That isn’t the way a follower of Christ should behave.
      2. Conclusion? I’m getting rid of my personal Facebook and will only maintain a professional profile for use for church.
  4. Learn to have conversations with someone you disagree with and don’t assume the worst.
    1. PHOTO OF US AS ADULTS: My brothers and I are all grown up. Aren’t we cute? We’ve learned how to navigate hard conversations or to recognize when something isn’t our business. I used to hate being the only girl and middle child. Now I love the family dynamics our birth order has brought out.
    2. How do you handle tough conversations within your family? What about friends?
    3. When was the last time you agreed to disagree with someone and walked away still friends?

CONCLUSION: I cannot guarantee that Liberty will ever be completely unified in politics, theology or favorite worship songs. I can guarantee that we are better together in our diversity of thought. We are closer to understanding God when we can bridge our mental divides.

If you have difficulty or disagreements with another person, remember the lessons of our childhood. Be the bigger person, don’t retaliate. Don’t escalate. Repair. Use wisdom to not enable habitual abuse.

COMMUNION: We take communion together today and remember our diverse minds.Communion is about our salvation in Christ and it is about the commitment we make to a group of people. We won’t give up growing together.


[1] https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=bigger%20person

[2] https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Restitution

[3] https://founders.org/2019/05/15/5-principles-of-biblical-restitution/

[4] https://ibw21.org/commentary/the-torah-case-for-reparations/

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