St. Matthew’s Sermon 11-05-2017

St. Matthew’s Sermon 11-05-2017

We Need to Talk

Joshua 3:7-17, Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37, 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13, Matthew 23:1-12

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

I have seen a lot of scary things in my lifetime. I’ve experienced a lot of scary things in my lifetime. And I’ve heard a lot of scary things in my lifetime. But, and I can only speak for myself but maybe some of you will be able to relate, there is one phrase that will send chills down my spine like no other; it is, to me, the most terrifying four word phrase in the English language. It’s the phrase that alerts you to the fact that you’re about to hear something you’d really rather not hear. The phrase I’m referring to is… “We have to talk.”

Perhaps those of you who are married know what I’m talking about. You’re just sitting down to dinner and your spouse looks across the table at you and says, “We have to talk.” Or, those of you with children may have had the experience when one came home from a date and said, “Mom, dad, we have to talk.” Or perhaps when you were a child coming home late one evening and your parents were waiting for you at the door and said, “We have to talk.” And then there’s the possibility that one day your boss called you into his or her office with the words, “We have to talk.”

Now, first off, the statement is usually misleading. When the speaker says, “We have to talk”, what is really meant, in so many cases, is “I’m gonna talk and you’re gonna listen”. (Am I right?) And, second, comes the thought that this is not going to be an enjoyable conversation; there’s an issue to be dealt with and that is going to happen right now; whether you’re ready to deal with it or not.

The need to talk about our issues, or the need to hear another’s, is commonplace; none of us can know the desires and needs of another without talking about them. So, on the surface, there is no need for us to fear such conversation, rather, we should embrace the opportunity joyfully.  Unfortunately, our history tells us otherwise.

Our personal history of unkind confrontation causes us, as individuals, to fear being engaged in such deep-felt dialog; our interpersonal history of turmoil can do the same within our community; and our world history of wars and oppression still causes us, as a nation, to react with fear when another speaks out against us.

I imagine the problem of being afraid to listen is as old as humanity itself. In fact, this week we recognize one such historical event. (I choose to use the word “recognize” over the more common “celebrate” for good reason as you will see).

500 years ago Martin Luther started a series of events that we now call the “Reformation”; and Protestant Churches around the world are celebrating that great event. But when Luther nailed his well founded ninety-five theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church, he wasn’t setting out to start a revolution; in fact he did so only to announce an academic discussion he was organizing on the practice of ‘selling indulgences’, which he opposed.

It is terribly unfortunate that his planned academic discussion didn’t become a conversation, but rather a war; a war that probably could have been avoided with the desired changes to Church policy actualized had there been a continuing effort to talk it through rather than to stop the dialog with violence.

In short, Luther’s intent was to ‘re-form’ the Catholic Church; to fix some things he felt were broken yet leave the unity of the Church intact and to do so through conversation. Counter to his desires, the Church, the Body of Christ, ended up divided; Protestant from Catholic, and again Protestant from Protestant, into many pieces. The Body of Christ suffered horribly once again.

I can see the need for the reforms that Luther sought, and I admire his bold courage in making an attempt in opening dialog regarding his beliefs. But I cannot ‘celebrate’ such an outcome.

The events of the Reformation are a prime example of the havoc created when people fail to talk with one another. Be it conversation between individuals, groups, or nations, silence in the face of adversity is ultimately devastating and we, as individuals, as a community and as a nation must learn, again, how to have meaningful conversations about the things that bother us; conversations that aim toward resolution, not revolution.

Our first step in such learning is to let go of the idea that engaging in a conversation is about winning and losing; it is about giving and gaining understanding. If we enter a conversation with the idea that we have to win, we have already blocked ourselves from gaining anything.

The second thing we need to keep in mind is to speak with the intention of being understood. This is done by choosing words and tones that express our position, our feelings, and our needs without degrading or attacking the listener; which only inspires immediate resistance.

These two, simple rules are key to the speaking side of conversation but we must also remember that conversation is two sided. Our third requirement, then, is we must allow time for the listener to become the speaker and for the speaker to become the listener.

This leads us into the fourth consideration in productive conversation; active listening. Again, our goal is to give and gain understanding; so we must listen with the intention of understanding what is being said, not with the intention of reacting to what is said. I repeat, it’s not about winning or losing.

And, finally, our fifth thought to keep in mind during conversation links all of the others together; it is the idea that open conversation is needed, but the results cannot be preset. Repeating again because of its importance; it’s not about winning or losing. If we enter a conversation with the intention of changing the other’s mind we have already defeated the purpose of giving and gaining understanding. Change might happen through the course of conversation; often change should happen. But we must keep in mind, at all times, that maybe it’s our own mind that should be changed, not necessarily the other person’s. This will inevitably sort itself out as each participant gives and gains understanding. And, even if nothing is changes, by following these rules we will have, at least, kept the door open for future dialog, on the same topic or on another, without adding the stifling effects of fear.


We can see all of this in practice in the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Right on top, just look at the amount of dialog Jesus engaged in to increase the understanding of the listener. And note the number of times when it wasn’t just him speaking but was conversations, back and forth, between himself and another. In the story of the Gerasene demoniac, for example, Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” (Mark 5:9) Jesus was conversing with an evil spirit; seeking understanding.

Look at Jesus’ trial before Pilate according to John; Pilate asks questions trying to understand; Jesus doesn’t attack him but answers. Pilate asked “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world…” (John 18:33-36a)

Jesus listens; no examples needed, just think of all the times people came to him asking for help and/or understanding, and he listened.

And through listening, even Jesus has his mind changed as seen in Matthew’s account of his encounter with the Canaanite woman “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” (Matt. 15:26-28)


We will never solve the problems of the world without conversation geared toward understanding. We will never solve our personal problems without conversation geared toward understanding. And we will never solve problems among us, here in St. Matthew’s, without conversation geared toward understanding. But, by Christ’s example, look at what can be done when we do have conversation geared toward understanding.

We need to talk. Amen


Joshua 3:7-17
3:7 The LORD said to Joshua, “This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses.
3:8 You are the one who shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.'”
3:9 Joshua then said to the Israelites, “Draw near and hear the words of the LORD your God.”
3:10 Joshua said, “By this you shall know that among you is the living God who without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites:
3:11 the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is going to pass before you into the Jordan.
3:12 So now select twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe.
3:13 When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan flowing from above shall be cut off; they shall stand in a single heap.”
3:14 When the people set out from their tents to cross over the Jordan, the priests bearing the ark of the covenant were in front of the people.
3:15 Now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest. So when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water,
3:16 the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, while those flowing toward the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, were wholly cut off. Then the people crossed over opposite Jericho.
3:17 While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan.

Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37
107:1 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.
107:2 Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, those he redeemed from trouble
107:3 and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.
107:4 Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town;
107:5 hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them.
107:6 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress;
107:7 he led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town.
107:8 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.
107:9 For he satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things.
107:33 He turns rivers into a desert, springs of water into thirsty ground,
107:34 a fruitful land into a salty waste, because of the wickedness of its inhabitants.
107:35 He turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water.
107:36 And there he lets the hungry live, and they establish a town to live in;
107:37 they sow fields, and plant vineyards, and get a fruitful yield.


1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
2:9 You remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.
2:10 You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was toward you believers.
2:11 As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children,
2:12 urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
2:13 We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.

Matthew 23:1-12
23:1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples,
23:2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat;
23:3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.
23:4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.
23:5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long.
23:6 They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues,
23:7 and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi.
23:8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students.
23:9 And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father–the one in heaven.
23:10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah.
23:11 The greatest among you will be your servant.
23:12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.