The Discipline of Self-care

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Proper 18/Year A ▪ September 6, 2020
Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20

The Discipline of Self-care 

Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, September 6, 2020

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.

Self-care, it seems, has become a priority for more and more people, particularly with the day-to-day stressors being compounded by the pandemic and economic challenges, to name only a few. Self-care is not just a good thing for the human body; it is necessary. And, practicing good self-care is a necessary discipline.

Confrontation and conflict—two things that most people would admit to intentionally avoiding at all costs and in all contexts—are not what most people would categorize as opportunities for self-care.  Both can cause great discomfort, and are inherently woven into the complexity of human relationships. Because confrontation and conflict are inherent in human relationships, they are, even with our best efforts, unavoidable. Where there are people, in the places where we live, work, play and worship, there exists, also, the potential for confrontation and conflict.

I am reminded of a required weekly practice in my chaplain residency called the Interpersonal Relationships Seminar (IPR). Seven chaplains being formed for professional pastoral care were made to sit in a circle for nearly two hours and intentionally bring grievances to the circle. No one wanted to be the first to bring forth a grievance to a fellow colleague, and certainly not with all eyes and ears focused on them. Unchecked conflicts needed to be addressed because they were dangerous to the spiritual health of the individual chaplain; harmful to the spiritual health of the team; and threatened the quality of spiritual care for those whom we were called to serve.

Sessions became the training ground for wrestling with anger, resentment, hurt, fear and misunderstandings. Deep inhales, longer exhales, emotional releases and some serious eye rolling were to be expected. Those sessions were like sandpaper, forming each one of us, to tell the truth about our colleagues, and to be able to receive the difficult truth about ourselves—that we were all capable of damaging relationships and all capable of falling short of loving one another as Christ loves us.  And, at the end of each session, even if the conflict had not been fully resolved, the collective exhale from the group was not of exasperation, but of healing. In reflection, we were learning the discipline of practicing good self-care for our own bodies and for the body that was as pastoral care team.

In our gospel passage in Matthew, Jesus provided a prescription for dealing with the insidious nature of sin and fractured relationships—a call to practice the discipline of self-care.  According to Jesus, the person who was personally sinned against was responsible for confronting their offender, and holding them accountable to the expectation of repentance with the anticipation of forgiveness and reconciliation—the restoration of a broken relationship.

Jesus’ prescription went like this: If a member sins against you, address them privately. If the one-on-one effort is rejected, the person who was wronged, not the offender, must make a second attempt for loving conflict resolution witnessed by at least two members of the community. And still, if the offender refuses to repent, the aggrieved person is to seek the involvement of the larger church assembly.

Notice that Jesus placed the hard work of conflict resolution on the shoulders of the aggrieved—the one who was wronged. Jesus expected the one who was wronged to seek after the sinner the way that the shepherd seeks the one lost sheep in order to restore that wayward sheep to the flock of the 99.  As I reflect on sin as broken relationship with God, with others and with ourselves, I noticed three things about the scripture passage:

First, for each scenario of attempted reconciliation, the expectation is that they take place within the faith community, not outside of it.  It is within the home turf of the church that the shared values, and expectations are optimally communicated through the language of faith.

Second, each scenario is an opportunity, not to punish or expel the offender, but to keep them connected. The word, translated as member, indicates the familial relationship of brother. You can throw a lot of people out of your circle, but someone valued as a member of your family, should not be cut off easily, and should be fought for.  Yet, Jesus said, of the unrepentant offender who rejects even the assembly of the church, “let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (v. 17). Gentiles and tax collectors were outsiders. Why is there such a harsh response to the unresponsive behavior of the sinner? The stench of sin can permeate the assembled faith community. Left unchecked, the rotting agents of sin become a great threat to the spiritual health of both the offender and the church. So, even in the discipline of expulsion, Jesus prescribed a loving response that served to force the sinner to take accountability for his own sinful actions; and served to safeguard the assembly from inadvertently enabling sin.

And third, these scenarios for reconciliation serve to remind us all that sin is sneaky. Recall that Jesus expected the one who had been sinned against to make the efforts to heal the conflict with his offender. In failing to do so, the conflict is kept alive, and the sin of broken relationship festers. And just like that, the one with the responsibility to heal the conflict, sins against another by furthering the decay of relationship.

The church is made of human beings, none of whom are immune to sin.  We need to be truthful about that, and have the courage to look at ourselves through the living, breathing, truth-telling mirror of the gathered body of Christ—the Church. The church is the mirror through which  faithful people are held accountable to reflecting the divinity of Christ and not the sinful human self.  When non-believers see Christians moving in the midst of them, they ought not see the body of Christ falling short of God’s commandments, and dismissing Jesus’ teachings and his life’s example, as nice, but not necessary for salvation. Non-believers ought not see the body of Christ being worn down by the ravages of this sinful world for failing to practice the necessary discipline of self-care that rejects sin within, and without, the church.

The church is about God’s reconciling work to restore all of humanity to unity with God and with each other through his son Jesus Christ. As the body of Christ, the church must take seriously the necessity to recognize the sins within; confront them; wrestle with them; repent of them; ask God for and receive His forgiveness; and live in restore right relationship with God, with others and ourselves.

In doing the necessary, loving work of attending to the health of our precious relationships, within the church, even in confrontation and conflict, we are assured that Jesus is present in us and with us as we participate in his reconciling work. May we generously practice loving one another as Christ loves us, within the church family, telling the truth in love, so that, beyond the four walls of the church, we may genuinely practice loving our neighbors as ourselves. And, as people of faith, remember that conflict resolution is holy, incarnational work, and it is good and necessary self-care for the body of Christ.