A Facebook FableMatthew 18:15-20
Charlotte had a routine to her mornings that she found to be very satisfying. The alarm on her phone would chime at 6:30 every morning. But thanks to years of practice her internal clock had her opening her rested eyes at 6:27am nearly every day, leaving her plenty of time to switch off the alarm’s shrill voice before it could sound.
After that it was a few moments of yawning and stretching and greeting the day.
By 6:40 she was at the back door of the house to let the cat out to sit on his favorite spot on the back steps.
And with coffee mug in hand Charlotte would settle in at the kitchen table to scroll through the morning headlines of her favorite new station’s website, while priding herself for her commitment to staying well read on world affairs. But after a few short minutes of that she was quickly switching over to Facebook to get the real news of the day. She read that a recent celebrity’s death was still trending – so she posted a new obligatory status in honor of the Hollywood legend, attesting to their greatness and enduring impact on her life. She then watched the latest YouTube videos of the day, making sure to re-watch and ‘share’ a particularly adorable kitten video.
Once Charlotte had gotten her Facebook fill up for the morning and was about to head upstairs to get ready for the day… it was then that a new post caught her eye. It was from her best friend and neighbor Amber. The post was a rage about how fed-up she was with cat videos filling up her news feed! “Had no one learned anything from the ALS Ice-Bucket Challenge? Facebook was for serious posts only! So the frivolous stuff- like cat videos and celebrity homage’s- has to stop! It’s silly and a waste of time!” The post said.
Charlotte closed her laptop slowly and with a great pout. She was the latest Celebrity homage giver… the cat video poster… That was her!
Charlotte’s best friend had just called her frivolous, silly, and a waste of time.
After a sorrowful moment of staring down into her cold-bitter coffee, she slammed it down onto the table leaving a spray of dark liquid behind. And with a great huff she stood us and stomped away upstairs.
Moments later the whirl of the electric toothbrush could be heard along with the occasional murmuring of phrases like “Frivolous – I’ll give her frivolous” ; “Waste of time… HA! She’s a waste of time!” ; and “Cats aren’t silly! They’re ‘man’s best friend’ or something like that…”
For the next 20 minutes stomps and crashes could be heard all the way to the back steps of the house where a faithful cat sat unconcerned by the tirade happening inside.
But despite the upsetting nature of the morning, Charlotte emerged from the house at 7:45, right on time to start her morning commute to work.
And for the next nine hours, Charlotte could be seen hanging out near the copy machine or the break room… just waiting for the next unsuspecting person to walk by so she could tell them all about Amber’s lack of tact and her grievous social offense. If that unsuspecting person didn’t run off immediately she would go on to tell them all about her plan to ‘unfriend’ Amber. Who had apparently been downgraded from best friend level – to neighbor- to that mean person that just happened to live next door.
Charlotte vented this to everyone that would listen- even to the point of sending texts to her coworkers and friends in the nearby cubicles.
Most people tolerated her rants, letting them go in one ear and out the other as they refilled their mugs or dropped coins into the vending machine. A few shared her outrage saying she should, indeed, ‘unfriend’ Amber as soon as possible, after all Facebook was no place for insensitive posts and name calling!
When the clock finally hit 4:55, Charlotte packed her bags and shutdown her workstation and left for the parking lot.
Hopping in the car, she began to scan through the radio stations, finally landing on her favorite radio station just in time to hear, “If your brother or sister sins against you…”
“Ah Ha!” She said into her empty car, “even the radio station can sense I’ve had wronged!” Turning up the radio she leaned in to hear the rest of the message…
“Go and correct them when you are alone together. If they listen to you, then you’ve won over your brother or sister…”
“HA! Not likely.” She said to her radio. “I don’t need her as my sister anymore!”
Charlotte reached over to switch off the radio, when she swore she heard, “Charlotte.”
Her hand paused just inches away from the power button when she heard.
“Charlotte, ‘I assure you that whatever you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven.’”
“That is about enough of that. It has apparently been a long day.” she thought.
Charlotte switched off the radio, and as she drove the rest of the way home her thoughts reviewed the dramatic day that she had. A small spark of regret entered into her mind when she thought of all the things she had said about her neighbor. It was just a silly small spark of a thought. Charlotte was the offended after all!
Arriving home, she pulled into her usual parking space. And pulling her bag out of the back seat she looked up to see the Amber walking straight towards her across the lawn.
“Charlotte.” She called, “Charlotte! I got a text this afternoon from a friend of mine that works at your office who was concerned you thought I was calling you names. Is that true?”
Charlotte stared at her with a grimace… The names: frivolous, silly, and a waste of time scrolled through her head… She had practiced how she would handle this all day long. A nasty email perhaps- carefully worded of course. The cold shoulder- a social “unfriending”… but she never once considered talking to Amber in person… “Now look at me”, she thought, “I’m the confrontee not the confronter…
As she stood there aghast, Amber said, “ Well, I’ve been thinking all day about why that might be. And all I can think of is perhaps my Facebook post this morning offended you. Then I saw your car pull in, and I wanted to talk with you directly. I’m really sorry. I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. Which really isn’t an excuse… I wasn’t considering your feelings at all… I’m so sorry. Can you forgive me?”
Then the words from the radio chimed in her head again as she considered the question, “whatever you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven”…
And this is where we will leave Charlotte and Amber. Standing in the front yard thinking about offenses and possibly warming up to the idea of forgiveness. I will let you fill in the blanks about whether or not you feel these two women can be reconciled. I will let you consider or debate who, truly, sinned against whom?
As I was writing this tale, I began to consider whether this setting was accessible to this congregation. Last summer I was working in college ministry and it seems to me that everyone of my students had at least one device on them at all times that streamed Facebook to them. Just the other day I saw someone scrolling through the site on their watch! I even have a device right here in my hands at the pulpit that brings the world of social media to my fingertips… but as I look out at our church family I think about half, maybe, of you have a Facebook account.
So if you found the digital setting of this tale to be a bit confusing… consider the “party line phones,” back in the day. That is a similar setting really. Did anything offensive/ personal/ sinful ever get over heard on those lines?
Or perhaps we could bring it even closer to home. Has any one every said something offensive or heard something offensive and sinful around the fellowship table at church?
How was that handled? Can you remember?
Did you, as Jesus instructed, go to that person when they were alone (so as to not call them out in public) and talk to them about it? Or… did you tell your friends about it (in the break room or across the lunch table) – letting gossip’s corrosive nature in? Did you avoid them? “Unfriend” them? Withdraw your membership from the church and find a new spiritual home?
I have seen, and perhaps you have as well, churches be undone by backbiting and whisper campaigns. It’s devastating to the unity of the church, to the morale of the community… and most of all it is devastating to our Christian witness and the witness of the Church universal.
In Matthew 18, Jesus gives instruction to his followers about how to maintain a healthy and connected community. And it all boils down to being careful with our words and being quick to forgive… And of course… never sweeping offenses under the rug to let them fester. That is solid advice, we all know it.
But the reality is (and the thing that makes this so difficult to swallow…) … it that our churches are always going to be filled with troublemaking sinners. The day that our pews are filled with the righteous and agreeable – rather than the broken, the sinful, the tired, the questioning… That is the day that our pews are completely empty. The church is people. How problematically human?
Jesus was gracious enough to provide us sinners with some tools and steps to work through these tense and inevitable moments of conflict moments – And to do so with grace and love.
Now let it be heard that Matthew 18 is not something to work through once and be done with it. It is not something to consult where we are inches away from a dramatic church-wide split or the breaking of a relationship… But Jesus is teaching us about a spiritual discipline or forgiveness to engage over and over and over again! To be practiced until forgiveness radiates off of us! Until words of reconciliation is on the tip of our tongue! Until we are a beacon of holy relationship!
Have you ever seen those flash lights that you have to crank the handle to get them to shine. That’s what the church is like. We have to forgive over and over again… like cranking that handle… until we can shine out that great beacon of Christ that we are meant to be!
Churches are places of forgiveness, mercy, and grace-filled fellowship. But in order for the church to stay that way we must practice this discipline of reconciliation until it becomes so ingrained in us that it’s like our DNA. Simply a part of us.
So next time that you are sinned against or even just offended… remember that you are an agent of forgiveness. And that you are responsible for your witness in this world.
Let us Pray,
Forgiving God! One that knows us inside and out. You knew that we would need help figuring out this whole forgiveness thing. You knew that we would come across sins that are easier to ignore than confront. Thank you Jesus, for teaching us how to reconcile. For giving us the tools and the strength to confront conflict and sin when we encounter it! So that it can never tear us apart. Be in our actions and words Lord.
In Jesus name,
 Inspired by: Rick Morley’s Sermon: Before You Unfriend. Posted on his blog, A Garden Path.