Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"Of Dukie, Stillwagon, and Restoration"

Romans 12:14-21

Matthew 18:15-22

 

     The few verses we’re going to focus our attention on this morning are part of a larger body of Jesus’

teaching about the kingdom of God.  This discourse is prompted by a question from His disciples: 

“Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

      It would appear that Jesus perceived in His spirit that there was a certain prideful and self-

serving attitude underlying this seemingly benign question; one which was really asking:  What

can I do to be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven?  That underlying question is what Jesus

addressed when He called a child to the midst of them and said in effect:  Unless you humble

yourselves, becoming gentle, innocent, without agenda, even like this little child, you’ll not find

your way into the kingdom.  Jesus then goes on to teach that it is in relationship with others that

we live out this humility, this gentleness of spirit, this innocence of intent, this obedience to God

like a child toward his or her parents.  Do not be a source of temptation for others, especially

those who are weaker than you.  Do not despise those who are of lesser worldly status than you.

Do not think too highly of yourself.  Consider everyone as good and as worthy as you, for like a

shepherd who would leave ninety-nine sheep on the mountainside to go in search of one lost

lamb, God counts each and every one of us as worthy and valuable.

      Then at verse 15, we find Jesus changing gears a bit.  He has taught, do not tempt others to

fall into sin.  But if someone does happen to fall into sin, and you happen to be the one they have

sinned against, here’s how to handle it.

          (Read Matthew 18:15-22)

      When I served as manager of sales and customer service for Col-Fin Specialty Steel, my pri-

mary duties were to oversee the work of our salespersons in the northeast territory, and at the

same time, to oversee the work of our customer service representatives in our home office.  That

placed me at the intersection of helping coordinate mill production schedules with customer

needs.  That also meant frequent interaction with factory superintendents and foremen.  Now I

took pleasure in my work and I enjoyed dealing with customers, salespersons and colleagues in

the mill.  But what I did not enjoy, and spent way more time and energy on than I should have,

was trying to fix things between person A and person B.  I later came to learn in a management

enrichment seminar that I was being triangulated.  Here’s an example of what it looked like.

   Dave Deluca [we called him “Dukie”] would come to me complaining that Jim Stillwagon wasn’t

putting data on the proper line on production work orders.  So I’d call Jim Stillwagon to tell him

about Dukie’s complaint.  Jim would proceed to tell me how Dukie was giving him the work

orders with incomplete information.  So I’d call Dukie to ask him to complete the information on

the work orders.  Dukie would proceed to tell me that he couldn’t read Stillwagon’s messy

writing.  I’d call Jim to ask him to write neater.  He would proceed to tell me that Dukie would

give him the stink eye when he questioned him about the work orders.  I’d call to Dukie to ask

him to stop giving Jim Stillwagon the stink eye.  Dukie would proceed to tell me that Stillwagon

was trying to turn several of the machine operators against him.  And on it went.

   Finally in much frustration, I’d call Dave Deluca and Jim Stillwagon into my office for a meeting.

“Dukie, Jim, what in the world is the problem?”  They’d look at each other and reply, “Oh, every-

 

thing’s fine.”  Then they’d leave my office acting the role of best buddies while I was sitting there

wondering what that was all about.  Things would be okay for a month or so, then the whole

cycle would begin again.  Eventually, after many headaches and bouts of heartburn, I learned an

important lesson.  If Jim Stillwagon came to me about an issue he had with Dave Deluca, and

assuming work on the production line was getting done properly, I’d tell Jim Stillwagon, “If you

have a beef with Dukie, I suggest that you go talk to Dukie.”  My life became much less complica-

ted after that.  And yes, Dukie and Stillwagon even began functioning better together

      If we could only learn – in our workplaces, in our schools, in our homes and families, in our

churches – as Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians to “speak the truth in love,” we could, as

Paul continues, “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”  If only we could

learn to do that.  If only we could learn to be more open, honest, direct when someone hurts us,

injures us, offends us; going to that person with our concerns instead of going to someone or

everyone else.  If only we could learn to do that.  For so much damage is caused by our frequent

inability or unwillingness to lovingly confront – in the workplace; in school; in our homes and

families; in the church of our Lord who Himself dared to “speak the truth in love.”  All too often,

we have a tendency to take the hurts and injuries another has inflicted upon us, and we triangu-

late others into a situation which is ours, not theirs.  Or worse, we build a team of opposition

against the transgressor.  Or even worse yet, we spread our story far and wide; all this over

against simply confronting the source of our hurts and injuries.  The damage done is often

irreparable.  So many casualties of wars that never needed to be started.  So many lives hurt and even

ruined when a little openness could have, as Deputy Barney Fife used to often say, “nipped it in

the bud.”

      There’s the story of a woman who was once offended by something her pastor said to her.

Instead of going to him and confronting him about it, she spread her story throughout their rural

village.  As it went from one person to another, it became more scandalous and damaging to the

pastor’s reputation; eventually blown entirely out of proportion.

      Some time later, the woman became sick and confessed that the offense was nowhere near

as serious as it was made out to be, and that she should have talked to the pastor about it before

creating such a stir.  After her recovery, she came to the pastor and asked his forgiveness for let-

ting things get so out of hand.  “I didn’t realize how I’d hurt you, and I am truly sorry,” said the

elderly pastor.  “And of course I gladly forgive you, but I’d like you to do one thing for me.”

“Certainly,” the woman replied.  The pastor continued, “I’d like you to go home, kill a black hen

for supper, pluck the feathers, put them in a basket, and bring them here.”  She was befuddled by

the request, but went home and did as her pastor had asked.

      She returned a few hours later with the basket of feathers.  “Now,” said the pastor, “Go

through the village and at each street corner, scatter a few of those feathers.  Then take the rest

to the top of the church’s bell tower and scatter them to the wind.”  Still confused, she did so.

When she came back, the pastor said, “Now go through the village and gather the feathers again,

and see that not one is missing.”  The woman looked at him astonished.  “Why pastor, that’s im-

possible!  The wind has blown them everywhere!”  The pastor responded only with a tender

smile.  Suddenly, she understood.

      We might as well face it.  People are going to hurt, or offend, or anger, or take advantage of

  1. Once in a while, it’s intentional. The vast majority of the time, it’s not.  It may be a fellow

worker like the Dukie’s and Stillwagon’s in our lives.  It may be a family member.  It may be some-

one in our church family.  Jesus doesn’t say, “Don’t be offended.” “Don’t be hurt.” “Don’t become

angry.”  Jesus knows what it is to be human, and knows that these things are bound to happen. 

People will in one way or another “sin” against us.  But Jesus directs us to take the high road; one

which typifies life in a Kingdom characterized by humility, gentleness, and a childlike capacity to

forgive.  If someone offends us, hurts us, angers us, takes advantage of us, does us dirt, we are to

go to that person – we and they alone – and work it out.  And Paul adds, do so in a manner which

is loving; seeking neither revenge nor retribution, but rather seeking reconciliation and renewal

of the relationship.  If that person listens – and nine out of ten times, they will – we shall have

gained a brother or sister.  When we choose instead to scatter black feathers to the wind, we

stand only to lose a sister or brother.  It may eventually start a war.  And God knows, we already

have more than enough of that.

      After almost nineteen years, most of you have discovered about your pastor that if you come

to me complaining about something someone said to you or did to you, I’ll listen.  But my first

likely suggestion will be that you go to that person yourself.  I have learned through much painful

experience to mightily resist being caught up in a net of triangulation.  Some folks may not like

this in me.  If you choose to gather an army against that person who’s transgressed against you,

or to spread black feathers to the wind rather than going to that person yourself, you won’t find

me very supportive; not because I’m uncaring or unconcerned [and believe me when I tell you

that I’ve tossed and turned at night over ruptured relationships in church’s I’ve served], but

because Jesus makes so crystal clear the way Christians are to deal with one another, especially in

times of conflict:  If your brother or sister sins against you, go and tell him or her their fault,

between you and they alone. 

      For the one in ten, Jesus goes on to say that if the route of speaking the truth in love doesn’t

work, we’re not to give up.  We are to approach the person who sinned against us again, continu-

ing in earnest to speak the truth in love, but with another sister or brother so there is no misun-

derstanding.  If that doesn’t succeed either, we’re to allow the church to be our witness, but con-

tinuing to speak the truth in love.  That’s the constant.  And if that fails as well, the perpetrator

has for all intents and purposes excluded him or herself from fellowship.  Then we can weep.

      Now here’s where Christian love becomes really radical.  Even after all that which Jesus has

taught, Peter wonders:  “’If another member of the church [earlier translations render the

original Greek “If my brother”] sins against me, how often should I forgive?  As many as seven

times?’  Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.’”  If someone

has sinned or transgressed against us, and has refused our attempts to reconcile, when that per-

son finally comes seeking forgiveness, we are Kingdom-bound to extend it, hard as that may be.

Now that in itself may offend you, and I understand this goes against all worldly logic.  But that’s

what it is to be “greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

      So in conclusion, if a sister or brother has wronged us, hurt us, offended us, taken advantage

of us, it benefits nothing to begrudge, or build a case, or bring to ruination in an effort to assuage

our pain and avoid confrontation.  Jesus says to go to them, confront them with the truth in love

-- we and they alone – and do our best to seek and aid reconciliation.  For this is, in the last

analysis, what the “kingdom of heaven” is about.

May we learn, Lord, to speak the truth in love, to extend forgiveness liberally, and to

seek restoration of and renewal in relationships with our sisters and brothers, inside

the church and outside as well. For Christ’s sake and in His name we pray.  Amen.