19 January 2020
On Thursday night a crowd of concerned people gathered down the street to show their concern about the disruption to the community caused by the Prostitution trade at Hunters Corner.
This was initiated by the Local Business Association. The level of property damage, graphetti and pestering of potential customers was affecting people going about their regular business.
These activities are taking over more and more of the nightlife and now later morning life right here where we are the church. . Safe Sex is definitely practised as the number of condoms picked up at the back of the church here every Sunday morning can testify, and the childcare centre round the corner has an equal aversion to finding those articles where the children play.
Now I have just become your member of the business Association, and when they said their first activity was to have this protest to support the Manukau City council’s move to ban street prostitution I had to stop and think - what was my response to be.?
The church is FOR people, for our community.
We don’t condone the behaviour of those who leap into the cars of the unwary men who slow down at the traffic lights along the road or proposition young boys or cause a situation where women find a car slowing down beside them as they walk along the road, that is simply not acceptable.
But also we are the company of those who are told to love our neighbour, and that neighbour, the gospel of Matthew tells us can be a tax collector or a prostitute. We are the witness of God’s being for people and for life. Life for the prostitute, for the children at the childcare , for the business people and the customers and for ourselves and our community.
Of course what is going on at Hunter’s corner under cover of darkness is not life affirming and is threatening to destroy this community if those who live here allow that to happen. Nor is it helpful for those who drive this trade in people, the cruising customers.
But as church we cannot just ask for people to be eliminated so we are more comfortable.
We are in the hard place of asking for transformation. I will say that the business Association also would really like transformation. So what do we do?
This passage today in Matthew gives us some thoughts about how to deal with conflict. It is within the church community but also gives us clues for the wider community
First go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone, should that fail then a second conversation accompanied by witnesses. The witnesses listen to both sides and give their input. Then if the offender still refuses to listen a wider group is called upon.
And if the offender refuses to listen , let such a one be to you as a tax collector and a gentile. Rejection by the entire community?
This is terrifying stuff and we have all seen it used to reject, belittle and have control over people. It is the stuff of sects.
What is really happening here?
The passage comes in the context of the parable of the lost sheep. Where the shepherd seeks a find the sheep that is lost, sparing no effort to restore the sheep to the flock and to life. The goal of the confrontation is for the offended party to reclaim the offender. What matters is restoring the relationship between two members of the family.
But what if the offender has deeply harmed people and refuses to see the effects of his/her offending and therefore is simply not open to changing their behaviour? This is no starry eyed view of the human race – it is real.
If all overtures fail Jesus says let such a one be to you as a tax collector and sinner. When read in the context of Matthew’s gospel which tells of tax collectors and prostitutes which dine with Jesus and which ends in a statement to preach to all nations, we find that treating someone as a gentile and tax collector means exclusion in one sense , but in another sense it means the radical , offensive inclusion demanded by the gospel itself.
William Willimon tells about –an ethics class where each student presented a case study of some ethical dilemma in which they were involved and how they responded. In each case, the student was afraid to be thought judgmental by a friend and so they did not confront their friend with the friend’s hurtful or wrongful behaviour.
At the end of the course, Willimon told his students: “You people give friendship a bad name. ………..you make friendship the excuse for immoral behaviour.
Let me just say this. Please, don’t any of you be my best friend. I am too dependent on somebody who cares enough about me to say, ‘Now that was not one of your better moments, was it?’ or ‘What the heck were you thinking when…?’ or ‘There, you’ve messed up again.” I don’t need any of you to aid my self-deceit. Please, don’t be my friend” (from Pulpit Resource, September 2005, 42-43).
Willimon continues: “There can be no community worthy of the name, no connection that’s deep, no friendship without truthfulness. And there can be no truthfulness without judgment, without that risky, sometimes painful willingness to confront. Judgment, the assignment of right and wrong, the acknowledgement of genuine injustice, the naming of real hurt, the telling of truth, can be an act of deepest love. I love the truth enough to tell it. I love you enough to risk it.”
Is Jesus Christ, the one who not only tells the truth about ourselves also in the same breath forgives us, is Jesus Christ capable of producing a new people, a reformed humanity, a new people call the church, or not?”
He concludes: “…whenever two or three of us are gathered to tell the truth to one another, to risk relationship on a more truthful level than usual, and to offer and receive forgiveness, then Jesus is there with us. It’s a high standard for community, a high requirement for the real presence of Christ. This great mystery is at the heart of the miracle we call church” (Pulpit Resource, September 2005, 43).
Every one of us has experienced more than one confrontation about our behaviour. Whether it was a friend or not, we probably responded defensively at first and then later we had to think about that confrontation. Was that person telling us the truth? Was that person telling us the truth based upon what she or he presumed was the facts? Did that person care enough about us to confront us with the truth as a real friend? Or was it simply part of that person’s own need to control or win or payback?
Maybe that is how the church speaking out on our local situation will be seen by those who need to hear that they are truly loved. Maybe the only way we hear about our own behaviour is when it is safe to listen, When we can let our defences down and know no matter what we are accepted. ?
It is our task to be clear about what gives life and show the power of God’s love which can transform the human heart. But also to understand that that love is also powerless because it can do nothing without consent.
Speaking clearly about actions that are harmful is important, but it is not our task to condemn people.
“take this most seriously, A yes on earth is yes in heaven, a no on earth is a no in heaven. What you say to one another is eternal, I mean this. When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it , My Father in Heaven goes into action
and when two or three of you are there because of me you can be sure that I’ll be there”
Where is Jesus today? Among all the places in the world in which there is suffering, In the middle of the chaos in New Orleans, in the continuing suffering in Zimbabwe, and the ongoing struggle for life around us.
And as we gather because of Jesus, he will be in our midst, confronting us with generous love without limits, transforming our animosities and irritations into expressions of deep compassion and service and truthful action..
So what about Hunter’s corner? Its not easy is it?
But then we are invited to follow Jesus who was devastatingly truthful in his confrontations, alarmingly wide in his friendships, and went to a cross to show the way to new life was for all of us at Hunter’s corner.
Christian Century, August11,1993 Beverly R.Gaventa
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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