Another one of the September sermons- sorry they are out of order. This was the first sermon I preached as the newly called pastor on September 4, 2011. My goal was to connect this week's sermon to the followibg week which was September 11th. At the end of the two weeks, we incorporated the Litany for Healing and Forgiveness which allowed us to begin important work together while honoring emotions of the transition :
Here we are on our first “official” Sunday together in ministry. God has bound us together. This is exactly the sense of binding of the community that Matthew is speaking of. Both this week’s lesson and next week’s offer us teaching that fits together as we hear God’s words about living as a bound community of believers amongst ourselves and in the world. As we wrestle with the desire to have community, to be with others, we also know that community can be a funny thing. It seems so simple to say we’re all here because of the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I don’t really want to take my first Sunday with you to talk about “cutting loose.” But I know that in our collective lives together it doesn’t take long for us to be on different pages about what it means to be God’s people and how the community should act. Somewhere along the line, though God has brought us together, we will find ourselves at odds. Yet being those who follow Jesus’ words about fellowship challenges us to a new discipline of caring for each other even when we are injured or offended, and being trained to binding and loosing ourselves to repent and to forgive through Christ. Since our journey is just beginning I’m not aware of any tension between us. This may be the best time to talk about how we might respond- a time when we are not feeling tense.
In every community, there will be occasions for tension. Perhaps in times when God is challenging us in new ways that test our limits, or places where we have to wrestle with what faithful living will mean. Moments when we are asking ourselves. “What do we hold onto and what do we let go?” In these moments, there will be potential for conflict. Just saying that word can make us uncomfortable. In our lesson, Jesus speaks of those places we need to address sin, repentance, and reconciliation. Conflict is not sin. Conflict in and of itself is simply that co-existence of two ideas that are not in agreement. Conflict is not sin.
Our responses to conflict however often are. Today we hear Jesus’ teaching on the notion of how to resolve the pain that behaviors cause in the community. And the starting point to keep in mind is that everything each of us does affects our community. This is countercultural. Our world says “Have it your way.” Jesus calls us to consider that what we do and say is about more than our individual wills. Then we’re called to live out our life in relationships with God and each other in all of the messiness. And to always strive to reconcile. When someone feels wronged we’re encouraged to embrace a series of steps. But first, here is what we do not hear-
We do not hear, "when you are wronged, talk about it with others while excluding the person who has caused the hurt."
We do not hear, "ignore what has happened."
We do not hear, "try to solve it for someone else using the indirect model. "
None of these leads to reconciliation.
Reconciliation is about our collective and perpetual re-establishing of community as the Body of Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book, Life Together, notes that being the Body of Christ means not only being with those whom we consider devout and earnest and worthy, but also with those who are decidedly the OTHER- those with whom we don’t want to be community. Reaching out, drawing back together and binding these as well. Walk toward that person, and if your own words do not bring reconciliation, take other believers to be there as the witness of what God desires. Even in the worst case scenario where we find ourselves unable to reconnect, the words we hear next have a different meaning and focus than our world would give. “Treat that person as a tax collector, or a Gentile.” These are negative labels. The world would interpret this to say,”cut that person loose. Kick them off of the island, walk away and don’t look back.” But Jesus says, this person is now your mission- you'll have to start over from scratch, confront him or her with the need for repentance, and offer again God's forgiving love" . As one of my seminary professors has said, this approach doesn't deny the reality of sin or minimize the differences we actually have, but it does remind us as Christians, that our core principle is unity based on God's love, not exclusion based on someone else's sin.
The three steps of Jesus teaching are about helping the person who feels wronged to be directly connected to a process of re-connecting, repentance and forgiveness. And while repentance is a necessary component, its goal is not about wanting to wield the hammer of divine law, but to open up the possibility of divine forgiveness to those who Jesus called the lost sheep worth going to the ends of the earth to restore. SO while in our life together we may at times need to let go of ideas, we are not asked to let go of people. We’re told to banish the strife, wounding and pain that lead to death, by naming it and then breaking open God’s grace in its place. We have been brought out of death into life through grace, to be God’s instruments of this grace for God’s ultimate purpose-proclaiming salvation and bringing love.
In all of our living together the center of our existence when we are gathered is not ourselves, but Christ. Christ redeemed us, delivered from our sin, and called us to faith and eternal life. Christ continues to be the center and the mediator of our lives. Christ is the only way we can live in peace. And centered in Christ is the only way we stay bound to each other in the life God intends. Christ is who we meet in prayer to be our guide for all our days.
When we gather in His name, in prayer and community, THERE is the power of God’s love for our lives and our world. When we can acknowledge that this love is what we have in common, it might not only be a good step for us in our life together a community of believers, it is indeed what we will need to work for a more peaceable and just world for all. AMEN
(seminary professor quote: Rick Carlson)