a sermon for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost
when we decide to become members of a church, we are making a commitment to stay in relationship with one another. Not only that, but we are also making a commitment to invite all of the other people in this community into our lives.
As we meet this morning, let us remember all those who have been affected by these terrible storms – those who have lost their homes, lost their lives; those who are working to preserve life and property; those who have evacuated and those who have decided to stay. My family all live in Florida and I’m a little distracted right now.
I remember when I was growing up – I thought hurricanes were kind of fun, because we got to have hurricane parties. Hurricane Donna, or Hurricane Dora would come into Jacksonville and folks would all come together. We lived in a brick house near the hospital and we were usually the last ones to lose power and the first ones to get it back. So all our family and neighbors would all gather there – aunts, uncles and cousins; friends and neighbors, sharing food and telling stories. And it was about being a family – being a community of love. Then afterwards, everyone helped each other clean up and if necessary, rebuild. It was about being a community of love.
So what does it mean to live in a community of love?
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus talks about what it means be a member of a church, a community of love. Now in the New Testament, the word we translate as “church” is not a building; it would never have occurred to Matthew to call this building a church. For one thing, church buildings simply didn’t exist in those days. There were temples, there were synagogues. But in those early days, Christians typically met in people’s homes. Instead, Matthew would understand a church to be an assembly of people. WE are the church – those of us who are here, those who are absent, and even those who have died and gone on before us. And the members of the church were expected to do four things: they were expected to worship together; they were expected study and learn together; they were expected to care for each other, and they were expected to do work together in mission to bring about the kingdom of God in the world. And all of this was supposed to be done as a community – a community of love.
Worship, teaching, caring, and working in the world – this is howJesus imagined a new way of living together as a community. And those who chose to become followers of Jesus made a commitment to do the same thing. And they invested a lot of time just being together.
Now I can tell you that when we were all huddled together in that little brick house, sometimes things got a little testy. For one thing, there was only one bathroom. And when people live in such close proximity, conflicts are inevitable. Maybe somebody says the wrong thing, or does something wrong, or oversteps a boundary, or misbehaves in some way. And that’s where we come into the story today. Because Jesus is laying down a few rules for how people are supposed to act when one member of the community offends another one. He’s laying down a few rules for living in community.
“First,” Jesus says, “when someone offends you, it’s up to YOU to go and talk to him about it.” Think about that! It doesn’t make sense, does it? I mean, wouldn’t you rather sit there and stew in your own righteous indignation? I know I would.
But for Jesus, it’s much more important that we don’t carry around our grudge against that no-good-so-and-so in the first place. After all, he commanded us to forgive. And it’s pretty hard to forgive if we haven’t even talked to the person about what we’re forgiving him for. So in this new kind of community, this thing we call a “church,” Jesus expected the one who was wronged talk go and to the one who offended.
“Second,” says Jesus, “if that doesn’t work, then you go back again to the same no-good-so-and-so, but this time you take a couple of other folks along.” Maybe you take a friend, maybe you take your priest. The point is, you try again with someone who can support your complaint.
Now this sounds pretty reasonable, doesn’t it? After all, if you find a few other folks who agree with you, then for the sake of the community – for the sake of the body of Christ – it’s important to try to get them to stop doing it. And maybe, in the face of a few other upstanding people, the other guy will see the error of his ways and say, “Sorry.”
But if you can’t find anyone who agrees with you?
But assuming you did find a few others, and he still didn’t repent. Then what? Now it’s time to bring in the whole community. All of the members of the body work together to bring the offender back into the fold. All of the members drop what they’re doing and try to bring the one offending member back into relationship with the rest of the community.
You know, this passage is funny. I used to think that this passage was about how we should persuade each other about how right we are when we get into an argument. But now I think it just the opposite. I think it’s about how we are called to live interdependently no matter what. Do you remember the story about the woman who lost a coin and turned the house upside down until she found it? Or the shepherd who lost the one sheep and left the ninety-nine to save it? The same idea is going on here. Jesus is saying that our interrelationship is so important, that when one member strays we all – ALL – work to bring the community together.
And if that person still doesn’t listen, what then? We treat him like a gentile or a tax collector. And we all know how Jesus treated gentiles and tax collectors, don’t we?
He love them!
Because when we decide to become members of a community of love, we are making a commitment to stay in relationship with one another. Not only that, but we are also making a commitment to invite all of the other people in this community into our lives. That’s what it means to be a church; that’s what it means to be a community of love.
Jesus teaches us that his vision of life in community is so important that if necessary, every single one of us drops what we’re doing and works to bring the other guy back into the fold. A community where relationship is so important that, if need be, the entire body drops what they’re doing and tries to bring a brother or sister back into the fold.
As we gather at the table here, let us remember those whose lives have been changed by the storms, floods and fires. Let us remember those who have gone before us to glory. And let always remember that Christ in the center of this community. It is he who shapes and forms us to be God’s people in this time and place. Shapes and forms us to worship together, to teach one another, to care and love one another and to work together to bring about a community of love.
Thanks be to God.