Monday, September 8, 2014

Community and conflict with a splash of grace.

September 7, 2014
13th Sunday after Pentecost
Ezekiel 33:7-11
Psalm 119:33-40
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

Please pray with me,

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen. 

I’m glad the last line in our gospel lesson ends on a positive note, because the rest of it today seems to cut to the quick.  And maybe it cuts to the quick because it hits us right where it matters….in the heart.  Jesus calls the disciples out on conflict within community.  Two great things that always seem to go together. 

For wherever two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, he is there among him. 

I’ve heard it said, for wherever two or three are gathered, there is conflict, so it’s a good thing Jesus is there, too! 

As the local pastors met for text study Wednesday morning, it was lifted up that the revised standard version of this passage is more accurate.  Let me read part of that to you and listen for the differences.

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.  But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

This translation lifts up the importance of the relationship that Jesus is pointing out.  It’s not just church member having an issue with another church member, it is the closeness of brothers….it’s the closeness of sisters….it’s the closeness of being members of the body of Christ.  It’s not just Jesus addressing the conflicts that arise (or will arise) within the context of a congregation, or as we may hear it within the context of our congregation here.  It is Jesus addressing the issue of conflict between brothers and sisters within the context of community. 

In a day and age where we have the capability to be more connected to one another than ever, it seems that community is something we still long for. 

I know that for many people, maybe not all, but for many the ability to connect with someone or many people is within the palm of your hand, when your smart phone is there.  You can see what all your friends are up to on facebook, you can text someone any time of the day and you can skype or facetime to video chat face-to-face. 

But you get the idea, right?  That within our grasp it is so easy to connect with others.  Yet, this is different than the community that exists when we meet face to face. 

In the world of texting and Facebook, if you don’t like something, you can ignore it.  You can even block certain posts if you don’t agree with them.  You can even “unfriend” someone without having to tell him or her why. 

In these online or electronic connections, it’s easy to walk away.  It’s easy to leave a problem.  It’s super easy to avoid conflict. 

Yet, within the realities of race-to-face relationships that we find within the context of a community that gathers together week after week, it’s not so easy to avoid the conflict.  Because here’s the truth….we are all sinful beings.  The church is made up of a bunch of sinners. 

The challenge for us, this day, is to live within the context of community.  We say we all want community, but we usually can’t comprehend how difficult it is to come by. 

Or more accurately, authentic community is hard to come by.  It’s work, right?  But it’s well worth it.  (D. Lose)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about community in his book, Life Together.  He writes, “It is easily forgotten that the community of Christians is a gift of grace from the kingdom of God, a gift that can be taken from us any day – that the time still separating us from the most profound loneliness may be brief indeed.” (p. 30)

This community here….is a gift of the grace of God.  It’s nothing we created.  It’s nothing we control.  Those gathered in this place have been called together by God and are held together in God’s grace, which is an amazing and wonderful gift. 

Because the truth of it is, we won’t all get along.  Try as we might, we are sinful beings….we will stumble, we will cause others to stumble.  As we try to do God’s work, our words and actions will get in the way and will upset some and cause others to wonder how and if God’s work is being done. 

So in the midst of listening for God’s call for our lives and the life and mission of this congregation, when we see others pushed away...Jesus commands us to go and get them.  While the words in our text talk about pointing out the fault in the other, maybe it’s important to remember that when you point someone out, there are three fingers pointing back at you.  It’s more than just pointing out the issue of one particular person, it’s loving that person enough – BECAUSE of how much God loves us – to call them back into community again. 

It’s not about placing blame, or hurting others.  It’s all about knowing that this place is a community that gathers in God’s grace and that all are welcome in this place. 

The good news for us this day, comes to us from our passage from Ezekiel, “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live” 

It’s all about God’s desire for us to be gathered in community (together) to share God’s love and grace for others.  And THROUGH that love and grace we are able to humble ourselves, to admit our wrongs, to extend apology and to be offered forgiveness and grace all because of God. 

Bonhoeffer writes, “The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more everything else between us will recede, and the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is alive between us.” (p. 34) 

And that’s it really….the blessings and challenge of living in community.  That when we are more genuine with one another and our relationships with God an one another deepen, we are able to see more clearly the call that Jesus has for us and for this community. 

It is what we desire most deeply…but it calls us to open our hearts and our minds.  To share things that trouble us, to share questions and struggles that we have in our lives and our faith, knowing that others that surround us are in the same boat, and only by the grace of God are we gathered, forgiven, loved and sent back into the world to share how we live and act as a community. 

Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber shares something like this in every new member class at House for all Sinners and Saints Lutheran Church in Denver, CO.  Look around you, someone within this group will say something or do something that offends you or hurts you, it may even be your pastor who does it….but what makes this place different than the world, is our ability to love and forgive and work through our differences and our conflict because of the love and grace of God in this place. 

May we remember this day, and all days, that in the midst of conflict and unrest, it is God’s grace that calls us together, it is God who forgives, enabling us to forgive – and may we model humility, love and grace within these walls and beyond. 

And now may the peace, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and let all God’s people say, amen. 

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