Sermon pent 18, yr A, 2023
Well, the leaves are turning, the air is cooling and the kids are back at school. Which means two things; fall is upon us and the chaos is about to begin. In many homes, schools, churches and other communities the program year is about to beginning and with it the transition from what I shall call “lake time” to “busy time” which can sometimes equate to a lot of tension.
In my household some are starting a new grade which will include more homework and responsibility. Others are learning how to balance university and a work schedule. Still others find their business is ramping up again. For me I’ve got home management, health management and church management all competing with what we will call an attempt at keeping sane!
The consequences are that in fall people undergo a lot of change, a lot of demands on their time and it all seems to hit at once. For the average human being that equates to being frustrated, tired, overwhelmed and increasingly short tempered as we try and adapt to the fall.
The young community of the church in Rome may not have been facing the ‘back to school’ tensions, but if anything can be gleaned from our reading the past few weeks they certainly were facing their own tensions.
There were a lot of frustrations and difficult transitions for the young church and for the apostle Paul. The Roman church, being in…well Rome was in a hugely diverse capital…culturally, ethnically and religiously and I’m sure that that diversity created a vast array of differing opinions within the church on many issues.
Furthermore, Paul we know was a pharisee; a devoted Jew and zealous follower of Christ…as such he was surprised and frustrated that Jesus wasn’t easily and universally accepted by his fellow Jews as the Messiah.
So, within his letters these past weeks we have seen a focus on the topic of how to live together as followers of Christ in community. A topic that is always relevant! Especially to us as we are a relatively new formed community. St. Andrew’s may claim to be over 100 years old and St. Chad’s is celebrating 60 years this fall, but together…we are less than 1 year old and like the churches Paul wrote to we are made up of a diverse people.
So, Paul’s words to those young Christians in Romans speaks directly to us as a young merger ourselves; let love be genuine, live in harmony with each other, celebrate each others gifts, and today summing it up in a classic and ever true phrase. “ …love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
Now for Paul, time was of the essence as the return of Christ was imminent, but for us some thousands of years later his words are just as important because as Christian communities we have and will be together for a very long time.
Last Advent I recall preaching about the challenges of becoming one community and how although we were very excited, the time would come when the little things would begin to gaul. Just like a marriage the honeymoon is over and they still won’t put that toilet seat down! The dishes are put away wrong. There are socks on the floor and there are less dates and more eye rolls.
In spite of it all..Love one another…there are several commandments, there are many laws, there are thousands of rules when one lives in community…spoken and unspoken, but love one another…intentionally and genuinely and the laws are fulfilled.
That really is the key in any marriage and any community…we may not always like one another, but with Christ as our center we should always endeavor to love one another. This is one of the most valuable examples a church community has to gift the world around us.
We live in a disposable culture. If we don’t have use for something we toss it. If get angry with someone we unfriend them. If we don’t get what we want we leave. However, in the church we are surrounded with people we don’t always agree with. Decisions that must be made communally. Liturgy and traditions that aren’t always to our taste. History that we aren’t always proud of. Yet, we are here together, drawn together by mutual faith, by a desire to do good, by a need for Christ’s peace and blessing, by a feeling of community and friendship.
Yet, this doesn’t mean the church community is always as peaceful and perfects as we are called to be, so what to do?
In our gospel today we read the middle section of Matthew’s discourse on community. It is a shame we haven’t the patience to read large sections of the scripture at once, because we get so much out of context.
Today’s gospel chapter starts with the disciples asking Jesus who is the greatest in heaven…who gets to be the best. Divisive, competitive, and likely really annoying! Jesus responds by placing a child among them…a non person, no status, considered a disposable possession until reaching adulthood. Whoever welcome one like this welcomes me.
Jesus moves on to discussing the problem of causing those around you to stumble and how one should love even those who are considered without worth because God is a shepherd who rejoices in the lost.
That is where get today’s reading …and the discussion of inner church conflict. Our attention is often on the verse that says that the church member should be treated as a gentile or tax collector. But what do we think that means? I often hear this interpreted as one, two, three strikes you’re out!
However, if we keep reading the very next verse after our gospel reading is as follows:
Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ 22Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
So, as we’ve been hearing from Paul for weeks now, are we transformed by God or conforming to the world? Because 1,2, 3 you’re out sounds like playground justice, not Christian justice to me. And the apostles themselves included tax collectors, and Paul’s entire mission was to the Gentiles. These aren’t groups that are kicked out, or tossed away. Tax collectors, sinners, gentiles… these are people Jesus sought out, cared for, changed for, went out of his way for.
Just as Paul has been teaching:
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.
And how did Jesus respond to conflict amongst the followers? Challenging them yes, getting frustrated yes, even rebuking them…we’re looking at you Peter, but always seeking, striving, embracing, and loving them in the face of rejection, betrayal, hurt and abandonment.
love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
Christ’s teaching of what to do when the church members are in conflict is a radical teaching of forgiveness and a call to seek after the lost in a culture that was a lot more harsh.
We too live in a culture that doesn’t always emphasize forgiveness, especially not 7x77 times, but rather… 3 strikes your out. And it is especially hard to be forgiving when you’ve spoken to someone 77 times already. When the honey moon is over. When things have been good for the past 60 or ever 100 years and now everything is changing. When the relaxing cabin vibe or lake time changes far too swiftly to the chaos and frustration of fall.
That is when we need to hear these scripture passages the most. When we need to have highlighted before us the imperative to love one another and forgive one another.
Because living in community is difficult. So difficult, that even Jesus’ followers left him. So hard that Benedictine Monks have to make a vow of stability, promising that they would remain in one community forever…regardless (which also meant that the leadership couldn’t transfer them out either). Love one another, forgive one another, be Christ to one another…especially when it is most difficult.
Paul spoke about being a living sacrifice and sometimes it feels that way…in the worst way. But it also means that from time to time someone is being that for you too, therefore let us be to one another as a Gentile and a tax collector…as a lost sheep. A church that seeks after each other, pursuing the good in one another, valuing the gifts of each one, rejoicing when the lost sheep is found and not seeking to be greatest, but seeing those viewed as worthless as having the greatest worth.
We are headed into some busy times in the church. Some members are headed towards a strong time of grieving. Others are being pulled in many directions. The church is struggling with closures, a lack of clergy, finances and members. We are also starting new endeavors, new activities and new visions at St. Andrew’s and this year … this year is going to be exciting, emotional and so much fun! it’s gonna be a doozy!
So, in the midst of all this excitement and tension we need to keep this scripture ever in the forefront of our minds.
Love one another.
Forgive one another.
And it’s worth saying again…
Love one another.