Readings: Romans 13:8-14 ~Psalm 149: 1-3 ~ Matthew 18:15-20
Two weeks ago, we listened to the story of the birth of Moses and pondered Jesus’ timeless question – Who do you say that I am? Last week, we heard of Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush – and at least at the early service – we pondered, who is God for us?
While Moses takes time out to receive directions for his community’s first Passover meal, we turn to St. Paul to help us ponder what it means to be a faith community trying to live into our relationship with this God revealed to us in Jesus – and one another.
In fact, both our epistle and gospel readings are helpful with this conversation. First and foremost, as followers of Jesus, we are called to love God and one another – which means practicing an unconditional concern for the well-being of all.
The addition of the great love commandments at the beginning of our services will remind us of that on a weekly basis. And we all need to be reminded. For, to borrow from Schopenhauer’s porcupine parable – even people of faith are like porcupines huddled together on a cold winter’s night – sometimes our quills get in the way, especially the quills of fear and pain, snarkiness, quarrelling, bitterness, jealousy and resentment.
And its hard not to react in the same tone when one of those quills is aimed in our direction. Which is why Jesus gives his community a common-sense approach to dealing with conflict. If someone offends us, we are to quietly, respectfully, speak to that person. It may well be that they are not even aware that they have offended. Miscommunication is at the heart of most of our perceived offenses.
But so often what we do is tell everyone but that offender, tending to choose people who will affirm our view. Or we fume inside and carry a grudge hoping the other person will figure it out. As one person said, that is like drinking poison in the hope that another will get sick.
None of this is helpful or healthy – for us or the community. If we have tried to sort it out by speaking with the offender and the problems is not resolved, then it’s time to bring in one or two others – not to build a small army against the offender but to resolve the issue in a way that restores the relationship.
At the heart of it all, Jesus reminds us that whenever two or three people are gathered in his name, he is right here in the midst of us – whether that is to peacefully resolve a conflict, or bring healing, or guide us on our way. And this is all really good news and direction for a church that is just setting out on pilot project of worshipping together – a project that means some change for all of us.
For the early, that includes a change in time and maybe welcoming some folks for whom 10:30 is just too late in the day. For the later service, it includes a change in time, additional styles of music, and some variations in liturgy. So, we will all need to keep an open heart and mind, watch our quills, and work together for the good of the gospel and the community – keeping in mind that our Lord is in our midst.
And so as we begin this time together we pray:
May God, who is present in sunrise and nightfall, and in the crossing of the sea, guide our feet as we go.
May God who is with us when we sit and when we stand, encompass us with love and lead us by the hand.
May God, who knows our path and the places where we rest be with us in our waiting, be our good news for the sharing, and lead us in the way everlasting. Amen.
We’re now going to sing together one of our new songs for the journey.
Sing a New Church into Being
Summoned by the God who made us
rich in our diversity.
Gathered in the name of Jesus,
richer still in unity.
Refrain Let us bring the gifts that differ
and, in splendid, varied ways,
sing a new Church into being,
one in faith and love and praise.
Radiant risen from the water,
robed in holiness and light,
male and female in God’s image,
male and female, God’s delight. Refrain
Trust the goodness of creation;
trust the Spirit strong within.
Dare to dream the vision promised,
sprung from seed of what has been. Refrain
Bring the hopes of every nation;
bring the art of every race.
Weave a song of peace and justice;
let it sound through time and space. Refrain