To view the reading for today click here
“…where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
In the Gospel lesson this morning Jesus talks about community.
It’s an appropriate lesson too as we return from a summer of being dispersed and refreshed, and reform our community of Faith.
Back in the 80s when I was starting out as a leader in the Christian Church I very much enjoyed the writing of Scott Peck.
Peck’s most famous book was one called “A Road Less Travelled…some of you may have read it.
Written in 1978 it’s a book about the attributes that make for a fulfilled spiritual human being.
It’s about the individual, which is the place all of us start on our spiritual and life journey.
In a later book called “The Different Drum” he wrote about the community journey; the journey of the Faith Community.
He said that communities often pass through four stages of development.
He said the four stages are “pseudo community, chaos, emptiness and true community.”
Often the first stage, “pseudo community,” is the only stage that many communities will know.
In pseudo community, everyone pretends that they are already a community and that they really know each other, even though they really know very little about each other.
In pseudo community, people assure themselves they have only superficial differences and no reason for deep conflict.
All the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.
Every sermon is “interesting,” or at least “thought-provoking.”
Well of course, all those things are true of our community, aren’t they?
In pseudo community, people mind their manners no matter what they might be thinking behind a polite smile.
Conversation stays general: “How’re doin’?” “Good, busy. And you?” “Yeah, me too.”
A few years ago in my first Parish when I asked the question, “how’re doin?” a wary parishioner said “Do you really want to know? Or are you just making pleasant noises?”
He was ready to move me out of operating in pseudo community.
In pseudo community, pain and conflict are avoided at all costs, and when addressed are referenced only indirectly.
What people really feel isn’t shared until the “meeting after the meeting” in the parking lot, or on the grape vine or by nasty emails.
The goal of pseudo community is a bland world of pretense where no one’s feelings get hurt in public.
When another person sins against you, you take it in silence and seethe later with a friend, or maybe if you’re really upset, you fire off a nasty email from the safety of your home computer, rather than face to face….isn’t technology wonderful?
When you observe that someone has sinned against another, you shake your head and lament their sin and try to mind your own business.
Pseudo community is an affable but discontented village of lies.
It accepts the trade-off of some truth for a shallow peace that is boring but at least feels safe.
This morning’s gospel reading is Jesus’ view on pseudo community:
Let’s listen to it again.
“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.
But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.
If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
Clearly, Jesus calls us to be more than a pseudo community.
He calls us to be true community.
To be a forgiven and forgiving people, so saturated in grace that we can risk being honest with each other.
He calls us to take the risk of loving truthfulness because of what sin is.
We live in an age where people don’t like to be confronted about their bad behaviour; what we call in church talk; sin.
People charged with offenses against others from trespassing to murder all plead not guilty even though the evidence is plain for all to see.
When discovered or confronted with bad behaviour they often deny or minimize, blame their upbringing or society, and ultimately they blame the one who is bringing the truth to light..it’s called victim blaming.
For Jesus, sin is not a private matter between me and God.
It is a public menace to the relationships among God’s people.
It is not just my personal business; it is the business of everyone who knows me — and that means it is worth having the occasional hard conversation about it.
Many of our worst conflicts in the church happen because at some point someone had the opportunity to say, “Can we talk?” — but they didn’t, and things were left to fester and remain unresolved; sometimes for years.
I heard a story a few years ago of a family who were trying to get medical care for their elderly grandfather.
His health was not good, he lived on his own and he refused to go to the hospital, refused to listen to his loved ones who urged him to get help.
In fact he became resentful and shouted at them that it was none of their business and to leave him alone.
But of course it was their business wasn’t it?
His health effected the whole family and even the whole community and the family worried.
They worried that at the least he would suffer and die alone in needless pain.
They worried that at the worst he would do something that injured or killed other people, like leaving a burner on the stove that started a house fire or got behind the wheel of a car and ran over a child or some other innocent person.
Sometimes we need to have hard conversations, not just in our families but in our church family too.
Being able to do that is a sign that a community has moved into being a true community as opposed to being pseudo community.
In a way, sin is like a splinter in your finger that needs to be removed before it becomes infected and makes the whole body sick.
It hurts to have somebody poke at a splinter.
It hurts even when you are the one doing the poking.
“Point out the splinter,” Jesus says. “That is called “love.”
Take the risk of loving truthfulness because sin is more than an individual’s business.
It is the business of the whole community.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus’ words on confronting a sister or a brother who has sinned come right after the parable of the lost sheep, where Jesus says the return of the one who has drifted away is more precious in the eyes of heaven than the dependability of the 99 who stayed.
These words also come just before Jesus’ command to Peter to practice forgiveness without calculation, to forgive 70-times-seven times, and to be nothing like the unforgiving servant who has received enough mercy to cover the mountain of his mistakes yet refuses to forgive the molehill in another.
Our gospel lesson this morning comes literally between two lessons about forgiveness and grace.
It is the filling in an essential sandwich.
To try to practice this command apart from the mutual forgiveness that surrounds it on both sides is like trying to order a hamburger without the bun.
I know some of us do that when we’re on a diet…but you don’t always get everything you need on a diet do you?
Loving truthfulness stands upon a foundation of mercy and forgiveness.
Only forgiven sinners who have promised to forgive each other, could ever be so honest with each other.
Jesus calls us to tell the truth in love to one another, because sin is not just personal business.
He says that we should never talk behind another persons back and complain to others of what they have done or said, we should meet with the other person directly, privately, face to face.
If our heart is made right through prayer, if what we are seeking is the healing of relationship and not punishment or a guilt trip, we might start with a simple, “Can we talk?”
The early Methodists made a point to practice this.
Members were told not to complain about their leaders behind their backs but to share their concerns or complaints directly, face to face, honesty and forthrightly.
The ultimate goal is peace, right relationship — not accusing or punishing or airing pet peeves.
It’s not easy to start or hear these kind of conversations because most of us dislike confrontation.
Most of us dislike uncomfortable truths.
But toward the end of our reading this morning Jesus offers one last promise that makes it possible for us to put his words into practice:
“where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
We often take these words as an assurance that even if there are just a few of us present in the church, Jesus is always there.
But here, Jesus says these words in the context of two or three people who have met to struggle together through issues of sin and conflict, forgiveness and reconciliation.
Jesus assures us that whenever we wrestle together with these things, whenever we struggle to determine how to apply discipline with graciousness, whenever we attempt to discern the right way, he will be there.
As we begin another church program year together, let us remember to always speak to one another in truth and in love, so that we may be ,a true community where care for one another is the priority for our life together.
Jesus says “…where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
Thanks be to God