Matthew 18:15-20: “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.Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
Though the words I speak are mine, let the word we hear be thine.
According to developmental psychologists, it was somewhere between 2 ½ and 3 years of age that all of us began to realize that these beings around us are actually other people who have their own thoughts and feelings. I want to eat graham crackers and play with toys all the live-long day, but you don’t? What? Enter temper tantrums and hissy fits. It’s really a remarkable step in development that some people spend the rest of their lives trying to get over.
A friend of mine pointed me toward an article written by a UCC pastor. In it, this pastor lamented this growing demographic of Americans today who call themselves ‘spiritual but not religious’. She described them like this: They like God and connecting with the divine, but for a variety of reasons, they don’t want to be bothered with a church or community or fellowship. Or maybe waking up early on the weekends. I have friends who fall into this category and as well-meaning and thoughtful they are, but they fall short in thinking their faith is personal, private and singular.
Because my faith cannot begin and end with me. Your faith cannot begin and end with you. This faith is one of We. .. Us. .. Our. This faith is built on community and a web of relationships. But things can get ugly quickly. Messy. Sticky. Jesus knew this. Jesus knew that somewhere in us is still that toddler a little taken aback that what I want is not what everyone wants. Whenever I come across this passage in reading my Bible, I think, what great news, church conflict is nothing new to us. But then I realize, what horrible news: church conflict is nothing new to us. Our grandparents disagreed. We disagree. Our grandchildren will disagree. What Jesus gives us this morning is an imperative to rise above the conflict and focus on what’s more important: the church community.
A friend of mine who has been a priest for multiple decades now put it like this: he said he finally figured out that it’s more important to be in right relationship than it is to be right. It’s more important to be in right relationship than it is to be right.
It is hard but it is imperative. We must seek out Jesus in all those around us. The people who vote differently then me. People with foreign accents. Those part of a strange generation. Fussy babies. Interns with coffee-breath. It is when two are three are gathered together in Jesus’ name that God will be in the midst of them. Any two or three.
When a batter steps up to the plate in professional baseball, the game is usually wild and hectic. Fans, scoreboards, advertisements- there’s a lot going on. What every major and minor league baseball stadium is equipped with is a green or black screen in the back perfectly angled so in all the noisy confusion, the batter just might be able to see the white ball hurling at him at 90 miles per hour. A good community can work like that screen, giving us something steady in the noisy confusion of life to see what’s coming at us.
Like we probably realized as toddlers, these beings around us are people. And as Jesus wants us to remember this morning, these beings are beautiful, wonderful people loved dearly by God as much as He loves us. And it is only with these people and through these people that we can truly come to know God’s love for us. And through this we can say that not only did our faith story begin long before we were born, but our faith story will continue long after we die.