Tumbling in the Sand
The texts for Sunday, September 4, 2011 are: Ezekiel 33:7–11; Psalm 119:33–40; Romans 13:8–14; and Matthew 18:15–20.
“If another member of the church sins against you…” – Matthew 18:15a
The hardest thing about Christian community is other people. So often, people think that Christian communities should be these really great places where everyone loves them in such a way that there is never any real conflict and things get worked out without hurting anyone’s feelings. Of course, this is not the case. Not even close. When I first went visiting seminaries, I was warned by one of the admissions directors, “You know, some people think that seminary should be the perfect super-Christian community, after all it’s made of people who will be future pastors and leaders of the church; but really, think about it: it’s a community made up of a whole lot of people who think that God has personally chosen and called them!” Talk about egos clashing! And that’s what happened a whole lot.
I don’t think it’s any different in any church community. It’s made up of people. People are broken. Come on, admit it, you’re broken, too! We tend to get wrapped up in things that concern us. We worry about those people we love to the exclusion of those people we don’t really know as well or don’t (or think we can’t) really love. We get hurt when people don’t consider us first. We sometimes gossip with others about what this person or that person did. We decide not to be honest with people because we don’t trust them. And then we forget that they are doing the exact same thing that we are and we get mad at them for caring more about the people they love than us. The next thing we know, we are in a major fight. And worse, in a Christian community, we have this odd idea that we should somehow be above it all!
But then Jesus speaks up here with these words, “If [perhaps that should be when] another member of the church sins against you…” You know, I think these are words of grace. Not because it somehow makes all the fighting or the anger at one another better, but because it invites honesty about it. Honesty. Look, when we don’t get it right, when we hurt each other, when we aren’t perfect (cause we ain’t gonna be perfect), we need to be honest with each other about the way we hurt each other. This is not to pick on each other. This is not to point out other people’s sins while ignoring our own. This is not to chase people out of the church (you might remember that Matthew was a tax collector and Jesus went and ate dinner with people called “sinners” and he even healed a Gentile woman’s daughter…). This is to reclaim the relationship. This is to remind us all that we aren’t perfect, that we all make mistakes, that we need each other, each broken one of us, in order to grow, live and thrive. It has been said, “We are all angels with one wing and we have to hold each other close in order to fly.” Imagine thinking, one-winged-ones, that you or I could fly all on our own?