Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Are You A Trader?

Excellent video:

Pastor Margaret's Sermon from Sunday 9-25-2011

A Jesus Mindset, Again   09/25/11
Philippians 2:1-13
Margaret Scott

Children’s Message
Mirror; photos of my kids
Who do you look like?
My children don’t look like me because they’re adopted. 
But Jess sometimes sounds like me because she grew up listening to me and talking to me
God wants us to grow up with Jesus so we sound like and act like him, not just our family
When you look in a mirror, don’t just see someone who’s like mom or dad, but say, I want to be like Jesus.

What’s your favourite hymn?   Why?   Think about a phrase from it that sticks with you….
What hymns say and what they mean can be two different things;  the words they say
The meaning we give to them – very individual
This text is most likely a quote from a favourite hymn in the first century!

Paul is in dire circumstances – imprisoned, under death sentence (we’ve heard a lot about that this week), very concerned with the state of the faith community, the church – yet he writes a letter that’s laced, not with doom and gloom, but with joy and thanksgiving —how is this possible?

Perhaps because he’s reflecting on a favourite hymn and hears “let this mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” --  has set his own mind on being like Jesus –  and wants all who call themselves Christian to do the same.
The Greek word is phonein, to set  one’s mind on,  to have an attitude of

And from reading the hymn itself we find that the Jesus mindset includes
laying aside privilege
Obedience to God’s call on his life

Let’s take a brief look at some of these attributes of Jesus, and then we’ll take a moment of quiet reflection to  ask ourselves a wonder question:  I wonder if I have this mindset?  If not, why not; if so, how is it practiced?

Humility:   not a Roman virtue in Paul’s day, and a carelessly considered one even today.  This attitude
·        recognizes one’s smallness in the God’s cosmic picture without losing an understanding of one’s importance to God
·        ignores cultural concern about status and value…
·        it doesn’t act on the basis of social distinctions….who’s in your group, who’s out, who wears what kind of clothes, or has which kind of job
·        it is open to God’s direction as more significant than its own

I wonder if I have this mindset?  If not, why not; if so, how is it practiced? (silence)

Another mindset attribute from this hymn is
Laying aside privilege: there is a pattern in this hymn that Paul sees in Jesus life, and has adopted as his own: privilege to servanthood to exaltation.
Jesus set aside his place as part of the Divine to become the full human, and not just any old human, the lowest of the low human, a servant, or slave, to others for God.
This isn’t an easy one for us.  Emily last week got us thinking about the alternative value system of the kin-dom – and it wasn’t too comfortable   This isn’t any more comfortable for me either, in fact it goes further….it goes against the grain of western culture and self-image to not only THINK that God sees us all equally, but to actively put oneself in a servant position.  In the church we sometimes think of ourselves as recipients of service—the church is here to meet my needs.  Yet if we are to be a truly Christian church, we must take our servant role seriously.  We are citizens of the kin-dom, not the culture.
Jesus laid aside the rights and privileges of Godhood, says the hymn.

I wonder if I have this mindset?  If not, why not; if so, how is it practiced? (silence)

Selflessness:  again, not a common virtue.  It’s a mindset that shows in two components, internally spiritual and externally other-focussed. 
Internally:  The hymn says Jesus emptied himself—
he put himself aside for a larger cause,
made room inside himself for God to fill,
quieted his own inner noise  enough to hear           
             the voice of God guiding him
left room in his soul for what life alone does not have to offer
Externally: became a full human being, warts and all.  When SLB talked about aspects of the Jesus mindset, this was the first on almost all our minds:  he paid attention to others…I mean really paid attention to others.

I wonder if I have this mindset?  If not, why not; if so, how is it practiced?

Obedience: to God’s call upon our lives.  I was reminded this week that the word obedience comes from a root that means listening….listening for what God is calling us to be, to do, and acting upon it…even to go as far as to die for that cause.

Let me be clear: I do not believe that God intended for Jesus to die a horrible death on a cross and Jesus obeyed THAT will.   I do believe that Jesus obeyed (listened, heard and followed) the call of God that ended up that way because of human refusal to listen and obey.  Had it gone differently, Jesus would still have been obedient as far as death, it just might have been a more natural death.  Men and women of faith still listen to God no matter what, and some of them die for it, but most of us will go to our deaths more naturally—will we go as obedient (listening, hearing, following)?

I wonder if I have this mindset?  If not, why not; if so, how is it practiced? (silence)

The last attribute of the Jesus mindset I see in this hymn is intimately connected to obedience, because it’s how obedience is displayed:

Commitment: time and again in the gospels, we read that “Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem”….his was a determined mindset committed to the cause of bringing people to God’s love and healing power,
Committed to transforming the world through non-violent but prophetic action,
Committed to healing the hurting, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable

I wonder if I have this mindset?  If not, why not; if so, how is it practiced? (silence)

Like Paul before us, like those first Christians in a Roman culture, we need to re-order our values and mindset, as individuals and as a church….the mindset that has been subtly shaped by the success-oriented society around us.

Can we change our mindset?   Can we make new priorities in light of God values,
Priorities in our choices of activities – ones that nourish the soul instead of idolize the sport
Priorities in our attitude toward church – to serve or be served, or something of both
Priorities for prayer and listening time or busy noise?

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, the hymn begins, and the sermon ends

This mindset of love and humility is a way of life, it takes persistence, dedication, and a listening commitment for the call of God on our lives

So that we can be taken out of ourselves into the mind of God for humanity (Chittister)

 Let the same mind be in you, and me, that was in Christ Jesus

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Church and Forgiveness (Margaret Scott's Sermon from 9/11/2011)

The church and forgiveness
September 11, 2011
Matthew 18:21-35
Margaret Scott

3 weeks ago we saw Peter being named as the Rock, the building block of the church; 2 weeks ago he was called Satan, the stumbling block.  Today, he’s catching on, he’s getting this Jesus-mind kin-dom alternative that Jesus is offering.

After hearing what we heard last week, about how the kin-dom, the community of Jesus, is supposed to deal with conflict and power, perhaps Peter wants to show how he’s coming along…
The Pharisees taught that the upper limit of forgiveness was three times.  Peter offers an upper limit of 7.   Pretty bold and generous; he knows Jesus is expansive, so he’s pretty safe with this, right?  Absurd by rabbinic standards of the day, but a holy number, and surely Jesus would like it.

But Jesus says, nice try Peter.  But there’s room for much more.  And he proceeds to give an even more absurd number, 77, or some translations say 70x7=490—both absurd exaggerations.    It’s as if Jesus is saying, if you have to count, and keep track, it’s not forgiveness…you need to forgive beyond your ability to keep track.

Now this is an ongoing conversation from last week about life in the kin-dom community—the holy space we’re invited into and invited to co-create.  And Jesus tells a story about this community as a kingdom, where the king settles accounts. How on earth does this translate to our present day kin-dom community?  The monarchy is a foreign concept to almost all of us, and this story would be absurd even in those days.  What king would ever behave in this way?   And we’re not used to thinking about judgment and settling accounts  as part of the Jesus community.  We don’t even like the word, judgment.

Yet it happens all the time in the Jesus life.  God holds us accountable every day, and as we heard last week we hold each other accountable.

Today may be just such a day for US to be held accountable.  What humungous offence have we suffered that God calls us to forgive? Or What small debt of hurt are we holding on to and will not forgive?  

Not rocket science.

This text asks at least 5 very disturbing questions:   how many times do I forgive?
And if God’s meant to be like the king in the story, does God sell  us off when we can’t pay back something?
And if so, can God be talked out of it just by our making some flimsy promise to do better?
And if it’s about forgiving 77 times, or 490 times, how come the king fogave once then the at the next slip-up condemned the guy?
And seriously, God will hand us over to be tortured?

So it’s hardly an allegory.  It’s a parable, and not about God but about the absurd nature of the kin-dom,
         where we are building blocks sometimes and stumbling blocks other times,
        where we fall and get up and fall and get up,
        but  where the community lives differently, absurdly differently, from the prevailing culture
            where we live and develop a space John talked of last week, a space for life not death, a space of revolution, not violence, a space where there is no coercion, retaliation or threat.

Sure, we can get tied up in those troubling questions, but they’re really distractions to help us avoid the really tough question, the one I’m left with, especially today, 10 years after the horror of September 11, 2001:
Can I, can we, forgive those who sin against us?

Forgive us our sins as we forgive others, we pray every week; some of us several times a week, some of us daily.   Seriously?  Do we want God to forgive us the way we forgive others?  Do we really pray the LP or do we just spout it.
 Or do we maybe pray to learn to forgive others the way God forgives us?

Impossible as it may seem, and absurd as it is, it can be done.

And impossible as it may seem, and absurd as it is, it can ONLY be done by our heartfelt understanding of how much WE’ve been loved and forgiven by God.  And that takes some soul searching – most of us don’t think we’ve been particularly bad and so don’t really need mega absurd doses of such forgiveness.   We need to spend some time on our own self-righteousness until we can understand what incredible love has been poured out on us through Jesus, forgiveness in action that ended, apparently, with a crucifixion.

And impossible as it may seem, and absurd as it is,  it can only be done by practice.  The more we practice the more forgiving we will become.   There are some things so awful that we can’t just decide to forgive the person who does them to us once and be done with it.  We have to decide to forgive them over and over – every time you see that person or a memory button is pushed -- until it finally begins to stick.

What happened 10 years ago shaped us—how we respond continues to mold us into who we are becoming….but we must ensure it doesn’t define us as revengeful warriors masked as pseudo Christians.

Christians, Jesus followers, can and do have many perspectives and approaches to war, violence and conflict.  But what we can’t afford to erode in our philosophical and theological diversity is the primacy of love forgiveness and grace.   Internally it is the redemption of Christ on the cross, and baptism, that set us apart as God’s people.  But externally it’s the manner of love we live day-to-day which is meant to set us apart for all the world to see. (Rick’s blog)

Impossible as it may seem, absurd as it is, it can be done.  It must be done, and the Church must model it for the world. We love and offer forgiveness even when we feel unable because God loves and forgives through us.
If not through me, then who?
If not now, then when?
How can anyone know the forgiving love of God unless I, you, we, give it to them?

WE know that loving, forgiving God because someone showed it to us…showed us that
Goodness IS stronger than evil;
love IS stronger than hate;
light IS stronger than darkness;
life IS stronger than death;
victory is ours through God who loves us.

As we move forward from this day, will we remain stuck in old ways of evil, hate, darkness, death?   If so, the enemy has won.  Or will we go forward with new determination, new commitment to developing a space, a community,  a nation, and a world, where we live our personal lives, church lives, political lives, and economic lives based on the Jesus way….by wesleys 3 simple rules, for example:
Do good, do no harm, stay in love with God
Or by Micah’s:
Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God. 
And above all, this special day, let us commit to practice forgiveness.
Will it be easy? No.  Is it abusrd? Yes, Is it possible?  Yes, God helping us.  Amen.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Remembering Sept 11 2001

This is a sermon I preached at a prayer service held on September 14, 2001:

September 14, 2001

Sad. Scared. Hurt. A way of living and being from before Tuesday may well have come to an end. That may make us mourn and it may make us angry. The devil had a big day on Tuesday. Broke a lot of bodies and broke a lot of hearts. Shattered a lot of dreams along with the buildings and airplanes.  And since then people have been asking, “Why?” There have been tears, and more – wailing and mourning and cursing.

Many of us have been glued to television, radio, internet.  Our conversation has been filled with questions, sorrow, guesses, speculation, rumor, and bewilderment.  We’ve called loved ones to make sure they were all right and more really just to connect in a difficult time.  We want to know that we were not alone.

The Devil had a big day on Tuesday. Really got our attention. 
You see it was more than just some 19 people on airplanes that did this.  More than another 30 some people involved in ground support.  More than just an international terrorist network, more than just a nation that provides sanctuary for bombers and destroyers – it was a system and a mindset – or maybe a heartset – that worked once again to bring destruction into God’s world.

It’s the system and the heartset that gives in to the call for retaliation and getting even or more than even with the person that has hurt us. But St. Paul tells us that we are to “put on the whole armor of God so that we may stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

The devil loves stirring people up against each other and then sits back and watches the destruction.  The devil loves to feed grudges and animosities to bring that self-propelling spiral of attack, revenge, attack, attack, revenge, and revenge.  Each side understands itself to be wronged and needing to bring the score to even.  The devil loves stirring up impatience, and frustration, and desires for what is not ours that will breed conflict or bring temptation.

And in the dust and confusion and smoke and lies, the truth that our enemy is not flesh and blood, but that our enemy is a whole system and a practice of retaliation, becomes impossible to make out with human eyes alone.  It is the eyes of faith that can begin to make out the real force behind the chaos and destruction.

All I can tell you tonight is that Jesus Christ came into this world to put an end to that system.  That’s the summary of the only word of hope that I am authorized to preach. He did not do that by raising an army, by declaring war, by developing sophisticated weapons.  And God did not surrender to the devil in Jesus Christ.  Something very different happened.

In the gospel lesson this evening we read Jesus’ understanding of how he and his followers would stand up to the devil.  Jesus says that the hour of his glorification was about to come.  By that he meant that his crucifixion was about to come upon him.  He understood that unless he became that grain of wheat that fell into the earth and died, his life and mission could not bear fruit.

Jesus says: Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world is driven out.  That ruler that Jesus refers to is the Devil.  Driven out because the Devil’s system of hate and lies is exposed as it crucifies the innocent Christ.  This is an act too horrible, too unjust, and too overwhelming to withstand scrutiny.  The devil is unmasked because in the crucifixion (and the killing of innocents in the name of some higher cause) is revealed to be the evil that it is.

The devil thought he was having a big day when he went up against Jesus.  But in that suffering and death of Jesus Christ upon the cross we came to understand that God does not stand back from the evil and suffering in this world.  God is willing to enter into our suffering, to endure it even to death on a cross, and to transform it into an episode of love and grace, forgiveness and reconciliation.
So that Good Friday turned out not to be the Devil’s big day, but God’s big day. The devil overreached himself and gave God the opportunity for Easter, the day of resurrection, the crashing down of the very gates of hell, and the opening day of eternal life.

This is a service of remembrance.  We want to remember those who have died, injured, mourn, rescue workers, eyewitnesses, missing.

But this might be the hard thing to remember: Can we remember Jesus through all those who have become the grains of wheat buried in the rubble of Tuesday’s tragic events?  Can they be signs reminding us that the crucifixion is not over yet?  Can they be signs that compassion and love needs to grow and bloom all over this world, so that the devil’s system and schemes finally come to an end?

If these who have been hurt have been the grains of wheat, the seeds buried in the rubble, what has been the fruit?  Think with me of all the ways the ruler has been driven out.  Can’t you discern a burst of sensitivity? People outdoing one another in love? Acts of great heroism and small kindness? An increase in tenderness? A greater desire for connection?   A yearning on the part of so many to be of help?  A need to make a difference for good?  A great realization that we depend on God?  More people have prayed more this week around here than I’ve seen in quite a while.

As Christians that is the insight/testimony/faith/story that we have to offer.  We know a God who was willing to come to earth to suffer and die to bring reconciliation and peace between us and God, and also between us and us. 

Jesus said, “When I am lifted up from the earth [when I am lifted up on the cross] I will draw all people to myself.  Jesus goes on to say that he is the light.  “Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness you do not know where you are going. While you have the light,” Jesus tells us, “believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”

The devil thinks he had a big day on Tuesday.  But the question for us is what we do to keep the devil from having a big day tomorrow.

Another way to ask that question is “Are we willing to walk in the light?”

Are we willing to live in compassion and integrity?  Are we willing to devote ourselves to outdo one another in love?  Are we willing to stay connected with God and with each other?  Are we willing to speak up for our Muslim neighbors who are having a hard time right now because of threats and actual violence?  Are we willing to recognize with St. Paul that our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places? 

And not just in the heavenly places – also in our hearts and our lives.  There is no place for self-righteousness as we walk in the light of Christ’s love. Are we willing to forgive others even as God forgives us?  Are we willing to live lives that are light to the world?

May our resolve to live and walk in the light of Christ not be shaken by terrorist explosions or by the tempting calls of the Devil to join in the legions of hate and vengeance.

Let us pray for those who suffer and mourn.  Let us pray for all the leaders of the world that as they carry out their responsibilities that they will do so with wisdom, full deliberation and with hearts of compassion for the innocent of other lands.

And finally, let us not be afraid.  We can walk into the future without fear because Christ goes before us and Christ walks beside us.  Be not afraid.

Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Church Conflict & Church Power

Church Conflict and Church Power
September 4, 2011

[Mat 18:15] "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.
[Mat 18:16] 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.
[Mat 18:17] 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.
[Mat 18:18] 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.
[Mat 18:19] 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.
[Mat 18:20] For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them."

There are those Christians who are nostalgic for the day when it seemed that the church was in charge of America. In charge of society and set the standards for behavior.

There are those Christians who are nostalgic for the day when it seemed that the church could more or less impose its morality and sense of propriety on the rest of the culture.

I’m not sure there was ever such a day and I’m not sure that the standards and proprieties were particularly Christian. (I’d be happy to have a conversation about that sometime.) But regardless of whether they were or were not Christian, the more important thing to notice is that Jesus did not set up the church to impose a new way of life 

Over the last couple of weeks we have talked about the kind of messiah Jesus is. Jesus is not the kind of messiah who is to come to threaten, coerce, or impose the Kingdom of God. Instead Jesus comes and opens up a space. 

The space of the empty tomb that tells all who will hear the good news that the violence of threat, intimidation, coercion, and death has come to an end. Jesus is inviting all who will follow to live within the space of life and love that he  -- through his followers – is creating in this world.  

It is into  that space we are invited to live out  the call to justice, compassion, forgiveness, mercy and reconciliation. We'll hear more about that next week as we move further on in this chapter. 

Last week Pastor Margaret mentioned some larger stories about courage and justice to which followers of Jesus have been called. Ways in which the grace-filled power of God has entered the world.  Over the last weeks we have been hearing Matthew's Gospel making the large-scale basic affirmation that Jesus is the messiah/king/anointed one who has come to institute a revolutionary way of life, contrasting with the Roman Empire way. A way of life that is revolutionary without being violent. Jesus is one with divine power, but not to be used as an aid to a military uprising against Rome, but to model a different kind of kingdom, a different way of living. 

 The disciples are to be instructed by Jesus' words and example to begin a revolutionary movement that replaces threats, coercion, and violence with invitation, love, and grace. 

That revolutionary movement is to become the church - the followers of Jesus who will agree to set about living the kind of life he modeled.

 In our Gospel Lesson today, Jesus lays out a very specific set of instructions about how members of that community are to act when one member is wronged or believes they have been wrong by another member of that community. We will see that among the followers of Jesus, they are to live without coercion, retaliation, and threat.
What is to happen if we are wronged by one of our sisters or brothers.
There are four very specific steps that the wronged party is directed to take. Let’s remember that this is about what happens within a community/family/ongoing committed trust relationship. That is important assumption. Not a relationship that is anonymous or casual.

Not about irritations. Shake them off.

If someone offends you
  1. Go to the offender and tell her or him that you feel wronged. If they apologize, you have regained the relationship. Healed. On the other hand, if she does not recognize her offense and take appropriate steps, then
  2. You are to take one or two other trusted, related people to you and the other party and again make your case. If they recognize their offense and take appropriate steps, then you have regained the relationship. If not, then
  3. You are to bring that person to the church to the whole group of trusted, related persons and again make your case. If that does not bring restoration, then
  4. That person is to be regarded as an outsider, excluded from the relationship of trust.

Assumption is that there is to be openness and trust and a listening spirit among all the parties. Not about railroading the supposed offender. It is based on a desire to heal the injured relationship and offers opportunities for cooler heads and calmer hearts to engage the people with a dispute and help them to come to a way forward that is mutually agreeable and leads to a deeper, more committed relationship of trust.

These are relatively clear directions to restore injured relationships. The problem is that these steps are often ignored, even in the church.

What happens instead?

Ben offends Tom. Tom punches Ben out. Judy offends Arlene. Arlene “accidently” spills coffee on Judy’s computer.

Or maybe Tom or Arlene just brood on it and take it out on their spouse or their kids or the cat.

Or maybe their responses are more subtle.

Judy offends Arlene. Does Arlene go to Judy? No. Arlene goes to Ann-Marie and complains about Judy. Arlene and Ann-Marie have a good time talking about how nasty Judy is.

Ben offends Tom. Does Tom talk to Ben about it? Not usually. He tells his friends Bill and Jim. Then Bill looks for more evidence about what a skunk Ben is. Jim remembers that he didn’t like the tone of voice Ben used with him during a disagreement last month.

Of course, the relationships between Arlene and Ann-Marie becomes stronger after this. Tom and Bill and Jim are better buddies in their agreement about Ben’s bad behavior.

But the relationships between Ben and Tom and Judy and Arlene and their friends suffer. If Ben and Judy get wind of it, they may seek their own allies and we have a fight over some other issue just waiting to happen.
What are some of the reasons that it is difficult to follow these four steps?
Why is step 1 difficult?
Why is it difficult to go to the offender and tell her or him that you feel wronged.
  • Uncomfortable directly challenging another person.
  • We are not sure what their reaction will be. We anticipate they may become defensive, angry, bring up things about us.
  • Require that we admit that we were hurt. That could be seen as a sign of weakness or perhaps even pettiness on our part.
  • If we surfaced the issue we could find out that we are wrong! So much nicer to think that we are right.
  • So it’s easier to talk to our friends and those we think are our supporters.
  • We might be wrong! We might have misunderstood!

But notice that what we are doing when we don’t take time or have the courage to directly talk to someone who has offended us. What we are in effect doing is that we are moving right to step 4: We make that person an outsider – we cut or diminish the relationship. As I said before, sometimes we do it by allying with another person who we make a special insider with us and our allies..

What are the difficulties of steps 2, 3, and 4? Step one comes first. Very unusual to get to 1. 2,3, and 4 would actually be a rare situation if we would seem much easier for many of us if we could get manage step 1.

So Jesus is very clear about these four steps.

Step two, engaging trusted friends can help clarify and calm.

Step three, tell it to the church. Again, not to accuse or punish, but to help and correct.
  • One of the ancient commentators points out that it would be a less caring response to leave the offender alone.
  • The goal is to bring the straying person back into community. Back into a right life. Or to correct our understanding of the situation if we are mistaken that someone has wronged us.
  • The goal is reconciliation.
  • Jesus knows that sometimes this is impossible. There are instances when someone may not be willing to accept that they have done wrong and no community can endure if there are substantial differences about how they will relate together and if people will not accept responsibility for their offenses.
  • What we mean by a community is in large part a shared view of important matters of how people will live together, and a willingness to own up to our own responsibility. Not to avoid our responsibility or shift responsibility to others.

Step four: exclusion. No longer a trusted person and we cannot pretend that there is trust. But notice that even here:  Jesus says that they should be treated as a Gentile or a Tax Collector. What does that mean?  It means that the community continue to try and reach out and hope for an eventual change of heart.

Jesus came to offer us an alternative set of procedures. Procedures for restoring relationships. Reconciliation.

Jesus invited his followers to begin a way of being in the world that would be inviting to others and would contrast with the ways of imposition, power, threat, and retaliation that are the usual ways of the world.

Church Power is not about being able to dominate and impose. Church power is about living into the way of Jesus. We are called to embody a way of living among ourselves that testifies to Jesus’ teachings and the way he lived. We are called to with Christ create the space that forgiveness and grace can fill.

Paradoxically, it is in our conflicts, times when we hurt each other, times when we feel that we have let one another down that the power of Christ’s way has the clearest opportunity to shine through. Space is created for Christ’s way of peace.

And as truth-telling, understanding, forgiveness, and reconciliation emerge in real life situations, the power of God is revealed in the world.

The power of God is not in imposing order or rules, but in the ways in which we create room to open ourselves up to each other in grace – even and especially in the midst of conflict.

The second half of today’s passage says:
[Mat 18:18] 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.
[Mat 18:19] 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.
[Mat 18:20] For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them."

Again we see the theme about the interlocking/interpenetrating dimension of heaven and earth in which we are living. Heaven is in our midst. God’s will is not opposed to ours, but God is longing for us to agree and work together to bring forth the love and peace God has implanted in creation from the beginning. We sometimes try to crowd it out with our own plans, our own ego, our own needs to be right.

The search for gracious agreement/reconciliation is a clear sign of God’s power. As we pray and sing and work laugh and cry together we create the space for God’s Spirit to take hold.

As we forgive and receive forgiveness we create space for the life of Christ to flourish in our midst.

Notice too, however, this takes place within the bonds of trust, commitment, integrity, and by being a community that disciplines itself to work together toward mercy, forgiveness, and reconciliation with integrity, this power also extends outward as in invitation to a different way of life in which all the world can participate.

These instructions and promises of Jesus are meant for real life. Here and now so that the Kingdom of Heaven, the dream of God, the reality of God’s presence and power takes hold around us.

It takes practice. There are clear instructions. Four steps when we have been hurt by someone. They are not always going to be easy.

Pray earnestly for the power to take these steps when you have been wronged. If you think you can’t do it on your own, ask for help.

Seek a way to move toward reconciliation. On the other side, if someone takes the initiative and tells you that you have wronged them, take that seriously. Engage and work through. Seek to understand without defensiveness. Seek reconciliation from your side.

Integrity and compassion, honesty and mercy, trust and cooperation are needed on all sides. This is the life to which Christ calls us.

But the secret is that as we do so the Kingdom of Heaven is taking shape around us. Let’s encourage each other in this direction. Help each other find the courage to be direct and the patience and humility to listen and learn together.

Thanks be to God. Amen.