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Not Any More

2or3Matthew 18: 15-20
Romans 13: 8-14
Introduction to the Gospel reading
Three features of this reading to point out:

  • Use of the term “church” (ekklesia, in the Greek). Most scholars consider this passage to be the product of the writer Matthew rather than being the actual words of Jesus. So, it seems to reflect the developing institutional church rather than a situation in the time of Jesus’ earthly life, before there was a “church” as an organization.
  • Consequently, the phrase “another member of the church” loses the concept that the followers of Jesus are an extended family, the family of God. A footnote at this point is a corrective. It notes that the original Greek was “your brother” and in later editing, “brother and sister.”
  • “Binding and loosing” relates to rabbinic authority to interpret how or
    even if one should apply a commandment or law to a given circumstance. Binding would hold to the law. Loosing would determine whether applies in a given situation.

Sermon
It’s good to be back from vacation… We returned from Cape Cod at the end of last week.

Everyone needs time away – to disconnect from the world, to unwind, relax, reflect. It certainly helps to be by the sea – to sense the eternal, the endless, the calming, wide open, free space of earth at the edge of the heavens.

But return to reality we must. Off to the post office to pick up the plastic bin of mail, three weeks’ worth of bills, donation appeals, catalogs, and magazines.

A cover story in Time caught my eye: “Crazy Travel. Crazy costs. Crazy Stress. How Kid Sports Turned Pro.” Inside: “Kid Sports Inc. How your child’s rec league turned into a $15 billion industry.”

I don’t think I need to go further than these telling headlines. Many of our own families choose to live in this kind of pressurized environment of soccer or gymnastics or hockey or dance. Why do they do that? College scholarship eventually? Not be left out? Have fun with friends? “It’s her passion.”

But what kind of culture have we created among our youth? Competitiveness, intense specialization, anxiety, exhaustion, burnout, even depression.

And what, perhaps, are we losing? A sense of fun and enjoyment; family time really spent together; a chance to explore a variety of talents and interests; and as expensive travel teams replace community leagues, a sense of community, opportunity, welcome and respect.

It’s not the way it used to be. Not anymore.

Return to reality we must. We start watching the news again. The biggest current event was the weather – Hurricane Harvey and the utter devastation in Texas. I talked with Krista in the church office while I was still away and we started collecting for hurricane relief right away ($1800 so far). Now, of course, we’ve added victims of Hurricane Irma that has hit Florida especially hard.

They say that as the climate changes and the planet becomes warmer, these kinds of massive strong storms will become more commonplace. We’ll have to change where and how we build and how we develop land. And not only that, but how we make use of new energy resources away from fossil fuels that have contributed over the centuries to the situations we now face.

Again, we can ask: What kind of culture have we created? And what are we losing? Careless, thoughtless consumption and waste versus good stewardship of the earth, respect and love for God’s creation.

It’s not the way it was meant to be. Not anymore.

Return to reality we must. We read and watch and listen to commentary now on the events of the weekend when we left, the explosion of racial hatred and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12.

Popular author John Grisham writing in another back issue of Time:

Charlottesville is a quiet town with friendly people, good schools, lots of churches, parks and a bustling, growing community that more or less revolves around one of the country’s great public universities. Volunteerism is rampant, and dozens of nonprofits hustle about, solving problems and helping those in need. …

The weekend of Aug. 12, Charlottesville was violated.

These same downtown streets where I work and have lunch and dinner and meet with friends were taken over by hooligans and white supremacists who for some reason chose Charlottesville as their battleground. (Grisham 44)

Again we ask? What kind of culture have we humans created – again, over centuries and globally - that manifests itself in this kind of hostility and rage? Absolute lack of civility in civil discourse; demonization of the “other”; the very idea of one race being “supreme” over another; the extension of these behaviors and ideas into immigration issues, economic inequality, educational opportunities.

And what have we lost? Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness… (Genesis 1:26a) We are not behaving as God intended. Not anymore and probably not ever.

In his letter to the Romans, from which Mary Ellen read earlier, Paul makes it clear that followers of Jesus Christ are to live according to a new interpretation of the law. After thousands of years, the old Jewish law and the resultant 600-plus regulations had become cumbersome and over-strict. They had lost the spirit of the Holy. Look what you’ve created, he seems to be saying.

So Paul opens their eyes to what they have lost and what they can find again: Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments … are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

The passage from Matthew, which undergirds this sermon, is essentially a guide toward reconciliation. For us, this September day of 2017, the question is this:

How can we reconcile the differences between the cultural, social
and moral constructs we humans have created
(such as the examples I’ve given) and
what God requires of us, commands us to do,
expects of us and hopes for us?
That is, the differences between what we have manufactured and
what we have lost in the process.

We can be reminded of what Paul wrote to another early community of faith, the one in Corinth: God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 2: 18) Here are some points to ponder:

  • It begins at the personal level. “If another member of the church [or if a brother or sister] sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.” Where have I gone astray? Or where have I been sinned against?
  • Reconciliation takes intentionality, persistence and time. First, and if that fails, then this; and if that fails, then this. Relationships – in the church and in all our places of connection one with another – are of enduring value. When a relationship is broken, it is worth going back over and over to work on reconciliation.
  • Reconciliation may begin with the personal but it is ultimately communal. If the member [brother] refuses to listen to [the small group], tell it to the church. God was in Christ reconciling the world. Think about today’s examples and the communities they suggest – your family; our towns and counties; voluntary social and political associations you might belong to.
  • Reconciliation seeks restitution and restoration, not revenge or retribution. “If the brother listens, you have regained that one.” The point is to win back a relationship that is in danger of being lost or that has been lost. You are working for a relationship, not against it. You want to make the flock whole again, as it were, to bring the wandering sheep back into the protection and care of the fold.
  • Reconciliation seeks after mercy, forgiveness and peace. “if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” In the early days, where the line between Jewish and Christian was not distinct, that might have meant ex-communication, a casting out. But Jesus, the one who ate with sinners and outcasts, would have moved in the direction of love, which begets welcome, mercy, and forgiveness.
  • Reconciliation is offered in the name of Jesus. We gather in his name to move out into the world, in his name, in his presence with us and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

May God give us courage and hope as we move forward toward the reconciliation of the world with the God of our creation. Amen.

Rev. Kathryn Henry
Peapack Reformed Church
Gladstone, NJ
September 10, 2017

Gregory, Sean. “Kids Sports Inc.” Time. 4 Sept. 2017, 42-51.
Grisham, John. “A Town Violated” Time. 28 Aug. 2017, 44.

khenryRev. Kathryn Henry
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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