Communion Meditation

Sep 10, 2017 by

Sermon for Sept 10 2017 by Bob Bond

Romans 12:9-21

Matthew 18:15-20

The continuing news from Texas post-Harvey; then the devastation of Irma in the Caribbean and its arrival now in Florida; Mexico double-hit by earthquake and hurricane Katia; Jose, the fourth massive Atlantic storm following in rapid succession; the hydrogen bomb and long-range-missile testing by North Korea overwritten by the chest-beating and the chilling threats of Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump; the desperate exodus of Rohingya Muslims out of Myanmar; the ongoing humanitarian disaster due to drought and famine across eastern Africa and Yemen; the destruction from horrendous monsoon flooding in India; more evacuations due to forest fires in western Canada; the continuing warfare in Afghanistan and Syria; the decision to deport children of undocumented immigrants in America … the news this week pummels to the point of overwhelming even such-as-us who only have to listen.  Like many, I think about the storms, the flooding, the droughts and the fires that are only going to get worse as global warming progresses; I worry about nuclear arsenals with such insufficient persons permitted to hit the “Go” buttons; I am brought low by the immensity of human suffering on a planet that graciously provides for humanity, and all life, all creation to be well.

This had better not be some sermon disconnected from the week we’ve lived … that would be an insult to humanity and to the world.

I shall, nonetheless, begin with what seems disconnected: two rather academic inquiries, in fact, that I pursue because the Lectionary brings us this Gospel account on this day.  Bear with me, because these things do come to apply.  “Good News”, when brought to light, always applies.

Matthew is in the process of recounting teaching-moment after teaching-moment delivered by Jesus, topic after topic, presented by Matthew as a continuous sermon (one of the five long sermons in Matthew’s telling).  We heard the excerpt when the issue-of-the-moment was, “If your brother (or sister) sins against you, here’s how to proceed …”.  You know the drill that follows: the series of efforts in order to make things right.  What I want to bring forward from your memory is that you’ve also heard Jesus, back in the first sermon pulled together by Matthew, say, “if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also”[Matt 5:39] … not “go to him and confront him” but “turn the other cheek”!  These two rules, side by side, are at great odds!  They leave the listener not knowing what to do!  Our first inquiry, then, is to discern what is going on here.

The key is the “Aha moment” that comes when you see there are two sets of relationship rules taught by Jesus, across the Gospel accounts, for two very different relational situations.  One is the case where a follower of Jesus is relating to another person within their fellowship.  In other words, for you or me, we should think about the people we’d count in our circle (including one another here).  The rules for this zone are all about – to use Paul’s phrasing from today’s Epistle – “loving one another with mutual affection; outdoing one another in showing honour.”  So, yes, from our Gospel reading, if-and-when someone in your circle acts in a way that breaks their relationship with you, in order not to risk tarnishing anyone’s honour, first you are to go to them in private and confront them with what you’ve experienced of them or from them.  If its all a mistake that thereby gets straightened out, then the relationship is reset, and no one has ‘lost face’.  When such a private initiative doesn’t work, two or three observers (or negotiators) are to be brought into a what is therefore a more-public discovery, it now being the recognizable case that harm has been intended and perpetrated, honour was lost, and the witnessesobjective view, judgement and counsel are needed to adjudicate in order to restore ‘good relationship’.  If and when things escalate to the third stage, the matter becomes fully public and the community (one’s whole circle of people) stands for the one who has been wronged.  If the offender doesn’t come around, then he or she is put out of the circle.  This is, altogether, a process designed to reconcile and restore whenever possible.  Hear some more of the rules about relationships within one’s circle of people (most of these from Jesus, and – as we heard read earlier – some of them from Paul):  love one another; forgive 70 time 7 times if asked; be happy with those who are happy, weep with those who weep; share your belongings with those in need; take the log out of your own eye before going after the speck in your brother’s or sister’s eye; do nothing in your freedom that will cause a brother or sister to stumble; apply your gifts for the common good; whoever would be great among you must be your servant.

A longer list of rules is given, across the Gospels and across the New Testament Letters, concerning relationships with people who are beyond one’s circle (beyond one’s community) and who can be opposed to (destructively aligned against, enemies of) that community.  Hear the New Testament’s counsel given in this case (starting with multiple points out of today’s Epistle):  ask God to bless those who persecute you (Rom 12:14); if someone has done you wrong, do not repay her-or-him with a wrong (Rom 12:17); never take revenge but, instead, let God’s righteous anger play out (Rom 12:19); if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink (Rom 12:20); do not let evil defeat you, instead, conquer evil with good (Rom 12:21); if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; if they take your coat, give your cloak as well; if they force you to go one mile, go with them the second mile (Matt 5:38-42); love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, give to everyone who begs from you, and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again (Luke 6:27-30,32-35).

So, then, when a relationship with me, within my circle (my community), is damaged or broken, I am to take initiative and do work, on increasingly public levels (as necessary), to restore that relationship (or rarely, but when necessary, openly to discern, publish and rearrange life around the fact the relationship is terminally broken). When someone outside my circle (my community) does me wrong, there is the business of ‘conquering with good’ in Paul’s words or ‘being great, …  daughters and sons of the Most High’ as Luke puts it or of ‘loving the enemy’ in Jesus’ consistent words.  (As a footnote, the New Testament makes it clear these behaviours align directly with God being the one who avenges; and as well it is noted a couple times [today’s Epistle being one of them] that the immediate effect is “by doing this, you make your enemy burn with shame.” [Rom 12:20])

Keep available this framework – the fact of two sets of relationship rules describing two different ‘zones’ – so as to be clear and informed (instead of confused!) by the New Testament’s teaching.

Next: a second technicality presented by today’s Gospel reading, which comes immediately on the heels of the statement that someone within one’s circle who has transgressed, and who will not listen even to the judgement and direction of one’s gathered community, is therefore put outside the circle / community.  Jesus next says, in Matthew’s compilation, “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.”  Down through the ages, this assignment of great power has been associated with the preceding text and taken to mean that when the church on earth kicks someone out, that person is kicked out of heaven too.  Which is to say: it has been interpreted that ‘binding’ means ‘condemning’, and ‘loosing’ means ‘forgiving’.  But people, in the only slightly broader context of today’s text – where (if you were to read on a bit) you would hear about God’s liberality in regard to forgiveness, far outstripping usual human behaviour, and where it also remains very clear that forgiveness is decided between the individual and God (without outside interference) – [in this Gospel context] the wrongmindedness of generation after generation of abusive power-tripping by the Church is clear.  “Binding” and “loosing” come up once before in Matthew’s Gospel back when Simon names Jesus “the Christ” and in turn (1) gets named Peter, the rock upon whom the church is built, and (2) is given the keys of the kingdom of heaven so that what he ‘binds’ or ‘looses’ on earth is ‘bound’ or ‘loosed’ in heaven.  ‘Binding’ and ‘loosing’ are not activities newly invented here.  They are practices of the Pharisees; they are activities that Matthew highlights Jesus doing all the time.  They are the two options when taking the body of religious laws, as handed-down known and revered, and applying those laws to current reality (including situations never-before-considered).  In such application, some of what is brought forward might get ‘bound’ which is to say “not found to be useful or constructive and so ‘tied off’ or ‘put to the curb’”; and some of what is brought forward might be ‘loosed’ which is to say it is given fuller reign.  Examples will help, and – again – in Matthew’s account they abound:  In Matthew 12, Jesus looses the prohibition about performing work on the Sabbath, first with regard to plucking grain so as to satisfy one’s hunger, and then with regard to an act of healing, summing up that “It is lawful to do good on the sabbath”.  In Matthew 15, Jesus binds the commandment, “Honour your father and your mother” as directly requiring adult children to care for their parents in old age, thereby crashing down on the scribes and Pharisees who (in self-serving manner) had loosed this law whenever an adult child instead gave the resources “to God”.  In Matthew 5, Jesus binds the law prohibiting murder as applicable to anger and insults; and shortly after he binds the law prohibiting adultery as applicable to lust.  In Matthew 15, Jesus looses some law (that we don’t actually have on record) about ritual hand-washing, observing that “what goes into the mouth does not defile a person”.  I could go on, but these suffice to illustrate the practice and so to make clear what it is that Jesus hands the Church to continue to do in his way and in his name.

Enough with the two ‘academic inquiries’.  Now to see the Gospel, the Good News, here, for us, in our world’s great unrest.

People, why it is that we come to church week by week as one of our spiritual practices, and why it is that you may well use other spiritual practices to ground you in relationship to God through Christ every day (indeed every hour of every day!), is this:  A different thing is needed than the governance even the best politics in a most enlightened society provides (if ever we humans could decide on that).  A different thing is needed than what the best economics (the best policies for business, finance and trade) provide (if ever we humans could decide on that).  More is needed, in terms of healing, than all of western medicine and eastern medicine and social work and philosophy provide.  A different thing is needed than even the best stories about ourselves we like to tell.  None of these (our politics, our economics, our practices in any aspect) have yet figured out and integrated the fulfillment of the demands of right and forgiving relationships with my neighbour who offends me, let alone the love (yes, actual love) of my enemy.  None of them gets the practices of ‘binding’ and ‘loosing’ right, for if they did there would have been corrections to global warming once recognized; and the obscene wealth of the 1% would instead fund the safe and satisfied lives of all; and fear of difference (in another person) would not exist because of awe and joy and celebration concerning diversity; and power (or authority) would be applied to create, to build, to liberate, to heal, never to threaten or dominate or do harm.

People, in just the two practices we have ‘zeroed in on’ in today’s Gospel reading (which is to say, two practices entrusted to us as followers of Jesus, as ‘church’) are the means to change the world, to save the world, to have had vastly different news headlines this week or – once they’re in place – to have vastly different global responses to those headlines.  We are disciplined about working this Good News out in our lives because this different order (this different way) is heaven, and we offer it to and for the world.  Sometimes the offer is focussed and loud (like in the lives of a Martin Luther King Jr, a Mother Theresa, a Desmond Tutu, a Tommy Douglas); always the offer is prophetic (for instance, when it is some ignorant, offensive next door neighbour whom you love, it is prophetic about the whole world made anew).

Let me – in closing – be out-loud-clear in saying what you know, and you know I know: that following Jesus is about lots more than just two points made in a September 10th sermon.  In my 61st year, now, I continue to search, and discover, and wrestle with, and be corrected by, and evolve according to, the Way of Jesus (which journey demands of me my various spiritual practices in order daily to ‘fuel the engine’.)  One of the currently most important dimensions of this ‘fueling’ – I must say – is the business of hope … without my faith, I sense, in weeks like this, I would lose hope.  Instead, I have a calling.  Each of you, in Christ, has a calling.  And there is fuel, ample fuel, deep wells of it, to keep our engines ‘turning over’.  Let us change metaphors at this point:  there is food, exactly what is needed in response to your deepest hunger, set before you here, and so it is we now come to gather at the table of our Lord.  Amen.

Pastoral Prayer

(This morning I have used-and-adapted written prayers by Bruce Prewer, of Australia, in the preparation of pastoral prayer for all of us.)

 

Merciful God, it has been one of those weeks

when – on behalf of humanity as a whole – we feel thwarted by our sins;

when we feel weary and frustrated, overwhelmed and sad.

 

Therefore we pray for whatever form your saving love must take

to rehabilitate humanity and put things right.

 

Utterly discomfort us, if that is the best way to go.

Lead and encourage us, if that is what we truly need.

Give us your stinging rebuke, if that will get us in the right frame of mind.

Soothe and tutor us, if that is the remedy best suited to our situation.

 

Give each of us that particular spiritual make-over

which will restore the defaced divine likeness within us all.

 

Loving God, Friend of the neglected and the despised, Friend also of the cherished and the honoured, we offer to you our prayers for this world for which Christ gave his all.

 

We pray for the safety and the care of the displaced.

 

We pray for discontent in the souls of the greedy and the careless, and for the overthrow of the arrogant and cruel.

 

We pray for the uplifting of the meek and merciful, and for the encouragement of the poor and the pure.

 

We pray for the recovery of the bruised and the lost, and the peace of those who thirst for righteousness.

 

We pray for the feeding of the hungry in body or spirit, and for the healing of those who are dis-eased in body or mind.

 

We pray for the comfort of the suffering and the grieving, and for the befriending of the lonely and the timid.

 

We pray for the humbling of the church whenever it becomes proud, and for courage wherever it is shunned or persecuted.

 

You, Holy Provider, are more eager to give than we are to receive.  We pray for the renewing love of Christ Jesus to redeem us – to redeem all humanity – from what-is-in-us and what-is-at-work-in-the-world that is evil.  Deal strongly with your servants gathered around the globe this day, that we get rid of everything that clutters our souls, and make way for all the new blessings you have in store for us. Through Christ Jesus our Lord, we pray.  Amen.

 

Commission and Benediction

May you who feel strong go out into the world with gentleness,

and you who feel weak go on your way with new strength.

 

Get on with life, knowing that you are the sisters and brothers of Jesus,

and the children of the Most High God.

 

The love of Christ Jesus complete you,

the love of God hold you fast when all else fails,

the friendship of the Spirit keep you in peace,

now and evermore.

 

Amen!

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