Living in Community – Part One

“Living in Community – Part One”
Matthew 18:15-20
Sunday September 4, 2011 – Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost





I have to confess that following the lectionary when preparing sermons can be a challenge…We often come upon a text that is difficult to deal with…Today’s gospel is one of those.

I must admit that I have actually avoided this text in years past…
It was easier to move to the Romans 13 lesson for this Sunday and talk about loving your neighbor as yourself…Now that’s a lesson that preaches!

But, every three years we come back around to this gospel verse and I just can’t keep ignoring it
So this year I decided it was time to really study this passage and try to figure out what ol’ Matt’s trying to tell us here…
So I went and got some help from one of my favorite New Testament scholars and finally figured out what I think this is all about…

It’s about how we Christians are supposed to get along with each other…
How we are supposed to live together in Christian community…
How can we gather so many different people from varied backgrounds, different political views, disparate income levels, and diverse experiences into one church and have any hope of getting along with one another?

Do you remember the television series “Cheers”?
We heard their theme song a moment ago, but listen again to the lyrics…[read lyrics]
It helps to have a community around us when things get rough…
That “Cheers” kind of community where we’re all accepted for who we are,
we’re never lonely, and everybody knows our name…
An honest-to-goodness, authentic Christian Community

The thing about community is…
                                   We all say we want it and
                                   We usually have no idea how difficult it is to come by
Let us pray…
Take my lips, O Lord, and speak through them.
Take our minds and think with them.
Take our hearts and set them on fire; through Jesus Christ our Lord…Amen

You know what’s difficult about being a community, don’t you – PEOPLE!
That’s right – People, not you and me of course, but most people can be
difficult, challenging, selfish, and unreliable…
That’s probably why, when we sit around and daydream – idealizing the community in the Cheers theme song – it’s because we’re a little frustrated with the people –
the community – we’re part of now.

Now I’m sure that doesn’t apply to us, but I’ve heard talk of such things in other churches…
It’s part of the reality of living together in any community – people are part of the deal…
It is into this reality that Jesus speaks to us and his candid observations are both refreshing and challenging.

So what is Jesus saying to us this morning?
  1. People sin;
  2. Communities are made up of these sinning people;
  3. When that happens and you are involved, do something about it; like, go talk to the other person like a mature adult rather than behind his or her back;
  4. If that doesn’t work, involve some others of the community…and realize that this is not about having witnesses to take your side; rather, this is about having others to observe both sides as they attempt to resolve the issue;
  5. If that doesn’t work, then things are serious and the whole community is at risk. But, we need to be careful about how we hear the admonition to treat the offender as “a Gentile and a tax collector” – Jesus himself welcomed both the Gentile and the tax collector. After all, wasn’t Matthew a tax collector? Hmmm;
What we really see here is that authentic community is hard to come by and takes a lot of work to be successful…
If we examine other translations of this text we hear “member of the church” translated as “brother”…This is a little more intimate relationship and provides a slightly different perspective…
Authentic Christian community is about being in intimate brotherly and sisterly relationships with people to whom we are not really related…
Christian community asks us to call strangers “brother” and “sister”…
This means treating church members more like family members…Hmmm, does that change the way we hear this text?

If we have a disagreement within our family we do all we can to resolve the disagreement and we generally stop short of throwing people out of the family because we disagree.
I think this text is about doing whatever it takes to keep the community together.

The real lesson here is that, while it is hard work to live in community, it’s worth the effort…
When we succeed as a Christian community we experience a little slice of heaven
this side of the grave…
We get to be in the middle of God’s communal fellowship…
Jesus promises that when we gather this way – with honesty and integrity,
even when it’s hard – amazing things will happen because Jesus is right here in the middle of things forming and being formed by our communal sharing…

We can look at this text and hear all sorts of things that prompt us to judge, to be exclusive,
and to play “holier than thou”…
That’s not what this is telling us…
What we hear is that the health and well-being of the community is part and parcel of the problem of sin between two of the community’s individual parts…
When individuals within the community are wounded the entire community hurts and needs healing…We are called to participate in the healing, not in the mangling

One of the things that hampers Christian communities – and I suspect other communities too –
is our inability to manage confrontation, disagreement, and our mutual accountability when it comes to sin…
We simply don’t know how to live together, fight together, and stay together…
And this is because all of us – not just our brothers, sisters, and fellow church members – all of us are sinners and we don’t want to shine any light on our own sin.

Today Jesus is trying to show us how to handle our sin and its consequences…
And what is more important is that Jesus promises to be right in the middle of it to help us get through it…
All we need do is gather in his name – in agreement and in sin

Remember the Good News has always been that Jesus is Emmanuel – God with us –
helping learn to live as a community.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…Amen
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