The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Our readings today are all about rules for life and a recipe for maintaining healthy, functional relationships, especially within the church community. Paul reminds the Romans that the Ten Commandments are based on the one law of love. Jesus outlines for us the rules of dealing with conflict and about how to make decisions when we are in the middle of it.
We might wonder what he thinks about the centuries old abysmal failure to follow these simple directions. How many church communities have faced differences of opinion that end in the harboring of bad feelings. In his own words Jesus speaks to us to us about the challenge and the wonder of being here in community. Yet this recipe really applies to any relationship.
The early church experienced themselves as “brothers and sisters” in the faith. They believed that everybody has been adopted into the family of God in Christ. And as we all know – and many of us have experienced – sisters and brothers and brothers and brothers and sisters and sisters disagree, argue, and even hold grudges that interrupt any communication between them. Sadly, disagreement can cause hurt feelings and the fracturing of relationships.
Being a Christian doesn’t mean avoiding conflict but dissension should not be allowed to fester and infect the entire community or family. So, Jesus teaches us about how to live together. What we also know about when two or three gather is that four or five or more opinions may surface and people can feel very strongly about their opinions.
Jesus saw it firsthand in the way some of his disciples challenged each other and argued, like who was the greatest among them. The early church communities experienced discord over all sorts of issues like circumcision and the care of widows.
Humans are just susceptible to being in disagreement. It has ever been thus, and you and I now live in a time where strong and divergent political, ethical and religious ideologies have created great tension and even resulted in the ending of friendships and severing of family ties.
In the Gospel of Matthew today we get a glimpse of how the earliest communities dealt with the difficult issues of determining when dissent becomes a disruption that requires action. Jesus sees the harmony and peace of the community as an essential building block of our life in the church because the primary work of the church is about reconciliation and healing. And when crisis strikes us at our core, what do we have if not each other and our life in community?
The process described in the Gospel tells us that we need to do everything possible to maintain the strength of the community, avoid divisions within our midst, and deal honestly and directly with disagreement. When we offend someone, do we seek to reconcile with them? When we are the one offended, how do we respond to overtures of reconciliation?
The Gospel today is a lesson in the building and maintaining of a functional, resilient, and healthy community taught by the One who is the best teacher. The power of Jesus to work in the Church is promised to any group of his followers, large or small, that is aware of his presence and receptive to his leading. Our relationships with each other can be both holy and fragile.
I’ll stop here. I don’t think I can say it any better than Jesus has. Maybe I would just add some words of another teacher, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr in addressing the issue of discord and dissention: “Cowardice asks the question: is it safe? Expediency asks the question: is it politic? Vanity asks the question: is it popular? But conscience asks the question: is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, politic, nor popular—but one must take it simply because it is right.”