God among us,
we gather in the name of your Son
to learn love for one another.
Turn our feet from evil paths,
our hands from shameful deeds,
our minds to your wisdom,
and our hearts to your grace. Amen.
The RCL readings for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18) may be found here
Come on people now
smile on your brother
everybody get together
and try to love one another right now…
One of the things that shines crystal clear through the gospels is Jesus’ commandment that we love one another. It sounds so simple, but in reality it turns out to be exceedingly difficult, despite all our best intentions. This week’s gospel, as well as the New Testament reading, focus on ways we might go about living in love in community.
For many of us who have faced (or indeed, are facing) conflict in our congregations, this week’s gospel may be challenging. On the one hand, it offers a model for resolving conflict, a model that, in the proper context, can work. In fact, the mediation training offered by the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center (which I’ve taken and highly recommend) uses this as a foundational scripture. On the other hand, the advice given here can be interpreted in ways that are overly legalistic and rigid, or used in ways that are hurtful or to act out personal vendettas. And as the commentator at Working Preacher asks, is the power to exclude really a power that we want to wield?
As one whose congregation has dealt with some pretty serious conflict, I wonder if we might use this reading to talk about what it means to communicate in healthy ways in community? And I wonder if we might explore the kind of community that Jesus is calling us to? I think the reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans is quite helpful here. “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law..Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Actually, last week’s reading from Romans is relevant as well.)
If you want to steer clear from the notion of conflict, you might concentrate on the ending to the gospel. Verses 18 and 19 are oft quoted and offer the opportunity to talk about prayer, answered or not, or about what it means for Jesus to be with us. So much of our experience these days tends to be individualized — we frequently hear that we need a “personal relationship” with Jesus. What do we make of him saying that when two or three of us are gathered he is with us? This might be a springboard to talk about the importance of and role of community.
Laying aside the works of darkness to put on the armor of light is another piece of the letter to the Romans that is evocative for me. Barbara Brown Taylor’s recent book, “Learning to Walk in the Dark,” tackles the role of darkness in our lives in interesting and sometimes provocative ways. What does darkness mean to your congregation? Does the armor of light protect us or empower us or allow us to see and find our way in the dark?
There’s lots to ponder here, preachers, in a week that for many of us ushers in a new program year. Where are these readings calling you? Where are they frustrating or perplexing you?