Matthew 18:15-20 passage starts with the goal: To regain that one. In a time where the lost sheep parable is being used exhaustively to discuss Black Lives Matter (and some Queer Acceptance) in the church, I find it very hard to discern what it means to be lost. Certainly those who are asking for basic human rights are not the “lost” sheep. Particularly BLM are the outcasts; here the “church” is the lost one. Young Clergy Women International and PCUSA facebooks groups started to pass a statement that discouraged using this parable in this way.
I would argue that the goal of the church is neither unity or agreement. Tolerance does not even cover what is necessary to be a church. To be a church, one has to practice community, hence the regaining of the lost.
Image can be found here on Tumblr by John Hendrix
If community, and regaining a communal sensibility, is the goal in Matthew 18 then truth telling and carefully listening become the means. The church is called to listen to one another, first individually, and then together.
In fact, I think that most important statement in this text is often misread “if two of you agree about anything…”we take this to mean that agreement is the goal. But agreement is not the goal, it’s the miracle! It is hard to gain true understanding and agreement with one another.
And when someone can’t listen? Or if they are too hurt to gather? The words here are harsh. “let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Let them be alone. No doubt this text is where the basis of shunning practices and excommunication in the church started.
When one choses to be alone, then they are lonely–often humans choosing to be alone do so because they are hurt. However, I do believe that it is our duty to pray and be community on that person’s behalf as much as it is safe and possible. We cannot not all pray without ceasing, but we can take turns praying so that the prayer never ends. And we can pray on the behalf of those who are not able. We can be the chorus of prayer.
Humans try to convey emotions and experiences through clumsy words and gestures. It is not an easy task. Prof Kay at Princeton used to say that every single time true communication happens, it is through the direct and miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit. This is why consensus is often the long onerous process that is described in Matthew 18. I often picture the Holy Spirit scurrying between humans trying to help us gain true empathy and sympathy for one another.
Brene Brown also has a wonderful way of explaining helping one another in pain here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw
Presence is the first step. If and when two humans can truly reach the miracle of agreement, that is when, on earth at least, “it will be done by you by the Father in Heaven.” This is why we are a church. To gather in Christ’s name, is to bring Christ to each other. Yes when we agree, but also, and maybe more importantly, when we don’t. When we focus on communication, the work of the Holy Spirit and presenting Christ to one another, that is when we are “being the church.”
Something to bear in mind when many of us are still meeting virtually, or in parking lots, or sitting very far away from one another in pews without music.
Remember, Jesus promises to create church whenever we become the face of God or love one another (see Les Miserables). How can we be church today?
Let us know what you’re thinking about sermon. Are you reflecting Matthew 18 or Ezekial 33:7-11 or Psalm 119 or one of the other texts? Let us know where you are and how the Holy Spirit is speaking to your context today.
Katy Stenta is a solo pastor at a tiny church that is bigger on the inside in Albany, NY for about ten years and blogs at firstname.lastname@example.org She is also the co-founder of the fledgling TrailPraisers inclusive Worship. When she is not dreaming up projects and ideas, some of which creep into the church, she plays with her three boys-boys or goes and visits her husband at the library, while he works, to read.
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