Sunday, September 4, 2011

We are in this kingdom together!

Jesus said to his disciples:
"If your brother sins against you,
go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.
If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.
If he does not listen,
take one or two others along with you,
so that 'every fact may be established
on the testimony of two or three witnesses.'
If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church.
If he refuses to listen even to the church,
then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.
Amen, I say to you,
whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Again, amen, I say to you,
if two of you agree on earth
about anything for which they are to pray,
it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name,
there am I in the midst of them." (Mt 18:15-20)

The Gospel of Matthew suggests to us that the kingdom of heaven of which Jesus preaches continually, exists in the present age. It is here now. However, it hasn’t reached its fullness yet, and we are still waiting for that fullness to come – Thy kingdom come, Jesus has us pray! So there is a tension set up in Matthew’s Gospel between the present and the future, and much of what Matthew talks about is how we live out that tension in our daily lives. What obligations do we have to not only live in as much of the fullness of the kingdom as we can right now, but make sure that we and others are ready for its completion, its consummation.
In the present kingdom, right now, as Matthew describes it, the Apostles and their descendants have the power to bind and loose. He had already given that power to Peter two chapters before, but it becomes clear here that it is a communal apostolic function which has two parts – the binding – which can be seen as the attempt to help others to achieve perfection and the loosing – which can be seen as offering God’s forgiveness to those that fail. It becomes clear that the Church has attempted and needs to attempt to influence the conduct of its members but also through the sacrament of Reconciliation, to forgive them in their imperfection.

This Gospel from Matthew involves our obligation to be our brother and sister’s keeper as a member of the church, the body of Christ. “If your brother or sister sins against you” is an interesting phrase. Jesus doesn’t say, “if a brother or sister sins” but he says “if either sins against you”. What does that mean to sin against you. Generally, it has come to be interpreted not as a private thing, but a sin against the community. “You” means the Christian community. Today’s Gospel is about how we treat insiders, members of our own community, and is not advise on what to do when we have problems with others outside the Christian community.

Jesus clearly talks about what one should do if there is a breakdown in the relationship of a member to the community. In fact, Jesus outlines a three-step method for dealing with it, and reconciling that member to the community. First of all, Jesus recommends a face to face meeting with the offender in which you explain the transgression or problem. If that doesn’t work, he recommends what we would probably call today an intervention by a number of members of the community. Finally, if that doesn’t work, the whole community can come together and decide what to do with the person who will not repent. Evidence has to be given before a decision can be made, but the community can decide to make that person leave the community. Sounds a lot like democracy to me! According to Jesus, the will of the Christian community is binding. As is the forgiveness of the community. In the new kingdom on earth, such power is available. It may not seem so bad for us who are American’s to be thrown out of a community and to have to go it alone. Individualism seems to be one of our strongest traits. In the world of Jesus, however, to be without a community would be one of the worst things that could happen to a person because the community was their protection.

It is because of what Paul describes as the law of love that the kingdom of heaven exists now. Christ came in love, preached love and is love. “Love does no wrong to a neighbor”, says Paul. Again, we are talking about the relationship of one member to the rest of the community, and that sin is a breakdown in the relationship between that person and the community, or between that person and God. Our obligation as one who is chastised is, to be humble enough to listen to what others are telling us about our relationships, and to try to change.

The last few lines of our Gospel today also reveal another quality of the kingdom which is present to us right now. We have been given a link to the kingdom to come, in that if we agree on anything as a church, God will listen and agree to it as well. And lastly, of course, the promise that Christ is present to us right now, today, this very moment – where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them. And where Christ is, there also is the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus is truly present where two or more are gathered, because he said he would be, both because being together in his name his presence is spiritual. Let us rejoice in the Good news today, recognize our obligation to love our neighbor and realize that Christ is among us in many ways in this kingdom of heaven of which we have a taste right now. Let us remind ourselves of this Good News often during the week as we strive to help each other through this kingdom of God!

Peace and love,

Rev. Sue

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)

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