Relationships in the community of faith

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Reverend Rob Lamerton
4 September 2005, Pentecost 16

US Hurricane/Father's Day

In these Sundays from Pentecost to the beginning of Advent in late November, the Sunday readings call us to reflect on our life with God.
But as we work through the gospel of Matthew, we come today to Chapter 18 which deals with the relationships between members of the community of faith.

At the beginning of chapter 18 in Matthew's gospel, Jesus begins a series of talks about the behaviour of the disciples to one another and then amongst the community of faith.

First, Jesus talks about humility — about a childlike humility.
Then he warns about putting obstacles or stumbling blocks in the way of other believers.
(not tripping them up — making their way difficult)

The third story is about dealing with our own faults and failings

"If your hand or foot causes you to stumble"
(or your mouth or your temper…)

So Jesus is warning about the need for self-examination before he comes to the passage we have today.

and the story which follows today's reading is about how many times to forgive.

(a) Today's reading begins with a warning not to despise these little ones — the disciples — because their angels (guardian angels) continually see the face of God in heaven. This may be a late interpretation but it warns of the special nature of the relationship between God and each of the little ones.

(b) Jesus then tells the story of the shepherd and the lost sheep as if to emphasize what has just been said and to point to God as the one who seeks out and restores the one which was lost.

(c) Then Jesus moves on to talk about dealing with the situation amongst the CHURCH when one member sins against another.

Now that word which in English is CHURCH translates the word in the Greek text which is EKKLESIA which means congregation or assembly and which of course gives us the basis of the word ecclesiastical.

And the word SINS translates HARMATESE which means to miss a mark (archery term) / to sin / to be guilty of wrong.

So the setting is the breaking of a relationship or causing hurt or injury to another member of the congregation.
Such as has been the situation in cases of sexual abuse in the Church.

There are of course many other forms of sin.
And when we are sinned against — the injured party is encouraged to deal independently at first, then if necessary to involve one or two others and finally to take the issue to the Church authorities. (Wardens, Parish Council, Bishop)

Fortunately we have a Professional Standards Ordinance and a Professional Standards Officer as well as counsellors for Sexual Abuse matters — hopefully lesser issues can be dealt with before they get that far.

Unfortunately, we are often not skilled at confrontation and Christians especially seem to have the false notion of "gentle Jesus meek and mild" — when Jesus was in fact a great confronter of issues!

We no need to be able and encouraged to express our hurt, frustration, pain, discomfort and even anger!
one to one
with one or more witnesses
to the church organisation if needed

To follow this course is to give the Church the opportunity to deal with and bring healing to a situation where hurt is caused.

If these steps fail the person is to be treated as a Gentile or Tax Collector — Now this is baffling! Did Jesus really say this? So often Jesus found Gentiles and Tax Collectors to be responsive to his call so he may well be saying correct them, BUT do not write them off— this is an opportunity to win them over!

It may be that a person's actions mean they cannot stay within a congregation and that whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and what ever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven means that the assembly has the responsibility to make judgements for its own well being as well as for the well being of those who are at odds.

The early Church evidently had no difficulty excluding any who refused to live within the guidelines but we may have to deal very differently today.

In the end the words seem to give authority to the congregation to make the judgements about how to deal.

Finally, the mention of two agreeing and the Father answering prayer and —where two or three are gathered in my name there am I amongst them— recalls the Jewish belief that if two were studying the Law of the Lord together that the Glory, the "Shekinah" of God rested between them.

Christians are therefore given the assurance that Christ is present with those who are diligently concerned with his mind and will.

So the whole story is set in the midst of others about:

and must point to the Christian congregation as an agent of God's search for and restoration of humanity.

Firstly within the Church — and beyond it.