St Matthew - St Aidan

the church in town -- Buckhorn Ontario -- Sundays 10 am

the church in town -- Buckhorn Ontario -- Sundays 10 am

When two or three are gathered …

Homily by The Rev’d Glenn Empey, Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Matthew 18: 15-20

trinityIf we were in a much larger church, it might be easier from the anonymity of a large group setting to single out those troublesome people that often are part of a church. Robert Baretto says in his commentary[1] that we could be “rather expert at spotting those rabble-rousers around us, identifying their destructive habits, and condemning the ways they seek to destabilize our communities”.

“Noticing when we are engaged in these very same behaviours,” he adds, “is another story. After all, some of those troublesome people [could be us].” [2]

Conflict management

A person could take this morning’s Gospel passage as a prescription on how to manage conflict in a church. A few, apparently simple steps to follow in order to seek resolution. The reality is that when any number of people assemble there will be differences of opinion. A reality important enough for Jesus to have addressed directly himself. And remember, when he addressed that, the Church had not yet been formed. The Church would not become flesh and blood until Jesus’ resurrection and the impact that struck in the hearts of his followers.

So, at this moment, Jesus looks to the future with concern about what could destabilize his community of faith, the ekklesia, the Church (capital ‘c’) that would embody his presence in the world forever after his death.

Out from the shadows

As I have said on several occasions, it is harmful and counter-productive for disagreements and isolated opinions on how to do things to remain in the shadows and fester where they cannot be brought out into the light of the open to be clearly seen. You can’t resolve anything without being able to see it in the open.

And there’s where the power comes in. According to Matthew, Jesus not only foresaw the vulnerability of his future community on earth, he also knew its strength.

Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them. — Jesus

The question would be then how to reach agreement. Reaching the kind of agreement to which Jesus refers, it seems to me, entails a process of discernment. It is not a matter of black-and-white thinking nor knee-jerk reaction.

Discernment—path to agreement

Bringing things out of the shadows into the open enables a healthy process of discernment. And by “discernment” I mean digging into things to seek a clear understanding in the open. By a process of discernment, I mean open and caring discussion for a community to reach a decision that can be owned by the community as a whole. By discernment, I mean that the process is not a hidden personalized nor selfish point of view. I mean that it is a process that demonstrates that God’s love is what is the most crucial element to be reflected in community because how one person relates to another in God’s community is a profound matter of concern deep within God’s own heart.[3] “Where two or three are gathered in my name,” Jesus said, “I am there among them.”

Trusting in the process

When the heart of a community is linked by that perspective it is no longer a question of retreating repeatedly to the shadows. The step forward for growth is out of the darkness and out of the isolation of shadows.

Listening to the discernment of a community of faith – and engaging in the discernment for those various members entrusted to leadership – is a matter of give and take when binding a decision. There are times when a person may still have a divergent point of view even after the diligence of discernment, and then, it is a matter of letting go — with God’s help — and trusting that the decision reached by the community is what the community sees as being what is best for the community.

Through struggle, openness, and vulnerability

Managing issues in that manner is what enables one person to become more able to know and understand another. When enacted by a group, a kind of chain-reaction deepens the capacity of a community. Through struggle, openness and vulnerability, the community grows and becomes stronger.

And that applies perhaps even more so in a small community. It takes courage to move out of the shadows. And in a small community, it is the inherent sense of intimacy that allows getting beyond superficial levels more readily than in the sheltered anonymity that puts up barriers within a large group.

I guess that is a pretty direct message for today. But, that’s how I see it. That’s how I read this Gospel passage.

Community is a gift

By the way, not every faith has a sense of community as does a Christian community. I remember what a former student had to say to me a few years ago when she joined with a group for a Taizé liturgy of music and meditation led by Fère Emile from the community of Taizé. She remarked – even though the group was comprised of diverse members who had not gathered previously — how she felt a sense of community at the heart of the gathering. She lamented how, in her experience in her own tradition, she did not have that sense of community in the worship. For you and me, community is a gift.

The outcome of discernment

I believe today’s’ passage has to do with the process of discernment into which the members of Jesus’ community of faith are called. And I believe that what empowers a community of faith such as ours, to entrust our selves into that process by faith, is what Jesus had in mind as the outcome of the process: compassion, forgiveness, loving acceptance, trust, deepening understanding of God, deepening understanding of others, and deepening understanding of oneself.

When you really think about it, isn’t that what community is all about.

 

[1] Robert Barreto, Churches are full of troublesome people, WorkingPreacher.org, 7 September 2014.

[2] Ibib.

[3] Ibid.

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Matthew 18:15-20

15 “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

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