Monday, September 11, 2017

What A Mess!

Matthew 18:15-20     
September 10, 2017

We’re in Matthew 18 this week.
Only two chapters ago, in Matthew 16, the concept of the church
was brought up for the first time when Jesus told Peter
he was going to build his church around his confession.
And here, just two chapters later,
Jesus has to talk about church conflict. That was fast.

As bible passages go, Matthew 18 is probably
the most directly applicable one we’ve got.
Most parables and stories take some interpretation before
we can figure out how to apply them and then we’re never sure.
But in this one, Jesus lays it out for us:
If someone sins, or does something that hurts you,
The first step is to talk to the other person directly. Alone.
There’s more, but to be honest, most people don’t get past this step.

If you’ve ever had one of these conversations,
you know that they can be very uncomfortable.
It can be uncomfortable to tell someone that they’ve hurt you.
You can hear things in response that can be uncomfortable.
You can hear about your own sin and wrongdoing.
And you can end up with a broken relationship
or being closer to a person than you really intended.
When Jesus is asking for this kind of stuff,
Church can get very very messy.

Generally just don’t do this.
We’d rather not have that awkward conversation, 
we’d rather complain about someone to other people,
or yell about them on social media, or just roll our eyes,
call them hopeless, and never talk to them again.

In Jesus time, people needed the community to survive.
Now we can easily live without community.
We have a greater temptation now to cut others off.

We are told now, that our world is politically polarized,
and we know that’s true, but the problem is not
is not disagreement, we’ve always had those.
The problem is that we cut off those we disagree with.
Of course we need to stay away from a person who is abusive
But it seems like a wrong opinion, or an offhand comment are
a justifiable reason to not ever talk, or listen to another person.

It’s easier to feud, fight, hold grudges, break off, run away,
cut off contact, and curse someone from afar.
It’s easier for people just to be around a select group,
to not be around people that annoy them,
and to just be detached.

Lots of people now, when they go to church they go
go to big mega-churches where they can
just come in on Sunday morning, have a good worship,
remain anonymous and leave without being engaged further.
I think that is a by-product of this need to be detached.

But Jesus has more expectations for communities that bear his name. 
Jesus wants us to take the more difficult road.
Not the path of being right and comfortable, but of being reconciled.
And that path has to go through disagreement, 
through hurt feelings, through anger, through sin, 
and to forgiveness, and to reconciliation.
And people usually would rather not take that path.

Pastor named Lillian Daniel wrote a funny little article
a few years ago called “Spiritual But not religious? Stop boring me.”
She complains about the people that she meets on planes
when they find she’s a minister,
they tell her that they’re “spiritual but not religious”.
We hear that a lot these days.

She writes when a person tells her they are
“spiritual but not religious”:

“Such a person will always share this
as if it is some kind of daring insight, unique to him, 
bold in its rebellion against the religious status quo.

Next thing you know, he's telling me that he finds God in the sunsets.
These people always find God in the sunsets.
And in walks on the beach.
Sometimes I think these people never leave the beach
or the mountains, what with all the communing with
God they do on hilltops, hiking trails and . . .
did I mention the beach at sunset yet?

Like people who go to church don't see God in the sunset!”

What she goes on basically to say 
is that being spiritual by yourself with nature is easy.
Sunsets don’t have their own opinions, They don’t talk back,
they don’t change their mind, have a bad day.
Spirituality in nature is lovely once in a while,
but it’s also unchallenging, and boring, it’s safe.

The big problem with church is there are people.
People are messy. Lots of people who are different are
really messy. People have different thoughts, goals, ideas.
People say the wrong thing, change their
minds have bad hair days. People sin.
Religion is just people organized around their faith.
People are the problem. But people are also the joy.

Jesus said “Where two or three are gathered I’ll be there.”
we can’t be disciples alone.

I say people like us who are willing to get in and get messy
with each other are the daring ones.
Those who experience one another’s sin on a regular basis.
Those who have a vague sense of annoyance at someone,
those who have been hurt by other believers and lived through it,
we’re the brave ones. Religion is for the brave.

Relationships beyond our chosen friends and family are challenging.
The church community that Matthew outlines
is not for the faint of heart.
It’s not just a pretty sunset.

This week I went to a press conference at the church
of a friend here in Clintonville, Columbus Mennonite.
The congregation had decided to open their church up to
a woman who was being threatened to be deported.
Her children have been here most of their lives
and she has been living here for more than a decade.
She was not a criminal of any kind and didn’t break any laws
but INS was going to deport her.

Columbus Mennonite discussed it and opted to
keep her in sanctuary, that is live in their church
and not leave until a legal remedy was found
and she was able to stay in the US.

Now the church could have faced legal troubles
the pastor and leadership could have been charged legally.

As I was standing there listening in the press conference,
as a pastor, I couldn’t help but think: What a mess for that congregation.
There’s the legal problems, but then
then there’s the personal issue of having
a stranger live in their church building
for an indefinite amount of time.­­­­
 What kind of difficult discussions were had?
What kind of disagreements? What could go wrong here?
It has the potential to separate the church,
but it also has the potential to bring it together stronger.
And at the same time, I couldn't help but feel a little jealous
because in that potential for a big mess, is where we find real joy.

Luckily, the INS caved after the first day and
Edith Espinal and her son
outside Columbus Mennonite Church
she was granted a temporary stay.
So she was able to go home. 
But depending on
what happens with her, 
they could be in the situation again.

No matter what you might 
think of their decision,
and lots of Christians 
have lots of thoughts on this,
They were willing to do the hard work
and face the messy situation and take the risk as a community.

This is what it means 
to be Christ’s Church.
To be willing to get into trouble together
and see where God takes us.

At Gethsemane, we strive to be a community of messiness.
We sing God’s good news of course,
but we also welcome all people,
we care for each other,
and we serve those in need.
That’s where it can get difficult.
That’s where it can get messy.
And that’s where we really know God.

What a mess, and what a joy.
That is God’s kingdom on earth.

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