During worship today, we shared a PowerPoint that highlighted how our work as a unit models scripture. The Soldiers then had a chance to share their own reflections on their work during our ECT (annual training). Here is the link to download the PowerPoint presentation: Home Station ECT. Here is today’s worship bulletin.
Here is today’s sermon for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 18:15-20:
Throughout the eighteenth chapter of Matthew, and in these six verses in particular, Jesus underscores the importance of Christian community. Speaking to his disciples, he lets them know that their faith is not a private matter, something they can go off by themselves and enjoy all alone under a tree. Their life in Christ is a community affair, something that happens when two or three of them are gathered in his name. That is he promises to be in their midst, and not when they are off by themselves feeling holy.
He lets them know they need each other, in other words – not only for practical reasons but for spiritual ones as well. They need each other because two heads are better than one; they need each other because they can accomplish more together than they can apart. They need each other like brothers and sisters need each other, to remind themselves that they belong to one family.
When families work right, they are God’s way of teaching us important things, like how to share and how to work together and how to take care of one another. A healthy family has a way of smoothing our rough edges by making us rub up against each other, like tumbling pebbles in a jar. Living with other people, we learn that we cannot have everything our way. We learn to compromise, giving up some of the things we want so that other people can have some of the things they want, and while it is never easy, learning this give and take is part of learning to be fully human.
Not everyone has good memories of growing up, however, because many families do not work right. They are not schools in forbearance and forgiveness bur reformatories where real are more important than people and where the first rule is silence, silence about anything unpleasant or untoward. If you cannot say anything nice do not say anything at all, and if you have a problem with someone, keep it to yourself, because harmony – even the illusion of harmony – is the most important thing, more important than telling the truth, more important than your feelings, and more important, finally, then you.
That is the lesson many families teach and it is a crying shame, but in today’s reading Jesus lets us know that the Christian family does not work that way, that in the household of God, when your brother sins against you, you must go and talk to him, and if that does not work you must keep going back – taking other people with you next time – doing everything in your power to get your brother back again.
There are two curious things about Jesus’ advice. First, he puts the burden on the victim, on the person who has been sinned against. Second, he seems much less interested in who is right and who is wrong than he is in getting the family back together again. The important thing is that we listen to each other, he says, but if a member of the family refuses to listen over and over again – if the doors of communication stay firmly shut – then we are not to pretend that nothing has happened. We are to recognize that one of our members has left the family, because the only thing worse than losing a brother or sister is pretending that you have not and letting that person fester in your midst like an untended wound.
It is hard but honest advice, one of those pieces of advice that we know is right, that we know we should take, but one that is very hard to act upon. Can you imagine doing exactly as Jesus suggests? Let’s pretend for just a moment that you are sitting in a pew next to Joe. You have been sitting next to him for some time and you know him pretty well. One day, he asks if he can borrow your lawnmower since his is broken.
Sure, you say, full of good Christian cheer, and Joe assures you that he will bring it back in a week. But the week passes, and then another week, until finally you call Joe and him if you can have your lawnmower back, which is when he tells you that he has loaned it to someone else who has backed over it in his truck and the lawnmower is no more. Joe considers this a piece of bad luck that the two of you share, after all it wasn’t his lawnmower, but you consider that you have been wronged.
So the first thing you do is go over to Joe’s by yourself and talk it over with him, offering to take half of what the lawnmower was worth for the sake of the friendship, but Joe is offended. Can he help it if the guy ran over the lawnmower with his truck? He says that these things happen, and he is sorry it happened to you, but that does not make it his fault. So you go home, open the church directory at random, and call the first two names you see, asking them to go back to Joe’s with you and help you work things out with him.
Next day after work the three of you knock on Joe’s door. He is surprised to see you and gets mad when you tell him why you are there. What are you trying to do, gang up on him? Drag his name through the mud? Standing there on the porch, you start to tell him that you have reconsidered, that you are willing to report the loss of the lawnmower to your insurance company if Joe will just tell them what happened, but before you can finish your speech, Joe tells you to get off his property before he calls the police, and then he shuts the door in your face.
What do you do next? You guessed it: You call everyone in the church and ask them to meet you at Joe’s house next Saturday morning. Since you doubt that he will answer the door, you make signs he can read through his windows, signs that say, “Forget the mower, Joe” and “We are your friends” or “Come out and talk.” On Saturday, everyone is there, milling around on Joe’s front lawn, carrying their signs and watching the house which is as dark and still as a tomb. Nothing happens for twenty minutes or so, but then you see one slat of the blinds pulled back, and while you cannot see Joe you know that he can see you, so you wave and smile and beckon to him to come out. Then the slat pops back into place and nothing happens for another twenty minutes or, until you look and see Joe standing sheepishly on his front porch, a check for the lawn mower in his hand. The crowd cheers, you and Joe embrace and everyone lives happily ever after. The end.
I know what you are thinking. “Maybe so and maybe not.,” you are thinking, but how would we know? I have tried anything like that, have you? When someone crosses me, my strategies are usually quite different, and my hunch is that yours are too. The first one, the one that comes most naturally, is to pretend that nothing happened. Forget the lawnmower. Just let it go. No need to get upset. Maybe he will bring it back someday; maybe you will not have to ask. Meanwhile, it is awkward to be around him, but that is better than a fight. Ignore it and it will go away, or at least you will not have to think about it as much.
A second strategy is the cold shoulder. You never the other person what is wrong because that would be impolite, so you just shun the offender – not only Joe but also anyone who does something you do not like. You simply X them out of your mind, and when you walk past them it is like no one is there. It never occurs to you to tell them about what really happened between the two of you because you are sure they already know. They were in the wrong; let them figure it out.
Yet a third strategy is revenge – the silent, deadly kind – where you never admit any ill will toward someone but you let it leak out all over the place, never missing an opportunity to question the other person’s character or tell a little joke at his expense. You embark on a private smear campaign, telling yourself that it makes you feel better, telling yourself that over and over and over again because the truth is that you do not really feel any better at all.
In his book The Great Divorce, the British author C.S. Lewis paints a picture of hell that haunts me, because it bears resemblance to where many human beings live. Hell is like a vast, grey city, Lewis writes, a city inhabited only at its outer edges with rows and rows of empty houses in the middle – empty because everyone who once lived in them has quarreled with the neighbors and moved, and quarreled with the new neighbors and moved again, leaving empty streets of empty houses behind them. That, Lewis says, is how hell got so large – empty at the center and inhabited only on the edges – because everyone in it chose distance instead of confrontation as the solution to a fight.
By confrontation I mean just what the dictionary says: to bring two people face to face, front to front, to sort out what is going on between them. That is what today’s reading recommends, and it is also what most of us would do just about anything to avoid. The excuses rush to our lips. Who am I to judge? What is it to me? I go to her? She is the sinner; let her come to me. Tell him my feelings are hurt? What if he just hurts them again? I would not know what to say. I would feel so foolish. And what is the use, anyway? Things will never change.
Those are all fine excuses, if you do not mind living on the outskirts of hell, but for those of us who are called to Christian community, they will just not do. For us, there is something more important than being right or wrong, and that something is keeping the family together. For us the real problem is not the brother or sister who sins against us but our own fierce wish to defend ourselves against them regardless of the cost. The real problem is the speed with which most of us are ready to forsake our relationships in favor or nursing our hurt feelings, our wounded pride. In old-fashioned language, the problem is how eager we are to repay sin with more sin.
There is another way, an alternative to putting distance between ourselves and those with whom we are in conflict. We can go to them, Jesus says, and tell them what is wrong, or what we think is wrong, because the best way to end a fight is to admit that we too might be wrong. There are certain questions to be asked, such as: Am I sure I know what I am talking about? Have I given the other person every benefit of the doubt? What are my motives in confronting him with my feelings? Do I want to make her feel bad, or do I really want peace? What am I afraid of? Is the relationship worth the risk?
That last question is a very important one, because the only reason to take Jesus’ advice at all is to win back a relationship that is in danger of being lost. Once you have decided that is what you want, it helps to remember that you are working for the relationship, not against it; that your goal is reconciliation, not retribution; and that being right is less important to you than being in relationship.
In a lot of ways, it is a real nuisance to belong to a family. It would be so much easier if we were just a bunch of individuals, loosely bound by similar beliefs but whose affairs remained an essentially private matter between us and God. But according to Jesus, there is no such thing as privacy in the family of God. Our life together is the chief means God has chosen for being with us, and it is of ultimate importance to God. Our life together is the place where we are comforted, confronted, tested, and redeemed by God through one another. It is the place where we come to know God or to flee from God’s presence, depending upon how we come to know or flee from one another.
Here is today’s worship bulletin.
Should You Use Social Media in Church? During Worship?
Is it appropriate to use twitter, Facebook and other social media during worship services at Church? The following is a curated series of online discussion threads related to these questions.
Curious? Read the rest of the post here.
Here are the communion words I used in worship this morning as we celebrated the Eucharist. I incorporated the idea of the sermon into the words:
Jesus asked his followers to grow in new and challenging ways. His teachings and his very life pushed them to grow in their understanding of the nature of God. The greatest lesson started in an upper room in Jerusalem during Passover.
It began on the neight before Jesus faced death. On that night, he shared a meal with his closest friends and followers. During the meal, Jesus took the break and gave thanks to the God of all possibilities. He broke the bread and shared it among his disciples saying: “Take this and eat – this is my body given for you.”
At the end of the meal, Jesus took a cup and gave thanks to the God of all things. He shared the cup among his disciples saying: “Take this and drink from the new covenant sealed in my blood for the forgiveness of all sings. As often as you drink from it, do this in memory of me.”
Let us pray: God of all things and all possibilities, pour out your Holy Spirit on these gathered here and these gifts of bread and drink. Make them for us the body and blood of Christ that we may share in this meal with the communion of saints and all believers who have grown in you. In sharing this meal, may me become one people of God dedicated to the work of our God in this world. We pray through Christ, with Christ, and in Christ. Amen.
Come, children of God, come. The table is set for you and is open for all who need God’s grace.
(after communion) The events of that night and the days that followed set into motion God’s plan. Amazing things happened and the disciples grew along with the church. As we leave this place and time, let us share that message that anything is possible with God!
If you remember at my ordination service, my friend Pat gave Lisa, Sophia, and I a puzzle piece. She told us that the puzzle piece reminded us that we have to find a way to stay together and to be a family.
This puzzle piece reminds me of Pentecost which we are celebrating today. You see the early church was still trying to figure itself out and had a lot of people who didn’t really understand each other at all. They were just lost after Jesus went back to heaven and unsure of how to fit together. Then Jesus sent the Holy Spirit with a gush of wind and suddenly, the words to speak were in their mouths. They found a way to be a church and to come together in some way.
Do you know what else this puzzle piece tells me about the church? Look at it. Is it a whole picture or just a small piece? Maybe this piece of a real puzzle will help. Can you tell what picture it is part of? Probably not but if we add the pieces together we make a picture. Like a puzzle, each of us is a small piece that makes up the church. Terry and I are small pieces but when we get together, we become the pastoral team of this church. Jamey is another piece that adds music and song to our church. All of you children add joy and happiness when you come here. Every person in this place is a piece of the puzzle who adds something to the church and we need each and every person to be the church.
We are going to share this message with the rest of the congregation. I have a piece of puzzle – sort of – for each person. I am not as crafty as Pat is so I had to use the computer to make some puzzle pieces. We are going to invite the congregation to put this small piece of puzzle some place where they will see it each day to remind that they are part of the bigger church. They are needed as much as anybody else to make the church whole.
That is the story of Pentecost – the Holy Spirit came down and helped us come together as the Church – the whole church. I want you to go and share that with the congregation right now by giving them each a piece of this puzzle. But before you go, let’s pray.
Today was the first day that I celebrated Eucharist as an ordained minister. With the words of my seminary professors still in my head, I tried to make the Eucharist match the overall message of the sermon (which usually matches the rest of the service). So here it is:
We can’t be kept down because we have a Savior who could not be kept down by death and so we come to this table as his people.
L: May the Lord be with you.
P: And also with you.
L: Lift up your hearts.
P: We lift them up to the Lord.
L. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
P: It is right to give our thanks and praise.
On the night before he met not only his own death but ours as well, Jesus shared a meal with those he loved. He took the bread and gave thanks to the God of all Creation. Then he broke the bread among his disciples and said: take this all of you and eat it – this is my body given for you.
When supper had ended, Jesus took a cup and gave thanks to the God of all Creation. Then he passed the cup among his disciples and said: take this and drink from the new covenant sealed in my blood for the forgiveness of sin. Do this in remembrance of me.
Let us pray: God of all Creation, let your Holy Spirit move in power over us and our earthly gifts of bread and wine that they may be the communmion of th ebody and blood of Christ, and that we may become one in him. May his coming in glory find us ever faithful in prayer, strong in truth and love, and faithful in the breaking of the bread. May we all become one people united in the work of God in this world as we gather around this table. Amen.
Come, the table is set for us, the Children of God who are in need of God’s grace.
(after communion): Jesus went on to Calvary and the world was renewed. His disciples went out singing God’s praises and the world was never the same. Let’s so the same thing as we leave this place.
Brothers and sisters in Christ: Through the Sacrament of Baptism we are initiated into Christ’s holy church. We are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation and given new birth through water and the Spirit. All this is God’s gift, offered to us without price. Through the reaffirmation of our faith we renew the covenant declared at our baptism, acknowledge what God is doing for us, and affirm our commitment to Christ’s holy church.
On behalf of the whole church, I ask you: Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin? I do.
Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves? I do.
Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races? I do.
According to the grace given to you, will you remain faithful members of Christ’s holy church and serve as Christ’s representatives in the world? I will.
Let us join together in professing the Christian faith as contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Do you believe in God the Father?
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
Do you believe in Jesus Christ?
I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and will come again to judge the living and the dead.
Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
Eternal Father, your mighty acts of salvation have been made known through water— from the moving of your Spirit upon the waters of creation, to the deliverance of your people through the flood and through the Red Sea. In the fullness of time you sent Jesus, nurtured in the water of a womb, baptized by John, and anointed by your Spirit. He called his disciples to share in the baptism of his death and resurrection and to make disciples of all nations. Pour out your Holy Spirit, and by this gift of water call to our remembrance the grace declared to us in our baptism. For you have washed away our sins, and you cloth us with righteousness throughout our lives, that dying and rising with Christ we may share in his final victory. Amen.
Remember your baptism and be thankful.