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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Getting Every Penny That's Coming to You (Matthew 20:1-16)


“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. After he agreed with the workers to pay them a denarion, he sent them into his vineyard.

“Then he went out around nine in the morning and saw others standing around the marketplace doing nothing. He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I’ll pay you whatever is right.’ And they went.

“Again around noon and then at three in the afternoon, he did the same thing. Around five in the afternoon he went and found others standing around, and he said to them, ‘Why are you just standing around here doing nothing all day long?’

“‘Because nobody has hired us,’ they replied.

“He responded, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the workers and give them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and moving on finally to the first.’ When those who were hired at five in the afternoon came, each one received a denarion. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more. But each of them also received a denarion. 11 When they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 ‘These who were hired last worked one hour, and they received the same pay as we did even though we had to work the whole day in the hot sun.’

13 “But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I did you no wrong. Didn’t I agree to pay you a denarion? 14  Take what belongs to you and go. I want to give to this one who was hired last the same as I give to you. 15  Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you resentful because I’m generous?’ 16  So those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last.”

 

I like to work, to feel productive, to feel that my time is accomplishing something significant.  I’m a type-A personality, there’s a great deal of personal satisfaction I get from seeing a to-do list crossed off and a project completed.

 

Anyone else appreciate the value of honest, hard, work, and the satisfaction of a job well done?  The American experiment sees work at the path to wealth; Benjamin Franklin said, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”  We are the land where anyone can be whatever they want to be, so long as you work hard and apply yourself.

 

And yet, for every story of someone who worked hard and pulled themselves out of poverty, there are 1000 who worked hard and remained just as poor.  We all know people who scramble working multiple jobs and wear themselves out and still can’t make ends meet, as we also know sports car driving trust fund kids who have never worked a day in their lives for anything they have.  The reality in this land of opportunity is that not all opportunities are created equal.

 

The idea that the more you work, the more you should have is not isolated to our time and place.  It is a concept that goes back at least as far as Jesus, as indicated in the parable we read today.  The 20h Chapter of Matthew is often referred to as “The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard,” but I’d like you to think of it as “The Parable of the Generous Master,” because the story isn’t about us, it’s about God.

 

As Jesus tells the story, a landowner, at the peak of the harvest season, hired temporary workers five times during the day at about three hour intervals. He negotiates with the first workers to pay them the normal wage for a day. With the other workers he only agrees to pay them what is right.

At the end of the day the landowner instructs his manager to pay each of the workers the normal daily wage. The workers who were hired first and worked for 12 hours expected to be paid more, especially more than those who only worked one hour. When they got the same amount as the others, they complained about its unfairness.

 

The landowner asks, “Are you resentful because I am generous?” (verse 15); it is the translation of a Greek idiom which literally translates as “Is your eye evil because I am good?” An “evil eye” suggested a deeper problem than meets the eye.   Jesus has already warned of the dangers of having an evil eye, earlier, in Matthew 6: “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy (that is, if you have the “evil eye”), your whole body will be full of darkness” (cf. 6:22-23). In this account, the “evil eye” was the opposite of generosity (e.g., jealousy, greed, stinginess, etc.).

 

The eyes are indeed a window into the soul.  It’s difficult to pretend with our eyes. There’s a lot we can feign with our voice, our body and gestures, our expressions. But the eyes? That’s harder. Maybe impossible. Because to see into someone’s eyes is indeed to see into the soul. Something true. Something hidden. Something deep.

 

And, if you get a chance to look into the eyes of God?  What will you see looking into God’s very soul? Well, according to this parable, you will see generosity. Sheer generosity.

 

Imagine getting your paycheck and there’s way more in it than you expected.  You point out the mistake to your boss, who says, “I know.  I meant for you to have every bit of that.”  God is like that.

 

How our world could use more generosity like God’s.  A flight from Johannesburg, South Africa to London was boarding.  A woman made her way past the business travelers, down the aisle, and found her assigned seat, where her neighbor was already seated.  She looked at the man seated in the seat next to hers, looked at her ticket again, and frantically called the flight attendant.  “Excuse me, there seems to be some mistake.  I am seated next to a person whose skin color is different from my own, and this just will not do.”  The flight attendant said, “Ma’am, it is not our policy to move passengers unnecessarily, and besides, this is a full flight.”

 

She lowered her voice and said to the flight attendant, “Look here.  I will not sit next to this man.  I have enough cash in my purse to arrange for an alternative.  Go up to First Class and see if there’s something available up there.”

 

She sat there for a few moments while the flight attendant disappeared into the First Class cabin.  He came back a few moments later, reached across the woman, tapped the male passenger on the arm and said, “I hate to bother you, sir, but we need to make a change in your seating assignment.  Gather your things and come with me; it seems something has just opened up in First Class.”

 

In the kingdom of God, a kingdom of love and grace, everyone gets First Class treatment – and how beautifully scandalous that is!  Whether we come to God’s vineyard early or late in the day, whatever we receive from the generous hand of God is already beyond what we deserve.

 

God’s business is to be recklessly generous with all of us – though we value and devalue one another in our own eyes, in God’s eyes, all people have value and sacred worth, all people are worthy of a place at the table, all people are worth the reward of redemption.

 

If you’re the early worker, what harm is done to you if you receive what you were promised?  So what if someone else receives more than they expected, no injury has been done to you.  And if you’re the person who was invited to work late, how awesome is it to receive something greater than what you expected?

 

The rewards of God’s kingdom have nothing to do with how much or how little anyone did, but about how generous God chooses to be.  Again, it’s not about us.  It’s about God.

 

God really isn’t so concerned that we make it into the kingdom early or late so long as we make it.  Maybe that seems foolish and excessive if we were the one who came first.  But to the one who came last, that extravagance is likely the very difference between life and death.

 

Further, being at work for the Master is a reward in and of itself.  The work – participating in the life of the Church – is life-giving.  It changes us!  It makes us care about the things God cares about, helps shape us and form us in God’s image, makes God’s priorities our priorities.  The longer we work in God’s vineyard, the more we see things God’s way.  God works in our hearts and lives to transform us more and more into God’s image – that’s a reward we receive long before payday!

 

Having gone through that transformation, we are able to rejoice with a fellow laborer who arrives later than we did, but receives the same payment, recognizing that God has been good to them even as God has long been good to us.  Whatever we have from God is a gift, one received in thankfulness and rejoicing, and whatever God gives to someone else is never reason to be resentful, but cause to rejoice all the more.

 

 

 It’s a matter of whether we approach life as an individual sport or a team sport.  If we’re in it alone and out for ourselves, we will always be suspicious, stingy, jealous, and greedy.  But if we’re in it for each other as members of the same team, realizing it’s not about what God does for me but what God does in and for and through us – not asking “What’s in it for me?” but “What’s best for the entire community?” then friends, that’s a God-pleasing game changer right there.

 

Take the Fall Bazaar we had yesterday.  I am so proud of the way you pulled together.  It isn’t about any one of us, it’s about all of us, together as a church family, a community of grace, growing together in God’s love and doing something to share that love beyond ourselves, and you did just that yesterday, and I am so proud of you!

 

Those whose lives have been transformed by grace don’t ask, “What’s in it for me?” or start counting up what has been given to others to see if they’ve been cheated or received more.  Come early, come late, the reward is the same, which doesn’t seem fair, and it’s not.  Grace isn’t fair.  It’s a gift of what we need, before we ever ask for it.  Where more grace is needed, God pours it out all the more.

 

Here’s what grace looks like when it’s lived out in community.  Two weeks ago, Thomas Hargis preached for our Homecoming Sunday, and many of you got to meet his fiancĂ©, Katie.  I got a really nice note from Thomas and Katie this week, and she talked about you, and I wanted to share a little bit about what she said.  She was glowing about Morehead Church, about how warm-hearted and joyful you were.  That joy permeated everything she experienced that day.  She felt the joy in worship, and even as a newcomer, she fully participated in that joy.  She said it felt like a Resurrection Sunday – a time to experience the joy of new life in Christ.

 

Being a community of grace looks like exactly what you have done all week in surrounding and showering the Davis and Aydelette family with one of the most extravagant expressions of love I have ever witnessed.  Love was pouring out of this place, you could feel it every time someone opened the door – talk about being a community of grace!  In a very difficult hour, this church has been at its best – the embodiment of lavish and extravagant love if I’ve ever seen it, Morehead doing what Morehead does best because that’s who Morehead is – and I have never, never, been prouder of this church.

 

Friends, when our faith is not something we do but who we are, when we, as people created in the gracious and generous image of God are living in and reflecting that image, then being a community of grace happens naturally, effortlessly.  May it always be so.

 

Whether you’ve come to faith long ago or more recently, whether you’ve come to this church long ago or more recently, there is no first-class section, no waiting period before you are welcomed as a full part of the community.  That’s how grace works, and as community of grace, growing in grace, we work the same way.  We celebrate every person because God celebrates every person – whether you’ve been here all day or just got here, we’re just glad you’re here!

 

The story isn’t about us, it’s about God, the God whose prerogative is to be far more generous than we would be.  The challenge for those of us made in the image of God who follow God is not to resent God’s generosity from the evil eye of stinginess, jealously, and greed, but to see things with God’s eye of generosity, to be a community where grace is celebrated and shared just as freely and recklessly as God would have it, where a win for one of us is a win for all of us, and a win for all of us is a win for each of us.

 

Come early, come lately – doesn’t matter, so long as you hear the Master’s invitation and come.  There’s a place in the kingdom for all.  There’s work to be done, but the rewards are far greater than any of us deserve, thanks be to God.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Morning After (Romans 8:38-39)

(On Saturday afternoon, a 16-year-old in our congregation died in sudden and tragic circumstances.  In light of that, I scrapped the scheduled sermon and worship service for the next day and wrote what is below.  It seemed odd to simply continue with "business-as-usual."  My hope was to address some of the pain and questions I knew our congregation would be coming in with, to help us all find some solid ground when everything else seemed to be slipping away, and to point us all in the direction of healing.)
 
 
 
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

When tragedy strikes, it is easy for us to start looking for answers.  Why did this happen?  Where was God?  Why did God allow this?  Why do bad things happen to good people?

 

The temptation is to rush in with some sort of response.  And if you’re a person of faith, the temptation is to rush in with some sort of theological explanation, and my first piece of advice is simply this: “Don’t.”  When my Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, she put together a list she called “Stupid things not to say to someone who has cancer.”  Several well-meaning Christian friends suggested that she take comfort in the fact that “everything happens for a reason,” or “this must have been the will of God.”

 

It sounds like the right sort of thing to say, but it’s not comforting.  It’s not even true.  Far from being comforting, it only leaves people angry with God.  Suffering, unanswered prayers, and the unfairness of life naturally lead us to question God’s goodness and sometimes to question God’s very existence.  Ask atheists why they reject the idea of God, and this will be among their answers.

 

The question often goes this way: “If God is loving and just, then God must not be all-powerful, otherwise God would stop tragedies from happening.”  Or, “if God IS all-powerful, then God must not be loving and just.”  Because, if God is powerful, loving, and just, God would intervene and stop the suffering and tragedy in our world.

 

In light of what took place yesterday, perhaps you are wrestling with these questions.  What I want you to know first off, is that God is the Lord and giver of life.  God is not the taker of life.

 

Should we tell a family who has lost their child: “There, there: God needed another angel in heaven?”  Really?  If that’s true, then God sounds like a real jerk to me.  And yet, Christians can be notorious for saying stuff like that – maybe it’s our way of finding meaning or sounding noble and pious and all that, but really, all we do is tremendous harm, and the worst of it is we do it in God’s name. 

 

I feel like every time someone says something like that, God just says, “Whoa, that wasn’t me!”

 

In the days ahead, many of you will want to know what you can do to help Sandy and Tyler and M’Kenzie, and Bill and Judy.  The first thing I’d say is to not say things like these.  What happened to Dalton yesterday was not part of God’s plan, it was not God’s will, it was not for some reason only known to the mind of God.  Don’t promise things you have no control over, either, like saying it will get better, or they’ll get over it, eventually.  This isn’t something that’s going away.  It’s something we will all have to carry with us.

 

Don’t say those things because they’re not helpful.  They’re not healing.  They’re not true.  They’re more likely to turn a grieving person away from God than toward God – because if God was the one who caused the suffering, why would I go to God to comfort me in the suffering?

 

Friends, when you don’t know what to say, you don’t actually need to say anything.  Turns out you don’t have to say much to let someone know you care.  Often, a hug, a smile, a call, a card, and a simple, “I’m so sorry” is all that needs to be said.  That’s all you need to do.

 

Someone asked me yesterday where Dalton is now.  He is safe and secure in the arms of the Lord, and I believe that with every fiber of my being because I believe the promises of the Scripture that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

You got that?  God IS Love, and NOTHING – NOTHING shall separate us from God’s love.  Not death (whether at the hand of someone else or ourselves), not angels (be they of light or darkness), not powers of depression, not depths within our soul that drag us down and lead us to a point where we feel we have no alternative.

 

The darkness of mental illness is something over which persons have no control. Our understanding of human psychology and mental illness still has a long way to go, but it’s also come a long way.  I’ve heard well-meaning people tell depressed people to just “turn it over to God,” as if it’s that easy.  But, even after people seek God, they may still be very much troubled by feelings of failure, hopelessness, or being unloved, and God understands the difficulties of those feelings and how truly overwhelming they can be.

 

And not only does God understand, I understand, and I care, and whatever any of you may be going through, please, know that I’m willing to listen and help in any way I can.  If you’re struggling with self-destructive thoughts and habits, don’t go through that alone.  I promise no shame, no judgment, no guilt – just a desire to see you healthy and full of life and thriving.

 

I am well-aware that in a group of people this size, statistically, it is highly likely that one or more persons here today are dealing with destructive thoughts that make you feel like you’re at a dead-end or you’ve got nowhere to go. Listen, if that’s where you are, I want you to come talk to me this week. In fact, I expect you to come talk to me.  Or maybe you don’t want to talk to me, and you’d rather talk to someone else, and I’m willing to bet that there are other people here today who would be glad to talk to you and help you before you do something that can never be taken back – if you would be willing for people to talk to you, would you please put your hand up?

Even Jesus prayed on the cross, “My God, my God: why have you forsaken me?” Do you know the response that came from heaven when Jesus prayed those words? Nothing. Deafening silence.

 

I can’t overstate the significance of that. Jesus – the son of God, who was himself God – knew what it felt like to be alone and abandoned and forgotten. Jesus – who was sinless – knew what it felt like for his deepest and most earnest prayer to be met with silence. And so when someone feels alone in the world, when they feel friendless and hopeless, that is a very real feeling that even Jesus himself experienced. Those feelings don’t make someone a sinner or suggest that they have some defect or flaw of character, because even Jesus himself struggled with the very same feelings.

 

God is well aware that people are subject to harmful and self-destructive thoughts. That doesn’t make them wicked people. It makes them ill.  Jesus is the Great Physician – who came to heal all illness, including mental illness that may lead to people doing things that are harmful to themselves and those they love.  God’s mercy and love and grace is big enough to cover that.  There are those who leave this life too early, and God has special understanding and mercy for those who take an incomplete in life.

 

I just can’t imagine God – the God of Love, the God whose heart and love and grace is bigger than we can ever know – I can’t imagine God holding the events of yesterday afternoon against Dalton.  God grades on the curve – and where mercy and grace are needed, God supplies it all the more.

 

Was this God’s will for Dalton?  Hell, no.  Again, any god who willed this, who wrote this particular tragedy into Dalton’s life story is a god I would want nothing to do with.  No, this was not the will of God.  The Scriptural witness is clear: God’s will is ever-directed to his children’s good.  Jeremiah 29:11 says, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Jesus promised us that we came so that we would have life and have it abundantly and to the full (John 10:10).  All of this witnesses against God having anything to do with a life tragically cut short – that when life does end too soon, it was clearly not the will of God.

 

Since yesterday afternoon, I have imagined the conversation God and Dalton had when he arrived in heaven.  I imagine God saying, “Dalton, you knucklehead, you are here way too soon.  This was not what I wanted for you.  This was not my plan or will for you.  I wanted so much more for your life.  This was not the way I wanted your life to end.  There was so much more I wanted you to know and experience, so much I wanted you to do – you’re not supposed to be here, yet!  So yes, I am so disappointed to see you here so soon, yet, I love you.  You are my beloved child.  I know the difficulties you’ve had, the feelings you’ve had, the mistakes and shortcomings and decisions you’ve made that I wish you hadn’t.  And, my grace is sufficient for you, for this and every time of need. I am sorry for the pain and torment you went through, and my love for you is greater than all those thoughts and feelings, and my grace is greater than even this destructive thing you have done.”

 

You see, we have a God who weeps when we do.  Who grieves when we do.  God knows what we’re going through – he lost a son once, too, you know.  We don’t have the promise that God will make the pain go away or shield us from tragedy, or that if we’re good, godly people, bad things will never happen to us.  I wish, but it doesn’t work that way.

 

But the things that break our hearts also break God’s heart.  We have a God who enters into our suffering and takes it on himself.  As his hands and feet, we are called to enter into the suffering of others and walk with them through it.  And I know for the Davis family, you are already doing that and will continue to do that.

 

Where is God?  God is with us, particularly as the people of God show up where love and grace is needed the most.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Better Together (Matthew 18:15-20)

15 “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and correct them when you are alone together. If they listen to you, then you’ve won over your brother or sister. 16  But if they won’t listen, take with you one or two others so that every word may be established by the mouth of two or three witnesses. 17  But if they still won’t pay attention, report it to the church. If they won’t pay attention even to the church, treat them as you would a Gentile and tax collector. 18  I assure you that whatever you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. And whatever you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven. 19  Again I assure you that if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, then my Father who is in heaven will do it for you. 20  For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.”

 
Psychiatrist Scott Peck wrote that communities often pass through four stages of development. Peck called the most common, initial stage of building community “pseudo-community” or “false community.”  And sadly, “pseudo-community” is often the only stage that many communities will know.  There are no problems, people mind their manners, and, when asked, everyone is doing, “Fine.”

But then we find out that, beneath the plastic smiles and polite pretense, beneath all that sugar-sweet niceness, dishonest failure to name things leaves untended cavities which rot out everything under the surface such that just a hollow outer shell remains.  It’s not that conflict doesn’t exist in the pseudo-community, it’s simply swept under the rug and ignored.  Like deferred maintenance, the longer you let it go, the more damage it does.

Jesus, however, calls us beyond pseudo-community into Christian community.  Whereas in pseudo-community, politeness and proper appearances are the highest goals, in Christian community, reconciliation and restoration of relationships are the highest goals.

The 18th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel is Jesus’ blueprint for moving from pseudo-community into real community.  It doesn’t ignore conflict, but recognizes it as part of life, and even that it can be a healthy thing that builds the community when it’s handled in the right way.

Where two or three are gathered, there is bound to be a difference of opinion.  It’s been said that one of the greatest things about being part of the church are the people!  And one of the most difficult things about being part of the church are . . . the people!  Spend enough time with people, and someone will, inevitably, rub someone else the wrong way.  I wish I could guarantee that if you’re part of a church, that will never happen, but I can’t.

What I can do is invite and challenge you to deal with those bumps – the misunderstandings, the hurt feelings, the disagreements, the conflicts – in a Christian way.  Not to live as a pseudo-community, but as a Christian community.  And here’s the number one rule for dealing with conflict as a Christian: when you have a problem with someone, talk directly to them.  Don’t talk about them.  Don’t talk around them.  Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, do not tell anyone else about it until you have first talked to them, in person, face-to-face, so the relationship can be restored.

I was thinking of conflict in the church, and trying to think of an example I could give of bad ways to handle church conflict.  After 34 years in the church, it’s hard to think of examples that aren’t real examples, and it’s interesting how the issues that come up in one church are similar to ones that come up in another.  Even if I change the names and the scenario and the ministry area, even if I completely made up an example, it could still sound enough like another instance you know that you’re left wondering if I’m really talking about that situation or about so-and-so – I’m not.

Here are some unhealthy ways of dealing with conflict that clearly are not interested in restoring relationships and fixing what is wrong:

Talking about someone rather than to them.  Anyone here ever talk about someone behind their back?  Anyone here ever have someone talk about you behind your back?  That’s a pretty universal human experience, and we all know, first-hand, how frustrating and painful that can be.  When we have a problem with someone, it’s easier to talk about them behind their back, bless their heart, than to their face, but this provides us with no opportunity to fix the problem and work on the broken relationship.

Just so you know this is a made-up story, let’s imagine I’m mad at, say, Lib Joyner for something.  I’m picking on Lib because, come on, like I could be mad at Lib about anything, and I figured she’d be at both services like usual.  So, let’s say Lib did something that really ticked me off.  Maybe it was on purpose, maybe not.  Maybe she knows she did it, maybe not.  Maybe she can sense how mad I am about it, maybe not.  Doesn’t matter.

So, and see if this sounds familiar, I’m mad at Lib, and I pick up the phone and call four people to let them know what she did and how upset I am.  Then, each of them in turn call four people and say, “Did you hear what’s going on between Lib and A.J.?” and within an hour, everyone knows some version of the story, the whole church is talking about it, except for the only two people who should be talking about it.

According to Matthew 18, what did I do wrong in that example?  If I have a problem with Lib, who should I talk to about it?  Do you see how it’s a problem when I talk to everyone but the person who is actually involved?  Most conflicts within the church involve far more people than they need to.

Being a willing audience.  Gossip spreads because there’s a market for it.  When someone comes to you and says, “Let me tell you about so-and-so,” and you say, “Okay,” you are just as responsible for the spread of hurtful gossip as the person saying it.  You’re working against reconciliation by giving the person the easy out by telling you about their beef with someone else instead of doing the hard thing to talk to the person they have the problem with.  If, however, you respond by saying, “Have you talked with them, yet?  If not, don’t talk to me,” you have decreased the street value of gossip by indicating there is no market for it.

Anonymous feedback.  Anonymous feedback is a way of saying, “I want to say this, but I don’t want to take responsibility for what I’ve said.”  We have a special file that anonymous notes go into.  It’s next to my desk, round, and gets emptied once a week by the cleaning crew.  Not only is anonymous feedback cowardly, it provides no opportunity for reconciliation because you don’t know who to seek out in order to fix the issue and restore the relationship – an anonymous complaint is an unresolvable complaint.

Spokesperson for a cause.  One that’s a bit more subtle, but still under the category of anonymous, is when we speak on behalf of others.  We provide feedback and couch it in terms of “many people feel this way.”  When someone tells you how “many people” feel about something, you have permission to lovingly say, “I am interested in how YOU feel.  Please tell ‘many people’ that if they want me to know how they feel, then many people’ will need to talk to me directly.”

Unofficial Meetings.  These take many forms: the meeting before the meeting, the meeting after the meeting, in the parking lot, in the hallways, in the kitchen.  We hold what we really think in the official meeting, only to share it as soon as the meeting adjourns.  Again, do you see how this sort of things makes restoration and reconciliation impossible?

Disappearing Act.  I don’t like how things are going, I got my feelings hurt, someone said something to me, and so I either stop coming and/or stop giving.  I deal with conflict by taking my ball and going home.  Again, rather than dealing with the difficulty directly, we just walk away, and again, reconciliation and restoration become impossible with a person who is no longer there.

Christian community always has reconciliation and restoration at its goal.  Where these behaviors break down is that they provide no opportunity for reconciliation.  Our faith is the story of God restoring and redeeming all that is broken, all that is amiss, all that is damaged and in need of repair, beginning within us and our relationships with each other.

99% of the time, misunderstandings and difficulties can be cleared up if both parties are willing to sit in the same room and listen to each other.  I’m grateful for people who love me enough to sit down with me and let me know ways I’ve let them down.  I’ve learned things about myself that I’d never known before, and discovered how I can avoid doing it again.  These conversations typically end with one person saying, “I’m sorry,” and the other saying, “I forgive you.”  Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” but if I can channel my inner Bill Cosby for a minute, that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard!  Love means saying you’re sorry all the time, not because you have to, but because you realize the pain you’ve caused, and you want to fix it.

Where two or three are gathered in his name, Jesus is there with them – but it’s not about the numbers.  It’s about the reconciling spirit of Christ that brings people together.  We may say it to make ourselves feel better when there’s a low turnout at Bible study, but this verse is an assurance that when there is a conflict in the church that is resolved, Jesus is involved and present in that agreement. It’s all about agreement, not attendance.  The sincere agreement of two people is more powerful than the superficial agreement of thousands.

Sometimes, that means hard conversations with each other.  Those conversations are like removing a splinter from your finger.  It hurts to dig around and work on getting it out, even if you’re the one doing the digging.  But it hurts even more to do nothing, to leave it there so that it becomes infected and becomes even more painful and gets the whole body sick.

Conflict needs to be resolved.  And to be resolved, it has to be named.  Not with the goal of embarrassing one another or finding fault, but so we can do whatever it takes for the relationship to be restored.  That’s hard work.  But it’s faithful work.  And it’s necessary.

Reconciliation takes place on a small stage, usually one-to-one.  And if one person is reconciled to another through Christ, you know what you have?  Two people gathered in his name, the building block of Christian community.

One of the most difficult things about being part of the church are the people.  But, one of the greatest things about being part of the church are the people.  The people around you are among God’s greatest gifts to you.  Don’t take those gifts lightly.  In the life of faith, we’re always better together.