Wednesday, September 7, 2011

I wanna join....

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."  - Matthew 18:15-20
This text is one that generates a lot of questions for me...
  • Who exactly is a "member" of my church?  
  • Who decides what constitutes sinning? 
  • Isn't it racist to use the designation of "gentile" in such a derogatory manner?  
  • Why does Jesus pick on tax collectors? 
  • Where is the unconditional love of Jesus if people are being excluded and shunned?  
  • What precisely does it mean for Jesus to be among those gathered? 
And for the record. I don’t like this Jesus...all judgement and exclusive and stuff...not the kind of guy that I can get behind, if you know what I mean.
This text has never sat well with me, so I tried researching, digging back into my memories of what I know about Jesus and the text started making a bit more sense....This text is about community - who’s in and who’s out . It’s about trying to become part of something and then STAYING. it’s about going to a place where everyone accepts you for who you are and you are never alone. Because, really, sometimes you wanna go “where everybody knows your name....and they’re always glad you came....”
We all desire to be part of a community. I've heard it said that Jesus was the first community organizer. He desired to pull ALL people into community with him - he didn’t exclude or cut out. He didn’t draw lines or boundaries. So why do we??
We do it all the risk life and limb cheering for the ‘wrong’ sports team.  The parents of the ‘A-team’ students wouldn’t be caught dead talking to the parents of the ‘B-team’ students...or, even worse, the parents of those that didn’t even make the team.  We draw lines based on skin color, language, tradition, culture, name it, there is a boundary around it.
The early Christians craved community, too. They had been kicked out of their old Jewish ones, they weren’t part of the Roman elite and the pagans wanted nothing to do with them. So they ‘got brave’, followed their leader, and started  a new community. One whose boundaries were broadened; one where holes could be found in the walls so that everyone could get in; one where the one thing that made you worthy was God’s love. This new community was INCLUSIVE, it was hungry for new members and they reached out - not to benefit themselves, but to share the good news of a place, finally, where ALL were welcomed unconditionally!  
In this community, they found love, friendship and accountability. They found a place where people strived to live up to a higher standard of conduct. A place where love meant calling each other out when things weren’t quite right.  The Message translation of this text says that if someone offends you, sins or is not holding up their end of Jesus’ teachings and they won’t listen to one-on-one reasoning, to a group of friends or to the congregation then you need to “start over from scratch, confront them with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love.”
That’s what Jesus did over and over in his ministry. That’s how he treated Zacchaeus, the tax collector...and Matthew, the tax collector. Both men we know and love as devoted followers of Jesus were welcomed into Jesus’ community with love and acceptance.
Our communities are built upon unity in God’s love, grace and forgiveness, not upon exclusion based on someone’s sin....or what we perceive as their sin.  We have enough sin of our own to worry about, don’t you think?
The teachings of Jesus were summed up as Love God - Love One Another. Sometimes we are called to hold our brothers & sisters accountable to the teachings of Jesus. Sometimes WE need to be held accountable to the teachings of Jesus.  But it is in community where we find support - in a community of believers we find the unconditional love of God and of one another. Welcome to the community.

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