A former President of Ursinus College and member of our congregation, Dr. Richard Richter, used to say,
“The church is a laboratory in Christian living.”
“Church” – meaning “people” who are learning how to behave as members of God’s family, who come into that family, not by birth, but through Baptism and Confirmation – which as we read today is to:
put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
When I was in high school a classmate invited me to go to a Wednesday night prayer meeting at her church where people not only prayed but also confessed their sins; some give vivid descriptions of “their fleshly desires.”
My friend said, “It’s better than sneaking in to see an X-rated movie!”
The sad fact is that a church family can be an ongoing replay of other hidden “sins of the flesh”-
conduct that destroys from within,
causing some to leave, never to return,
and outsiders, looking in, determined to never come in.
Today Jesus has us working on that problem which, like acid, eats away at relationships in His family, destroying their strength to do His work, and becoming an ugly piece of useless trash that pollutes the environment.
Jesus calls is it a “fault,” like a crack in a bowl or a glass or a plate that makes it a place for germs to grow and contaminate whatever it holds, like a fault line in the plates of the earth’s crust that, when they shift cause devastating earthquakes, like the one that just hit Mexico.
Today’s assignment is to admit to and address disruptive “faults” that threaten the wellbeing and the very existence of a congregation that is meant to be God’s family.
Paul calls two of the fault lines: quarreling and jealousy which Jesus saw in those closest to Him as He watched
two vying for the top power positions in the future church, causing the other ten to be jealous, and killing Jesus’ hope for them to carry on His work…as He was on His way to the Cross! – the cut of the nails even before He was nailed to the crossbeam! The “sin,” the fault line of a person’s obsession with and demand for power which has Jesus giving us this assignment:
1. Go and point out the fault line to the person who is a threat to the wellbeing of Christ’s family, the church, the congregation;
2. If that doesn’t work, try again, in the company of another loving and dedicated church member;
3. If that doesn’t work, share the burden with the congregation to make it their work of prayer and being ready to forgive;
4. If the person refuses to live in the church family as one who has “put on Christ,” then, know that person has chosen to remove himself or herself from being a member of the body of Christ; which will feel the pain of that loss but leave the door open to a forgiving and embracing “Welcome home.”
A pastor experienced how hard that work can be when a close friend criticized him for what he had done and was alienating some people in the church. The criticism was well-founded; yet, at first he tried denial and then intimidation, even though he knew he was at fault. Then he looked in his friend’s face and saw how hard it was for
him to hold such a conversation; he saw that he had come out of love and that love led the pastor to admit to his hurtful actions and ask for forgiveness.
C.S. Lewis‘ “Great Divide,” pictures a village empty in the center with new homes scattered on a distant ridge; the people have quarreled themselves into separation, leaving vacant houses below. That said C.S. Lewis is how hell has gotten so large, because everyone chose to separate rather than do the honest work of dealing with relationships, the hard work of being Christ’s family.
It is significant that the summer Scripture lessons appointed to be read on each Sunday in the year of the Church have been strong words to the followers of Christ, who hear them when our nation is violently polarized and our world is facing the Armageddon-like threats of power-obsessed leaders.
Now today’s Gospel assignment becomes a here-at-home mission to the divided, contentious world right outside the church’s door, to work to practice the ongoing assignment Paul first gave to the church in Ephesus (4: 1-3):
lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Since this church’s founding, this has been the congregation’s mission- to be a laboratory in Christian living, that will serve as a model and a gift to others! What is needed now!
To let politicians who seem to think their work is to find fault in the other party – making us a nation with a fault-finding and non-functioning legislature;
to have leaders who are terribly faulted with an obsession for power, that is destroying the people they are to serve,
look to the community of Christ, the church, and see a people learning and practicing Rupertus Meldenius’ quote that first appeared in Frankfurt, Germany in 1627: "IN ESSENTIALS UNITY, IN NON-ESSENTIALS LIBERTY, IN ALL THINGS CHARITY.”
Jesus has given us the incentive in His motto-like words He posted at the end of His assignment:
“…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.”
Words we often misquote to ease our guilt when attendance is low, to the smallness of only two or three showing up, when there is an entirely different intent:
By Jesus’ time Jewish teachers said if all Jews kept all the Ten Commandments for two or three Sabbaths,
God would come as King and rule over all the world.
Against the background of that pronouncement Jesus said,
“For where two or three are gathered in my name,
I am there among them.”
Where two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus, evidenced in their having “put on Christ,” He becomes present – to, with, in them.
Thus, we work at being in this laboratory in Christian living.