Monday, September 22, 2014

Let Love Loose

If we look up the definition of the word conflict,
as used as a noun, we find this:

+ a fight, battle, or struggle
+ controversy; quarrel
+ discord of action or feeling;
+ antagonism or opposition
+ a striking together; collision.
+ incompatibility or interference

The truth is most of us do not have to look up the definition of conflict.
We know what it is.
We have felt it in our gut on more than one occasion
and we don’t like it.

Google the word conflict and you find over 87 million entries.
Type the word “conflict” into the Amazon search box
and it immediately shifts to “conflict resolution”
and offers 57,000 possible books to read.

I am not sure if Amazon includes the gospel of Matthew
as one of those books,
but, indeed, this is what Jesus is talking about in today’s gospel reading:
conflict resolution.
More specifically, how to resolve conflicts in the church.

His shared wisdom is not long or complicated.
If there’s a conflict, go directly to the person and talk with them about it.
Just the two of you.
Don’t tell your best friend, don’t call your momma,
don’t post obtuse comments on Facebook,
don’t just sit and stew about it.
Go and talk directly with the person.
Sometimes that is all it takes.

But if that doesn’t seem to work, Jesus says,
take one or two others with you and have another conversation
with the person.
Not a harsh, accusatory conversation
but take others with you who might be able to listen in different ways,
to communicate more clearly than you have communicated.
In other words,
Jesus is saying, don’t just give up
that you can be reconciled.

But if that doesn’t work,
bring the matter before the whole church.
Is there any way we can find away to be reconciled?

But if that doesn’t work,
you may just have to accept
that the person does not really want to be part of the community.
Sometimes people choose to remain on the outside.
It’s not what we hope or dream
but sometimes it happens.
Sometimes we have to walk away.

Jesus can be a realist when he needs to be.

Jesus knows that being a community of faith
takes work.
Being a church is not about our own individual journeys,
it’s about journeying together.

It’s about climbing out of our own little kayak
and joining the crew of a much larger sailing ship.
A ship that can carry us to deeper and more meaningful waters.
But it takes learning to work together.
We can only go so far with our own little paddles;
traveling together is a far richer journey.

Jesus knows that being a church,
a community of faith, is difficult.
We human beings like to do things our way.
But the message here is quite clear
that we need to work to love one another
and when that love seems to develop some cracks
we need to be intentional about reconciliation.

We need to not allow
our differences or our disagreements to bind us.
We need to let love free us, to loose us.
Always remembering that God is with us.

This scripture is not about giving us permission or a procedure
to judge other people.

The Church is not called to be a place of judgment.
Jesus is trying to teach us that the church needs to be a place
of love and healing and reconcilation.
The church should be a positive model
of how we can live and work and be together
in community.
And celebrate this!

There are, indeed, some who interpret this passage from Matthew’s gospel  very literally
as a way to include or exclude,
to shame or to shun,
to turn their backs on those whom they perceive
as outside the boundaries and laws of the church,
as unacceptable to God.

We must always remember
that no one,
no one,
is unacceptable to God.

Some of you know that I have a bumper sticker on my car
that reads:
God loves everyone. No exceptions.

I am not really a bumper sticker sort of person,
but  I believe what this bumper sticker says.
I also know that it is not easy.
It might be easy for God to love everyone,
but it is not easy for me.
But it’s how I want to be, how I want to live,
how I want to love.
With no exceptions.
And I need the Church-you--
to keep helping me along this journey.
And I will try to keep inspiring and helping you.

One day I had a meeting at another church
and I had parked in their parking lot (not sure if that was allowed or not),
gone in, had the meeting and was leaving,
heading across the parking lot to my car.

About the time I approached my car
this very large, burly man shouted out to me,
“Is that your car?

I turned and said, “Yes. It is.”
I thought I was about to get a stern talking to
about parking where I should not have parked.

The man walked toward me
and said,
“I have a problem with you.”

Okay, I thought, breathe, breathe, smile.
“You do? Why is that?”

“I have a problem with your bumper sticker.”

Breathe. Breathe. Smile.

“Why is that? “ I asked.

“Do you believe that? Do you really believe that God loves everyone??”

Oh boy, I thought. Here we go.

“Actually, I do believe that.”

“Well, I don’t!” said the man, now standing right in front of me.

“Oh. Why not?” I asked.

“Well, I don’t for a minute believe that God loves the N.Y. Yankees!!”
and he burst out laughing.

After a little chat about both of us being loyal Red Sox fans,
he was still laughing and he waved me good bye.

God loves everyone.
Yes, the NY Yankees included.

God’s deepest desire is that we find a way to love one another, too.
To work things out.
To resolve our conflicts.
To come together.
To always give one another a chance to start over.

Yes, there are rules.
Don’t murder. Don’t steal. Don’t covet.
The Ten Commandments aren’t suggestions--
they are commandments.
Do this. Live this way.
We can’t just always do what we want,
act with disregard or disdain for others.
It doesn’t work.
It hurts people and ultimately it hurts us.

Live honorably. Stop quarreling.
Put aside your jealousy.

All those things destroy community.
They destroy churches too.
We are so blessed here at St. Paul’s.
This is a loving, caring, welcoming church--
and my prayer is that it will always be so
and will only become more and more and more so.

There is a song that was popular a few years back,
one of those semi-irritating songs that becomes an earworm,
that had a refrain,
“Who let the dogs out?
Who? Who? Who? Who?
Who let the dogs out?”

God calls us to sing a different song.

Who let the love out?
Who? Who? Who? Who?
Who let the love out?

Jesus calls us to loose love.
Not to LOSE love.
But to LOOSE love.

To let love run rampant.
To let the love out.
Every chance we get.
To let love out
and leave the gate wide open.

+     +     +

Sermon for Year A Proper 18
September 7, 2014
Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Burlington, VT
The Very Rev. Jeanne Finan

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