About disagreement and agreement in church
2008-08-31 by Dean Snyder
Matthew 18: 15-20
Hi. I’m Dean Snyder, pastor of Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, DC, and I’ve been invited to blog in preparation for next Sunday. I am just back from a wonderful two weeks of vacation so I am peddling as fast as I can to get ready for Sunday.
The Gospel for Sunday -- Matthew 18: 15-20 –- is a situational text for me. I have used it during times when I was either anticipating a period of intense conflict or in the process of recovering afterwards. As I prepare for Sunday I have been hoping to see it in some new ways, with some fresh insights.
To me verses 15-17 are obviously Matthew’s post-resurrection instructions to the congregation he leads, probably the Gentile-Jewish congregation in Antioch. The verses outline a relatively straight-forward method for dealing with congregational discipline – how to handle sin in the life of congregational members. Matthew’s congregation would have included a diversity of ethnic backgrounds, cultural understandings of morality, and spiritual traditions where disagreements about theology and practice may have been particularly intense. He may have really needed a clear process for dealing with disagreements about behavior.
The very earliest manuscripts refer only to how to handle church members who sin. Later manuscripts –and most manuscripts-- add “against you.” This might suggest that Matthew’s congregation learned over time that it needed to make it clear that this passage was not meant to encourage witch-hunting but only to deal with congregation members who harmed another member. The sin has to be an action that hurts another member, and it is the responsibility of the member who is injured to make an effort to repair the situation.
Matthew’s process seems clear, orderly and fair. The purpose of the process is reconciliation. Matthew’s instructions about what to do if reconciliation is not achieved are fascinating. If the congregation agrees that the offending behavior is wrong and the offending congregation member refuses to listen to the congregation, “let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
Stanley Hauerwas in his commentary on Matthew in the Brazos series (Brazos Press, 2006) interprets this to mean excommunication. “[T]hey are to be treated as a tax collector or Gentile, that is, as someone who is no longer privileged to be a participant in the community of those called by Jesus. … Jesus clearly implies, just as he had with the analogy of our hands and feet, that his new people must excommunicate.” (p. 165) Hauerwas adds that ultimate purpose of even excommunication is reconciliation, but still the ultimate act of discipline is to treat the offender like those not accepted within the community – tax collectors and Gentiles.
The irony here is that Matthew portrays Jesus as one who has a special mission to reach tax collectors and sinners (Mat. 9: 10-13) and as one who warned the superficially righteous that tax collectors and prostitutes would get into the kingdom of God before them. (Mat. 21: 31) In her “Preaching the Lesson” column for next Sunday (http://www.goodpreacher.com/journalread.php?id=533) Anna Carter Florence uses this irony to suggest, if I read her correctly, that we ought not to give up on these folk. I wonder if there is any sermonic gold to be mined in this irony or does this twist Matthew’s meaning too much?
My personal leaning, however, as I try to get a handle on next Sunday’s sermon is to focus on verses 19 and 20. One of the questions about these verses is their relationship with the previous discussion. W.F Albright and C. S. Mann in their Anchor Bible commentary on Matthew (Doubleday, 1971) believe verses 19 and 20 should not necessarily be understood in the context of the previous discussion. “It is unlikely that this verse is in its original context,’ they write about verse 19, “for while vs. 18 dealt with conduct on the part of the community’s members, vs. 19 is an exhortation to faithfulness in prayer.”
They add; “Presumably this verse found its way to its present position because of the occurrence of earth and heaven in both verses.’ (p. 221)
At this point in my rambling thinking I am fascinated by the emphasis in verse 19 on agreement. “[I]f two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” Here are two questions I need to wrestle with next: 1) Is this statement to be understood only or primarily within the context of Matthew’s discussion on church discipline or is this meant to be a more global statement about the power of agreement among Jesus’ followers? and 2) Is it possible to understand agreement as actually having this kind of power?
Obviously I have lots more work to do before Sunday, some of which I intend to share here. I would be grateful for your thoughts on this passage.
Lin Smallwood; "Lectionary Homiletics" Highlights
2008-08-29 by David von Schlichten
Thank you to our splashing guest blogger Lin Smallwood for her hydrating offerings on this week's texts. Please scroll down to read her entries, and feel free to respond.
Below are highlights from some of the articles for this week in Lectionary Homiletics.
Osaldo D. Vena contends that contemporary readings of “taking up the cross” tend to domesticate this calling, such as by squeezing it into a private spirituality-only reading. In reality, taking up the cross sometimes demands civil disobedience or other forms of agapic, piercing rebellion.
Carol J. Cook provides an extended quote from Barbara Brown Taylor's celebrated book Leaving Church, which speaks of the power of loss. Loss is “[ . . . ] how we come to surrender our lives” (p. 43) to God or to or at least to some journey that leads to a person finding her way again.
“Preaching the Lesson”
Anna Carter Florence points out that Jesus is beginning to SHOW the disciples that he must suffer, instead of merely telling them. She also notes that, while many congregations boast of friendliness and helping the needy, few describe themselves as suffering for Christ.
My sermon for this Sunday is on Romans 12:9-21 but contains allusions to the Gospel and to the Jeremiah 15 image of Jeremiah as a bronze wall. Posting the sermon soon, I am
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Only God Does Wrath Right
2008-08-26 by David von Schlichten
"Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God [ . . . ]"
That line from Romans 12:9-21 grabbed my head and heart this week. I wondered, "Why would I want to make room for wrath?" and I pictured people deriving perverse delight from the idea of God zapping with his wrath those evil-doers who have wronged them.
However, such an understanding does not fit the emphasis on love dominating the text. Perhaps, then, we are to make room for God's wrath, not because we delight at the idea of God zapping people, but because only God knows how to do wrath right.
If a dad had his son determine his sister's punishment, the son would probably be harder on his sibling than she deserved. The good parent provides the proper punishment.
Likewise, we are to make room for God's wrath, because our wrath is too big. God's wrath fits just-righteous.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
2008-08-25 by Lin Smallwood
Matthew 16:21-28Everybody likes a winner. Hasn't it been fun to watch the Olympics this past month? We were entertained with spectacular athletic events. Most of us have enjoyed watching the contests and seeing the stories behind the athletes. We may even confess we were caught up in the media frenzy of medal counting. We could count success with gold, silver, and bronze.
In Matthew Chapter 16 the disciples were learning what a wonderful prophet Jesus was and what he could do. He had displayed miraculous healing powers and the ability to feed the multitude. In our scripture for this Sunday, Jesus begins to warn the disciples of his death. Peter, like most of us, wanted to pick a winner. He was horrified by what Jesus was saying. "God, forbid it Lord." Peter thought he was on the Lord's team and now he was told that the objective was not to win the Gold Medal. There was no medal at all in sight. There was only great suffering, death, and a mysterious proclamation of rising on the third day.
I can imagine that Peter was bewildered and crushed. His human thinking was natural. He could not possibly imagine what Jesus was telling him. God's agenda was nothing like what Peter imagined.
Peter had to make room for this new information. It was necessary for Jesus to suffer and die. It made no earthly sense to him. Peter had to be rebuked of this thinking. He had to concede that what Peter thought was absolutely wrong. Then Peter must acknowledge that everything he thought he wanted before was wrong.
All is according to God's will. We may not know what God's will is in a certain situation until we get to that situation. The disciples must face the reality that Jesus was on his way to his death. Jesus explains that true discipleship means a readiness to accept of path of self-denial and even martyrdom.
Paradoxically, it is the one who gives up his or her life in discipleship to Jesus who will truly find life, both in the present and in the future, while the one who seeks to have life on his or her own terms will in effect lose it. This self denial means a new set of priorities that will look foolish to the world.
The first three steps of the 12 step program for Alcoholics, which has helped millions of people recover from alcoholism, including myself, states this in a constructive way:
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Jesus startled them with his redefining of the work of the Messiah. He also startled them with his concept of discipleship for them.
This summer I have been reading Mother Theresa: Come Be My Light-
The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta by Mother Theresa and Brian Kolodiejchuk.
Mother Theresa experienced a call within a call after she had become a sister to go to begin a house in India and minister among the poor. She says: "On Sept. 10, 1946 on the train to Darjeeling, God gave me the “call within a call” to satiate the thirst of Jesus by serving him in the poorest of the poor." She gave up everything to answer the call of Christ. She states that the aim of the congregation she founded is to satiate the thirst of Jesus on the Cross. Mother Theresa indicates that her mystical experience took as she meditated on Jesus on the cross. Jesus dying on the Cross cried out, "I Thirst." It was this Scripture quote that stood for her as a summary and a reminder of her call. “I thirst,” Jesus said on the cross when Jesus was deprived of every consolation, dying in absolute poverty, left alone, despised and broken in body and soul. He spoke of His thirst- not for water- but for love, for sacrifice. Mother Theresa said that Jesus thirsts for our sacrifice. Take up your cross Jesus says.
Take up your sacrifice. Don't run from suffering, embrace it. Deny yourself in your following of Jesus.
2008-08-25 by Lin Smallwood
Romans 12:9-12proverb says, "Birds of a feather flock together," but how do we live in this world with so many different types of people? How can we tolerate people who are annoying and irritating or people who are mean spirited and spiteful? How do we share our habitat and tolerate each other while sharing our resources? Yet we must.
Revenge is counter productive. An old Chinese proverb says “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”
How could we love everyone without reservations? How can we forgive those who get on our last nerve?
We must follow the example of our Lord, who loves us and also loves them. I often think of my enemy as unloving yet God must love my enemy.
We must forgive our enemy and of course this is hard. To become on a level playing field with all persons is counter cultural. This kind of love and behavior as we see outlined in Roman's 12 is basically impossible without the power of God.
To deny ourselves and follow God's way must be our livelong struggle. To answer God's call upon our lives and become those who get along with everyone, those who leave revenge to God, those who are generous and good, is to love and live with the heart of God.
May our hearts be colored with deep colorful crayons of God's love for us and others.
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