A few years ago a congregation was having a conflict – the person who told me the story couldn’t even remember what the issue was – but people were taking sides and it was threatening to split both the church and the neighborhood. The pastor called a meeting and invited the bishop. The bishop said he would come – but that he was coming from coaching his daughter’s softball game so he might be running late so to start without him. The game went into overtime so the bishop decided to not take the time to change but to go straight to the meeting – in his team jersey. By the time the bishop got there, the room was packed. He found a spot in the back. The man next to him was clearly agitated and said to him, “They never listen. Now they’ve called the bishop – that won’t do any good. He won’t listen either.”
“Really,” said the bishop, “Why do you think that? Have you ever met him?”
“No. But why would he listen to someone like me?”
At that moment, the pastor caught sight of the bishop and called him forward. The bishop – after explaining his outfit – looked straight at the red-faced man who had been talking to him – and called for a listening campaign for the sake of community.
The bishop hadn’t intended to be a spy. But he was there – unannounced and with ears wide open.
In the same way, Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." Jesus is with us. Is that a promise – or a warning? To those who are hurting, anxious or afraid, it is a promise. To those who are seeking shelter or relief from Hurricane Harvey or Irma or an earthquake or a storm – it’s a promise. But whenever we are agitated by conflict, whether it be someone else’s bad driving, politics or hurtful comments, or something else – it’s easy to forget that Jesus is in the car with us; Jesus is in the room; Jesus is present where two or more are gathered. Jesus is with us – always -- with ears, eyes and heart wide open.
Jesus is with us. But…notice that Jesus doesn’t say – “It’s me and you.” Instead, Jesus says, “where two or more are gathered in my name – I’m there.” Jesus desires us to support us as we live in community, loving and caring and supporting one another. But Jesus also knows that we are sinners… all of us…
Sin is a bit of a churchy word – but it includes all the times we mess up, we say things before we think; we hurt one another.
And so Jesus says, when – not if – when your brother sins against you…. Whether he borrowed your tools and doesn’t return them or your sister steals your clothes or your friend cheats at poker or at taxes…or any other number of things… then … Jesus gives us a powerful tool for working together through the conflict so that we can be community together.
It’s simple – but it isn’t easy: it’s face to face communication, knowing that Jesus is in the room.
Notice that Jesus doesn’t suggest social media – not facebook email, texts or tweets nor does he recommend the old-fashioned version: gossip. But while hurtful communication has been around since people learned to speak, it is so fast today that it is easy for it to go sour. One therapist said that most of her work comes from email mis-use. And I’m not surprised.
It happens to all of us – even pastors. We do a lot of our work together with the aid of email but we too can get sideways of one another – without intending to do so. It happened this summer… emails can get missed, someone gets left off the chain, a note gets misinterpreted, the reply gets a bit defensive…. and we find ourselves on the edge of conflict soup. It wasn’t my issue but I could see that the e-conversation wasn’t going well and so I suggested: “let’s talk after text study” -- Because the best communication happens face to face, knowing that Jesus is in the room. The communication problem was resolved in 2 minutes – with everyone satisfied.
Jesus desires community for us – and Jesus promises to be with us in that community.
So the question becomes, what kind of community do you want? What kind of community are you willing to work for?
Being in any kind of community takes work. Healthy communities need open and honest communication. But as an intentional Christian community we acknowledge Jesus is with us – and so we can dare to be vulnerable – to share our joys and sorrows. Because Jesus is with us, we can be a “third place” – a place that is not your work or your home – and yet a place where you know that you are welcome and you know that you belong. We can be a community in which people pray for you and care for you. And while we can’t guarantee – like in the old show “Cheers” that everyone will know your name, we can promise that Jesus does. And that any friend of Jesus, and that includes the tax collectors and Gentiles by the way, is welcome here. (Tax collectors and Gentiles were considered outsiders – but Jesus reached out to them, healing them and restoring them to the community).
All are welcome. For Jesus desires community for us – and Jesus promises to be with us in that community. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Pastor Pamela Stalheim Lane
September 10, 2017