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Sep 06, 2020

Community

Community

Speaker: Bethany Nelson

Series: September 2020

Keywords: community

As we celebrate Communion this Sunday, we consider what it means to be together in community. Especially during this shelter in place time, community has taken on a new look and a new meaning. How might we maintain our relationships when we cannot be together in person? How might we ensure that no one gets left out or left behind? When and where do we notice the presence of God in community?

 

Today's Scripture

Matthew 18:15-20

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. 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. 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. 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. 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. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.

Romans 13:8-10

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet;” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Today's Teaching

"Community"

This story has been circulating on social media lately, so may be familiar to you.

It occurred to Pooh and Piglet that they hadn't heard from Eeyore for several days, so they put on their hats and coats and trotted across the Hundred Acre Wood to Eeyore's stick house. Inside the house was Eeyore.

"Hello Eeyore," said Pooh.

"Hello Pooh. Hello Piglet," said Eeyore, in a Glum Sounding Voice.

"We just thought we'd check in on you," said Piglet, "because we hadn't heard from you, and so we wanted to know if you were okay."

Eeyore was silent for a moment. "Am I okay?" he asked, eventually. "Well, I don't know, to be honest. Are any of us really okay? That's what I ask myself. All I can tell you, Pooh and Piglet, is that right now I feel really rather Sad, and Alone, and Not Much Fun To Be Around At All. Which is why I haven't bothered you. Because you wouldn't want to waste your time hanging out with someone who is Sad, and Alone, and Not Much Fun To Be Around At All, would you now."

Pooh looked at Piglet, and Piglet looked at Pooh, and they both sat down, one on either side of Eeyore in his stick house.

Eeyore looked at them in surprise. "What are you doing?"

"We're sitting here with you," said Pooh, "because we are your friends. And true friends don't care if someone is feeling Sad, or Alone, or Not Much Fun To Be Around At All. True friends are there for you anyway. And so here we are."

"Oh," said Eeyore. "Oh."

And the three of them sat there in silence, and while Pooh and Piglet said nothing at all; somehow, almost imperceptibly, Eeyore started to feel a very tiny little bit better.

Because Pooh and Piglet were There.  No more; no less.

I saw this post on Roberta Masson’s Facebook page soon after I had read both of our scripture passages for this week.  With those passages still in my mind, I finished this story, and said to myself, “Yes!  That’s it!  What a great example of how these scripture passages are encouraging us to be in relationship with each other.”  

Consider the instructions that the two passages we heard today give us –

  • Love your neighbor as yourself.  
  • Be with one another.  
  • Come alongside one who is troubled.  
  • Don’t give up on someone too easily.

We see all of these modeled in the story about Pooh, Piglet, and Eeyore.  A.A. Milne was quite the theologian!

I may have misspoken using the word, “instructions” however, because I don’t want us view the passage from Matthew’s Gospel simply as a conflict resolution checklist.  It seems a bit like that on the surface … follow these instructions, and watch your conflicts disappear!  

  1. Speak to the person
  2. Speak to the person with others
  3. Speak to the person with the church

I love a good checklist – I am a list maker - but to look at this Gospel passage like that is problematic for two reasons.  First, because we know life does not happen like that.  It is not nearly that tidy.  Second, if we just rotely follow a checklist of instructions, we miss the community values that Jesus is trying to share with us.  In this passage, Jesus has embedded many important lessons about being together in a community.  I want to take a look at some of those this morning.

  • Jesus encourages the church to be a community that nurtures honest dialogue and does not ignore conflict.
    • Communities are going to have conflict – that is part of being in relationship together.  But rather than letting conflict fester or be ignored, Jesus tells us to lovingly address it.  To face it head-on.
  • Jesus calls us to listen closely and carefully to each other.  To really hear the truths of one another.  He uses the word “listen” four times in this brief passage.  Listening is so important.
  • Jesus wants love and relationship to be our first instinct, not rejection.
    • Note that, after several attempts have been made at listening, Jesus tells us to treat the one who has sinned as “a Gentile and a tax collector.”  Sometimes this is interpreted as the moment to cast someone aside or out of the community.  But, that’s not how Jesus treated Gentiles and tax collectors.  He continued to welcome them in and to minister to them.
    • It is, however, important to remember that sometimes we do need to end a relationship with someone if it is unhealthy or dangerous.  Don’t hesitate to do that if necessary.
  • Jesus reminds us that we have a responsibility to our community and our relationships.  We don’t just give up on people.  We search for the lost sheep until we find it.  We love our neighbors as ourselves.

I hope that Westminster is this type of community.  I hope that you are helping any community of which you are a part to be this kind of community.  I know, though, how difficult it is to maintain and nurture our relationships during this shelter in place time.  So we likely need to work even harder to put these values in place in our relationships.

I’m also aware that most of us have likely had our Eeyore moments during this time, feeling “Not Much Fun To Be Around At All.”  Times when we perhaps have felt like withdrawing from community.  Let our passages today, however, remind us of the importance of staying in relationships, even (and perhaps especially) during the difficult times.  I hope during the challenging times, you have found community to sustain you.  Even if just one or two people have reached out to share a word of God’s love, God has been present in those moments.

Because community is more difficult to sustain during shelter in place, I am so glad that we are continuing to celebrate the Lord’s Supper together each month.  When we come to the table together – even virtually – I am reminded of those lessons Jesus taught us.  Everyone is invited to the table … no one is turned away.  We come to the table as we are, with all of our joys and sorrows, troubles and imperfections, gifts and flaws, and Jesus welcomes us in love.  And when we are gathered together sharing this meal in Christ’s name, Jesus is certainly here among us.  Encouraging us, walking with us, sitting with us at the table.  And as we partake in this meal, perhaps somehow, almost imperceptibly, we start to feel a very tiny little bit better.  Because God is here.  Because we are here with each other.  No more; no less.  Amen.

Quote for Continued Reflection, Meditation and Prayer

“We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community … Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.”
~ Cesar Chavez