Worship for Sunday, September 6, 2020

Ezekiel 33:7-11

So you, mortal, I have made a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked ones, you shall surely die’, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but their blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, and they do not turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but you will have saved your life.

Now you, mortal, say to the house of Israel, Thus you have said: ‘Our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us, and we waste away because of them; how then can we live?’ Say to them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 119:33-40

Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes,
   and I will observe it to the end.
Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
   and observe it with my whole heart.
Lead me in the path of your commandments,
   for I delight in it.
Turn my heart to your decrees,
   and not to selfish gain.
Turn my eyes from looking at vanities;
   give me life in your ways.
Confirm to your servant your promise,
   which is for those who fear you.
Turn away the disgrace that I dread,
   for your ordinances are good.
See, I have longed for your precepts;
   in your righteousness give me life.  Amen.

Romans 13:8-14

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.

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

The Word of our Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew 18:15-20

Jesus said to the disciples – ‘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.’

The Gospel of our Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

How did you handle conflicts and disagreements when you were a kid?  You know those tiffs and disagreements that came up when you were playing with other kids?  Or those arguments and fights with your siblings?

Our family has been making quite a few trips to Broadrun Park this summer so Will can play in Floyds Fork River.  He loves it there.  Actually all of us love it there.  And lots of other families  agree with us.  We always have plenty of socially distant company on our river adventures.

While we are at the river I entertain myself by watching Will play – by looking for river glass – and by observing the other families.  I just can’t help myself.  Some might call me nosy.  But I prefer to think of myself as a keen observer of human nature.  Sort of like an anthropologist . . . Anyway – that’s my story and I am sticking to it!

Other people intrigue – mystify – and dumbfound me.  Honestly other folks leave me in actual awe at times.  Children – well – hmmm.  I hardly know where to begin with children.  And siblings.  Sometimes sibling just plain terrify me.  Because they are just such mean little suckers.  The minute their parents turn their backs they push and shove and trip each other.  They call each other horrible names.  They whack each other with sticks.  They splash each other.  They even throw rocks at each other!  Rocks – I tell you – actual rocks. 

And then the little rock throwers have the nerve to whine and complain and cry when they get in trouble.  Seriously . . . as if you could be surprised that throwing rocks at your sister’s head might land you in trouble!?!

Thankfully most of us have stopped pushing – shoving and throwing rocks to handle conflict.  But other than that – do we act all that differently when we feel wronged? 

What do we do when we’ve been hurt?  Or when we are angry?  Or when we don’t get our way?  Sadly – all too often – we handle conflict really – really badly.  

We may not push and shove but we are far too quick to gossip – when we feel wronged.  We listen to rumors and to hearsay – when there are conflicts.  We make anonymous complaints when we disagree.  We may not whack each other with sticks anymore – but we use words as weapons.  And sometimes we still act like great big – mean bullies.

Even if we can think of a million excuses to justify our behavior – we all know – it isn’t healthy.   We know it isn’t helpful or good for any of us.  We know it will lead to nothing but more conflict and hurt.  We know this sort of behavior ruins relationships and destroys communities.  We know handling conflict in this way is a huge mistake.  But we do it all of the time!

But – Jesus tells us about a better way.  The Christian way . . .

Jesus tells us there is absolutely – positively – no place for complaining behind someone’s back.  No anonymous rumors.  No – he said – she said.  No gossiping – or sharing complaints about another person with someone else.  No name calling – no backstabbing. 

Nope – Jesus comes to us and boldly declares that this is not acceptable behavior for his people.

Jesus tells us if we have a problem with someone – the ONLY acceptable course of action is to go to her ourselves.  To confront the problem head on and to speak to the other person face to face.   To stand in the same room with her.  To look her in the eyes.  To tell her what is on our minds and in our hearts.  To be open and honest.

No passive – aggressive behavior at all. 

Instead – we must go and talk to each other.  And we must listen.  Really and truly listen.  Listen with hearts filled with Christian love.

If that doesn’t work – we should go back again – this time taking along other brothers and sisters in Christ.  Not to gang up on one another – but to remind ourselves we are part of a larger community.  That we are bound together by God’s love for all of us.  That our relationship is bigger than just us and our conflict.

We are called to work very hard and to be persistent so we might bring healing and wholeness back to the relationship.

Why does Jesus lay out this sort of plan?  Why does Jesus make such a big deal about reconciliation?   Why does Jesus care how we handle conflict?

Well – first of all – Jesus knows us.  He knows when our feelings are hurt or we feel we have been wronged – most of us – resort to behavior that hurts both others and us.  Jesus knows our natural tendencies are to do anything and everything we can to get our way. 

So Jesus lays out a plan – that if we are brave enough and courageous enough to follow it – will lead to healing and wholeness.  Imagine what could happen – if we took Jesus seriously.  If we refrained from complaining and gossiping when our feelings were hurt.  If we actually went to our sister in Christ and spoke to her directly when we had a problem or a concern. 

If we didn’t complain to our friends and allies – but instead spoke lovingly and listened compassionately to one another?  If we didn’t yell – use sarcasm – or bully?

Would the world look different?  What would happen to our relationships?  Would our church be healthier?  Would we be happier?  What about our families and our work places?

Yes – and that is Jesus’ point.  The world would be a kinder – more loving – more gracious place if we handled conflict in this way. 

Our church and our families would be healthier.  Our relationships would be stronger – if we shared our concerns lovingly and faced our problems head on. 

Dealing with others with grace and kindness would change the world as we know it. And so my brothers and sisters – let us strive together to follow Jesus’ instructions – so we might live more fully as the people God has called us to be.  AMEN.

(PS – All of the pictures today are from our adventures at Broadrun Park this summer. If you have not been you really should. It is accessible for everyone!)

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