by Louise Williams
LSTC Director, Spiritual Formation
Washington is broken...and John McCain knows it. Barak Obama reminds us every day that the US economy is in trouble and our health care system doesn't work.
We really don't need the politicians, though, to tell us that the world is broken. We know it. We only have to log on to the internet or turn on the TV or read the headlines in the newspaper. More casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, in Israel and Palestine. People starving in Africa while obesity is a bigger and bigger problem on this continent. Global warming, rising sea levels and whole islands disappearing in the South Pacific. Indonesians and Indians attacked and killed because of their religious beliefs.
The world is broken...and we know it.
Closer to home. Another little girl killed in a drive-by shooting. Homeless people scavenging for food in garbage bins. Neighbors afraid to walk down the street at night. Unbelievable disparity between the public schools in the city of Chicago and those in the suburbs. We might suspect that something is amuck here, too, when after only one week of classes people are already three weeks behind.
The world is broken...and we know it.
Even here in this community. I'm still pretty new to LSTC, but I suspect it is a community like others I've been part of. I suspect it is a place where brokenness is evidenced every day. People rub each other the wrong way. Cliques form. People choose up sides where there is disagreement. There's gossip. Some abuse power and others fail to use their own power. Someone once said that community is the place where the person we least want to be with always is. Community, even or especially Christian community, is a place where we disappoint each other, where we let one another down, and where unintentionally, or even intentionally, we hurt each other.
The world is broken...and we know it...God knows it.
God, though, isn't content to let the brokenness be. You know the stories. You've heard them, studied them, preached them. The biblical stories give us a glimpse into God's heart, longing for wholeness all of creation and everyone in it. It's that longing in God's heart for reconciliation and restoration that causes God to go to the broken places to do the mending.
We see it in Jesus, for example, going to the lost sheep, the outsiders, the alienated ones-the Gentiles and tax collectors-wooing them back into God's fold. We see it in Jesus going to the most broken places of all--the cross and grave--to bring life where death and brokenness once reigned.
Jesus in Matthew this morning invites us into that same work of reconciliation-not necessarily on a cosmic scale, but right here in the concrete context of this Christian community.
"If someone here, sins against you," Matthew has Jesus begin. If someone here in this community sins against you, what is your most natural response? To shut them out? To talk to your close friends about them? To rail against them in righteous indignation? To look for ways to retaliate? To desire for them some kind of punishment? To do any number of things that only cause the rift to grow--only harm the community more.
Jesus invites us to approach the situation another way--God's way--longing for reconciliation and restoration. It's hard to go to the broken place--to the very relationship that is damaged--to be vulnerable there again. It's hard to do it God's way--because we can so easily act out of our own brokenness instead out of God's lovingness. We can only dare to do it if we remember that Jesus is right there with us--longing for reconciliation and making it possible.
The whole procedure is carefully outlined in Matthew--surrounding the sinner more and more with the community. It is a procedure that takes the sin seriously and still tries to woo back the one in danger of being lost. If it works, the sinner is bound again to the community of faith and love. And if it doesn't work...then we are to regard the sinner as a Gentile and tax collector. And we know how Jesus treated them.
This text is both challenge and comfort for us today. Think about it. If this is the way we operate with one another, each of us can be assured that when we are the sinner, and we will be, we are, the community will not leave us on the outside but will do the hard work of reclaiming us for Christ's sake.
It is so easy for us to forget that longing heart of God. That is one of the reasons why we come together at times like this -- to be reminded of that great love of God who longs for the wholeness and reconciliation of all creation. We come together to be reminded of that great love of God who comes even to our broken places, right here in our midst, to work for healing and wholeness. We come together to know again that we are bound together in Christ and held by the God of love who will not let us go. We gathere to hear for a moment in word and song and community gathered the beating of that longing heart of God. By God's grace, we might even hear that same heartbeat in our own breast.
It is so important how we treat sinners in our community because people in this broken world are watching.
May we, as a community, be a sign of God's reconciling work in the world--work that God graciously invites us to join--right here--already now.
Matthew 18: 15-20