I’m excited to be here with you this morning, and to begin worshiping and working with you in this next phase of what’s been in many respects a lifelong journey for me and the culmination of what I’ve prayed over for many years. I’m looking forward to getting to know all of you as I begin the work of becoming part of the fabric, the life here at Trintiy … and not only simply becoming part of the community, but entering into a journey of understanding at a deeper level what it means to be part of the community of Trinity Stoughton. What are the important values? What is it that draws people here week after week, and what is it we need to do to share these values with people who aren’t here, to grow and expand the good news we find at Trinity.
As we get to know each other over the coming weeks, months and years to come, we’ll be sharing many stories back and forth as a way to get to know each other on a much more meaningful deeper level. Story telling is an intricate part of living in relationship as a community. When you think about it, every week as we gather here and enter into worship, part of our time together is spent listening to the stories. Those of our ancestors through our readings, of Christ’s ministry in the world through our Gospel readings and even after our worship has ended, as we gather for coffee. As a community, we reaffirm what we believe in the Apostles creed, the story of our faith. You’ll find that I frequently preach about the value of story telling and how I feel story telling forms and informs us. And I’ll admit right now, you’ll also hear of one of the challenges I face on a weekly basis; that I’m not a fan of these scripture snippets we use in the church today – these “time saving” short readings we use each week. While I understand the need for them, I think they present a challenge to many in the world today wo don’t have the time to be ongoing readers of scripture. These short segments of scripture don’t always paint the full picture of whats going on in our reading when taken out of the context of the bigger story. That being said I promise I won’t be pushing for hour long scripture readings, or worse yet, sermons that you’ll need to bring a bagged lunch to sit through.
This week’s scripture from Matthew is an example of one where I see a challenge only hearing a piece of the story. The Gospel of Matthew was written for a community of Christians who didn’t even call themselves Christians at the time. A community within a community, who still considered themselves Jewish, yet were followers of a new way of living, often at odds with the established way of life of the society around them. They were a community that was seeking to understand how to live together as what we now define as Church, and how this new Church should exist in the world they lived in. A space of great tension and conflict. When you think about it, issues that are just as prevalent for us today as they were when the Gospel was originally written. Matthew’s writings offered guidance on how to be disciples of Jesus and how to be an effective, communal sign to the world, witnesses to the power and greatness of God’s grace. In Matthew, we gain an awareness that the followers of Jesus were called not to be a collection of individual disciples, rather, they were meant to be a sign of community; united to one another and to Christ for the proclamation of God’s kingdom.
Matthew, many times in his writings offers a profound look into the challenges of living in such community, of how to live with and deal with differing views, differing attitudes. In this mornings reading, we hear Jesus talk with his disciples about what to do when facing conflict with others. About what to do if someone sins against you. What we unfortunately don’t hear this morning are the verses before and after which put the story into a clearer context. The parable of the lost sheep precedes this snippet, where the disciples are reminded that the lost sheep should always be sought after. The verse after hearing this teaching is the well known verse where Peter asks Jesus how many times one is required to forgive another, with Jesus responding “No not seven times, but seventy seven times.” When we read and live into this bigger story being presented, we begin to then see and hear what Jesus is trying to teach us. That despite difference, despite disagreement, we’re called to keep trying, and trying; again and again. That it’s about not giving up and to always try to reach out with a hand to reconcile difference. And its about the important role community and living in relationship plays in this.
Jesus in this passage tell his disciples about what true fellowship and true community is; a place where we offer support and forgiveness to each other in an authentic and heartfelt way; a place of reconciliation. And this isn’t always easy. The first step toward reconciliation requires that we be open to listening. True listening means going to the other person. It means opening ourselves up and sometimes taking the first step. This is often painful, but it is necessary if there is to be any hope of reconciliation, forgiveness and peace. Too often, many in our communities fall prey to taking the easy way out. That, rather than enter into dialogue together when faced with an issue, people find it easier to disengage, to avoid talking things through, creating separation and division. Or worse yet; to begin to draw others into creating a larger struggle, by triangulation and gossip and whisper campaigns. I’m not sure about you but I know at times, I’m challenged to remain in conversation with someone who continually disagree with anything I suggest or have to say. But the important thing is to keep trying to find a way past the division, and focusing on what Jesus is continually trying to teach us.
In today’s Gospel we learn that what the Church is at its core is a community of faith that works for reconciliation. Matthew gives us instructions in how to reconcile our differences. What we learn that we can succeed. That we can work towards meaningful ways of being in community together and find as Jesus reminds us, that as Gods creation, forgiveness IS at the very core of who we are. We’re reminded by Christ that, “when two or three gather in his name,” as we do each Sunday as well as many times outside of these walls during the week, we can be agents of reconciliation in a world that desperately needs it. Through prayer and forgiveness towards others, we are able to live into this call. We grow and expand God’s kingdom here at Trinity, and we become a community where relationships will flourish; showing others who we truly are. Together in faith, we can grow this community into a beacon for others to see and seek to be part of. Together as community, we can be agents of reconciliation in a world desperately in need, binding together here in earth what we know we will find in heaven.
SO let us pray;
Christ Jesus, you teach us that whatever we bind on earth we will also find in heaven. Guide us to do the work our Holy Father seeks us to do in this world, to create a community of hope and reconciling love, and grant us the peace and strength we need, to be a holy people and a holy place for others. All this we ask in your name, AMEN