Fellowship Of Kindred Souls
"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 " Matthew 18: 15-16a, NRSV
Every three years our gospel lection for this sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost calls us to deal with the practical matter of how we should be able to get along with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ within the local church. Some of my fondest memories are of the love we shared in the churches in which I was the preacher's kid. You have heard me describe some of the wonderful persons who influenced my life as a child. One of the greatest things we can do for our children is to reflect a love for our fellow church members. Those of us who have a love for our fellow Pilgrims probably got it at home.
In an ideal world we would all relate to each other in a perfect way all the time. However, we never live in a perfect world, even in the church. In the first century church among individuals, some of whom had witnessed the Resurrection, Ascension and had experienced the first Pentecost, disputes arose that required correction.
Matthew, who had himself been the firestorm of some talk because he had been a Tax Collector, relates to us how they dealt with disputes. Firstly, if church folk got crossed-up they should try to work things out between themselves. However, then as now, sometimes things could not be cleared up that easily. Quite often good folks disagree and it takes a mediator to help settle things down. Typically, things are settled in this simple way as folks are willing to discuss the issues in a civil manner. Actually, growth and deeper bonding can come out of such frank discussions. However, if the offending party will not listen and attempt to work it out, then we are to bring in others to listen and be able to hear the disagreement and make strong suggestions as to what needs to be done. Some of this sounds familiar because our western legal system has been developed according to many of these biblical principles and processes.
Jesus came as a healer and it is always His will that our churches become places where broken friendships and misunderstandings can be worked out. I recall scenes of church members going to each other and asking forgiveness, often around the Altar after an invitation was given during Revivals. I can still remember folks hugging and becoming brothers and sisters in mutual love for Christ again.
We have used this theme of unity during 2003 for it has been the theme of our pledge campaign. "UNITED WE STAND," was actually a tag onto the national theme we have heard so often in this twelve month period since the terroristic attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. There has been more unity in America than during any other period that I can recall. We have been unified against terrorism. At least, most of us have been unified. There have been chirpings of disunity even in the face of this world wide serious threat. It seems that not everybody is ever going to agree on everything.
However, most Americans, and world citizens, will feel a kindred mind, heart and soul, as we observe the first anniversary of 9/11. We will welcome hundreds into our Sanctuary at noon on Wednesday to remember those who died, to pray, to sing "God Bless America," and to hear God's Word. We will be of "Kindred Souls," for thirty minutes. Those who do not want to be here will not come. Children can usually be made to come to worship, but not splintered adults.
Sometimes our main problem in our nation, businesses, organizations and in the church, is knowing how to deal with the inevitable few of a non kindred spirit. Whenever there is a disagreement in our workplace, homes, or church organizations, we are required to act in a civil manner. We are to act as if a kindred spirit existed, even though it in fact does not exist.
George Washington, our nation's first President, learned from his parents to always act in a civil manner. As a result, at the age of fourteen he wrote 110 rules under the title, Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. (Applewood Books, 1988). These rules of manners were intended to keep alive the best affections of the heart, impress the obligation of moral values, teach how to treat others in social relations, and above all, keep alive the outward behavior of those of kindred minds. Much of the courtly behavior of our United States Senators is a reflection of Washington's manners. Such as, "I rise to respectfully disagree with the gentleman from Connecticut." We heard these mannerly words again last Friday as the giant statue of George Washington welcomed the special joint session of Congress back to New York.
Thus, we attempt
in every way to get along with everybody even when they break the vows
of the communion. Some will be won back by this process. Sometimes folks
will be brought around through courtesy, respect and love. But the big
question that Matthew is dealing with is what to do when folks continue
to act outside the framework of the group? Methodists do not practice
excommunication, nor do Catholics either since they messed things up
so badly with their excommunication of Martin Luther. However, sometimes
it seems best to just go our separate ways in order to keep the peace.
Golf foursomes break up. Folks withdraw from their once beloved "Order
of the Mighty Beaver." Usually they go down the street and find
other beavers, elks, lions, or Methodists to fight with. But not always,
for some are won back as Matthew seems to be saying about the first
century Church. There is always hope!
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor