This morning, we have a very short service before going out into our community for a morning of service. Some of us will be repainting a bathroom in a popular park, some will be planing flowers at the Assisted Living residence, and some will be packaging cookies and delivering them to our homebound members. Then we will regather on our patio for a BBQ and to share the stories of our work in the community. Beyond today’s “work day,” our congregation is very connected to our Prineville community through civic and charitable work. It is a pleasure to have a chance to recognize this and lift it up in worship.
14th Sunday after Pentecost
September 7, 2014
Matthew 18: 15-20
If you only read this section, you’d be likely to think that Jesus, through the witness of Matthew, is giving us a manual for dealing with people who need to be marched out of our community because they are causing too much trouble, or because, Heaven forbid, they are giving us a bad reputation. You’d have to read all of chapter 18 to realize that Jesus is talking about forgiveness. So we find the story of the lost sheep to show how far Jesus is willing to go to bring back someone who’s lost his or her way, and Jesus teaching that forgiving someone seven times is only the tip of the iceberg. He says we are to forgive as often as necessary to stay in relationship – sort of like God actually does for us.
So this teaching is not simply the rules for dealing with troublemakers, but a way to acknowledge that we come into this sacred community broken, carrying all the damage and pride that makes us human, and makes us fail so often to be what we long to be. We fail. We hurt others. We only see our own needs and not the hurts around us. We envy what others have and what others can do that seem to be missing from our own lives. And still God invites us to come. And so we do. We come for healing. We come to have our eyes open to the beauty of the world God created for us, and our responsibility to care for it. We come to be forgiven of our mistakes and to get new heart to change the way we do things. We come to experience the Spirit’s fire of hope that gathers us and sends us out as lights to the nations. Believe it or not, church is not just for you. It is for the world, and you are God’s ambassadors to witness to the hope and healing that God wants to share with all. Your hands, your story is the way God is changing the world.
“Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” That will be you this morning, painting the bathroom in the park, planting flowers in front of an old lady’s window, bringing the sweetness of community to those who are unable to join us here. The miracle of serving God by serving others doesn’t just change their world, it changes yours.
Every Sunday night in Biloxi, our director would tell the throng getting ready to go out the next day to help rebuild, “You think you’ve come to help because you want to do something useful, but I’m telling you that God has invited you here to change your life. You will see the face of God in the people whose homes you are restoring and in the faces of those who are working beside you. And your life will be changed forever by meeting God face to face.” We often wondered who received the biggest blessing, those whose homes were rebuilt, or those who did the rebuilding. So be prepared, and be alert to God at work in you as you are at work in the world, being God’s hands.
Thank you for your service, today and every day. Thank you for letting the love you experience here be what leads you into your willingness to be part of how our community works for the better. May your service today and everyday bring the change and healing you desire for yourself and for the world we love. And may the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.