The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
September 4, 2011
The Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20
Sermon: "Do We Know What We've Got?"
The Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
Jesus said, "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."
Do We Know What We've Got?
A Hindu social worker approached Ruth Seabury, one of our missionaries in India, one day. At one point in the conversation, he asked, “Do you think that most Christians know what they’ve got?” Perplexed by the question, Ruth asked what he had in mind. He said, “Every religion has a god. Every religion has an altar. Every religion has worshipers. Every religion believes in sacrifice. But only Christians have a Savior, and only Christians have a congregation.”
That’s a good question. Do we know what we’ve got? We are the only religion with a savior; at least one like Jesus. I think we do get just how unique he is. But what about the congregation? Frankly, it is impossible to overstate the importance of the congregation to the Christian faith. We are not simply an assembly of individuals. We are the body of Christ. As such, our unity is essential to the mission to which he has called us. That is our Lord’s message to us this morning from our Gospel lesson in Matthew.
Our Savior has three things to tell us this morning, and the first is this: The importance of harmony in the congregation. “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.” Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus also said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and remember that your brother or sister has something against you…first be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift…” In other words, regardless of who is at fault, when a relationship within the congregation of Christ is injured, get it mended as quickly as possible.
Someone has said, “Speak when you’re angry, and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.” We do say things that we later regret. So do others. Sometimes regretful, hurtful things are said in the body of Christ. It takes a strong person to go to someone who has given offence and be the one who swallows pride and seeks to repair a broken relationship. But that is what Christ would have us do. And that is the first thing to see in our Lord’s words this morning; the importance of harmony in the congregation.
Here’s the second: The power of a united congregation. Jesus says, “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on Earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in Heaven.” There is great power when a congregation works together, prays together, laughs together, and sheds tears together. That has always been the great strength of the Christian congregation.
To rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep; that is our calling. Kahlil Gibran once remarked that while we might forget those with whom we have laughed, we can never forget those with whom we have cried. Any of you who have been through trying times and have felt the support of your brothers and sisters in Christ will testify to the power of that support. Jesus said, “If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them…” That is a stunning endorsement of corporate prayer. It is important that we pray, but it is even more important that we pray together. We are the congregation.
I’m reminded of a rather apocryphal story of a pastor in a drought-stricken part of the Country. He implored his people to begin praying for rain. In fact he asked each member to join in a prayer vigil that would continue day and night until God granted their request. Never had there been such a great sense of urgency in that church. At any hour one might pass that small rural church and find the lights on and someone at the altar praying. Finally, late one evening, some dark clouds began to roll in. Soon rain began falling in buckets. For four straight days it rained without ceasing. The creeks began overflowing their banks. It became necessary to evacuate people from their homes. Still the waters kept rising. The entire community was now underwater. As rescue workers made their way in boats through the perilous floodwater evacuating the last reluctant stragglers, one of the boats passed that little county church now almost completely submerged. There was the pastor on the roof of the church with a look of grand satisfaction on his face. He could be heard saying to himself as he surveyed the flood waters around him, “Not bad for a little church like ours. Not bad.”
What a grand opportunity Christ has given us. There is so much power in a congregation that walks together. There is, of course, a reason for that power.
And that’s the third thing our Lord would have us hear this morning: We have this power, because he is with us. Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” The congregation is much more than the sum of its individual parts, for whenever we gather in Christ’s name, even just two or three, he is in our midst. That is the crowning conclusion to this passage.
Friends, do you catch what Jesus is saying here? Jesus is not saying, “When you get together, all the good feelings you’ll have from each other will make it seem just as though I was there.” No, He is saying “When you gather together I am there!” Jesus is here, right now; his real presence in the midst of us to share among us: his real presence at his table to take into us. That’s why we’re here. He said He’d be here this morning. It’s him we’ve come to see. It’s him we’ve come to hear. O yes, we do enjoy the good feelings that come from each of us to each other: the warmth, the welcome, the love. We are, after all, the congregation; the body of Christ together. But ultimately we are here because he is here. You might not always have the eyes to see him or always feel him, but he is here; this morning and every time we gather. Do we know what we’ve got? We’ve got what the world desperately needs: a Savior and a Congregation! Let them know!