Read Romans 13:8-14 & Matthew 18:15–20
They’re not easy passages from the Lectionary for today, but to their credit they have probably got some of the most famous and well-known phrases of faith we hear as churchgoers. “Again, truly I tell you, if two or three of you agree 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”
and “Love your neighbour as yourself” (or as another Translation puts it, ‘Love and value others the same way as you love and value yourself’)
The fact that we know these phrases and feel like we understand them offers great comfort to us and although we recognise them as challenging, we have them as quotes on the tip of our tongues, almost as if we’ve known them all our lives. But do we really know what they were about and, in particular, what God might be saying to us right now. I’m not sure that I find either of those two well-known phrases particularly easy when read in the context of scripture’s story, as we have this morning – they come with all sorts of associated baggage that seems like it belongs in the past, and pose unanswered questions. What about if I am praying on my own rather than in twos or threes - does God hear me then? What if I am not living the way God wants?
What about the fact that elsewhere in the gospels God calls us to offer forgiveness rather than pick fault ( you remember the one about the specks of sawdust in our own eyes etc) What if two or three people agree on one thing and two or three others agree on another – how does God choose? What about the fact that God made me to be a complicated human being and I am bound to fall into some of these habits - and then God says he loves me anyway? Sometimes, scripture doesn’t seem quite so clear-cut when you delve beneath the surface!
During this pandemic we have heard the phrase “unprecedented” many a time. In fact it has become in some ways a bit of a throwaway word through overuse. The disruption, the scale, the spread, the nature of the corona virus, the impact of the disruption - all unprecedented and yet we probably know that the same could be said of the black death, the so called “Spanish flu” and many others over the centuries, not to mention the many disruptive wars that nations have endured. Maybe not so unprecedented.
What is certain though is it is uncomfortable. The impact on who we are as people and who we are as people of God has been truly disrupting. The way we live our lives has changed. The way we go about our daily business while we are living with it. Even the way we worship together. And I am guessing, if we were honest, we don’t really like it and would dearly like to wind back the clock a year to what we consider to be ‘normal’.
So, imagine living when Jesus was around, or more particularly when the early church was forming and asking yourself if that was a place of stability or disruption.
Imagine how the God we know and love was shaking up the world by sending his son to demonstrate a new way of living that was based upon sacrifice, giving things up rather than continually wanting, suggesting that just two or three folk gathered together is all it takes to be ‘church’, by saying that the way you live had to change and it was no longer all about you but was more about other people, even those you don’t get on with. By asking you to look for reconciliation rather than conflict and working hard to find it. By taking this challenging message out into the world and convincing others that it was God’s beautiful gift to them, his offer of a new life, now and forever. Would there be a temptation to sigh, and stay with what they’d got, the easier, less disruptive way?
I’m guessing that the people who encountered Jesus and the early disciples felt and saw quite a bit of disruption in what they were hearing. God’s disruption as a means to a better and more productive and glorious future.
If I was the kind of person to set you homework, I’d be saying look how God works through the unusual and the different through the history contained in our Bibles. Look for the disruptive. The birth of a great nation through an elderly barren couple. The work of a small child to defeat the most giant of enemies. The words of a prophet advocating peace and ploughshares not war and weapons. The challenging words of an itinerant preacher full of humility as a mark of greatness. The spirit-filled exuberance of sharing the good news to anyone who was around in the street as opposed to the ritual of prayer and fasting that was commonplace.
Where might you see disruption of the status quo, the challenges, the changes that were being advocated and advanced?
But this is the God we adore. Faithful, unchangeable but not static or bland. A God seeking always to love us and encourage us to reach out and do the same for others, sometimes outside of these walls and our comfort zone. A God whose love knows neither measure or end and will do anything to make it known. Even if it means showing us something fresh. Even if that means a little disruption to the status quo.
That doesn’t in any way mean that God sent this virus to teach us something or to test us, but it is absolutely true that we can see God clearly in the midst of great disruption if we look - and we must look and notice right now what God is saying about the way we live as individuals, as community and as church at this time.
In this town people have made changes to their lives and the way that they reach out to others – to help, lend a hand, share some love and time with those in need, go the extra mile to pick up the groceries or prescription. Why should that end as the virus eventually retreats?
This is love being shown, and love has its source in God, whoever is displaying it.
The disruption that we endure now is an opportunity, if we are willing to grasp it, to ask ourselves again, or perhaps even the first time, what God actually wants from us, how he would like us to change, and grow within this community. Perhaps the now that we have been giving, this pause in time, is one for reflection, to begin asking God what the ‘new normal’ that has been long talked about really means for Christians in this town, our circuit and further afield.