Our Fourth Service in the Garden
It was a bit cool when I got to the church, but quickly warmed up to be a very pleasant morning. I forgot my camera in the car when I was setting up, so the photos are from after the service when the congregation had left.
Scugog Island United Church
September 6th, 2020
4th Service in the Garden
Lighting the Christ Candle
As we light the Christ candle, may the light of Christ enter your hearts.
Loving God, present here with us. You hear our prayers and know us. You know that sometimes we are more concerned that others hear us, that we don’t hear them or you. We become so preoccupied with what we want that we don’t hear your still small voice speaking to us in every moment. Open our ears, our minds, and our hearts as we gather together in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Music- Where Two or Three are Gathered
Prayer for Understanding
Eternal God, in the reading of the scripture, may your Word be heard; in the meditations of our hearts, may your Word be known; and in the faithfulness of our lives, may your Word be shown. Amen.
Scripture Reading: Matthew 18: 15-20
“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.”
Music- The Church’s One Foundation
“You’re not listening to me. Daddy you’re not listening to me! Talk that one.” She said this while handing me the Thomas the Tank Engine toy. It’s amazing how much children actually hear so much of what we say and then say it back to us. Apparently earlier in the day when I said, “You’re not listening to me” she had heard me. She just didn’t agree with what I was saying and went right on doing what she wanted. Yet later when I wasn’t paying attention to her request to play toys with her she used my own words, pointing out that I wasn’t listening to her.
The gospel passage today repeats the word listen four times. There is an emphasis on the importance of listening as part of the process for dealing with conflict in the church. The passage isn’t just speaking of listening passively though. In this case hearing what the other person has to say will lead to a change.
My conversation with my daughter, where I said she wasn’t listening to me, when apparently she was, isn’t unique to disagreements between parents and children. We can find many examples in the world where people hear what the other person is saying, but aren’t listening in a way that leads to change. Look at politics. How many times have leaders debated one another and shown that even if they’ve heard every word their opponent has said, they aren’t really listening. If you read the comments people make to one another online you’ll find that a lot of people are talking, but there isn’t much listening.
Listening, really listening isn’t passive, it’s active. When we practice active listening with a spirit of curiosity toward what the other person is saying there is opportunity for positive change. This isn’t easy. Especially when it has to do with conflict in the church. I remember something a teacher whose career has been in helping churches to resolve conflicts said. She said that when she told someone that her job was to help churches dealing with conflict she would be able find out if they were active in a church or not. She said that if they weren’t part of a church they would say something like “conflict in the church? That must be an easy job.” But if they were active in a church they would say something like, “Wow you have to deal with church conflicts I wouldn’t want that job.”
There’s a feeling that churches should always be free of conflict. That because we are Christians we won’t get into arguments or fight with each other, or hurt one another. But what makes us Christians isn’t that we never argue, fight, or hurt others, because we do. We’re still human and make mistakes. Jesus tells his disciples what to do if another member of the church sins against you because he knew it would happen. In the gospels we hear about the arguments that the disciples got into about which of them was the greatest. While Jesus was still alive there was conflict in the early church as the disciples engaged in self-serving behavior that threatened their unity. Conflict happens everywhere, even in the church. And in the church you have people who are so passionate because they hold the church close in their heart. This is a gift of the church, but it can also lead to conflict when everyone speaks passionately from their heart and have very different perspectives.
What makes us Christian isn’t that we never have conflicts or hurt others, but how we respond when we have hurt someone. In other contexts the focus is on winning. In a political campaign you want to win as many voters to your side as possible. In a court trial you want to have the most compelling arguments to back up your case. In these examples you have someone who wins and someone who loses. But the process that Jesus lays out is different.
The apostle Paul described the church as being like the human body. Each member of the church is a part of the body of Christ. There are many different parts with different roles, but just because they are different doesn’t mean they aren’t part of the body. An eye and an arm don’t look at all the same and serve different purposes, but they are still part of the body. A conflict in the church is like a conflict between body parts. If foot and ear were to fight, peace in the body wouldn’t be restored with one being victorious at the expensive of the other. Paul explained that when one part of the body is hurting all the other parts hurt with it. If one part of the body is flourishing then all parts of the body are better because of it. When Jesus lays out the process for dealing with conflict in the church the goal is reconciliation. The purpose of the process that Jesus lays out is to restore harmony to the church body and its members.
Conflicts don’t always end the way we would like. The passage says that if the person refuses to listen to the one they’ve hurt, as well as witnesses, and the church then they should be seen as a Gentile or a tax collector. In other words they would no longer be part of the church. This kind of discipline might seem a bit harsh, but consider how Jesus treated Gentiles and tax collectors. In the gospels we hear many stories of how Jesus had positive interactions with Gentiles, non-Jewish people, as well as tax collectors. In the gospel of Matthew, there is a story about a tax collector named Matthew who Jesus spoke to. Jesus said, “Follow me.” And Matthew the tax collector became one of Jesus’ followers. So even in situations where a division does form, the long term goal is reconciliation so that the whole body may thrive once again.
Listening to one another during a conflict is difficult and frustrating. It is frustrating for me when my two year old doesn’t listen to me. It’s frustrating for her when she actually was listening to me, but I wasn’t talking in a way that connected with her. It was also frustrating for her when daddy doesn’t play with the trains correctly. We keep working at communicating. And as this scripture passage points out listening is integral to the work of reconciliation that Jesus is all about. It is comforting that even when we have trouble listening to each other, the prayers we offer when we gather as a church are heard because Jesus is among us. Even if our fellowship is smaller than we might wish, Jesus remains with us. Even if as few as two or three gather in Jesus’ name, he is with us. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Music- Great is Thy Faithfulness
Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” We hold onto this promise as a source of comfort in these trying times. We are grateful that Jesus is with us, to hear our prayers and to guide us forward.
We pray for the body of Christ and its many members. We pray for people in the church who are in positions of leadership. Thank you God for the gifts you have given them to lead your people. We pray for people in the church whose talents have gone unnoticed, we know that you see them and bless them for all they do. We pray for everyone who participates in the church and brings life and vitality to others. May we all draw closer to you in our worship together and during the times where we are apart.
We pray for our world. We pray for peace, we pray for health, we pray for the environment. We pray that we may be instruments of your grace in the world.
We pray for our communities. We pray for Oshawa and those affected by the shooting this week. In the aftermath of violence there is so much brokenness. Families grieving for loved ones. Neighbours whose sense of security has been shaken. Bring your loving presence into this situation and surround those hurting with your love.
We pray for our church family and all those on our prayer list:
Doris Lynn and Bob Homji, John and Diane Findlay, Todd Green, Susie Baird and family, Gilford Pfrimmer, Brenda Stowell-Smith, Nancy and Don Scarrow, Debbie McIntyre, Anne Chillingworth, Linda Brunton, John Black
Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory. For ever and ever. Amen.
May God bless you and keep you. May God’s face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May God look upon you with kindness and give you peace. Amen.
Music- Go Now in Peace