A Model For The Church

Pastor Rachel B. Livingston

 I. Beginning

Imagine a world where people are at each other’s throats. Where people just cannot get along. Where society is polarized on the right or left sides and there seems to be no middle ground.  Where people demean and hate one another.  Imagine a world where people are so caught up in their own opinions that they ignore the hurt right in front of them, the hurt caused by racism, sexism, classism – the hurt caused by society casting people out – the hurt caused by societal structures that leave the weight of the world on a person’s neck – the hurt that ignores any sense of peace, love, and justice.  Imagine a world where there is civil unrest in the streets.  Imagine a world where we are closed off from each other and that ostracizing from one another has caused significant rifts within our communication and has caused us to disagree about best practices on how to solve the problem.  Imagine a world when the political climate is so polarized where people want nothing to do with those on the other side of the aisle and people believe the worst, evil, mean, and vindictive things about one another.  Imagine this world – this world where peace, love, and justice are stifled.  Do you even need to imagine? Or can you see these things unfold in our own world – can you see the places of rupture within our own world?
If we took a survey of our world, do you think that our Lord Jesus Christ would be pleased?  More accurately, we should ask the question, do you think that Jesus would be happy with the church, or would he see that we have in some ways contributed to these rifts in community within society? Have we helped the situation or have we harmed it by contributing to it?

 II. Kingdom OF God

When Christ came into the world he came to establish the Kingdom of God, that he might usher in and proclaim an era that established the reign of God within the world.  A reign that transcended all other structures and empires, because God is sovereign above all.  And that kingdom is both a present and future reality.  Jesus taught us the way to work toward the kingdom of God in this world through his teachings – to love our brothers and sisters, to feed the hungry, to affirm the humanity of the ostracized, to pray for God’s presence, to have compassion for those who are oppressed, to love God fully, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  These things work to proclaim that despite what the world says, the God has the power to transcend all evil and negativity to proclaim God’s love, peace, and justice over all things.  And Jesus commissioned us, the church, the people of God to be his hands and feet in the world, to work toward making the Kingdom of God here on earth a reality, that people might see and know God and be led to God in God’s grace.  But there is hope in the idea that through Christ’s death and resurrection we will one day see the full realization of the Kingdom of God throughout our world – in a future reality of resurrection, redemption, and new and eternal life.  Through Christ, there is salvation that brings God’s peace, love, and justice into the world.  But that doesn’t mean we don’t continue to work on our present reality that we might prepare for and usher in that future reality.

 III. Beloved Community 

But this might lead us to the question of what the reign of the Kingdom of God might look like.  What should we as people of God do in this world to declare the reign of the Kingdom of God?  If I were to define the reign of the Kingdom of God, I would lift up the concept of Beloved Community, which were explored by Martin Luther King and theologian Howard Thurman, who was a predecessor to the theological thought of King, a theologian who greatly influenced King’s work.  In their quest for beloved community, they defined it as genuine community rooted in God’s love, agape, unconditional love, that transforms society to declare equality, love, peace, justice, and mercy.  It is genuine community in which to love God and love your neighbor truly exists because true community is bound in love for one another.  What does that mean for us as the people of God? It means that we live together in community working to stand for one another, to love one another, to affirm one another, because where two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus, Jesus is present.  We work to usher in the presence of Jesus within the world, and that can exist when two or three are gathered together to function in community.  So, for God’s reign to exist, to be present, we must come together as the body of Christ in unity under the proclamation of carrying out Jesus’s teachings.

But what do we do, how do we do that in the midst of an era when people are at odds with each other?  How do we do this when our society is trying to divide us, when it is a lot easier for us to avoid one another because of our differences? Well Jesus gives us a model right in our scripture.  We see that Jesus has again pulled the disciples aside to teach them, away from distraction and interruption.  It is important for Jesus convey his teachings, for Jesus is the fulfilment of the law, he is the clearest understanding of the God’s word.  If the disciples were going to spread the gospel throughout the world, he had to teach them the ways of the Lord.  So, we see here a teaching for the church, a model for reconciliation.

 IV. The Model

Jesus begins by saying if someone sins against you, go and point out their fault.  This means that when we have a disagreement or clash with someone, we are supposed to go to them and work it out.  Now that doesn’t mean go with violence or fists blazing or even trying to shame someone, it means come to them with a sincere heart to respond to the issue.  We must also keep in mind that the scripture is not saying to chastise someone for their lifestyle or their being, to shame them for something that has nothing to do with us, but it calls us to come to them when they have sinned against us, when they harm us, when they devalue us, when they challenge our being and our very existence, when they degrade our human dignity – then we must come to them and try to work through the issue, that reconciliation may be found, and the fault will be realized, in order to restore genuine love between the two parties.  This is not an opportunity to degrade people, but to uplift reconciliation and love that accentuates Beloved community.  Quite often we have problems with someone and expect them to know what they did, and we treat them with malice and anger – but that is not what scripture teaches us.  It tells us that we should come before that person and seek resolution.  And yet we also have instances in which people are at odds with each other because of the polarity of political positions, but sometimes we have to realize that certain expressions are not political, but detrimental to the human spirit, some thoughts and perspectives cause legitimate harm to someone’s very being – we see this in all forms of oppression.  But often when we bring real tangible faces of humanity to certain issues, sometimes we are better able to see concepts as they are, not specifically political but harmful to the human spirit.  Again, in these instances we seek out legitimate reconciliation that says, I see you and you see me. We try and resolve the problem, person to person, that the Christ within me might appeal to the Christ within you – that we might build commonality and grow together as the people of God.

But if that does not work, Jesus says to bring two or three witnesses that they may take account of the situation.  This is an ancient Biblical tradition in which witness are there to help reconcile.  The spirit in this is that the community is designed to work together that they might bring unity.  You do not bring people along that they might gossip or exacerbate the situation.  You bring them along that they might bring about resolution.  You want to bring people, who at their core are trying to bring about genuine peace and love to move toward Beloved Community.  The goal of the community is to maintain and create God’s love, peace, and justice within the world and within the situation.

And if that doesn’t work, we are to bring this issue before the church.  This means that the church holds a significant role in community relations.  That it is the central place that can bring God’s love, peace, and justice into a situation because it should in fact reflect the teachings and actions of Jesus within the work that it does within the world.  In connection with the Spirit, the church is the activity that personifies the life and teachings of Jesus in the world, or at least it should be, so that the world might be able to feel and experience the presence of God.  So it would only be natural that we should turn to the church as an area of refuge to bring reconciliation in times of turmoil and conflict.  Essentially the church should be able to respond to the issue with the heart of Christ.

But even if all these things do not work, scripture says that you should treat the person as a Gentile or tax-collector.  And this statement might be a bit confusing and dismissive, as if you are to shun them if they do not agree with you or come to a point of resolution.  Why would Jesus tell the disciples to be so dismissive, and why would he frame it in a way that seems quite discriminatory?  But get this – if we pay attention to any of Jesus’s teachings, it was quite clear that Jesus did not mean we should shun those who sin against us at all.  In the ministry of Jesus we see that Jesus befriended the tax-collector and the Gentile – Jesus taught that we work to bring the Gentile and the tax-collector into the assembly that they might come together with us in true community building God’s love, peace, and justice.  Jesus wanted us as disciples to include the Gentile, the tax-collector, and those who have faulted us into the community.  We do this by bringing our brothers and sisters in prayer before the Lord.  And we love on them, that they might feel the Spirit and be transformed.  So the goal is not to dismiss them at all, but to retain them as a member of the community, that we might be able to work together to build genuine beloved community, where God’s love is spread to every heart, where God’s peace permeates the air and causes fratricide to vanish and people to care about one another, where God’s justice rolls through the land like a mighty stream that the walls of oppression are torn down – that we might live in a community where equality exists, justice prevails, and society functions where love overcomes all faults against one another.  Let us imagine that world – Let us work to bring about that world.

 V. Declare the Reign of the Kingdom of God

As we close today let us envision a transformed world, a world in which we declare and proclaim the reign of the Kingdom of God. Let us imagine a world where despite our differences in opinion we still love each other.  Imagine a world where we are begin to see one another and see the things we do and say that are not just opinions but actually harm one another and we begin correct them.  Imagine a world where oppression is met with God’s justice.  Imagine a world where violence is put down and peace is the only thing that exists.  Imagine a world where new life is ushered in by a savior who died and was resurrected that we might be connected to God.  Let us imagine this world because this world begins to create Beloved Community and when two or three are gathered in unity, building the Kingdom of God, shaping Beloved Community, there Jesus will be in the midst and people will feel Christ’s presence and love and know the reign of the Kingdom of God.