Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost  /  Rally Sunday at Resurrection Lutheran Church

September 7, 2008  /  Text:  Matthew 18: 15 – 20  /  Title:  Gathered in Jesus’ Name

Message by:  Rev. Carol H. Kniseley  /  Fredericksburg, Virginia

Today is one of those days when I feel like a kid waiting for the school bus to arrive.   Anxious to start a whole new year with new subjects to learn, new teachers to meet, and new friends to add to my list of familiar ones.    Here at Resurrection the same feelings can be felt as all of our Fall programs officially begin today…and like a kid on the first day of school, I feel anxious to see what God has in store for all of us as our children begin a whole new year of The Living Well Sunday School program…our middle school youth head off to Confirmation study…the High Schoolers will be gathering tonight…and the adults are encouraged to join us (with coffee cup in hand) as we begin another round of the ever popular Adult Forum.     

Even with so many different age groups coming together, not to mention differing backgrounds and life experiences that we all bring to the table…you would think that life in the “church” would look different from life out in the world.    One would think that we could all just get along with one another…and for the most part…we do.    In fact, we do such a good job of keeping the waters calm and peaceful with no apparent disruption…that we are befuddled whenever we run into a text like the one we were handed here today.      I think I can speak for most of my colleagues when I say…this particular text is not one of my favorites…precisely because, we don’t know what to do with it.     For me, what Matthew is talking about is not so much about disciplining a fellow believer that has ‘gone astray’…as it is about asking us to stop and think about “who” or “what” binds us together as a community of faith.

The hymn that we sing:  Blest Be “the Tie” That Binds…is not about a neck tie.   It is about the glue that holds us together…through thick and thin…through our good times and our not so good times…and continually reminds us that there can be only one reason why each one of us showed up here today.     Bottom line, we came to see Jesus…in the flesh.     To hear his laughter in the children’s voices…to feel his love in a friend’s warm embrace.     After all, the central theme of Matthew’s Gospel is simple enough to remember: the presence of God with us.   

At the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel in chapter 1 verse 23…we are told that a virgin will conceive and have a son who would be called Emmanuel…God with us.     And again, at the end of Matthew’s Gospel in chapter 28 verse 20…it is Jesus himself who reminds us that he is with us…always…to the very end of the age.     The promise made to us this day comes to us right out of today’s text.   To those in the “church”, we hear in verse 20:  “…for where two or three are gathered…in my name, I am there among them.”

So…what is the church?    As I thought about my answer, an image began to emerge that I first learned when I started going to Sunday School at a very young age.    In fact, I am going to invite all of us to participate as we link our fingers together and close our hands as in prayer…and say:  This is the church.      This is the steeple (raising index fingers up to touch and create a steeple for our church).   Open the doors (opening up our thumbs and hands)…and see all the people (wiggle the fingers…and see everyone linked together inside).     What I hadn’t really paid attention to before is in seeing that all of the fingers (people) are linked together.   Their lives are entwined one with another making one dependant upon the other in the life of the church.       

But then I saw something during Vacation Bible School…that has given me a new visual image of the church.       I saw some of our youngest children (ages 2 and 2 ˝) walking along in a line…each one holding onto a circle…that is linked to another circle close behind.    The circles are separated by a piece of fabric that links one circle to the next…allowing each child to fully own their circle…and yet, remain in the line with everyone else.     If a child chooses to let go of their circle…and goes astray, so to speak…then it is up to the Lead Shepherd (as they are called in The Living Well) to go after the one lost sheep and bring them back to the fold.    Sound familiar?

Which brings me back to a very important point about today’s text.    It is not by accident that the Gospel writer Matthew has placed this text immediately following the parable about the Lost Sheep.    Where you will recall that one sheep was found to be missing…causing the shepherd to leave the 99 “safe ones” and go in search of the one that was lost.   And search he did, until he found the lost lamb and with great joy placed it on his shoulders and carried it home to the flock.

Next Sunday’s Gospel…will pick up immediately where today’s text ends.   In fact, it will be The Parable about the Unmerciful Servant.   I remind us of this not to make us anxious…but to reiterate that it is not by accident that Matthew has placed this parable here for us to wrestle with.    The parable comes on the heels of Jesus’ answer to Peter’s question:  ‘Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother (a fellow believer) when he sins against me? ‘

Leaving us to surmise that the church is that place…where when two or three are gathered together in Jesus’ name…we are promised ‘Emmanuel’.   Meaning:  when God is among us, the “little ones” do not perish.    When God is among us…love, forgiveness, and reconciliation reign.   And when God is among us...it is we who are being set free by the gospel…in order to make Christ known in a world that frankly…”likes Jesus”…but unfortunately, not “the church”.      But that topic, we’ll reserve for the Adult Forum…beginning today.     It all begins today!   Thanks be to God…Jesus is here!   Amen