At first sight today’s collects and readings feel pretty good.
Positive things about Christ reconciling the world and proclaiming the good news of love, about living in a Christian community where Jesus is present amongst them.
This is the church at its best and life giving, a real beacon of light and hope to the community.
But we know that living with love is not easy, it is not always comfortable. Furthermore Reconciliation is never easy, and as to having Jesus present that is sometimes one step too far to imagine.
Matthew, as we know, writing for an emerging church, one that was already struggling with its boundaries and structures describes the process within the church for tackling disagreements.
Perhaps it is comforting to realise that the church has always had to deal with disagreements? It is good to know that we are normal when we have disagreements.
Down the centuries and even today we see the Christian Church separated and divided, sometimes bitterly, when reconciliation has failed… and yet reconciliation is what we are told to pursue.
As I said earlier living with love is sometimes not easy, and sometimes it feels more natural to fall out , to disagree and never to look back.
“We agreed to disagree”, is often said between gritted teeth, and with bitterness and recrimination.
Reconciliation never comes by sweeping things under a carpet, and sometimes it is necessary to face confrontation. Also a confrontation without the purpose of reconciliation is a sad thing to behold.
Matthew reminds the church that reconciliation with Christ present holding the parties together is the place to end. Where two or three even are together even in disagreement I am still with them in their midst. (to paraphrase the gospel reading)
The Scottish Episcopal Church has mirrored this very well I feel in our discussions over same ex marriage, and a lot of us have learnt a huge amount in this process.
What happens then when we get to the point of disagreeing so much that exclusion and division are the result… we are to treat that person (that group) as if they were a gentile and tax collector.
Does this mean we are justified to treat them differently? On the one hand some might say yes… like shaking the dust off your feet, walking by on the other side etc etc.
Let us pause and think for a while though…. There is a catch I this….
How did Jesus treat Tax collectors and Gentiles?
Matthew was a Tax collector! Gentiles were healed and made whole. Love was no less because of what they were.
Paul we learnt last week was a hot headed self-opinionated man. Yet he probably knew and recognised human frailties well. He will have seen human frailty (sin) at work in both Jewish and Christian Communities. He will have witnessed, and even we know taken part in, the bad treatment of those we are convinced are simply wrong.
Yet he goes on to tell us “Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves fulfils the law.”
Oh how hard this is to take on board because we always want to look for the “but” or “except.”
Loving those different is hard.
We are often clueless what loving might mean, because we are struggling hard even to love ourselves.
Loving those different is challenging because it will inevitably mean learning something about them. It will mean time to understand. (and we have so little time don’t we so often) It will mean being patient with the other.
Would any of us be able to “love in the abstract” without knowing . Can you imagine someone loving you in the abstract? It really hardly happens.
We can imagine God’s love and reconciliation and healing only because we believe God knows us deeply. This is precisely what makes his loving so powerful and convincing. This is what draws us to his love and holds us there, even when we recognise our sin.
Mahatma Ghandi spoke about the need to hang on to Love, the nectar of life. He said
“Through the heart we may come to know the Love of God; through the heart we may become the love of God”
“Love is reckless in giving away, oblivious in what it gets in return. Love wrestles with the world as with the self and ultimately gains mastery over all other feelings.”
God help us today to proclaim the good news of your Love