Psalm 119: 33-40, Ezekiel 33: 7-11, Romans 13: 8-end, Matthew 18: 15-20
There is within the Armed Forces a simple understanding that when a command is given by your senior officer then that order is followed without question; indeed especially on the battlefield those who stand up and question that order, in the middle of a battle, are more likely than not to be shot.
In our everyday lives it is entirely different, we in fact spend a large proportion of our adult lives questioning why we have to do this or that. Disagreement between countries, parties and even individuals has become almost second nature to many of us. Do we have to wear facemasks, is it really necessary to ‘socially distance’?
We need only to look across ‘the big pond’ to our friends in the United States to see, especially at this present moment, disagreement at it’s most disagreeable. Yet I am sure you would find that both President Trump and his arch rival Mr Joe Biden are both heavily backed by religious organisations, both evangelical and otherwise. So we may well ask where does this lead us to an understanding of today’s Gospel reading?
“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”.
I may well be becoming a little cynical in my old age, but I cannot really see this working between Trump and Biden, and probably not between Boris Johnson or Keir Starmer. Christianity it would seem on many occasions is only skin deep, or politically convenient, as is the case for many other religions.
I am afraid that the sad truth of the matter is summed up by Jesus himself at the end of our Gospel reading from Matthew,
“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”.
We cannot always be united, though we could probably manage it more often than we do. We must sometimes hold out for what we think is truth against falsehood, though probably less often than we would like. But against that temptation and need to squabble, we have the vision, given to us by Jesus, of what our unity could achieve. There is perhaps a terrible sarcasm in that phrase ‘if even just two of you could agree about anything’. What we forfeit by our love of discord!
Watching the service on Tuesday evening of Father Peter’s instalment as Team Rector in Worcester South East, I much enjoyed the sermon given by the Bishop of Worcester and the one word message that came very strongly from it, that word and message being ‘love’. This message resounds very much with our reading from today’s letter from Paul to the Church in Rome,
“Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law”... “Love does no wrong to a neighbour, therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law”.
In this very simple teaching nothing has changed since Paul wrote those words right up to our present day. If only our World leaders, our politicians of all parties, and our neighbours, each and every one of us here today, could learn to love one another as Jesus wished us all to do, then we would truly come very close to agreeing with one another and moving, at least one step nearer to heaven, both here on earth, and with our Father in Heaven.
Both Jesus and Paul were at pains to teach those that followed them that love and forgiveness was at the very heart of their message. The striking rule by which they were to live was to be that of forgiveness and reconciliation, even if this at times would prove to be a hard-won reconciliation. Sometimes appropriate confrontation is the necessary prelude because reconciliation does not come by sweeping things under the carpet, or by pretending that nothing is really wrong. Equally, confrontation that does not aim at reconciliation is worse than useless.
Again in the Bishop’s sermon on Tuesday it was interesting to note that a main reason for the demise of the Roman Empire was the steady growth of Christianity and the teaching it brought of love, forgiveness and reconciliation.
In some respects and in many parts of our ‘Christian Kingdom’ these great corner stones of our faith have been either lost or badly eroded by those wishing to use the ‘clothing of faith’ for their own ends.
Let us today in our own small but very important way hold on to the teachings of Christ so that we may find agreement and compromise in our everyday lives as a true Christian community.