Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost Matthew 18:15-20

Matthew tells of a woman who had been suffering a long time. She came up behind Jesus and touched the fringe of his cloak. She was healed by the power that emanated from the body of Jesus. Paul, the great missionary theologian,  tells us that the church in every age is the body of Christ.  He wrote to the Corinthians, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

That means we in this very congregation are the body of Christ. Should I turn to my notebook and begin calling names to make the point?  Just as the body of Christ released power to a woman whose touching was an act of faith, there is still power in his body, in the people of the church, in every congregation.

Jesus promised his power to us when he talked about life in the church. He ended his lesson saying, “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.”  Some translations of this passage begin, “If your brother sins against you.”  And a still more literal translation reads, “If someone who has shared the womb with you sins against you….”

Congregations have a unity that reflects our kinship in Christ, a kinship rooted in God the father of all. We recognize ourselves as brothers and sisters.

We are all children of God, and we thank God for our unity. If we are the people of God together, if Jesus is really present in our midst, then we must think his thoughts and we must pray his prayers. When we look at each other, and call on God, our prayers and requests do reflect the spirit of the risen Christ.

When we gather in his name, when we speak or pray in his name, our requests must be dictated by the presence of Christ. It is not our own words or wishes that we utter, but we must reflect the mind and spirit of Jesus Christ.

Harmony and good will are the result of the presence of Christ. A congregation that is united in prayer can count on Christ in their midst.  Unfortunately, the story of the church is filled with examples of how quarrels and controversies have destroyed the effectiveness of many congregations.

When people bless God for the tie that binds them together, the power of God is released to work. Sometimes the powerful presence of Jesus Christ gives us patience and endurance in suffering. It is no wonder, then, that the first Christians were serious about any disagreement between two members of a congregation, between two persons who were so close that they symbolically shared the same womb.  They wanted to move swiftly to heal the problem, to bring about reconciliation, to insist on the triumph of hope over history.

Now the triumph of hope over history is the power of God at work in the world, the power of Christ in his church.  Looking forward to what we may yet become is so much more fruitful than keeping on fighting battles that everyone loses.

When we look to the future with hope, and pray in the mind and spirit of Christ, then we shall find love and unity and mutual forgiveness. In the arena of personal and group relations, our father in heaven will do for us whatever we ask in the spirit of Christ.  It is in reconciliation of nations and individuals where we see God’s strength perfected in weakness.

Jesus could have commanded legions of angels to come down to earth and sweep away all his enemies. Instead, he took upon himself our humanity, and even though he was the Son of God, he learned obedience through what he suffered. Today, there is a kinship with the humanity of Christ that can comfort all who have passed through some great trauma, all whose lives will forever be burdened by the scars of undeserved wounds, all whose personal tragedies have taken them to the brink of existence.

When Jesus, the Son of God, came to the end and knew that his life was slipping away, his last lucid thought was to ask God, “Why have you forsaken me?” Have you ever thought God was somewhere else while you suffered?  Was your strength of will or willingness to do the right thing unequal to the highest standards of Christian witness and conduct?  Have you felt helpless, or defeated in acting how we ought to act with others around us?  If you have been there, you know the weakness of humanity.  But God’s strength is made perfect in weakness.

One of our hymns has the lines,

“Send us, God of new beginnings,

Humbly hopeful into life.

Use us as a means of blessing;

Make us stronger, give us faith.

For when in our weakness we give up our prideful way of trying to deal with those who have sinned against us, and put on the mind of Christ, THEN we can be a blessing, and whatever we ask will be done for us by our father in heaven because where even 2 or 3 are together of one mind, Christ is there. The original sin of Adam and Eve was to think they could reverse the order of creation. They thought they could sit in judgment of God and find him guilty of banning for their use the fruit of a certain tree.

And the marvelous love in God’s plan of salvation is that Jesus Christ did not come to wipe us out as enemies of God, which is how we might want to treat those whom we think have sinned against us.

Instead, he came to achieve our reconciliation with God by sacrificing himself in our place. As a result of his grace-filled work, where people in his family are thankful for sharing the same womb as children of God, where even two or three of us gather in the name of Jesus, we can be sure he is in our midst.  Now he is always saying to us, “I am there among you.”  He is speaking to us, the standard ordinary average congregation of people who keep on, day by day, trying to live as God’s family ought to live.

I have certainly appreciated the giants of the faith whose paths I have been fortunate enough to cross. Some of their names are already in the history books of the church and I am humbled by those experiences. But the greatest examples that I have seen of Christ’s presence among his people have been in those broken men and women who by their struggles in daily living can point others to the cross where they have found help.  It is upon faltering people like Peter who denied him three times and then wept bitterly over his failure that Jesus builds his church anew in every age.

We must have those giants of the faith, but it is the walking wounded who form the great army of the Lord.  There are times in every life when things go wrong, when every step forward seems matched by two steps back.   St. Paul knew those forces when he wrote, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Anxiety, or the darkness of the future, or the roller coaster of the unexpected — nothing will overcome the kingdom of God in which we share.   Faith in the presence of Christ in our midst says there is a creative and saving possibility in every situation, a certainty that God’s ultimate will and power in us cannot be destroyed by any event.  The opening paragraph of one of our burial orders puts it this way:  He comforts us in all our sorrows so that we can comfort others in their sorrows with the consolation we ourselves have received from God.

Such is the power of the presence of Jesus Christ in our midst. Our lifestyle in the church is a mystery to the children of the world.  We read stories of an ancient mid-Eastern tribe or of a Nazarene rabbi, and we say these stories are God’s word to the modern world.  We splash our new family members with a handful of water and we say they are born anew into the kingdom of God. We hand out bread and wine and say that Jesus Christ gives us his body and blood for eternal life.

We translate the death of Jesus on the cross into the presence of the risen Christ in our suffering and hardships, our defeats and failures, and then we say that in him and with him, we have triumphed over every enemy. Whoever touches the church, this fellowship of strength in which Jesus lives, shall find that he or she has also touched a source of healing.  Since we are one body, gathered in his name, he lives in our midst.  That means he is here among us now.

Take joy in the presence of those around you. We are the people, we are the family of God.

 Thanks be to God