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Community can be defined in two ways. It is either a group of interacting people, possibly living in close proximity, and often refers to a group of people who share a common value. Or it is a group of interacting living organisms sharing a populated environment. Let me explain the difference between the two. You have come to church this morning. We are a community of believers. We share similar ideas, core values, and beliefs and we enjoy each other’s company. That is why we come from the places we live and meet here on Sundays at 11:00am. We will go home to our community as well, a group of living organisms that share a populated environment. This means I share the space around Maplewood Ave. with others because we live on the same street. We may not have the same core values or beliefs. I believe that a barking dog is asking for attention and should not be ignored. My neighbors and I don’t share that belief but we are forced to share the same populated environment.
These days we are not limited to our physical location which can define our community. There are also virtual communities. We join together in Facebook, forums and chat rooms with others we agree with. No longer do you have to think you are all alone. On the internet you can find people who believe what you believe or who are going through what you are going through. I jokingly started to search for random things on Google and found some interesting results. I searched Purple Cow Club and there were 1.3 million results. The top one was a business club to help people get noticed by prospective companies. There are communities for lovers of cats, dogs, and every other animal, sports team and hobby. If you think it, like it, or a fascinated with it, there is an online community waiting for you.
But is there more to a community than just simply a group of people who share a common idea or belief? For God there is. For God community is about a lot more. It is about worship, prayer, grace and love. God’s community started out as a nation, Israel, but through Jesus Christ he has opened it up. When a person joins the church we ask them to “promise to serve him as our Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?” It isn’t a closed community, it is open, inviting and happens on different levels. Verse 20 gives us a little insight to the community God has in mind; “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” If two of us get together in the name of God, Jesus is with us and we are a community. The more the merrier but two is all that is needed.
But we get other pictures of what the community is to look like. Two weeks ago we heard from Paul about what the body of believers looks like. He states that we are all members of the Body of Christ. We all have unique talents and gifts which make up this body. He uses this analogy other places as well in his letters to the early church. We are the Body of Christ because we share faith in what and who Jesus Christ is and what he has done. Although we may come from all over the world that is the central point that holds us all together and makes us a community.
Because of this belief we hear of great power that Jesus bestows on us. Last week we heard that Jesus gave Peter the power to bind and loose things here on earth and they will be bound and loosed in the heaven. Here Jesus passes that authority on to the community too. We have the power to bind and loose ourselves to one another as we join together as the Body of Christ to do ministry in the world. We are one of the only world religions that believe that. It doesn’t matter if you are born in Papua New Guinea, Yugoslavia, or Thomasville, NC, we are bound together as brothers and sisters in Christ. It doesn’t matter if you are white, black, brown, yellow, or blue, we are let loose of our stereotypes and racial restrictions and we are welcomed into the Body of Christ.
There is an old saying that states, “Any argument has two sides and they are usually married to each other.” Where two are gathered there are at least three ideas of how to do things. Living in community with one another doesn’t mean we will get along all the time. No, we will disagree. It is human nature. Show me a community of faith that never has an argument and simply believes everything the same and I will show you something we call a cult. Conflict is simply part of life. Jesus knows this and so he gives us instructions on how to deal with it.
Here there is another contrast between our culture and Church. We, as a culture, love conflict. We are fascinated with it. This is one reason reality TV is such a huge hit because it is based on conflict. We love watching Simon Cowell or Gordon Ramsey bring someone to tears. We are fascinated with Housewives, and the next top decorating chef fashionista who can race around the world while looking for true love. We like to watch Mixed Martial Arts fights, political mudslinging and classic cartoons. Yes, conflict was the basis of really any Tom and Jerry, Bugs Bunny, or Roadrunner and Coyote.
Yes, conflict is around us but as a culture we tend to agree with the offended not the offender. Look at the 1994 case of Liebeck vs McDonalds. Remember this case? You will when I say, the lady who spilled coffee on herself and sued McDonalds and WON! Yes, I knew you would remember this case. Most of us shake our head at this case because now everything has “CAUTION LIQUID WILL BE HOT” on it. But here are the facts of the case. Stella Liebeck was 79 years old when she pulled into the drive thru at her local McDonalds. She was in the passenger seat of her grandson’s car, who was driving. Her grandson had pulled forward and stopped so that she could put some cream in her coffee. As she was taking the top off her coffee the entire cup spilled in her lap.
This is when many of us check out because the spilling was her fault, but continue with the story. The results of this cup of coffee being dumped into her lap was a 3rd degree burn on her thighs, buttocks and groin. The doctors said she had burns on 6% of her body. She had to be in the hospital for 8 days, go through skin grafts and two years of medical treatment. She first asked for $20,000 in her claim which was the cost of the medical expenses. McDonalds denied it. Eventually the jury sided with Mrs. Liebeck and they settled out of court. The reason she won was because McDonalds kept their coffee at 180-190 degrees, in order for commuters to enjoy the coffee while on the road. Liquid at this degree can cause burns instantly in the mouth and throat.
Many people use this to show the carelessness in our justice system but I do think the McDonalds probably had their coffee too hot. But this case demonstrates where we focus our idea of reconciliation. We want to get the offended what they deserve. We want to mighty corporations don’t get away with murder. But this isn’t just the case with big lawsuits. We do this in our daily doses of conflict.
Let me give you another example and ask you a question. Here is the case: a group of college students were renting a house that was broken up into two apartments. The basement of the house was an apartment and the two upstairs floors were another one. The utilities were split shared so the occupants, two in the basement and four upstairs, divided all the bills by six. Over Christmas break they all went home. When they returned they found out that the hot water hose on the washer had sprung a leak and 90,000 gallons had filled up the basement apartment and gone out the door. When the bill arrived the landlord wanted the residents to pay for the bill. Those who lived on the top floor did not want to pay for it because it wasn’t in their unit. The basement residents didn’t want to pay because it wasn’t their fault. How many think the residents of the upper unit should pay? How many think the lower unit? How many think the landlord should pay?
That is what I was thinking when I got the bill in the mail. I lived on the upper floor and did not see why I should be held responsible for this accident that didn’t even happen in my unit. We asked a mediator to come in and he suggested that the residents of the house (both apartments) pay the usual cost for water for the month and the landlord pay the rest. Where did your sympathy lie? Who did you feel sorry for? The residents right? You did not really feel bad for the landlord. But you know who feels sorry for the landlord? Jesus.
His way of handling conflict is different than ours. In the text today we understand that when it comes to a conflict we need to be concentrated on the offender not the offended. Let’s use Jesus’ way of handling the McDonald’s case. Verse 15 says, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault.” This means that Mrs. Liebeck should have simply walked into to her local McDonalds and told the owner what had happened to her and showed him the hospital bills. The right thing for McDonalds to do would be to pay the price of her medical bills and apologies. Yet they don’t so we go to verse 16; “But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” Here Mrs. Liebeck should have gone back to the owner with her grandson in tow and the doctors telling him that, yes it was an accident, but the coffee was obscenely hot. If McDonalds still doesn’t listen then the whole community would get involved and convince McDonalds to pay her bill. If that doesn’t work than treat them like “a pagan or a tax collector.” Which basically means you kick them to the curb, ignore and shun them.
See how the focus is slightly different. In Jesus’ way the people are trying to convince the offender that they did wrong. They are concerned about the offender taking responsibility and ownership of the wrong. They want him to repent and be reconciled with the offended. This is different because our culture tells us to be concentrated on the offended. We are to make sure those who are hurt are looked after and taken care of.
When this happens the sense of community changes. First off how many times do you know you offended someone? How many times have you noticed that one of your friends doesn’t call as much as they use to. They start to not hang out as much and seem very distant? About three months later you hear through the grapevine that that person has been mad at you because you made some random comment about her shoes and she got offended. She followed the culture’s advice which states that the offender knows what she did and should make the effort to apologies. But what Jesus says is that the offended, the friend, should have come up and told the woman that her comment hurt. Nine times out of ten the woman would have probably apologized and said she didn’t realize the comment hurt her.
Many people leave churches because of something someone did. They leave because they were offended and to show they were hurt they simply don’t show up again or cut their giving or start to sabotage the leadership through passive aggressive behavior. Is that a way the Body of Christ should act. If our liver is hurt by something spleen did, does the liver just decide to stop working? No, the liver needs to reconcile with the spleen so they can move on and keep the Body going.
What would have been different in the life of this church if people were honest with what they were offended by? I have heard that there were a couple of great arguments within the church where people and families disagreed but that is not the Church being the Church. This happens all the time and in every congregation. But what we learn from this text is that we need to learn to move past these moments of conflict. We need to recognize who we are and whose we are. We do that when we come to the table.
When we come to receive the elements we are reminded of the sacrifice given. We partake in the crucifixion and the resurrection of our Lord and Savior. It is here that we can find mercy when we have done wrong. It is here that we can ask God to forgive. It is here that we give our confessions and pass on our guilt. It is when we taste the act of love and grace on our tongues that we realize how powerful reconciliation with God can be.
If God was simply concerned with the being offended by our sins, he could have simply killed us all. But he loves the offenders and he wants to make it right again. We should too. We should learn to forgive others and through holy conversations come to grips with the reality that we are still the Body of Christ. We have to work together, pray together, and reach out together if we are to live into the calling God has for this congregation. Jesus never promises that following him would be easy, but it is what he asks us to do.
And all God’s people said…Amen.