Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 9/7

          Whatever else church may be about, it is about trust and love. Take for example, the way that you have welcomed me here. I arrived to find voice mails and e-mails welcoming me, offering me a tour of the church, and free dinner. There was an apartment full of furniture, and even more was on the way. There were fresh flowers on the table, a basket full of bath goodies, a bowl of fruit, and fresh picked berries. The morning I moved in there was coffee, juice and an assortment of goodies for me and all of the people that showed up to help me move in. People moved boxes up the stairs (including some that I could have never gotten up there), successfully wrestled a desk up the stairs, washed my dishes, and did about a million other things. Ever since then, people have been checking to make sure that I’m fine, if there’s anything they can do and if there’s anything I might possibly, possibly need. In other words people have been extraordinarily kind, gracious and loving.

Of course that makes me worry. “Man, these people are so nice. I sure hope I don’t disappoint them. That would be awful. Must do better. Must be best intern the world has ever seen.” OK, so maybe that’s not going to happen, but I can at least try to do my best by people, work hard, and always use coasters on the furniture in my apartment. With the amount of love and trust that the church has extended, I would hate to do anything to break it. In the church there’s just this assumption that good is meant and that we do our faithful best.

This assumption is there with good reason, because most people really do try. They take Paul seriously when he keeps on referring to people as brothers and sisters and calling them beloved in his letters. In fact he’s on one of his love kicks in today’s reading from Romans, with “love” making it in there at least four times. He talks about how loving one another is the fulfillment of the law, that when we love our neighbor we do not wrong them. We don’t do the works of darkness, none of that drunken revelry, debauchery, licentiousness, quarreling and jealousy. Instead of harming others, we are to act in love. Paul is a true believer in the idea that in the church we should all be one, big, happy family. The welcome that I received here embodies that spirit.

That of course is what worries me, the fear of somehow accidentally breaking that trust. The bigger the trust is the more it hurts when it is broken. It’s why family and friends can cause us more pain than random strangers. The more the care the greater the pain. So taking seriously the idea that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves is not without risk, especially when it comes to the church where Paul says that we are all brothers and sisters, a big, semi-functional family.

So if someone in the church sins against us, it hurts. And it’s not always an accident, which hurts even more. When something stings like that we want to get it out. But what we are we do with it in light of this credo of love? This is where people call upon today’s gospel reading. It says that sin and hurt are to be confronted. At first you keep it quiet, have a one on one heart to heart in private, and see if that makes a difference. It may be that the person is embarrassed by what they did and willing to make changes. Or they may get defensive and offensive. You don’t drop the issue, but this time you bring along some backup, a support system and a guarantee that any allegations they may make are held in check by witnesses. If that doesn’t work then you go to the community. You make this an open discussion. You make certain that everyone is aware of the problem and that the one confronted knows that this is not just one disgruntled person’s opinion, but a larger problem. Hopefully public pressure makes a difference. If not then they are “as a Gentile and a tax collector” to you.

Yes! Finally we can be rid of that obnoxious rat. All that heartache, that trauma, it’s over! The Bible says so! Nothing but good times ahead. Oh yeah! Oh . . . wait. Tax collector and a Gentile, those are bad things right? Well, yeah, when that Canaanite woman asked for healing for her daughter, Jesus called her a dog, and on the list of bad people tax collector always seems to appear next to sinner so that bad. But that’s also not the whole story. By the time the story about the Canaanite woman is over, Jesus has healed her daughter and praised her great faith. That’s a pretty rare commendation. I think we all know how much trouble Peter, the rock of the church, has getting those sort of words out of Jesus. Instead he gets a lot of “ye of little faith” type remarks. And what about tax collectors? Tax collectors keep on being mentioned by Jesus’ opponents as the sort of pond scum that Jesus spent time with and ate with. His opponents don’t seem to have been making it up either, given that this gospel lists one of his disciples as Matthew, the tax collector.

So what then are we to do with repeat offenders in the church? It’s not to sweep it under the rug. In fact, the Gospel of Matthew seems to suggest the persistent problems are openly acknowledged and known by all. There is no pretense that they never happened or that remembering them is hanging onto the past. Rather the problem is looked straight in the eye and seen as what it is and what it could be. The woman was still Canaanite and Matthew was still known as the tax collector. Their pasts never changed, but their futures did. They were outside the bounds of society but not of love. Seeing something in love does not render it invisible, but remembers that God so loved the world that he gave his only son. God so loved the world that he gave grace and forgiveness before we knew how to even ask. He thought that there was hope for us. With love, there is hope for all of us, even the ones we don’t like so much and with good reason. God loves and God doesn’t give up. There is no escape. The good news is that God takes love seriously. The bad news – God takes love seriously. When you go forth today, take love and take it seriously.

Vicar Joy Proper

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”
 
 

 

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