September 7, 2014
Well here it is Rally Day.
We’re excited about a new year of Sunday School classes.
We’re excited about welcoming a new choir director.
We’re excited about an afternoon of service.
We’re wearing these bright yellow tee shirts – the color of sunshine!
And then it turns out the readings assigned to us today
are not about excitement and sunny days.
They’re about the times when clouds come…
and more specifically….when clouds come to church.
A number of years ago a collection of letters that viewers sent to Mr. Rogers
You remember Mr. Rogers…
Mr. Rogers came into my living room every day at about 5pm.
There was comfort in the routine.
He would walk through the door of the home
singing “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood,
a beautiful day to be neighbors…”
He’d open the closet and change out of his sport coat into a cardigan sweater.
Then he’d walk to a chair (or maybe it was a bench) sit down and change into a pair of sneakers,
tossing each shoe into the air as he took them off.
From there sometimes with the help of Mr. McFeeley, the speedy deliveryman,
he’d introduce the topic of the day…
it could be something like, “Being Yourself,” or “Sharing,” or “Families.”
We’d learn how crayons were made or how a clock worked.
Mr. Rogers was always calm, always gentle, always reasonable, always honest.
Well, the title of this collection of letters is,
“Dear Mr. Rogers,
Does it ever rain in your neighborhood?”
Some astute child, noticed that in the Neighborhood of Make Believe,
it was usually bright and sunny.
Neighbors were friendly and accommodating.
Conflicts were resolved quickly.
Hence the question, “Dear Mr. Rogers,
Does it ever rain in your neighborhood?”
I think people who are new to church,
are sometimes surprised that it rains here sometimes.
I think people are sometimes surprised that not all of us
(well actually none of us!) are as calm and gentle and reasonable and honest
all the time as Mr. Rogers.
But I also find it comforting
that it’s clear from today’s gospel reading that Jesus wouldn’t be surprised.
Jesus seemed to know it would be the case.
He seemed to know that sooner or later we would hurt each other.
It happens all the time…
in workplaces, in homes, and in churches….
Yet our hurts don’t have to have the last word.
The instructions Jesus gives here seem to boil down to this:
When the rain comes,
Talk to one another, not about one another.
Here are the realities that Jesus points out (from David Lose):
- People sin.
- Communities including churches are made up of these sinning people.
- When we’re involved in a situation when we’re sinned against -do something about it.
Namely, go talk to the other person involved directly rather than behind his or her back.
- Yes, true, sometimes that doesn’t work.
If it doesn’t work, go and talk to that person again
this time with a couple other people who can listen.
- Rarely, even that doesn’t work.
If the issue goes that far, then things are so serious the whole community is at risk –
and Jesus says if the person doesn’t respond to the community,
then treat them as a Gentile or tax collector.
(But before we get all excited about excommunicating people….
remember how Jesus treated Gentiles and tax collectors!)
This is not the most sunny passage to read on Rally Day.
But it’s important enough that did you know, it’s the only Scripture passage
specifically mentioned in our church constitution?
It’s not easy to go about these steps.
It’s hard to tell someone directly that you disagree with them;
or to say, “I feel hurt,” or “I am angry with you.”
It’s far easier to let off steam and get support by speaking behind their back.
But Anne Lamott calls these “drive-by shootings of the mouth.”
They are words that we use publicly that bring others down.
Friends, strangers, family members, co-workers,
we’ve all experienced these, and with the exception perhaps of Mr. Rogers,
in moments we’re not so proud of, all of us have spoken them as well.
I read some good marriage advice yesterday…
If you have to complain to someone about your spouse….
complain to your mother-in law…
Because in most cases, your mother-in-law will continue to love your spouse anyway.
Jesus’ words are about reconciliation…
It’s hard to reconcile with a spouse or a friend or the person who sits next to you in the pew
when you’ve shared with everyone else you know
how selfish or insecure or stubborn they are.
Isn’t it ironic,
that the same people we can love the most,
we can hurt the most?
It’s work to do approach conflict differently.
It’s work to deal with confrontation rather than avoid it.
But Jesus says, it’s worth it.
Our translation says that the benefit of dealing with conflict is that we can regain a member…
The original Greek says it better – we can regain our brother.
And here’s something else Jesus promises…
It’s probably the most familiar verse of today’s gospel reading,
but we tend to hear it out of context.
Jesus says, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name,
I am there among them.”
When we use this verse it’s usually at a gathering when
there aren’t as many there as we hoped….
We say rather despairingly…”Well…wherever two or three are gathered…
and there’s five of us so I guess we can go on..”
But when we listen to that verse in its context,
it’s really different isn’t it?
when it’s raining in the neighborhood,
when clouds cover the sunshine,
when our community of brothers and sisters is hurting,
when we choose to be a community who talks to each other
rather than about each other;
when we choose to act with honesty and integrity,
then amazing things can happen,
because Jesus is right there with us.
What separates us as church from others,
is not that we live in a Neighborhood of Make Believe where it doesn’t rain,
but that we strive to live in a community which deals with the rain when it comes.