GiftsEden On The Bay

All are welcome ~ Come as you are

Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Reach Out To Restore - 09/10/2017

Did you know there are several people in our congregation who are beginning the process of updating our constitution?

The main motivation for getting this done is that it is required of us as an ELCA congregation. The ELCA made changes to the model constitution in 2013 and 2016 and we need to update ours. The updates cover some things like changes in the committees and procedures that help us deal with serious grievances on a churchwide scale.

Also, we used to have two lists of ordained people in the ELCA. One was primarily pastors and the other had become a hodge podge of people added over the years like deacons and deaconesses and associates in ministry. So at the last churchwide assembly we made that into one list of the ordained. It's much easier to understand and it stopped insinuating that there was some kind of difference between the ordained … as if one person called to God's ministry was somehow more important than another.

We guard ourselves against those kinds of hierarchy in our Lutheran expression of Church. I'm quite thankful for that.

So if you get a chance, thank Christie Salo, Ruth Lindquist and Joe Johnson when you see them. Because they have agreed to take on the not-so-glamorous, but very important task of tending Eden's constitution. They'll be reviewing sentences like:

Chapter 5.

POWERS OF THE CONGREGATION

*C5.01.       The powers of this congregation are those necessary to fulfill its purpose.

*C5.02.       The powers of this congregation are vested in the Congregation Meeting called and conducted as provided in this constitution and bylaws.

*C5.03.       Only such authority as is delegated to the Congregation Council or other organizational units in this congregation’s governing documents is recognized. All remaining authority is retained by the congregation.

Exciting stuff, eh? But you know what? Bless them too, because they also tend to sacred words and ideas that shine like little gemstones in this governing document.

Listen to the preamble, for instance:

We, baptized members of the Church of Christ, responding in faith to the call of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, desiring to unite together to preach the Word, administer the sacraments, and carry out God’s mission, do hereby adopt this constitution and solemnly pledge ourselves to be governed by its provisions. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (Excerpts from the ELCA Model Constitution for Congregations)

So you see, some of the language is quite lovely.

And do you know what another of those gemstones is? Our constitutions refer to our Gospel reading for today from Matthew. Our ELCA Lutheran DNA holds this lesson in discipleship from our Lord at its very core.

I remember very well the first time I really thought deeply about this teaching – because it wasn't that long ago. It was in seminary, first year, first term in the widely-feared Biblical Greek class. It was probably a little more than halfway through the term and our instructor came into class visibly shaken. It was obvious she had been crying and was fighting to hold back tears still.

So she explained. She said she had learned that some people from the class had gone directly to the dean to complain about the way she was teaching the class. Now, mind you, this was the first time she had taught Greek. She was working on a doctorate in New Testament and was fulfilling student teaching requirements. She was upfront from the beginning that this was just as much a learning experience for her as it was for us. So feedback was essential for her.

And yet when push came to shove, anxiety and insecurity over a challenging class won out over giving that feedback and resulted in conduct that was hurtful to her and to her relationship with her students.

She reminded us that we were assembled there in Jesus' name, even as we struggled with what was often a difficult class. And she, as part of that assembly, expected to be treated as Jesus taught us to behave in Matthew 18.

And that was the first time I really thought about how much potential for happiness and peace was contained within Jesus' teaching here. I found myself fantasizing about what this world could be like if we really held to this teaching as radically as Jesus did.

What would our families and friendships, our workplaces and favorite hang outs be like if when someone wronged us somehow our first instinct was to go to them directly and say how we were affected by whatever the issue was?

I think we can all agree that a couple of things would happen in most cases if we did that. Either we would find out that something else was going on that changed our perspective on the situation OR we would find the person had no idea we were being wronged or trespassed against somehow and they would ask forgiveness and make whatever change was necessary to resolve the matter.

What could the world be like if the myriad of governing bodies that operate around us every day – from board rooms and councils, to legislative bodies in Washington, D.C., and the United Nations – what would it be like if they sought to collaborate with others so they could keep a dialog going when someone or some group knowingly continued to do another wrong? What could the world be like if governing bodies … as a matter of best practice … chose that path of collaboration rather than escalating threats, making ultimatums and exchanging public insults and jabs on the news and in social media?

I've got to tell you, I see a lot of unleashed potential for happiness and peace in my imaginings of that Matthew 18 world.

And so I believe that as children of God who follow Jesus and find a home in the  ELCA Lutheran tradition, part of our membership in this Priesthood of All Believers is to model Matthew 18 in our own lives to start.

I have felt very strongly about this since that experience in Greek class. It's not always easy … this hard work of relationship …  but I'm convinced it is worth the hard work most of the time – because in general, people are good. That is the way God created us, after all … “and it was very good” is at the very core of our DNA as God's creatures.

Of course, there will always be exceptions when this method of handling conflict doesn't work. Jesus covers that too. “... and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Mt 18.17)

It is this verse that I heard in a new way this week. I realized that in the past when I thought about this teaching, I really didn't go beyond the huge ideas of the first few lines. That alone seemed to life-changing to me. But, as I often say, when it comes to God or Jesus, there's always more … 

You see previously, I had, without really realizing I was even doing it, filed this verse in the same category as Jesus' previous teaching in Chapter 10, as he sends his 12 apostles out into the mission field among the Jewish people to do ministry. He instructed them to be humble, travel poor and be gracious guests.  And then he said, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.” (Mt 10.14)

And so that's how I generally understood this verse too. If the one to whom you first went to because they trespassed against you refused to listen, and then refused even to work toward resolution when you brought your whole community into Gospel-centered conversation about it, then you shake the dust from your feet. There's nothing else you can do, so you move on.

But I think I was wrong. I don't think that's what this passage means at all. This time when I read that verse “... and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector...” I questioned it … how would a Gentile or tax collector be to Jesus?

Suddenly the stories started parading through my imagined world where the Matthew-18-way of addressing conflict was the norm.

First there was the Canaanite mother who Jesus called a dog when they met. But she responded to him directly – even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the table. “'Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.' And her daughter was healed instantly.” (Mt.15.28)

And then there was Matthew the tax collector. Jesus saw him as he sat at his tax booth and invited him to follow... invited him to be one of the first called disciples. He did. Later they broke bread together. “And as (Jesus) sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples.” (Mt.9.10)

Jesus would not shake the dust from his feet. I quickly realized, this is not a call to pull back, this is a call to reach out. 

Now, of course there are exceptions here too. Where ever two more of us are gathered, Jesus is there AND it can get complicated. So there are situations where it is not healthy to maintain a relationship, like with someone who is abusive in any way.

However, for the majority of our day-to-day relationships, Matthew 18, Eden's constitution and God's Holy Spirit beckons us to keep at it … even when it seems the one who has trespassed against one of us will refuse to repent and restore relationship until the end of days.

We keep at it as we continue to break bread with any and all who gather around this table of redemption. We keep at it when we hold tight to the promises we make to pray and nurture one another around the font. We keep at it when we avoid gossip knowing there's probably more to a story. We keep at the inviting and forgiving and loving.

And when it seems like we continue to reach out, rather than pull back with no prospect of restoration in our sight, we recall that the One True God has already won that restoration for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus  … a full restoration that we will be able to see someday in the fully revealed Kingdom of God.

Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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