Sermon – September 4, 2005

I read a refreshing story …

I read a refreshing story in Time Magazine last week. It was a story about reconciliation between a doctor and a hospital and a family. It was in St. Paul, where a little boy had suffered from spinal bifida for many years, and had made, as you can probably guess, countless trips to the doctor. He was taken into the emergency room for a suspected infection last fall, and because the staff forgot to attach a catheter to the little boy, the doctors had to do an emergency procedure to drain his bladder and the punctured his bowel, further complicating his condition. He escaped permanent damage, but faith that this family had built up over time with the hospital and doctors was crumbling. What happened next was what I so appreciated reading. The doctor and some members of the hospital administration met with the family and the doctor said “I made a mistake and I’m sorry. And the hospital folks said we will take care of any medical expenses that resulted. And the family said thank you, apology, accepted, and that was the end of it.

What happened here is unusual at least from what we expect, because isn’t the given first impulse when an error is made, is to sue, to enter into this conflict. But instead, reconciliation and restoration happened, and I imagine some measure of peace resulted between the doctors and the family.

This is the kind of restoration, reconciliation that Jesus is talking about in our gospel lesson today. He is telling us that it is characteristic of the church that we will go to great lengths with one another so that relationships that are strained or broken are restored, that things will be different in a community of faith, that an ideal of restoration and forgiveness will be the rule and not the exception. Because we believe must change how we live or our words of faith are empty. To be a follower of Jesus Christ, is to heed his words as we live in Christian community and then to live in such a way that the gospel is reflected in our lives and in our communities.

Jesus said, “it is not the will of your Father in heaven that any one of these little ones should be lost.” God is not about the business of defining out the ones who are always right, were that the case none of us could belong. God is not about the business of separating communities, but instead, restoring them. To speak of the body of Christ is to understand this as organic whole where everyone matters, your neighbor matters, the one with whom you differ matters, .. . more important that ax grinding or looking for ways to accuse or attack.

We often use this model as a way of discipline in the church. There are two ways it can function, the improper way where one gathers power over the one confronted, or through the community to find a way to restoration, maybe to even out the conversation where there is even room for the correction of the one offended. The goal is not to separate but to restore and to do so with
integrity.

There is another way that the meeting between the hospital and family could have gone. The two or three gathered together could have been lawyers, beginning the trying negotiations of litigation, of accusation and defense.
Happens all the time. But they chose the way of restoration.

Such things are important for us to integrate into our understanding of who we are as a Christian community. But, of course, if we restrict such reconciliation ethics only to the church, we will be a well-behaved community that has nothing to say to the world. This is a word on Sunday morning to be lived on Monday morning; that we would live out all of our relationships in a restoring and reconciling manner, which results inevitably those of greater harmony and unity.

What if we were to see the hungry or the neglected, the outcast and marginalized, with whose plight we all share some complicity, . . . . what if we were to apply those principles to these relationships in the world, and say to those folks we have not done our best, sometimes we have been flat wrong, and we are going to better and then take the steps necessary to
do better. We would cut exponentially the incidence of hunger, disease,
despair and war in the world if we were to practice this ethic as one community to another, as one nation to another, as one family to another.

I hope you picked up in these words that we can’t always do this alone, but that there is power in our community and our gathering when seeking such
difficult things as reconciliation and restoration. When Jesus said,
when two or three or gathering in my name, I am with you,” he is not talking about getting together pray for winning the lottery or getting the pony you never got as a child. That makes a mockery of his intention. What he is telling the disciples, what he is telling the church is that when two or or three gather for the sake of reconciliation, for restoration, for healing, . . . when people of God gather into those circumstances then we don’t have to go it alone. That we will never have to go this on our own, but that Christ would be in the midst of this. This is assurance of Jesus’ presence in the difficult times when we are unsure of the right words or the right actions, but just know that separation and division loom. But if we go there prayerfully and in faith, aware of the vertical relationship as we attempt to mend the horizontal then Jesus promises, “I will be a part of that,” and if Christ is a part of that we will gain courage and strength and change will happen.

And what happens if we don’t? Then nothing changes. Nothing changes and the cycles of division and accusation and recrimination continue, and relationships falter and mission is undermined and people turn from each other. I grew up listening to a guy named Warren Zevon, as many of you did.
He was a singer and songwriter of my generation who recently died of cancer.
He was often a wry critic of the culture and penned a memorable song once called, “Lawyers, Guns and Money.” In the song he talks about division and conflict that the subject of the song had gotten himself into, and his solution was to plea, “Dad, send lawyers, guns and money.” Too often we send lawyers, guns and money to situations that are torn and broken and strained thinking that we can somehow overpower the difficulty. Jesus says when two or three are gathered in my name, I will be there and healing and hope and change will happen.

All of us this week have watched in horror as the events and tragedy of Katrina have unfolded. And imbedded in all of this, besides the obvious pain, fear and heartbreak, is an emerging sense of folks being left behind and neglegeted, being separated out because of their race and class. This
is becoming a huge story. And the only way we are going to heal this is to
go about our response in a reconciling, restoring way. Along with the essential needs of food and water and clothing and medical supplies must come a sense that we are all a part of this and must not happen again.
Where we were wrong, we will do better, where there is division and heartbreak and strain and separation we will seek God’s power in restoration.

That’s one of our choices. The other is to do nothing about how we relate to each other and simply brush past this and wait for it to happen again.

Of course we don’t live in a perfect world, but Jesus calls us to seek and
work for that which is better. As we are gathered together, we two or
three in his name let’s pray for the strength and the courage and the will to begin anew in reconciliation and hope and maybe, maybe, against all odds, some good can come out of this.

Amen