Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Church—What It’s All About

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Rally Sunday
Sunday, September 7, 2008
Matthew 18:1-20

Today is Rally Sunday. It might not seem like a big thing like Christmas and Easter. What is Rally Sunday? For years I’ve wondered why we call Rally Sunday, Rally Sunday. So I looked up “rally” in the dictionary. It’s what Jesus in the Gospel reading is teaching us about His Church. Rally means “to bring into order again; to gather and organize or inspire anew; to draw or call (persons) together for a common action or effort; to concentrate or revive, as one’s strength, spirits, etc.; to come together for common action or effort.”

We might think of Rally Sunday as simply the beginning of the new Sunday School year. But why is it we have Sunday School? Why do we have Bible Class? What is so important about gathering each week to study God’s Word together? Jesus shows us in the Gospel reading. He shows us why we need to bring into order again; to gather and organize or inspire anew; to draw or call each other together for a common action or effort.

In a word, it’s reconciliation. Reconciliation is something we don’t think about much. We go through our lives without thinking much about how we relate to one another. We know who everybody is. That’s my neighbor. He’s my co-worker. She’s a parent of one of the kids my daughter plays soccer with. He’s a member of our church.

This shows us how we know each other. Even how we’re related to each other. But how do we relate with one another? And this is for all those we know, whether they are Christians or not. Do we just know them casually? Do we lean on them for emotional support? Do we just get together with them for exercise? Do we live in the same neighborhood they do? Do we happen to go to the same church they do? Are we related to them?

We know a lot of people in a lot of different ways. Things may go just fine, they way we’d like them to go. But what happens when they take advantage of the relationship? Now all of a sudden you’re relating to them in a way in which this isn’t beneficial to you, and you’re even being burdened. What do you do? Do you try to get out of the relationship? Do you try to act as if nothing happened? Do you let them know in some subtle way that you’re hurt? Do you talk to a mutual acquaintance to let them know so that they can try to get them to apologize? Or do you just talk behind the person’s back so that other people will know what a rotten thing they did to you?

Jesus shows us a better way. It’s not necessarily easier. And things may not end up the way you’d like, but it’s the true way of love. God has brought us into the Church. There’s a way things go in the Church, and it’s not the way where we try to shove things under the rug and hope they’ll go away. It’s not the way of bitterness or revenge, either. And it’s not the way of dissolving the relationship because it’s not working out the way you anticipated.

It’s the way of reconciliation. In the Gospel reading Jesus describes a people who are in the Word of God and living out that Word. This is why we teach our children the Word at home and in Sunday School. This is why we’re in the Word daily and in Bible Class weekly. Our sinful flesh is all too willing to reciprocate a slight with a slight. We’re all too ready to put the worst construction on what someone does rather than put the best construction on what they do. We’re more ready to criticize one another than we are to build up one another. We’re often more concerned about what will make us satisfied rather than what will not cause another person to stumble in their faith, or if they’re not a Christian, to be turned off to Christianity.

Christ’s Church is like a house. It doesn’t matter if you’re upstairs or downstairs, it matters if you’re in or out. Christ has brought you in. He wants you in. But we who are in the Church sometimes act like those who are out, don’t we? We don’t always treat each other, and those outside as well, lovingly. We’re in the Church, we need to act like it. The way we do that is by reconciling with one another, with those within and those without.

Reconciliation is an action word. It’s not a static thing. It’s an actual thing. Without reconciliation there’s always that guilt, that grudge, those hard feelings, hanging around. Reconciling means apologizing. It means admitting your guilt to the other person, seeking restoration. It means gently telling the other person of their sin against you so that they may make amends and receive your forgiveness. It means bringing to the other person’s attention how they are bringing harm to a child or one who is weak in faith so that that person may repent and be restored to the person they have harmed.

Jesus says that wherever two or three are gathered in His name, there He is. It’s true that Jesus is everywhere. He’s God. But being everywhere doesn’t help us out, because He’s just “there.” We need Him among us in an action way. Apart from where He is among us actively giving us His grace, we receive only judgment. That’s why we need those things that give us Him. Those things that we gather around where we can know He is among us and with His grace, mercy, and peace. God is reconciled to us when we are united with Christ in Baptism. We are restored to right standing before God when we hear the Gospel proclaimed. We are forgiven when we receive Christ’s very Body and Blood in His Holy Supper.

Being Baptized doesn’t just mean that you’re forgiven. It means you’re born into the Family of God. You are a part of the Church of Christ, with brothers and sisters in Christ. You need them. They need you. Treat them as brothers and sisters. Bring the Good News of Christ to those who are outside of the Church so that they too may know of the power of reconciliation in Christ. Treat them always in love and humility.

Receiving the Lord’s Supper doesn’t just mean that you are communing with Christ. You are communing also with your brothers and sisters in the Family of God. You are communing with the Christian Church, including those who have gone before you. You are not alone. As they have been reconciled to God and are now in heaven, so you will follow in their footsteps. Nothing separates you from reconciliation, not your sin, your guilt, not the distance between you and God, not even death.

What the Church is all about is reconciliation. In other words, it’s about Christ. Because of Christ we are reconciled with the Father. In Christ we may be reconciled with one another. That is something to rally around. It’s something to rejoice in. It’s something to dig deeper and deeper into, through the hearing and receiving and studying of His Word—and for that there is ample opportunity. Amen.


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