Sunday's Gospel Lesson "If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; 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. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." -Matthew 18:15-20
Judas with scorpion halo
I sometimes wonder if heaven, if there is a heaven, is created by our consciousness, our actions, our love, our self-sacrifice. “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Our polluted, exploited earth begets a barren, poisoned heaven. Our humility and awe and cooperation with nature creates our paradise. Our war-making or peace-making here determines the state of being there. Our exclusion excludes us and our inclusion includes us all. If so, our actions, cooperation, sacrifices, and love binds and loosens consequences more far-reaching and vital than imagined. Even the smallest moral victories and heroics of daily life may link each of us to the unfolding plane of consciousness, unleashing forces of good and evil.
The posts this week draw the reader toward thoughts on community: living together (meditation one), what we bring to a place (meditation two), and the challenges of living, growing, and giving (meditation three).
Ever growing, in one way or other, -Suzanne
Meditation One (introit) when two or three
O contending peoples and kindreds of the earth! Set your faces towards unity, and let the radiance of its light shine upon you. Gather ye together, and for the sake of God resolve to root out whatever is the source of contention among you. Then will the effulgence of the world's great Luminary envelop the whole earth, and its inhabitants become the citizens of one city, and the occupants of one and the same throne.
Community is mutual vulnerability and openness one to the other. It is liberation for both, indeed, where both are allowed to be themselves, where both are called to grow in greater freedom and openness to others and to the universe.
- Jean Vanier from l'Arche website
Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down upon the beard, upon the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life for evermore.
- Psalm 133
Last Supper in Letter 'C', Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci, c.1395
Meditation Two (insight) what you bind
A stranger stops Nasrudin at the city gates. "Will you tell me," says the stranger, "what Baghdad is like? I have to move to a city and I'm worried." Nasurdin replies, "Tell me about the place you came from." "Oh, it was a wonderful place! Neighbors were kind to one another, we looked out for the children, people shared and were generous and happy!" "Ah! said Nasrudin. "You will love Baghdad. Don't worry at all, and welcome!"
Later on, another stranger stops Nasrudin at the city gates. "Will you tell me," says the stranger, "what Baghdad is like? I have to move to a city and I'm worried." Nasurdin replies, "Tell me about the place you came from." "Oh, it was a terrible place! Thieving and fornication and children noisy and running wild. People are selfish and distrustful." "Ah!" said Nasrudin. "You will dislike Baghdad. You'd better move on to another city!"
-story told to me by my son, Patrick (Nasrudin stories have been collected by Idris Shah, but I can't find this one)
Meditation Three (integration) you and I Community means caring: caring for people. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says: "He who loves community destroys community; he who loves the brethren builds community." A community is not an abstract ideal. We are not striving for perfect community. Community is not an ideal; it is people. It is you and I. In community we are called to love people just as they are with their wounds and their gifts, not as we would want them to be. Community means giving them space, helping them to grow. It means also receiving from them so that we too can grow. It is giving each other freedom; it is giving each other trust; it is confirming but also challenging each other. We give dignity to each other by the way we listen to each other, in a spirit of trust and of dying to oneself so that the other may live, grow and give.
-Jean Vanier From Brokeness to Community
The Last Word
Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth – that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves, too.
-Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe 1749-1832
"If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; 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." Matthew 18:15-17
Jesus says to love your enemies. But there is a difference between loving and tolerating - especially for the sake of the “little ones,” that is, the rest of the congregation. One negative person can suck all the energy from a room. One skilled gossiper, craftily playing on others' craving of intrigue, drama, or titillation, can bring down a good pastor. One envier, with a huge unacknowledged shadow, can demolish a church.
Love the envier. Love the gossiper. Love the poor nay-sayer. Pray for them. Listen to them. But don't let them infest the church - because everyone will suffer. Be as innocent as doves but as wary as serpents - because the folks who bring down a church often do their work in secret until the foundations crack beyond repair.
A woman who just lost her job said to me, “Sometimes an angel has to push you off the cliff before you get the help you need. I'm scared, but grateful I lost my job - because that's the only way the good that is to come can happen.”
Don't stop the angel from nudging. Let God help the troubler face the consequences of the hurt they carry inside but project onto the community. I always thought that the church should put up with all kinds of malevolence, and asking even the most destructive person to leave was not a Christian option. But now I know what looks cruel may be, in fact, kind.