Belinda and I spent this weekend teaching a Lay Servant class for the Northwest District of our Conference. (We will also teach one in a couple of weeks for our District, in Tuscaloosa.) The makeup of the class reminds me of a great truth of faith and the United Methodist Church – we are all in this faith adventure together!
There were 6 students:
- The “Elder Statesman” was a man from Decatur. His son is a United Methodist Pastor in Birmingham, who was also one of my campers at Sumatanga when I worked there in college. His sister-in-law is a Pastor in Fayette.
- A man in his 50’s from Moulton (the church where the class was held), who ran his own business and was the Lay Leader in that church.
- A young man who worked for a General Contractor in a small town in the Northwest corner of the state – a recovering addict, feeling a call to ministry.
- Another was a transplant from Texas, a former Lutheran lay pastor, who had served in a couple of churches short-term, and is now looking to do the same in our church.
- A young man who did not sleep the entire weekend because he worked the overnight shift at the local Walmart. He attends a small, country church outside Russellville.
- A widow who plays piano in her church, and feels that God is calling her to “do more.”
Including Belinda and me, there were 8 different people from 8 different churches, 8 different “walks of life,” 8 different kinds of families. Yet, all of us had our faith and our desire to serve Jesus in common. Over the course of 10 hours (three on Friday and seven on Saturday), sitting around a table in a small classroom, we became friends, highlighting our connection as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Like I said earlier, the experience reminded me that we are all connected to one another, that we’re all in this faith together. Today’s scripture, a small piece of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” from Matthew 5, reminds us of this connection. What we do as disciples is not just important to us individually, but also vital to all other disciples with whom we live.
When his hearers thought that the Jewish law was tough enough, Jesus “turned up the heat.” Those of the Jewish faith had over 600 laws, enforced by the Pharisees, to prescribe and control their interactions with one another. Jesus tells them that the laws that control their actions don’t go far enough; followers of God must also guard their thoughts and feelings toward one another.
“You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, Don’t commit murder, and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. If they say to their brother or sister, ‘You idiot,’ they will be in danger of being condemned by the governing council. And if they say, ‘You fool,’ they will be in danger of fiery hell. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift. Be sure to make friends quickly with your opponents while you are with them on the way to court. Otherwise, they will haul you before the judge, the judge will turn you over to the officer of the court, and you will be thrown into prison. I say to you in all seriousness that you won’t get out of there until you’ve paid the very last penny.”
Relationships matter to God – so they should matter to us. It seems that many times, we make faith decisions, church decisions, without regard to one another. In all that we do, the “shaping of a community,” the creation of a faith family, is at stake. Karoline Lewis, in her commentary on this passage, says “we forget that the Kingdom of Heaven might very well rely on our willingness to think outside ourselves.”
Relationships matter to God – so much so that Jesus heightens the intensity of the requirements for interaction with one another.
It’s not enough to keep from killing someone, we also have to watch our words, our very feelings toward one another. Later in the sermon, he addresses other issues:
- It’s not enough to refrain from the act of adultery, we must also keep our hearts from lust.
- It is not enough to follow the laws about divorce, we should never treat others as disposable and and always make sure the vulnerable are cared for.
- Don’t just avoid, lying, but avoid swearing oaths in all matters – “let your ‘yes’ mean ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ mean ‘no.’”
When we say relationships matter to God, we set our God apart from all other gods of history. Our God is not some distant, non-thinking, non-feeling entity. Our God is not some cold judge, white hair and beard, sitting on a throne “looking down on us and making sure no one is having too much fun.” Our God is not like the gods of Greek and Roman mythology who treated humans as playthings.
At times it seems that the world might still see God – if they see a God at all – as that “Unmoved Mover” sitting on a distant throne. The world seems to think that it’s “every man for himself.” The world seems to think we are on our own in this world; we have fight and scrape for everything. When it comes to relationships, “you’re either with me or against me.” Those who we hold as heroes are “rugged individualists” who act with power and autonomy!
Yet, what Jesus says in this passage indicates that we are more connected then we even know! We are so connected that even our thoughts, our attitudes, matter in building our relationships. Christians are not and never have been “rugged individualists.” We American Christians just think we are.
Claiming the faith of Christ, being part of the Christian Community, means that we are never alone! We never make a decision, or have a feeling, that doesn’t effect the others in our Community. It was just a couple of months ago that we celebrated “Emmanuel,” or “God with us.” Notice it doesn’t mean “God with me,” or “God with you,” but “God with us!”
So, think about the relationships in our lives:
What makes the good ones good? Which ones are most important? Why? What makes those relationships healthy? Is it a sense of support? Guidance? Shared memories? Humor? Of course, there’s love, but how was love built?
Think about relationships that are important but need mending. Don’t try to assign blame for the brokenness, just hold that relationship in prayer for a moment. Remember that “God is with us” which means God is with that relationship no matter if it’s broken or whole. Offer that relationship to God an ask for healing. What is one thing you might do to help that healing?
Relationships matter to God and they ought to always matter to God’s people.