Monday, June 4, 2012

Crystal Sugar Community Prayer Service

Prayer for Healing, Reconciliation and the Common Good for Crystal Sugar Management, Workers, Family, Friends and Communities

June 3, 2012

Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Crookston, MN

Matthew 18:15-20

15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

18 “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.

19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.
Several years ago I was preaching on this passage in one of the congregations of our synod.   After worship, while shaking hands at the door, a woman came up to me all excited.   “Thanks for what you said in your talk.    Folks in our electric coop could really use this sort of advice.  Where’d you get this stuff?”

To her question I replied, simply:  “Jesus.  I got this stuff from Jesus.”  

What struck me about this brief encounter is that this woman moved directly from what I had said in my sermon to something that was obviously bugging her in her daily life.   “Folks in our electric coop could use this sort of advice.”   Whether it was a spat among employees, a disagreement on the board of directors, or a struggle between management and labor….this listener was searching for a way through a thicket in her daily life.

And she thought that my “little talk” (a.k.a. the Sunday sermon) might be of use.

Preachers like myself often get overly focused on the internal life of the Christian community.   We are church folks, speaking to other church folks, doing our church thing.   We forget, all too easily, that God so loved the world (the cosmos, actually) that God entered this world in Jesus who gave everything he had, including life itself, to rescue and redeem, to save and heal this whole world.

So, no doubt, we who live within Christ’s church will do well always to keep in mind the broader horizon, eyes peeled for all the ways God’s whole Word is meant for God’s whole world.

So, I wonder, what vision Jesus lays out here that might have meaning for the broader world in which we live out our daily lives….including struggles like the one we’re having in one of the major agricultural industries of our Red River Valley.

Jesus begins by assuming that people will have rubs with one another.   We will sin against each other.  We will get sideways with one another.   We will disagree.  What shall we do with that?

Don’t sit on it, Jesus says.   Go, and visit with your brother or sister.   Speak to them directly, openly, honestly.   If you can’t make yourself heard, take along friends.   Don’t assume the problem will fix itself or go away on its own.  Go.  Speak.  Stay connected.

Secondly, Jesus enjoins listening.   Not arguing.  Not piling up facts or figures to overwhelm the other person.  Not trying to win a debate at all costs.  Not proving the rightness of your cause.   But listening.

Such listening involves more than keeping your ears unplugged.   Such listening means taking time, stopping what you’re doing, absorbing what the other person is saying, grappling with the deeper levels of meaning in all that.

Jesus places a high premium on the simple act of listening, listening deeply to a brother or sister who seeks you out.   “If they listen to you, you have won them over.”

How are we doing, my dear friends, in speaking directly, openly, honestly with one another?   How are we at listening—not just politely pretending to listen, while our eyes wander and our minds prepare the next thing we’re going to say—but how are we at that deep listening that sustains the bonds of trust we need so desperately.

Thirdly, Jesus urges persistence in this good work.   Working through a dispute takes time, demands fortitude of us all.   Jesus asks us not to walk away from each other too soon.

Fourth, Jesus asks us to keep our eyes on the prize—the prize of reconciliation with one another, the restoration of one tattered corner of the fabric of our common life.   We dare not—let me stress:  we dare not under-estimate the profound value of that—being reconciled with one another.

Fifth and finally, Jesus promises to be right in the thick of it, whenever and wherever his people are seeking reconciliation, shaping a new future with one another.  This is a Jesus thing—we could even say, it is THE Jesus thing:  pouring ourselves out for the sake of one another, even as Jesus poured himself out for us on the Cross.

As we gather for reflection and prayer this evening, and as we continue to pray and ponder and speak with one another, may God open us up to his will for all of us in everything that we think and say and do.  

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

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