November 27, 2012
Is it just my imagination or does Jesus come off as sort of a micro-manager here in this passage?
We imagine Jesus always addressing “big picture” concerns—the incarnation of God in human flesh, the redemption of the universe, the forgiveness of sins, the gift of eternal life, the new creation….
But here Jesus appears to be laser-focused on the smallest, most intimate details of human relationships.
Jesus whom this past Sunday our churches celebrated as Christ the King of the whole cosmos…appears to be channeling Dr. Phil in Matthew 18, offering three easy steps for resolving your latest spat with your college roommate.
How small, how limited, how lost in the details of human relationships. Why does Jesus care?
It’s been said that the devil is in the details….which causes me to wonder: what if God is also “in the details?”
What if the redemption of the universe begins and always is playing itself out in the reconciliation of one person with another, like the proverbial stone tossed into a pond, sending out concentric-circle emanations of divine mercy and grace?
What if the new creation that Christ the King came to usher in….what if the new creation is already playing itself out each and every time one person speaks about a hurt or a disappointment with another, when one person cares enough about the relationship with a sister or brother that he calls in backup, pursues reconciliation, even to the point of being ready to start all over again with the other person—the way Jesus started all over again with Gentiles and tax collectors and other ne’er-do-wells?
I think we may have something here. What seems like micro-managing is really the outflowing of divine grace, from the bottom up (as it were): God restoring, God reclaiming, God renewing, God reconciling all things unto himself….one broken relationship, one sorry sinner at a time…
The punch line, the final verse of this passage, bears that out. Can the God of the atom, can the King of the universe be bothered with you and the rub you’re having with a sister or brother in Christ?
Yes, most assuredly. God insists on being bound up in the vagaries of human connection: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them,” says Jesus, tying a big red ribbon around this whole astounding business.
It was my good fortune to spend two weeks in India recently, with 18 other folks from our NW MN Synod, making a pilgrimage of faith and friendship to the people of the Andhra Evangelical Lutheran Church, the largest of twelve Lutheran church bodies on the Indian sub-continent.
Time and again we witnessed the truth of this text from Matthew 18…the truth that God is in the details of human relationships, bringing the fresh breath of the Spirit to bear on lives of flesh-and-blood sisters and brothers who live half a world away from us.
So…in closing let me share a few images that (I believe) reveal God in the details of the relationships we forged and nurtured in India….and let me ask you to ponder how God is alive and well in the details of the connections you have with one another, as new creatures in Christ. (Numbers correspond to slides)
1. Bishop Suneel of the AELC does a masterful job of teaching, from his own experience, what it means to be a Dalit—an untouchable. Dalits don’t even have a place in the dominant faith story of Hinduism; is it any wonder that 95% of all Christians in India are Dalits—folks who have found a place in the story of Jesus and in relationship with other Christians?
2. The Bible women are the backdoor evangelists who walk with Hindu women as they consider the story of Jesus and ponder how to respond to God’s call to embrace the way of Christ. Even in the face of skepticism and resistance (depicted in this skit) Indian women are claiming their identity as children of the God we meet in Jesus Christ.
3. Drs. Patricia and Samson are new friends we made in the city of Guntur, India. Their own deep prayer life has led them to pour their lives into a ministry of healing, a clinic which includes not just top-notch medical care, but prayer and faith-filled conversation with all their patients.
4. Something amazing happens when blonde Minnesotans sit down in the midst of lovely children and beautiful youth in the AELC….barriers come crashing down, memories are made and the love of God becomes very real.
5. When Indian Christians ask you to pray for them, they don’t mean: “jot down my name and pray for me in your prayer closet back home.” They mean: pray for me and with me, here and now.
6. We found it was hard to get a photograph of “just” we 19 Americans….because our Indian sisters and brothers always wanted to be part of the shot…and then I realized: this IS our group—white, brown, white, brown…all one in Christ.
7. Partnership in global mission reaches maturity when real relationships are forged between Americans and Indians…because you see, when all is said and done, it’s all about relationships: “For (promises Jesus) where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”