Matthew 18:15-20    9/10/17    

I don’t think any of us could help having seen one of the articles, or documentaries on Elephants living in community. During the last few years, I’ve learned more about elephants than I ever would wanted to know. And I’m not alone. We all know about Ringling Brothers retiring their elephants because the life style of the circus was considered cruel to some very intelligent and wonderful animals. And then our own zoo gave up its elephants because they needed to be in communities larger than two animals, and we didn’t have the space to accommodate three or more elephants. I loved those elephants. I loved to watch them, and look into their eyes, and marvel at their trunks, and mouths, and ears, and patchy hair. I can remember as a very young child going to the circus and putting peanuts in the trunks of the elephants. That was a greater treat for me than for them, and it’s the only thing I remember from those childhood circuses.

And there’ve been a bunch of Utube videos recently showing elephants “in community.” A recent one showed a whole community of elephants going to the rescue of a young elephant that got stuck in mud. Its mother couldn’t get it out of the mud, and there was a Tiger nearby, hungrily watching. Several of the large male elephants faced off with the tiger to keep it at bay while the rest of the community rushed to the mud hole and helped the mother get her young to safety. It’s a wonderful little video that you can probably find and watch.

Well, I’ve learned a lot about living in community from watching those elephant videos. And their sense of community is all powerful to them. The herd has a “rule of life”, with a pecking order, and standards of behavior, and concern for each other. They show grief when one of their community dies. They help and assist their elderly. They keep their young almost between their legs when moving about.

Now, what’s with all of this “elephant stuff”? Well, our readings this morning reflect on how we humans should go about “living in community.” The readings are very Jewish. Ezekiel – one of the great Old Testament prophets talks about how to deal with wickedness. Sadly, Ezekiel sees the Kingdom of Israel as having slipped into wicked and evil ways. He sees death as the solution for evilness that will not repent. His reading this morning ends: “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live: turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?” That’s pretty strong.

Then we get Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Paul sees the 2nd coming of Christ, and the end of all time, and judgment day as just around the corner – any day. And he’s pleading with his young church in Rome to get their act together, follow the commandments, love their neighbors, put on the armor of light,  and live honorably. Paul is convinced that life as we know it is going to end very soon, and what we’ve done in this life, will determine what happens to us when judgment comes.

Again, this is very Jewish in thought. Paul was a Roman citizen, but also a Jew. He knew Jewish scripture. He thought like a Jew. He spoke like a Jew. And he feared for the community of his small church in Rome.

Then we get Matthew, the earliest of our Gospels and almost certainly written in Jerusalem as a “source text” for the Jewish Christians and as a “conversion tool” for new Christians. It is Jewish in thought and style. And it instructs how members of the Church are to handle being “wronged.” It takes it step by step – what one is to do when one feels “wronged.”

First, the victim is to confront the perpetrator privately. If that doesn’t work, take a couple of witnesses and try again. If that doesn’t work, take it to the whole congregation of the church. PLEASE DON’T DO THAT. It might work fine in a Jewish synagogue, but not here. Well, if the perpetrator doesn’t listen to the church, he/she is to be considered unclean and be cast out of the community.

That’s just not the way we do things in our culture, in our time, in our church. I’m all for sitting down with someone with whom I disagree, and trying to work it out, but I don’t like involving other people in my disputes – we call it “triangleing” today. I also don’t like the idea of “casting someone aside” because I have a disagreement with him or her. Friends aren’t that easy to make in our culture, and our time. I’d rather keep the friendship and perhaps swallow my pride, or position, than loose a friend or make an enemy.

I DO really like Matthew’s closing statement in today’s reading: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

I do think the Spirit of Christ is found in the midst of people as they try to live in community. I know that Christ is found in the sacrament, and at special times and places, but I think even more so Christ – the Love of God – is found in people relating to each other out of love, and concern, and caring. And I really believe that.

When we leave this building this morning, and perhaps even before we get out of here, we are going to run into people who need some caring, need some compassion, need some support, need some “good old lovin’.” And quite often it’s our friends and family. But it’s in those moments where we find the Living Christ, the “Shepherd of Souls.”

Try not to pass up an opportunity to meet the Spirit of Love, the Spirit of Hope. That’s what we’re about in this place. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.     Amen.

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Amen.


Posted September 13, 2017 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

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