Faith is a Team Sport
Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. - Collect for Proper 18
The Gospel lesson this week (Matthew 18:15-20) gives some precise instructions about how to resolve conflicts in the church. Start by going to speak to the person one on one. If that doesn’t work, invite someone else from the community to assist. And if that doesn’t work, then, and only then, should it become a matter of public discussion. These are great ways to think about resolving conflict in any community and certainly would seem to indicate a heated post on social media should come last, if ever at all.
Beneath all this process is some important theology. How do we discern when a sin has been committed against us? What do we value during a real experience of hurt? The Gospel and Sunday's collect seem to remind us rather strongly that we can’t go it alone. The chances of making a mistake around one another’s intentions, meaning, or communication style are high. And the destruction that can come when we don’t do the hard work of face-to-face reconciliation make the stakes too high to not work with one another. What can help us get through the awkwardness of that exchange is trusting that when we risk being vulnerable with someone God promises to be present. By letting our guard down, we can experience more of the grace of God’s mercy. The more we experience that, the more we in turn can offer it to one another.
I’ve recently been listening to the book, Atomic Habits by James Clear. The premise of the book is small changes can have long term impacts if we stay committed to them. One of the most interesting points to me was that people we assume are very self-disciplined don’t have more willpower than the average person. They just set up the systems of their life to require less thinking and decision making to achieve the quality of life they want. I’ve often said it’s easier to come to church every Sunday than just once a month. That’s because if you do it all the time, it’s not a matter of figuring out if it fits in a particular weekend of activities.
Our small acts of prayer and fidelity, done regularly, can impact our overall faith trajectory in large ways. One of the most important choices is our faith community. Whether it’s Sunday morning, or a weekday study group, hearing from others is an important way to be faithful and be reminded of how God is showing up.
Communities of reconciliation only work if we are in relationship with one another. I will be invested in forgiveness and addressing my faults if I already know the person is on the same path that I am trying to walk. At its best, the church community is a great place to practice these skills. As we prepare to launch the program year and return to our regular schedule and Bible studies, I hope you’ll make being here one of your habits. Pray, serve, study, and gather here. Let’s grow together and discover all that God has in store for us!