September 4, 2011
Proper 18 A
First Reading Ezekiel 33:7-11
Psalm Psalm 119:33-40
Gospel Matthew 18:15-20
Gather in a circle.
How many people are in this circle? …
I think you missed one!
Jesus says, “Where two or three [or more] are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
Jesus is here with us.
Jesus is here, in our hearts, in the love and care and friendship that joins us together.
Dear Jesus, we thank you that we can pray with you. We thank you for the gift of God’s Holy Spirit of power and love that joins us together and joins us to you. Speak to us today in the silence and in the noise, in our fellowship and when we are alone, while we are here in this place and when we go from here into the mission field of our lives. Amen.
Last Sunday, we heard about how Jacob wrestled with God.
The image of wrestling with God is often a solitary practice.
Remember how Jesus would go by himself to pray in the wilderness.
Or remember Jesus praying in the dark of the night in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus “threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” (Matt. 26:39).
I was up at 3:00 this morning wrestling with God.
That one-on-one time with God is precious and essential.
But faith is not just about me and God, is it? Or you and God.
Faith is about God and us together.
Faith is about God and your neighbors.
That’s the problem with saying “I am spiritual but not religious” or “I love God, but I’m not into organized religion.”
As Lillian Daniel wrote this week,[i] it’s wonderful to experience God in God’s creation.
It’s great to have personal time with God in prayer and meditation.
But there is something missing in a spiritual life that is not engaged in the difficult work of living and growing in a community of faith.
My faith is not just me and Jesus – I am accountable to you as well.
We are accountable to one another and to God –and we are accountable to our neighbors too.
That’s why Jesus spends time giving advice about how to resolve conflicts in the community of faith.
No triangulation; no gossip.
In our gathering here today, Jesus is among us.
When two or three gather together to open the doors of Becca’s Closet for girls and young women to find dresses, Jesus is among you.
When we gather to distribute Share food, Jesus is among us.
When we journey to the Labyrinth at the Lutheran Outdoor Ministries Center (LOMC), Jesus is among us.
When we spend time with one another in the hospital, or at home, or at a diner, or in jail, Jesus is among us.
Where and when do you see Jesus?
In whom do you meet Jesus?
In Matthew 25, Jesus tells us that we meet Jesus especially in the hungry and thirsty, the stranger and the immigrant, the poor, the sick and the imprisoned.
On this Labor Day weekend, we remember that Jesus was a low wage worker, before he became a homeless itinerant preacher.
As others have noted, “In the United States, we do not provide jobs for people who are unemployed. Instead, we wait for the “market” to do it and the unemployed suffer through months or even years of unemployment. In July, 2011, some 14 million people were officially unemployed in the United States. But a broader count of the jobless and underemployed – a count that includes people who work part time but want full-time jobs and those who have given up looking for work –shows about 29 million are jobless or seeking more hours. This is twice the official number and includes more than one in six potential workers.”[ii]
The numbers are even grimmer when we look at the numbers of unemployed African Americans and Hispanic Americans.
“In the United States today, fully one-quarter of all jobs pay poverty-level wages.”[iii] So, even when many people have a job, it is not enough to lift their families out of poverty.
The poor in America truly are the working poor. Like Jesus.
The major sins for which the prophets like Ezekiel condemned Israel were economic sins against the poor.
The prophets made a consistent call for justice for the poor and oppressed, the widows, the orphans, and the immigrants.
The unemployed and the underemployed are Jesus in our midst.
How different would our national conversation about jobs sound if we recognized that?
In Matthew 18, Jesus also lifts up an important reason we come together as a community of faith every week: to confess our sin before God and one another, and to receive God’s forgiveness in Jesus’ name.
Open to ELW p. 95, bottom right paragraph…
have mercy on us.
We confess that we have turned from you
and given ourselves into the power of sin.
We are truly sorry and humbly repent.
In your compassion forgive us our sins,
known and unknown,
things we have done
and things we have failed to do.
Turn us again to you,
and uphold us by your Spirit,
so that we may live and serve you in newness of life
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
God, who is rich in mercy,
loved us even when we were dead in sin,
and made us alive together with Christ.
By grace you have been saved.
In the name of + Jesus Christ,
your sins are forgiven.
Almighty God strengthen you with power through the Holy Spirit,
that Christ may live in your hearts through faith.
Did you just hear that?
Our sins are forgiven, in the name of Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, by God who is rich in mercy.
That is a miracle!
And it happened here and now.
In the midst of chaos and uncertainty, we have a gracious God who forgives us and empowers us to be the body of Christ in this place.
Thank you Jesus! Amen.