Rally Day 2017
Here at St. John's, the community has been through many new eras. It has seen new centuries. It has seen new technological advances. It has seen the changes in cultures throughout the years. Each time has been death and a rebirth, a new era created through belief in the vision and faith in the journey. With the changes going on in the world, St. John's is facing a new era.
I'll tell you what about this new era though, the destination hasn't changed. We are moving forward towards Jesus' second coming. We are moving forward towards the kingdom of heaven. We are moving forward towards the fulfillment of salvation for all people. The destination hasn't changed. We are still walking towards the vision of peace on earth through God's love.
The Israelites were starting a new era with the Passover as told in the passage today from Exodus. From that day forward, they were marked. They were going to be saved from the Egyptians by God. They were going on a journey which would last for years. They were starting something new.
Even Paul in his letter to the Romans seems to think that a new era was emerging. He says that it is now the time to wake from sleep. Now is the time to realize that night is over and day is beginning. It is a new era.
This new era isn't going to be like the last era though. Over and over again I've heard in churches, that if only we could get everyone back into church, the church would grow again and be perfect again... like it was in the golden age. Sadly, this kind of thinking relies on some very incorrect assumptions. The first is that there has ever been a golden age in the church. The church has gone through booms and busts throughout its life time. This church, St. John's... well... its had its fair share of booms and busts. It took thirty years for this church to get to having long term regular weekly worship services... there were years when nothing happened on our property except whatever the animals who lived in the first brick church did. There were of course times when the regular attendance was around 120 people every week and groups had regular attendance every week. Perhaps those were the golden days.
The second incorrect assumption about this desire to return to the golden age of the church is that people left because of something outside of the church. It was the golden age! Of course, there wasn't anything happening in the church that would drive people away... unfortunately this is not always true. The number one reason people leave churches is because they have been hurt by the community. They have either experienced something painful because of another member of the church or because some hurt was done by the community as a whole. Of course, there are simply other reasons people don't come to church, death, moving, and working being the other big reasons.
We cannot change that our community has lost members due to death, moving, or people having to work on Sundays because of our current economy. What we can change is whether people leave our community or fail to return to our community because of the past hurts they have experienced.
When we talk about the hurts that people have experienced by churches or by church communities, I am talking about experiences of alienation, exclusion, broken confidentiality, prejudice... We hear about instances of churches hurting people in cases where churches don't allow LGBTQ members to participate or push them out entirely. We hear about instances of churches spreading rumors about sexual activities... and we think, phew! That doesn't happen at my church! Yet, people still get hurt by churches in ways such as when one person is kept from joining the Altar Guild because other members of the Guild don't think that person would fit the group, or when none of the children will talk to another child because he or she smells bad, or if someone else shares information about another to people they didn't want to know.
We have to ask forgiveness for what we have done in the past. We can only walk forward together, and building a solid relationship together requires being practiced in the art of forgiveness. We have all been hurt by the church or someone else in the church at some point in our lives. As a community, who have we hurt? Who has been turned away by us? If you or anyone you know has ever been hurt by the church, by this church, I apologize. I am very sorry.
We are being called into a new era, something big and new is waiting for us in the future... the dawn is about to break... as Paul tells us in the passage from Romans. And as I said last week part of the process of changing and being reborn is seeking forgiveness. Jesus tells us how to seek forgiveness from each other in the passage this week. Not in a self righteous way... going to talk to someone doesn't mean hitting them over the head with feelings of pain. Perhaps they did not mean to cause hurt or their actions were not wrong.
"We sometimes invoke the words of Jesus based on the premise that we are always right and the other wrong. Real life is seldom that simple. The complications of someone’s motivations are complex and not always clear to us. The wisdom in Jesus’ advice is not for us to be condemning the offender unless they repent. The wisdom is to go and talk to the person who is our brother or sister and check things out. It may simply be a misunderstanding; or we ourselves may be in the wrong. This good news passage is all about clearing the air, not fumigating the enemy." (Preachingtip.com)
As Matthew promises us at the end of the gospel passage this morning, any gathering of two or three Christians, including those in which people are hurt, is one where Jesus is present. Which means that when we go to talk to someone with whom we have had issues, Jesus goes with us. When we meet up for lunch or dinner outside the church, Jesus goes with us. When we start a new ministry and only a couple of people show up, Jesus is with us.
Where we go with Jesus, we build together a better church. Better relationships between people means a stronger church. A church more likely to walk together into the unknown of the future together, in love, in grace, and with forgiveness.
The last thing about forgiveness is that we aren't just going to need it now... in making sure we can move forward and not having the past drag us down. The fact of the matter is that in our new era... in the grand future, we are going to need to know how to forgive, both ourselves and others. We are going to need to know how to talk to one another in order to repair relationships. Trying new things means making mistakes. Making mistakes means people can get hurt. People getting hurt means that forgiveness needs to be practiced. Having more people in a community means more forgiveness is required. Thankfully, Jesus is with us. Jesus is helping us forgive and move forward.