September 6-7, 2014
Grace and peace to you, from God our Creator and from Jesus, who brings life. Amen.
There is a button on most of my electronic devices that I both love and hate. It is the “reset” button. I’m sure many of you are familiar with it. Unfortunately, I’ve had to use this button way too many times in my life. You see, once upon a time, I used to have this desktop computer. It was already old when it was given to me to use. And as software got more and more complicated, and bigger and bigger, the computer had a harder and harder time handling the size of the programs. Trying to start Microsoft Office felt like trying to suck a watermelon through a drinking straw.
And so every day, multiple times, in the middle of a project, I’d suddenly get the little hourglass spinning on the screen. You know, the one where the computer is telling you: “I’m thinking about what you’ve asked me to do, I’m thinking really, really hard…but I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to do it.” Sometimes that hourglass could spin for 3, 5 or even 10 minutes. So, I learned that when the hourglass would appear, I could take that opportunity to get up, stretch, go to the front office and get a new cup of coffee. I’d chat with a co-worker about something crucial, like last night’s episode of the TV show “Cheers” and make my way back to my desk, hoping the hourglass was gone, and the computer was ready to move to my next project.
Sometimes yes…sometimes no.
When the answer was no…I’d have to move to my last resort. Pressing the button. Reset. And I’d know that the work I’d done that hadn’t been saved was gone, and I’d have backtrack, or even worse, start over. It was either that, or suffer caffeine poisoning from too many trips to the coffee maker.
I came to realize that in a lot of ways, the reset button has become a metaphor for much of my life. I’ve had a lot of reset. In fact, I think that we all have. There are times when, for whatever reason, our behaviors, or our expectations, sometimes even our dreams, need to be adjusted, to be reset.
I am a lifelong Vikings fan. Those of you who join me in this know my pain. Every year, I have high hopes. “This is it! We’ve finally got a (fill in the blank…) quarterback…middle linebacker…running back…coach… whatever it may be. This is going to be our year! All the way! Skol!” The question just becomes for me “how many weeks into the season before the Vikings hit the reset button on my expectations.” After a few weeks, my expectation lower. “Yes, we’re going to make it to the conference finals!” And then, “Yes, we’re going to win our division.” Then I go down to “Let’s just finish above 500!” Finally, expectations shattered, I have to reset to this: “If not the Vikings, Lord, then please, just not the Packers!”
I remember growing up, when I would…occasionally…not meet my parents expectations, my Dad had a masterful way of resetting me. He would just put his hand on my shoulder, look me in the eye and would say “I expect more from you.” Gulp. In that one moment, my Dad would let me know, that I would need to reset. It might have been my behavior, my attitude or my perspective. But usually gently, and always with love, he’d communicate to me that “that’s not what we do in this family.” Reset.
Life is full of reset moments. At home, at work, at school, our expectations, our plans and our hopes sometimes need to be re-arranged to fit some other reality.
That is our Gospel for today. It is a reset moment for our disciples. The Jewish faith that the disciples had grown up with, had been largely individual. The primary concern was with a person’s righteousness. As a person strived to follow the law, they were working to become more and more righteous in the eyes of God. If they lived righteously enough, if they followed all the law, they would be rewarded with a relationship with God. This was the lens through which people had learned to relate to God. It was individualistic.
But in our Gospel, Jesus was pushing the reset button. As in, “that’s the way it was…but now this is the way it’s going to be.” Remember two weeks ago when we looked at the story of Jesus selecting Peter to serve as the leader of the church? Well now, Jesus is laying out the ground rules, the expectations for what the community of believers, the church, is going to become.
“If a person sins against you,” he says, “if they break the law, it’s no longer just a matter of their own righteousness…it’s not just between them and God.” In this new community, in this new way of being people of God together, we are going to have mutual responsibility and accountability for each other. So if someone sins, you have an obligation to talk with them about that. And if you sin, they have an obligation to do the same; Individually first, one on one. Then, if that doesn’t work we gradually expand the circle, involving another person, and then if that doesn’t work, it might be a small group, and then finally as a last step, the whole community.
That was a fairly revolutionary way of thinking back then. Before this it was up to a Pharisee to admonish, and sometimes to administer justice. And if we’re brutally honest with ourselves, it’s a pretty revolutionary way of thinking today as well.
We don’t live in a world that has learned to work its way through conflict very well. Discussion, debate and dialog have been replaced by polarization. It doesn’t feel like in the public sphere, people know how to talk to each other about their differences any more. We just pick sides, and dig in.
And speaking broadly for a moment, in many congregations we’ve let this sense of polarization affect us too. I have a friend who is a pastor who says that “in the church, we can take passive-aggressive behavior and turn it into an art form.”
But in my first five weeks at Trinity, I’ve noticed something different here. It’s this document. This is Trinity’s Covenant of Behavior. This congregation developed it years ago after they had gone through some conflict and realized that it didn’t have a good way of tending to the quality of the conversation. Trinity’s leadership wanted to be able to talk together about difficult issues without having the discussions degrade into conflict. So you developed this as a guideline.
This document doesn’t mean that there won’t be conflict. But it does mean that Trinity wants to be intentional in addressing conflict in a way that is healthy. That is unusual in congregations. And it’s really positive. This is, to be honest, one of the things (many things) that attracted me to Trinity. This place is willing to take on difficult conversations…with respect. And this covenant is based on the ideals in our Gospel text today.
In the development of this covenant, God did a reset at Trinity. God reset the way this congregation was going to talk with each other about difficult things.
I also think it’s interesting how Jesus closes this short Gospel teaching. First, he talks about how this new church should deal with conflict. But then he ends with a promise. “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
I’ve quoted this piece of scripture a lot. For me it’s always been a comforting reminder that when the people of God gather, as we are here today, Christ will be with us. And I believe that is true.
But now, thinking of it in context with the “reset” scriptures above, it becomes clear to me that Jesus was talking about something else too.
Jesus was saying that wherever two or three are gathered, he is present. He did not say two or three at church…in the temple…in the worship…he said wherever.
So that means that wherever we go, and we see each other, we are church.
It means that when we send groups to the Pine Ridge Reservation, or to Ethopia, or Chile, or our youth teams on their mission trips, or we send groups to other service sites…we are church.
And, it also means that when we run into each other by the water cooler at Federated, or on the manufacturing floor at Wenger, or in your classroom at Owatonna Jr. High, or in the auditorium at the high school, or in the aisle at the HyVee…when you see each other…when you talk…you are church.
It also means that when we gather in the lounge for a Bible study, or in the conference room for a meeting, or in the Narthex for coffee, or here in the Sanctuary for worship, or in Fellowship Hall for the contemporary service…we are church. Because the church is not a place, or a room, even a beautiful, sacred space like this one. The church is the people of God.
The church is God’s work…God’s love…God’s grace, working through our hands. Because it is our hands folding together for prayer…reaching out to receive the sacraments, holding the scriptures, packing backpacks and care kits. It is our hands pounding hammers, preparing meals and caring for the poor. The church is God’s work, together with our hands, wherever God calls us to be.
So within this scripture, God is also “resetting” our own expectations. This scripture is a challenge to us. It is a challenge to take Trinity out beyond the walls, and into our community. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are going to do that together. In the upcoming weeks you are going to hear about God’s call for Trinity, and the work that our hands will undertake.
Together, we are going to grow this church both deeper and wider.
Remember that we can only take on this kind of a “reset” because God first did a “reset” for us. In the waters of baptism, God reached out and reset your lives. It would no longer be about how you perform, or how you follow the law, or the expectations others place on you. God’s grace would be dependent on nothing other than his great love for you.
And every day since then, God presses that button. Reset: “You are my child.” Reset: “You are loved beyond measure.” Reset: “Live together in community.” Reset: “Love me, love your neighbors.”
Together, let’s use our hands to be God’s church. Because it is through the church, through Trinity, through you and I, that God will continue to press reset and will call the world into a different, new and faithful way of being. Thanks be to God!