The same is true for most Churches. Today begins the new program year.
We never stop being Church. But things slow down during the summer and then pick up again in the fall. On Friday, we began our new healing service. Next week, we offer a session of adult education on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. And in a few minutes, we’ll bless our children for the new school year and commission our Sunday School teachers and worship leaders.
That makes this a good time for us to pause and reflect on what it means for us to be God’s Church together.
And our readings for this morning are exactly on point.
I begin with a surprising observation. Jesus almost never uses the word “Church.”
Jesus talks a lot about what it means to follow him. And whenever Jesus talks about following him, about Christian discipleship, about living the Christian life, Jesus always assumes it is something we do together.
When Jesus calls disciples, he calls them in pairs. When Jesus sends the disciples out to preach in his name, he sends them out in pairs. On the last night of his life, Jesus commanded us to come together to celebrate Eucharist in remembrance of him.
Our gospel reading makes this point with shocking force. Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” That’s a reason to come together!!
And then one of my favorite passages in the entire Bible. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
Jesus is with us all the time. That certainly includes when we are alone. But what Jesus himself emphasizes is his presence in our midst when we come together, even just two or three of us.
The Christian life is not really something we do alone. The Christian life is something we do with our brothers and sisters. Jesus is pretty clear about that. That makes Church important, more important than we sometimes recognize.
But I say again, Jesus rarely uses the word “Church.” So we really need to pay attention whenever Jesus tells us anything about being his Church. As it happens, Jesus doesn’t use the word at all in Mark, Luke or John. Even in Matthew Jesus only uses the word “Church” in two places.
We heard the first passage where Jesus uses the word “Church” a couple of weeks ago. After Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Jesus praises Peter, and Jesus says that he will build his Church on the rock of Peter’s confession (16:18).
That reminds us, in case we need it, that Christ is the foundation of the Church. Everything we do goes back to Jesus. Everything we do finds its meaning in our Lord. If ever we stray from our foundation in Christ, we have ceased to be Church in the deepest and truest sense of that term. Whatever we do on the foundation of Jesus Christ our Lord is us being Church at our best and most authentic.
Then, in our reading for today, Jesus shows us part of what Church looks like in practice.
And it is a little awkward.
When a brother or sister sins, another member of the Church should point out the fault privately. If that doesn’t work, we are supposed to turn up the heat, to get another member to confirm what we are saying. If that doesn’t work, we are supposed to keep turning up the heat.
That sounds kind of grim. I don’t really want everyone I go to Church with to police my behavior all the time. Let me emphasize that point! None of us wants that. Surely Jesus does not mean that.
But Jesus is telling us something important about being Church together: we support each other in our life in Christ by holding each other accountable.
When I was ordained, my Bishop told me I needed to find a spiritual director, someone to meet with me regularly to hold me accountable to my ordination vows. I ignored him, which, technically, violated my ordination vow.
When I moved to western Massachusetts, Bishop Scruton said the same thing. I dragged my feet. But when Bishop Scruton retired, I saw my chance. I asked him to be my spiritual director, and he agreed. Since then, we meet virtually every month, and it has been fantastic.
Bishop Scruton does not tell me what to do. He is far too wise for that. Instead, he asks me what God is calling me to do. And he asks me if I am doing it. In his gentle and loving way, he is holding me accountable. And I need that. We all need that. In our gospel reading, Jesus tells us being Church means being that for each other.
But there are a few ground rules if we are to hold each other accountable in Christ’s name.
First, we always have to speak and act in love. As Paul says, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments… are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Everything else follows from the obligation to speak and act in love.
So, for example, if we are eager to straighten out somebody else, we should almost certainly resist the temptation. Many is the time I have tried to make Carrie do right, only to realize later that I was at fault the whole time.
And, of course, even under the best of circumstances, unsolicited advice, no matter how wise and well-intentioned, is almost never welcome and almost never productive. Usually it makes things worse.
In fact, we should be much more eager to receive correction than to give it. Giving correction is an enormous responsibility. Receiving correction is receiving a great gift.
I know I need help living as Christ calls me to live, being the person Christ calls me to be, loving as Christ calls me to love. I don’t always enjoy receiving the help I need. But I should always be grateful for it. And usually I am eventually.
I invite all of you to take a few minutes to ask yourself if you are receiving the support you need, if someone in your life holds you accountable so that you can live as the beloved child of God that you are. If the answer is no, I encourage you to ask someone to help you. There are lots of people here who would be great for virtually anyone, but he or she does not need to be a member of Saint David’s. The main thing is to find someone you trust who can help you build on the foundation of Jesus Christ in your life.
If we can all help each other to do that, this will be an extraordinary year here at Saint David’s.
Thanks be to God, in the name of the One who came to set us free. Amen.