In the beginning, God created. God spoke and it was so. He made all that is.
He made the human; made the human community. Made us. And when we fell, he caught us and placed us carefully in a new place so that we could, with his help, learn a new life. God did not leave us. God has never left us.
There were two brothers. The oldest was Cain, the younger was Abel. Cain was angry with his brother…..we all know the story. Cain killed Abel in the field. And the ground swallowed his blood.
When God asked Cain, “where is your brother?” Cain replied, “am I my brother’s keeper?”
And God spends the rest of history answering Cain (answering us) with a long and resounding “Yes.”
God seems to have a great care about how we treat one another.
Some people believe that living in a Christian community means that the kind of care God wishes us to have should come easily to us. We all should get along well, there should never be conflict or anger or resentment. There should never be arguments or disagreements. We all get along as Christians, right? Love God, love your neighbor.
I heard a pastor once say this about the reality of Christian community: imagine the most frustrating person you know, the person with every possible personal habit you detest, the person whose presence is nearly like fingernails on a chalkboard to you. Now imagine that they are your next door neighbor. Forever.
That’s the Christian community. It is not everyone sitting around the campfire singing Cumbaya all day long because the reality of the Christian community is that it is made up of people.
Perhaps this is why God is always talking about love. Love your parents, love your neighbor, show compassion to the poor, orphans and widows…. Love your enemy.
Sometimes I’m not sure what is harder, loving enemies or irritating, frustrating neighbors!
But, God does not leave us to do all this loving of irritating neighbor and deepest enemy on our own. As I said before, God did not leave us. God has never left us. In this week’s Matthew 18 text, Jesus declares that he is with us in all our relationships, even those in conflict.
It is no accident that he speaks of resolving conflict with others alongside his promised presence with us. With us. Not right around the corner or up in heaven gazing lovingly down up on us or sending us lots of good and holy wishes. He is with us. We gather in worship in his name and he is with us. We gather around the altar, sharing the bread and the wine and he is with us. We gather in bible study, around the dinner table giving thanks, whenever we gather and do so in his name he is with us.
Sometimes, the idea that we should assist others in resolving a conflict seems strange. It is not our business and we do not want to get involved. Am I my brother or sister’s keeper? God says yes, we are. This is not the same thing as gossip or passing judgment on others, both of which scripture condemns. But it does mean supporting people who are in some sort of difficulty, disagreement or conflict by holding them accountable, lifting them in prayer, and providing ways of finding resolutions.
But this text is about more than a practical technique for resolving conflict. While the bible is a book that has a little instruction for life, it is not Life’s Little Instruction Book. As always, scripture is, above everything else, about who God is and who we are to God. Our God is a God who cares whether or not people get along with one another. Our relationships with those we love, those we live with and even those with whom we have conflict matter to God and he wants it to matter to us, too.
And God does not merely leave us to our own devices and wish us good luck. He is actively involved in our relationships and working through us to bring about peace between all people. So that we may love our neighbor and love our enemy. And maybe even love those with whom we disagree.
[this is not actually the whole of Sunday’s sermon. I did not care for what I wrote–the extended version of this–but cannot modify it any better than what is here. May the words of my mouth and meditations of my heart, imperfect though they are, be acceptable in thy sight, o Lord my rock and my redeemer.]