Jews around the world have been marking the past ten days as the period known as the days of Awe. It's a time of introspection and self-assessment and seeking forgiveness for those things done and left undone.
So, it was interesting to me that at our noon day Eucharist yesterday, the lessons assigned for Henry Muhlenberg were appropriate for the days of Awe. Particularly the Gospel lesson from Matthew, the one about what to do when a neighbor is acting in a way that injures you:
‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, 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. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’--Matt 18: 15-20
As I have said before on this blog, this is a passage that has been used by some to justify why they are kicking a particular member or members out of the congregation. And while this wasn't the reading paired with this Gospel at the Eucharist, the First Corinthians lesson from Paul I think should be read along side this Matthew passage:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body.--1 Corinthians 12: 12-20
When I put these two passages together, I am in awe. In awe of how the call is for us to always try to remain in relationship, not just with God, but with each other.
I had a reminder of that this week when I randomly plugged a cassette into my portable recorder, intending to lay down some tracks with my lines for some Faust skits so I could rehearse. Instead, I decided to listen through to what was on the tape. It was an interview from the NPR program "Fresh Air with Terri Gross" and her guest was New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson. The time frame was clearly early 2008. Bishop Gene had been denied an invitation to the Lambeth Conference in England, a snub of major proportions. He talked about the tension and the anger and the fear gripping the Anglican Communion on the topic of human sexuality. What was remarkable, and always the hallmark of listening to the bishop, is how he could talk about the situation calmly and with love. Because Bishop Gene understands the essential truth: we are all part of the one Body, even when we don't like one another, and our obligation in Christ is to always stay at the table even when we feel the neighbor is wronging us. To have a community, or a communion, you have to be willing to talk and listen and hash it out. That's one of the lessons out of the reading from Matthew's gospel. And, not to hop up another level on the soap box, that is one of the flaws I see in the proposed Anglican Covenant put forth by the Archbishop of Canterbury. My reading of the document is that it encourages leaving the conversation too early to take your beef with your neighbor to a panel of "Father Knows Best" leaders who will use a ruler to whap the neighbor about the head. There isn't much room for forgiveness there, and even less room for us to be in awe.
Perhaps that's what most of us should be doing these days: taking a moment to consider the awesomeness of a spirit that leads us all through difficult conversations, tense moments, and disagreements that, as painful as they might be, really aren't going to kill any of us. It can work, if we are willing to let it happen. And that's the test of our faith.