This week’s readings are all about community, or more specifically, being the community of God.
We hear in Exodus the foundational story of the Hebrew people. Each Passover the Deuteronomy version of this story is recited, retold in a way that invites those taking part in this meal to experience the story as if they are the ones being brought out of Egypt, out of slavery. It forms the identity of the Hebrew people as the ones God rescued from slavery, and the ones God continues to rescue from slavery. Even though this occurred over 3000 years ago, the liturgy that tells this story in Exodus recounts the events like it was yesterday. It invites those hearing it to consider what enslaves them now, and how God is liberating them. The Eucharist is our link in with this story, and it invites us to ask the same questions. What does it mean for us to be the people God rescues from slavery?
Paul would answer – everything. Paul wrote his letter to a deeply divided church in Rome, a church intensely wrestling with the issue of the place of the Mosaic Law in the life of the new community of God. Despite those massive differences Paul pleads for a sense of deep commitment to each other. He looks for more than respect, or even good treatment. He longs for his hearers to love each other. A love born of the fact that we are all loved first by God, and our love comes in response to that: our love for God; our love for our brothers and sisters; and ultimately our love for all God’s people and all God’s creation.
Good community then has a common story that holds it together and gives it purpose. It is built on God’s deep love. The reading from Matthew deals with how to hold community together. It is about how to deal with conflict. He says we do that by dealing with it. Being in God’s community is about being committed to each other, as Paul said. And part of being committed is to be honest and address issues. Churches that tear themselves apart do not do so because there is conflict but because they are unwilling to deal with that conflict and work it through.
For me the key verse in this is Matthew 18:18 – which Mark Davis translates as “Truly I say to you, whatever [pl] you bind on the earth will be [what] has been bound in heaven and whatever you loose on the earth will be [what] has been loosed in heaven.” We can read this to mean that what we do here on earth holds true for heaven too, and lots of people do read it that way. But a number of commentators suggest that this is better understood like the Lord’s Prayer, “your will be done on earth as in heaven”. What we do here on earth is to mirror heaven. When we truly live out community we become signs of the reign of God. Real community happens when we are so committed to each other we can be honest with each other. And then we are to treat each other as Jesus treated tax collectors and gentiles – eating with them, blessing them, honouring them.
So how do we stack up? What can we learn about being community here at St. Georges? Here in Waiapu? As God’s church in Tauranga Moana?