Mid-August greetings to you all. Last week was very exciting for Carol and I. She got her hair done and paid a garden visit to her brother and sister. We also both got to meet our new grandson Peter, who is (of course) gorgeous.
Also this week Carol lost a close family friend, who her sister had been supporting through a long fight with cancer, and a former colleague of mine, who was vicar of the neighbouring parish in Mansfield, died over the weekend.
Work wise things are beginning to move again and I am preparing a couple for marriage later this year and working as a registrar’s surrogate to enable marriages in churches where banns cannot be called. All of these things are reminders of the cycle of life. The bible has fantastic ordinary life advice, as well insights into eternity. The reading set for today is real ‘bread and butter’ living well, stuff. How do we handle broken relationships?
(Mat 18:15) “If your brother sins against you, go to him and show him his fault. But do it privately, just between yourselves. If he listens to you, you have won your brother back.
(Mat 18:16) But if he will not listen to you, take one or two other persons with you, so that ‘every accusation may be upheld by the testimony of two or more witnesses,’ as the scripture says.
(Mat 18:17) And if he will not listen to them, then tell the whole thing to the church. Finally, if he will not listen to the church, treat him as though he were a pagan or a tax collector.
(Mat 18:18) “And so I tell all of you: what you prohibit on earth will be prohibited in heaven, and what you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.
(Mat 18:19) “And I tell you more: whenever two of you on earth agree about anything you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.
(Mat 18:20) For where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them.”
As a vicar, I have sometimes been called upon to act as peacemaker, especially when dissention has broken out in the church. I discovered that dealing with paid staff and volunteers were two very different things. Give me volunteers every time. An Archdeacon once gave me some very basic advice. You will have heard it many times, but doing it is more demanding than saying it. Try walking in the other person’s shoes. The new children’s worker comes to the vicar deeply frustrated because the Sunday group leaders won’t embrace new ideas. The Sunday group leaders with decades of experience come to the vicar deeply frustrated because this young upstart, fresh from college, thinks they know it all. Quietly and gently you urge each to see it from the other’s point of view. Often (but not always) the process ends with tears and an embrace and you feel each has ‘won their brother/sister back’.
The passage as a whole is leading us towards the powerful state of ‘agreement’. Nothing is more powerful than unity or more destructive than disunity. The reason for this is that ‘agreement’ opens the door for God to act.
‘Come together’. We are having to find new ways to do this. We are still at a point were most churches (and all larger churches) cannot meet together physically. In my illustration above I mention the healing embrace. For a season (maybe a long season) we can only embrace in limited and specific situations. The Pandemic results in a state of living at a physical distance. It is therefore all the more important that we find new ways to express our unity. Over the past months Carol and I have thoroughly enjoyed designing our own cards via Moonpig. My creative children have found they don’t need £4.69 to do that. They have used paper, pen, scissors and paint to bless Carol and I. Small gifts also take on a new dimension in showing that we care. We can also be more careful and more generous with our words. Our bishop has given a good lead in this. He never tires of telling clergy, lay workers and volunteers that he thinks we are doing a great job. It has been said that words are cheap. On the contrary, they mean a lot. As people of faith, we are constantly sustained by God’s words. Words like ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love. Jer 31 vesre3.’
As we work hard at these creative ways of coming together, we come into the promise of verse 20 ‘He is in it with us’.