Proper 18A’20
6 September 2020
Matt. 18.15-20
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church (Facebook Live)
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone

O Holy Trinity you reveal yourself in a community of Three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; We claim your promise as a human community, that wherever two or three are gathered together in your name, you are present with us. Amen.

Community: The Calling – the Challenge – The Comfort

Over the last several weeks I’ve gotten an increase in feedback from parishioners all about the same subject – a desire to regather as a congregation for in-person worship. “Fr. Carey, when are we getting back together, I am missing my church, and my church family? Isn’t there something we can do to make this happen? I so miss Communion and communion with my brothers and sisters!” Each of these comments come from a deep place in our hearts and they shine the light on the core teaching of our Christian faith that we are all made in God’s image, and the image of God is revealed in the mystery of the Holy Trinity – and the message of the Trinity is that God is a community – revealed in three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Only in the three-ness is there the One-ness. Only in Community gathered is the Body of Christ revealed.


There is an African concept called “Ubuntu” that captures this idea: “I am because we are, a person is only a person through other people.” In community we are seen and mirrored, and our gifts are revealed through fellowship and ministry with each other and for others. Because we are each made in the image of God there is a call to community that is imbedded in the soul of each one of us – even the most introverted needs the fellowship with the Body of Christ.


In this time of pandemic when we have been separated from our Christian communities, many of us are hearing this calling. We of course are trying to do the best we can “virtually” to stay connected through Facebook and Zoom but everyone knows it’s just not the same. “When will we fully reopen?” Is the question on our minds and hearts. We don’t know what that date will be, but I want to let you know we are planning some form of outdoor worship that will take place in October, either in our Columbarium and Labyrinth area or a public park – stay tuned for details!


I have been greatly encouraged by some who have been out of church for years who are hearing and heeding this call to return to the Christian community. This calling is being heard by people of faith who have for various reasons become inactive but who now are coming to realize just how much they need a faith community. Several have dropped by the church office asking for reading material and we have given out several copies of the Book of Common Prayer. Others have reached out on-line and have said they plan on coming through our red doors whenever the coast is clear of COVID.


There is a call to be a part of the Christian community – in person as members of the body of Christ. But with this call to community doesn’t come without challenge. First it runs counter to American culture that is based on a philosophy of “rugged individualism” where the emphasis is upon doing our own thing, marching to the beat of our own drummer, and being “in control” at all costs. But if COVID has taught us anything, it has taught us that Control is an illusion, we are vulnerable, the world doesn’t revolve around us, our actions affect others, and that we by ourselves are not God.


The second challenge to community is that it can be hard work. Getting in close proximity to the Christian community can really try us and some have been greatly wounded by the church – that is why they have given up on it. Some of these dear folks are attempting to find a substitute through becoming involved in worthy movements and causes. But still, there is that nagging voice in the background that calls them back to the community of faith.


Today’s gospel reading highlights the challenges of living in Christian community: Jesus said, “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.” So we see from Jesus himself, that one of the characteristics of Christian community is that there will be hurt and conflict; and the cardinal rule when hurt and conflict occurs is for us to go directly to the person we have the issue with and let them know what they have done that has hurt us. But so often, we do just the opposite. We fear facing the person, we avoid conflict by sharing our hurt with other members of the community. Pretty soon there is a whole group of people who are negatively affected and, in some cases, poisoned by this information that they should have never heard about in the first place.


As we are currently separated from in-person worship now is a great time for us to all be reminded of what to do when someone hurts or offends us. The passage gives us more instruction as to what to do if the person refuses to listen to us: “But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed…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.” To summarize: go straight to the person first. If they won’t listen, take a couple of folks with you to meet with the individual, if they still won’t listen, then the church leadership needs to get involved in bringing the conflict to a resolution. If they still refuse to listen to the church, then and only then, are they to be avoided by the community.


Unity is the responsibility of all the members of the church, and we have all seen the high cost when people have taken the low road of spreading gossip and rumors. COVID is giving the church an opportunity to press the reset button and to do a better job in dealing with hurt and conflict when we do regather, and not forgetting that, “It Really is all about Love!”


With this call to community and the challenge of living in community, there is also the comfort of community: Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in m y name, I am there among them.” It has truly been heartening for me to see in the midst of a pandemic, the community of St. Luke’s reaching out to one another, some have given rides to doctor’s appointments, some have brought meals and medicine to those who were sick or just out of the hospital after a procedure, there have been phone calls to check in with parishioners from members of our vestry, some have sent cards and emails of encouragement, the dead have been memorialized and the joyous have been married in the midst of all of this. Through Annie Lea’s Little Pantry, and our clothes closet we have been able to maintain outreach to the wider community of North Little Rock – and last but not least, through livestreaming our services we are literally reaching thousands!


 The author Frederick Buechner summed up the Christian community when he wrote:


“It’s not all enjoyable. There’s backbiting just like everywhere else. There’s a pecking order. There’s jostling at the trough. There’s growling and grousing, bitching and whining. There are dogs in the manger and old goats and black widows. It’s a regular menagerie in there, and sometimes it smells to high heaven like one.

But even at its worst, there’s at least one thing that makes it bearable within, and that is the storm without—the wild winds and terrible waves and in all the watery waste, no help in sight.


And if there is never clear sailing, there is at least shelter from the blast, a sense of somehow heading in the right direction in spite of everything, a ship to keep afloat, and, like a beacon in the dark, the hope of finding safe harbor at last.”[1]




[1] Buechner, Frederick, Whistling in the Dark (HarperCollins Publishers: San Francisco)