A truly universal language

At its best – under all the right conditions –

the church of Christ should fluent in the language of love.

It is our ‘mother tongue’ – the very language of heaven.

 

Love is the common theme among the ancient commandments.

Love moved God to reach out in Christ.

Love brought relief to the people of Israel,

and led them from bondage in Egypt.

Our ability to communicate in this heavenly language is what separates us from the rest of the world

and it is also what makes life as a follower of Christ so difficult –

because we have no end of trouble agreeing on what love looks like.

 

I have had the privilege of conducting a wedding nearly every weekend since the first of July

so I have had more opportunities than usual to publicly reflect on the nature of love.

Not the syrupy sweet love of your basic valentine card

not the dismissive pseudo-love that is depicted in your average TV sit-com

but the “till death do us part”, “not jealous or boastful or rude” kind of love

that is the backbone of most wedding ceremonies.

 

Most ceremonies – and (unfortunately) only some marriages

because the language of love – selfless, sacrificial love that originates in the love of God

is as challenging for couples as for communities of faith –

yet over and over again,

Jesus and his earliest followers urge us to live in this kind of love.

 

Love does no one any harm, says Paul to the Roman believers –

as though that meant it was easy.

But it’s not – it means putting prejudice aside – ignoring personal pain –

and confronting your persecutor with a smile instead of a smack-down.

 

It is in this spirit that Matthew’s gospel tries to lay out a plan for “good behaviour”.

 

Matthew makes much of the composition of the community –

in some translations, the Greek word ecclesia is translated “the church” –

there was as yet no institution calling itself the church,

just an enthusiastic group of folks trying to follow the teachings of Jesus.

They broke bread together – they sang Psalms –

and looked for signs of the Kingdom of God, for Jesus taught that it was very near.

 

This movement within the religious life of the people of Israel raised many eyebrows –

and that brought problems and dissension from beyond and within this ever changing community

and there is some question as to the origin of these words, though Matthew credits Jesus

“If another member of the community sins against you –

take that one aside and point out the fault…”

 

This directive, and the words that follow have evolved from simply good sense

to become the basis for our current church law

where disputes within the denomination are concerned –

and along the way we’ve neglected the language of origin,

and made this into something else.

 

No, I’m not saying that the English is not true to the Greek (except where already noted)

but if these are Jesus words,

then I’ve no doubt they were uttered in the language of love, not litigation.

 

We need rules for behaviour – because our behaviour isn’t always admirable

but even those rules must grow out of the gift of Divine love

that is a the very core of all creation

and the centre and soul of every human being.

 

If they don’t listen to you, says Matthew’s Jesus, take another.

If they still don’t listen, tell it to the (community);

if that doesn’t convince them to alter their behaviour –

then let such a one be as a tax collector and gentile (that is to say – an outsider)

If you read the law of the church closely (and who doesn’t want to do that…),

you will notice that we’ve tried to maintain an attitude of loving gentleness

in even the most extreme punishment available –

 

(though it’s not officially called excommunication,

it does involve stripping the person of all rights and privileges

associated with membership in the community)

 

– and even at that stage, we are obliged to provide pastoral care for the offender,

who is always to be considered a beloved child of God.

 

((How did Jesus respond to Gentiles and tax collectors???

with friendship, hospitality, and love – that’s how.

Not because they were “right”, but because they were God’s own –

 

We focus on attitude – on obedience –

on the ability of the community to look and sound ‘alike’

for our comfort and benefit –

and in so doing, we too often turn our backs on the wayward –

all because we have forgotten the language of love that moved Jesus

and drew those first disciples together in their complete hopelessness.

 

What does the kingdom look like? Who are the redeemed?

(for this was the beginning of the discussion that precedes this part of Matthew’s gospel)

What good can come from opening our lives, our worship, our sacred spaces

to people who don’t seem to fit the mould?

Well, it might give us a chance to practice our mother tongue –

the language by which we are created and called.

Owe no one anything, except to love one another –

so shall the world see that God is among us. Amen

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