As my sabbatical draws to a close, I’m thankful to once again be preparing a sermon for Sunday. Though I am out of the habit and am feeling quite rusty, there is something about being immersed in the study of Scripture that is soothing to my soul. While I’m not particularly excited about the way in which the great Revised Common Lectionary divining rod has decided to reenter Mark’s Gospel after what felt like 100 weeks in John’s Bread of Life Discourse, it does serve as a great bridge for me from my last sermon through sabbatical time to everyday parish ministry.
My thesis, the proposal for which you can read here, takes a look at the ways in which The Episcopal Church might be well suited to meet the needs of a changing America. This assumes that we can all agree that things are changing. Having received some pushback from at least one professor who thinks that this time is no different than any other, I set my sights on the great Phyllis Tickle and her book, The Great Emergence. Tickle cites the late bishop of Bethlehem (PA), Mark Dyer, in arguing that though our time is not unique, it is a rare moment of opportunity for the Church to engage in the hard work of a rummage sale.
“About every five hundred years the empowered structures of institutionalized Christianity, whatever they may be at that time, become an intolerable carapace  that must be shattered in order that renewal and new growth may occur.” 
In many ways, the Church today: be it Episcopal, Roman Catholic, and even non-denominational conservative evangelical; can be accused of the same thing. Each expression of the Christian faith can be accused of worshiping its worship. Each can be called to task for paying attention to their own desires over the dream of God. Each can be accused of inviting God to bless their plans rather than fulfilling God’s plan for them. Jesus’ message is as needed today as it was in the Synagogue 2,000 years ago. We must move beyond our obsession with tradition in order to live more fully into the kingdom of God. The work is not easy, there really is some awesome crap crammed in there, but the task of cleaning house, of seeking to follow God more closely, is certainly holy.
 The hard upper shell of a turtle, crustacean, or arachnid.
 The Great Emergence, 16.
I had breakfast this morning with a parishioner and friend, WEV. During the course of our conversation, he mentioned how much he’s enjoyed our journey through Romans 12 over the past two weeks. At one point he said something to the effect of, “I get the idea of an Acts 2 or and Acts 8 church, but I really want to be part of a Romans 12 church.” I’m sure he’ll comment here if I ask him what he thinks of being a Matthew 18 church?
The lesson for Sunday is a profoundly dangerous one, which has, as you might expect, been utilized by less than scrupulous religious leaders to oppress and victimize the faithful. Because of that, many will suggest that we just ignore Matthew 18:15-20, which is, I suspect, precisely why the RCL has decided to include it in the three year lectionary. This whole notion of binding and loosing, a power which was given exclusively to Peter in Matthew 16:19 is now being given to all of the disciples in 18:18. Taken with the “If two of you agree on anything, it will be done for you,” the preacher is presented with a particular challenge this Sunday.
- Some Christians forbid dancing, so is dancing forbidden in heaven? And if so, how come both of my children have been dancing since before they could walk?
- Some Christians forbid alcohol, so is alcohol forbidden in heaven? And if so, why did Jesus use wine for his Last Supper and command us to “do this in remembrance” of him?
- Some Christians allow for same-sex marriage, so are same-sex relationships allowed for in heaven? And if so, why do so many others agree that they aren’t?
- Some Christians take Mark 16:9-20 literally, so is snake handling cool in heaven? And if so, why do so many others think the long ending of Mark is a late addition?
The list of these questions goes on and on. In the end, they are all quite unhelpful because the Church has been shifting the list of what is bound and what is loosed since the very beginning: from circumcision and the Law of Moses to whether priests can get married to whether women can be ordained to whether Jesus can be manifest gluten free bread. What is helpful, however, is that Matthew 18:15-20 reminds that we are part of something much larger than our own congregational context. As Christians, we take our place in a long history of people who have struggled with how best to be disciples of Jesus. From Peter and Paul to you and me, we do our best to follow Jesus, but each of us fails from time to time. Each of us needs to seek forgiveness and be restored to right relationship with God and one another. The good news is that we aren’t making it all up as we go along. Instead, we have 2,000 years of examples of those who have done it well and those who have failed miserably to try to figure out how we, in our place and time, can follow Jesus as faithfully as possible.