In the dynamic process of communicating our experiences of God we tell stories. These stories explain why things are the way they are: stories of our founders— how they coped with crises, triumphed or failed— stories justifying our present traditions. Stories are our common vernacular. As many will realise I find that story telling for me is the best way I can communicate my understanding and experience of God.
The Hebrews told stories about their formation as a nation and culture. They told of dialogue between God and Moses. But, did this communication happen as recorded? Did God really want all that blood and mutton? . . . Well this type of thinking gives me a problem. Is it what really happened? Storytelling continued for centuries. People close to the significant events relayed and recorded what happened. As the stories passed down, they picked up layers. These bits were accumulated and the story grew. They were attempts to justify present actions by claiming they originated by instruction of the founders.
The Gospel records Jesus giving instructions on church discipline at a time when there was no church. In the narrative, he damns unrepentant members to be treated like “Gentiles and tax-collectors,” the very people he ministers to. Furthermore, he suggests that coalitions of church leaders can act unilaterally as long as they have a quorum. Did Jesus really say that? . . .
And I wonder today whether the debate here in Australia over making marriage a universal possibility for all couples has been hi-jacked by this type of thinking and by statements condemning members of God's creation whom we are called to love. Statements that may have come from people who have layered things for their own purposes and not Gods. Remember we are all the beloved of God and we are to treat each other as beloved.
Well this thinking gives me a problem. As the story of God in human experience continues to unfold, we will continue to tell one another the stories of God. There are times when we will baulk at the blood and we will even go as far as to blackball the text we are telling. Does that mean we should quit? The Apollo 13 astronauts didn’t. They applied their minds, and duct tape! They put square boxes into round holes and survived. Perhaps we “Wordonauts” can do the same?
In light of the problems we have with the current text it’s easy to rush to the good stuff in Matthew’s passage from Chapter 18: whatever we bind on earth is bound in heaven, and whatever we agree upon, God will do. But trust me, that’s not the most important part of this passage. The most important part is the difficult but essential truth that community— real community in Christ— is hard. Real community demands that we confront one another in love, that we speak the truth to one another in love, that we be willing to accompany one another through difficulty and disagreement . . . all in love.
That’s what Paul speaks about, too. All of God’s law— the gift of knowing what is right and wrong that we may tend one another’s well-being— is summed up in a commandment that is as clear and simple as it is challenging: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” That’s why I think that Jesus was not simply laying out a formula by which to resolve conflict. It’s rarely that easy. Different conflicts— and different contexts— will invite different methods of resolution. What’s clear, however, is the need to regard one another in love to keep the well-being of all in the forefront. And currently some of our brothers and sisters sadly are not able to do that believing they have the only truth and seem to fail to listen for Gods truth.
Why is that so difficult? The obvious answer is because of our sinfulness, the way in which we continually turn our faces away from God and Gods call to us. But it’s also more than that, as we need to recognise that we have little practice in demonstrating love during times of disagreement. We live in a culture that is far quicker to rush to judgment, preferring polarised positions and the rhetoric of blame and accusation than speaking truth in love.
One only needs to listen to Trump and some of his so-called followers on various issues such as race and gender. We face this same difficulty in Australia as our current government tries to side step giving all members of our community the same rights. As we face these issues laying out a formula by which to resolve conflict is not the answer, and as we have seen increases the acts of bigotry and hatred. For this reason, we will need to nay are called to practice patience, practice forbearance, and practice love. But if we do . . . what, then, can we not accomplish this in the life and love of our God?