God with us (Horizons 9)

“God’s Promise: I Am With You”
Lesson 9: God with us

Matthew 18:15-20; 28:16-20

Sometimes unhappiness and discouragement taint our actions. I’ve found that to be true for me. Years ago, I attended a board meeting of a nonprofit organization that assists homeless women and children. I was cranky, negative and probably obnoxious. The executive director of the organization came to see me after the meeting and we sat down together. Her first words were, “How are you doing?” It was a terrible time in my life and I told her some of what was going on. After a time, she gently said that I had offended other board members. I thought about my behavior and realized that it was true. Her coming to me was a tremendous gift because it gave me the opportunity to immediately apologize and amend my behavior.

The director’s actions were exactly what Jesus taught us to do. She took the initiative to come and let me know of my offense. She did so with kindness, which made it much easier for me to see and take responsibility for my actions. Jesus says in Matthew 18:15: “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.” In an earlier passage in Matthew 5,

Jesus teaches that if we are in the middle of worship and remember that someone holds a grudge against us, we are to leave worship, go to the friend, make things right and then return and make things right with God. (Imagine if we practiced this teaching of Jesus’ — worship might be punctuated with people suddenly popping up and hastening out the door!) Ephesians adds that we should “put aside all falsehood and speak the truth to our neighbors because we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your anger” (4:25-27).

We know what Jesus teaches, but it is difficult to put into action. Many Christians are allergic to unpleasant conversations, experiencing sweaty palms and rapid heartbeat when even thinking about dealing with a problem with another person. We may have been taught to be “nice” instead of engaging in Jesus’ radical, action-taking love that seeks reconciliation. Church folk are often conflict avoiders. We fear rejection, an angry reaction, being in the wrong, losing face or retaliation. In addition, few of us have had good role models for dealing with conflict in a constructive way, so we are unsure of what to do and say.

Instead of talking directly to the person with whom we have a problem (let’s call her Lucy), we may swallow the hurt or anger or we might tell someone else our perception of how Lucy has acted. That person may then go and tell some other people that Lucy is a pain. Lucy doesn’t have a nickel’s worth of information about what is going on, but notices that people are treating her differently. Without talking to Lucy directly we will not know if it is a simple misunderstanding or a genuine difference of opinion and nothing gets resolved. Sound familiar?

The gift of Jesus is that when we go to someone who has wronged us, Jesus promises to be with us. If you have ever received the gift of mutual understanding or mutual forgiveness, then you know how lifegiving Jesus’ teaching is.

Jesus’ commandment for us to engage in radical, action-taking love is seen again in his commandment to go to all nations and make disciples, baptizing them and teaching all that Jesus has taught us. Jesus promises that when we do this, he will be with us (Matthew 28:16-20). These words evoke terror in many Presbyterian hearts: “Go out and make disciples.” We make bread for communion. We make announcements about mission projects. We make food for those who are ill. In my experience, churches seldom primarily focus on going out and making disciples of Christ, even though this is the primary purpose of the church.

We rarely say anything about Jesus because we do not want to be pushy, offensive or condemning. If you were asked why you love Jesus, what would you say? We could share our story of Jesus reaching out to us. For some of us, it was at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. For others, a Bible story spoke deeply and directly to us. For another, it might have been a time when she experienced God’s profound acceptance. One way of making disciples is for us to gently and humbly share our stories of our own particular experience of Jesus’ love for us. And however we tell our story, Jesus will be right there with us.

rosalind-banburyRosalind Banbury is the interim pastor of Tinkling Spring Presbyterian Church in Fishersville, Virginia.

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