Welcome to Rally Day! Today we celebrate our life together as church. We celebrate each other. We celebrate a new season that lies before us. Most of all - we celebrate Jesus and the life of love we are called to share together in his name. So, let’s look at basics today. What holds us together in good times and bad? What creed, what motto, what sayings do we live by? What life saying grounds and guides our life?
Are you a Parrot Head? Then you might be inspired by Jimmy Buffett, the singer-songwriter advocate of “island escapism” -- who died recently encourages us with this motto: ‘Take it all in… it’s as big as it seems. Count all your blessings. Remember your dreams.”
Are you a swiftie? Then you might be encouraged by mega artist Taylor Swift, one of the top selling musicians and most streamed artist on Spotify, who says, “No matter what happens in life, be good to people. Being good to people is a wonderful legacy to leave behind.”
Perhaps you’re inspired by the GOAT, Greatest of all time, most decorated gymnast Simone Biles, her motto is: “I’d rather regret the risks that didn't work out than the chances I didn't take at all."
What about this insightful message from Coco Gauf, the 19-year-old who just won the US World Cup: “I don’t pray for results. I just ask for the strength to give it my all.”
Canadian rapper Drake offer this insight: “Strength isn’t always shown in what you can hold on to, sometimes it’s shown in what you can let go of.”
And finally, fans of Barbie land: we got you covered here - Weird Barbie counsels: “You have to go to the real world. You can go back to your regular life and forget any of this ever happened. Or you can know the truth about the universe.” Don’t know weird Barbie? You’ll have to see the movie!
Did you like any of those sayings? Which one? So, what has life taught you? What rules, sayings, beliefs - guide your life?
You see, whether we are aware of it or not, our lives are guided by principles and beliefs. Rules, we might call them. Even this worshiping community at Freeport has guidelines that shape us. Can you name a few? How about: we agree to start at 10:30 a.m. more or less. We agree to follow the Presbyterian Reformed order of worship. We agree to a certain number of hymns, and other music as an integral part of worship. We agree to include children. We agree to take requests for prayer. These rules, guidelines, make Freeport unique. Basically, we could not grow or thrive without rules guiding us.
With rules and guidelines being so important to our lives, it’s not surprising that the Bible is full of them. There are 613 rules in the Torah- the first five books of the Old Testament - alone. We call the Bible the “guidebook for life.” Some say, however, the Bible is too full of rules, especially rules that have little bearing to modern life. But we cannot deny the power these rules hold over those who have followed them.
Our gospel lesson from Matthew gives an interesting set of rules and guidelines. How should the Christian community handle conflict that arises within community? It seems like a strange sort of thing to lift up on Rally Day – conflict resolution –on a day when we celebrate our togetherness. But the reality is, every community, every person – at one time or another - experiences conflict. Conflict affects even the healthiest of relationships. It’s normal and natural to have disagreements – even big ones. So, what’s the healthy way to handle it? If we don’t follow sensible guidelines to work through conflict, we can end up destroying ourselves, hurting those we love and care for or harming the community we have built in the process.
Jesus knew this, and felt it was important enough to lay down some very explicit steps for us. Talk one on one first, don’t avoid conflict -- but don’t gossip and don’t slander. Meet with the intention to reconcile or resolve, not to return hurt for hurt. If conflict continues, then bring in leadership to work on the problem. Remember, says Jesus, where two or more are gathered, I am in the midst of them. I am there to help you. Ultimately, such guidelines are grounded in Paul’s great motto that we also heard today: “Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another.”
The Rule of Christ – to do unto others as you would have them do unto you – to love one another as Christ has loved us – is our ultimate rule book -- our guidelines for being church and being Christians in the world. Except for perhaps extreme situations – situations that involve sexual abuse or physical abuse - violence– these guidelines work as long as we are willing to give them a chance.
Matthew lifts up peace-making and reconciliation as fundamental values in the Christian community. It’s at the core of our identity. We are called to be peace makers. Matthew points out that when conflicts happen – in church, in families – in society at large – they must be handled with love. Resolving conflict is not about winning. It’s not about feeling vindicated. Coming out on top. Being the person in the right. Resolving conflict is about reaching reconciliation or a peaceful resolution. Not all relationships can be restored – but they can find a respectful and caring resolution -following Jesus’ guidelines.
Frankly, it’s not comfortable to be called aside if we have hurt someone. It is not easy to talk directly to someone who has hurt us. We’d rather forget it or ignore it. But hurts do not go away on their own. They usually fester. Wounds that fester usually end up poisoning relationships. Battle lines are drawn. Tragically – conflict – not handled with care - can turn into an ingrained fight -- where there are only losers, no matter who seems to be the victor.
. Less we think this only happens in churches – let’s not forget – these dynamics are common in families. In businesses. It’s the dynamic that runs our country and has us bound in such an entrenched polarized state. Why? Because we refuse the guidelines of fair play, of real dialogue, of honesty, of creating a web of care that Matthew gives us today.
There are lots of rules in the Bible, but we need only remember one. Jesus. Jesus is God’s rule to us. Jesus teaches us how to live, how to respond to our world. How to live with each other. Jesus forgave us. Jesus reached out to sinners and outcasts. And Jesus reaches out to us. Jesus shows us that we don’t have to stew in our anger and hurt. There is a way out of the madness if we are willing to listen and follow him.
We need rules, guidelines, core beliefs, to live well. So, what rules, what guidelines do we live by?
It is a new season in the church so it’s good to review to be clear we need something to live by. What guidelines do you like?
“Count your blessings”, says Jimmy Buffett, “Be good to people” says Taylor Swift. “Sometimes strength is what you let go of,” says Drake. “Go and be in the real world” advises weird Barbie. “The only debt we owe is a debt of love” says the apostle, Paul. All make sense, right?
Bottom line though: Only one rule is necessary. One rule covers it all. Jesus. Jesus, the guide of forgiving. Jesus, the example of peace making. Jesus, the rule of compassion. For where two or more are gathered, he is there. With us. To show us how to live, how to care for each other – how to love—the best we can. We can learn to say, “I forgive you.” We can learn to say, “I’m sorry.” Whenever we find ourselves in situations of disagreement or conflict, let the advice of Jesus guide us to act in compassion and peace. Now isn’t that that something we can all agree to live by? Amen.