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The Holy Gospel according to Matthew, the 18th chapter.
Glory to you, O Lord.
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. 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator, and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
St. Paul writes, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
One of my classmates in the D. Min. in Preaching program lives in Florida. I talked to her a few days ago and asked how she was doing and if she was in the path of hurricane Irma. She said that they were in the “cone of uncertainty.”
What a place! The “cone of uncertainty.” It’s the place on the forecasters graph where we don’t know what’s going to happen.
Hurricanes are both predictable and unpredictable. Forecasters can see them days in advance. They know they are coming toward land, but despite all their algorithms, there is no way to predict exactly where they will hit and how strong they will be when they do come ashore.
It seems like there are a lot of people in the cone of uncertainty these days. An unprecedented 3 hurricanes are in the Atlantic right now - Irma, Jose, and Katia. The gulf coast of Texas is still reeling from hurricane Harvey. An earthquake shook Mexico. Floods devastated India, Nepal, and Bangledesh. And around here, everything from California through Montana is covered with smoke from wildfires.
How many 100 year, 500 year, and 1000 year storms have we had in the last 10 years? With climate change, it seems that this is going to be the new normal. And the new normal is life in the cone of uncertainty.
The weather would be more than enough to deal with, but political systems in the world are going through their own combination of climate change and denial. North Korea is testing nuclear bombs. Great Britain and the rest of Europe are divided over how to be in relationship after the Brexit vote. The middle east is in a constant state of unrest. The state department has just issued a travel warning for Kenya because of terrorist activity.
And our own government this week has thrown 800,000 young people into a terrible “cone of uncertainty” by announcing the repeal of DACA. The Dreamers who have the proper papers to travel abroad are being advised to come back right away, because there’s no guarantee that our government will let them come back in later.
So many members of our own Yakima community are affected by this ruling. I cannot imagine how anxious, or even terrified, I would be if my status in this country depended on congress being able to work together to pass sensible legislation.
We can pray and we can let our elected representatives know that we expect them to figure out how to work together to provide a sensible solution, a solution that includes keeping families together, and a path to citizenship.
Jesus said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” The scriptures are crystal clear about how we are supposed to treat aliens and sojourners in our land.
Living in the cone of uncertainty is highly anxiety provoking for anyone. You know the hurricane is going to hit. You don’t know when exactly. You don’t know where exactly. You know it’s going to be bad, but you don’t know how bad it’s going to be for you or your friends or your family.
When we are uncertain, when we are anxious, we want to get back in control. Nobody likes being anxious. It is human nature to want to feel in control. So, we often try to regain control of our lives by making laws. We write protocols. We design flow charts. We make lists of things we need to do. These things help make us feel better.
When Paul wrote, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law,” he was preaching to a group of people who, like us, lived in the “cone of uncertainty.” People who also tried to be in control by enforcing laws.
The Eastern part of the Roman Empire, where Paul lived and preached, was an ethnically diverse place. There were different laws and privileges for people who were citizens. And other laws for non-citizens, people without documents.
There were different rights and social expectations for women and men. Different rules depending on your socioeconomic status. There was discrimination based on religion.
And Paul is writing to the early church, a church that is trying to figure out how to get its act together and live the way Jesus would want them to live. It was an uncertain time. Jewish Christians had their laws, and their laws made them feel more comfortable in church. The gentile Christians had very different social guidelines and they thought that their ways were just fine.
Society was changing. The church was changing, and people had very different ideas about the right way to be the church. They were living in the cone of uncertainty. Living in a place where everybody thinks their way is the right way and their rules are the right rules.
In the midst of all that turmoil and uncertainty that Paul says, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another…”
Paul says when we are living under that cone of uncertainty, all we need to do is love one another.
That sounds nice, but it can sound just like a platitude if we don’t know what it looks like.
It’s like saying, “Don’t worry, God’s in charge,” to someone in the path of the hurricane. You can’t just say that and leave it there. You also can’t just say, “I’m blessed because the storm missed my house.” What about your neighbors whose house was demolished? Does God love them less than you? Of course not.
Our God is the One who promises to be with us in the midst of all the storms of life. Jesus is the one who calmed the sea. He says he is with us whenever we gather in his name.
Paul writes, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another…”
Our God is the One who sends us to love our neighbors. That’s the way we show our love for God, our gratitude for all God has already done for us. That’s how we keep all the commandments, all the laws.
So, what does that look like? It is our absolute confidence in God’s grace that gives us the strength to share God’s love.
Loving one another is remembering that stewardship is not just about money. It’s about everything you do after you say, “I believe.”
For some of us, “loving one another” can look like contacting our elected representatives and reminding them that you care about dreamers, you care about keeping families together.
For some of us, it can look like peaceful protests that advocate for justice for everyone. It can be marching for laws that protect our precious environment that is God’s good creation.
Later this morning “loving one another” will look like filling bags with school supplies for children who don’t have even the pencils and papers they need to learn.
Loving one another looks like painting rooms in the church where people can meet and study God’s word.
Loving one another looks like making hygiene kits so that girls in poor countries can go to school every day of the month.
Loving one another looks like tying quilts that will keep our neighbors warm this winter.
Loving one another looks like making cards that will brighten the days of elderly people in our community who can’t get out of their homes as easily as they once could.
Loving one another can look like sending money to Lutheran Disaster Response and Lutheran World Relief through our church, because we know that they make sure that 100% of our contribution goes to help the people who are suffering the most.
There are many ways to show that we love one another, but Jesus is one who ultimately showed us what love really looks like. It was on a Friday, on a hill outside Jerusalem. Jesus stretched his arms and showed us, that for God, loving one another, means loving the whole world.
Jesus knows what our lives are like in that cone of uncertainty. He knows every storm we face, every difficult decision, every anxiety we have. He promises to be with us whenever 2 or 3 of us gather in his name, no matter where the storms hit the land. Amen.