Sunday Sermon 6th September – Listen with Love

Listen with Love

Matthew 18: 15-20

One thing I am sure we agree on is that where two or three gather in his name Jesus is among us. Jesus stands among us at the meeting of our lives and will be our sweet agreement through the meeting of our eyes…

Oh, if only, we did see eye to eye, but I’m not so confident that the two or three — 20 or 30 or 200 or 300 — do listen to the one voice among us that heals and reconciles the pain and differences or forgives what we perceive as sin.

If you don’t agree with me I’ll find someone who does,” is often an attitude articulated, so people have gone off to find another church to join or formed a new one they can shape into their belief.

A lot of people have done that through history because they were taken before the CHURCH and accused of something they did not accept as being a sin. I know of a woman who was made to stand before a Church congregation and be told her divorce was a sin — even though the man was enjoying himself with other women. I know people who have been persecuted in the church because of their sexuality. I know black and asian people who have been discriminated against because of the colour of their skin and made to feel it was a sin.

I sympathise with the accused who are expected to listen to their accusers; listen to the witnesses and listen to the Church without an opportunity to tell their story! If we refuse to listen to the accused we can be guilty of condemning the innocent and what a terrible sin that can be!

Jesus stands among us where two or three are gathered and it’s with the love we share that he joins our hearts in unity and takes away our fear: So to Him we’re gathering, out of each and every land, Christ the love between us at the joining of our hands.

If someone isn’t listening, even to what the whole Church might say, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector Jesus tells us. Those words hang in the air like a personal question challenging me to answer: How do you treat people like them today?

Like Jesus, of course,” I want to say, but do I even hear his voice standing among us reminding me that he eats with tax collectors and sinners because it’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick? He doesn’t turn them away, but sits with them so they can learn what it means to show mercy and compassion. “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners,” he says. (Matthew 9: 13) He is the friend of tax collectors and sinners, not their judge. He sits, or stands, among us, so that we can get to know him better.

So when someone refuses to listen to us when we believe they have done something wrong there is the golden rule that tells us “to do unto others what you would have them do to you.” (Matthew 7: 12) It sums up the law and the prophets so how can we do anything else?

It occurs to me that Jesus could be the accused who was dragged in front of the authorities and is told what a sin it is to heal on the sabbath or to claim he is the Son of God. He is innocent of any sin, but the accusers are guilty of the greatest sin. When we refuse to listen to the story of people who don’t do things our way we can be guilty of breaking the greatest command God gives: To love. Let there be love shared among us, let there be love in our eyes; may now your love sweep this nation, cause us, O Lord, to arise: give us a fresh understanding of heavenly love that is real; let there be love shared among us, let there be love.

Let there be love between people who think differently; between people who don’t agree and for people who won’t listen. Let the love we share give food to our hungry enemies and a drink when they are thirsty because love is the weapon that will overcome evil. (Romans 12: 20-21) Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you and then you will be children of our Father in heaven. (Matthew 5: 44-45)

All you need is love — and love does no harm to its neighbour, or brother, or sister, or enemy and so love is the fulfilment of the law. What we do to the pagan and the tax collector on earth will be what binds us together in heaven so lets live that old song: Bind us together, Lord, bind us together with cords that cannot be broken; bind us together, Lord, bind us together, O bind us together with LOVE!

There are so many people I disagree with and I could name a few politicians I believe need to be shown their faults, but I know they won’t listen to me, some witnesses or the Church. We treat them as we would a pagan or a tax collector — with love.

We have differences in the CHURCH between denominations and don’t agree on theology, liturgy and ritual, but we are bound together by a love that has been let loose from heaven. There are things we don’t agree about in our own Church, but Jesus is among us and if we listen he might be the minority voice that is right. The one we accuse of not listening to us can be the one with the truth for us to listen to!

The Holy Spirit isn’t always in the majority voice, but can speak through the minority or even in the lone voice or quiet whisper. The one that wanders off and leaves the congregation of 99 behind to reach out to the community might be the one who fills the Lord with joy. The Church can feel they have lost a brother or sister, but that person doesn’t feel lost because they can be where our heavenly Father wants them to be. The Shepherd is happier about that one than with all those who stayed behind.

You might not agree with me, but I hope you’re not going to stop loving me or listening to me. Listen with love and I will always do the same so that we can grow together to know Jesus better.

Children don’t always do as they are told, but they are very good at following what they see being done and our attitude in church can shape young lives for the future.

If we don’t listen how can we expect them to listen? They will treat people as they are treated by adults so violent hands, hurtful words and eyes that judge by what they see without hearing someone’s story can cause a child to sin. Our early years are the most informative from which we learn most to develop character so change to become a child again. Be born again to learn again so that the kingdom of heaven can be seen for all its greatness through your humility.

We shouldn’t forget that the pagans and tax collectors — and whoever we compare them to today — have children so how we treat them is a fundamental question to our ministry today. How we treat brothers and sisters who we perceive as having sinned against us can have profound influence on how their children grow up so even if you don’t agree with me now, listen with love and learn like a child.

So what do we do for pagans and tax collectors and the like today who might sin against us but won’t listen? The same as we do for our brothers and sisters which is to forgive again and again so that by our listening with love they can learn to love themselves!

It is so sad to hear of so many people who don’t feel there is anything to love about themselves so take their own lives. Some people can feel so lost, lonely and rejected that they have nothing to love about themselves so have no love to give to others so cause harm rather than healing.

I pray that at least two of us will come together and agree the priority for our mission and ministry is to listen to those who don’t know Jesus so they can feel valued. I pray that we will recognise Jesus standing among us at the meeting of our lives and hear the voice of love that heals so many broken lives.

If we listen with love we can help people love themselves… so treat the pagan and tax collector and brothers and sisters as you would want them to treat you. Amen