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Getting Along Together
September 17, 1978

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

EZEKIAL 3:16-21; MATTHEW 18:15-20

A young boy said to his friend, “You know that bully who's always picking on us? Well, I beat him up.” “You did? You beat that bully up?” “Yeah, I had him coming to me on his hands and knees.” “You had that bully coming to you on his hands and knees? What did he say?” “He said, ‘Come out from under that porch you coward.” Getting along together is a task of every group. Whether the group is a church, a youth group, a class, a team, a company, an office, wherever we are gathered together around a common concern and a common purpose, one of the major tasks and priorities of that group is getting along together, especially in the family. I’m increasingly concerned as you are, I imagine, by the number of divorces, splits and tensions in the home. The pressures of today's life are heavy. The pressures bear down upon us in whatever groups we find ourselves in, especially at home. 

Jesus had much to say about getting along together. The New Testament lesson today gives some very specific principles about this task. It's very relevant because we all find ourselves in groups. We all find ourselves daily with the task of how to get along with each other. Especially it is relevant to us in the church. We have been called to come apart and become the people of God. We have been called to be an example, to be a witness to the whole world, and that's mighty heavy. To relate with each other, to work together, to worship together, to play together, to be the people of God together, to witness to the world as to how God intends all of humanity to live is heavy. To that task, then, let's look at some of the principles that Jesus laid down, specifically in this passage. You may apply these principles to whatever group you're in, including the family. 

First, Jesus was very emphatic. In communication with each other, in getting along with each other, be open and direct. When you are hurt by someone, when you are offended by someone, when you are picked on by someone, when you are bullied, when you are let down, when you are discouraged, when people say things about you that aren't true, when tension erupts in the home, Jesus said, “Go and have it out with him or her. Speak, express it and do it directly.” Jesus said, “If that person listens to you, you have won back a brother” or a sister or a spouse. The first step is to go and have it out with them—not on the telephone with someone else, not gossiping, not telling someone else, not avoiding it, hiding it and putting it under the table, not suppressing it deep down inside so that it festers and grows. Get it out, express it and do it face to face. Jesus said, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” Handle it right away. Deal with it right away. For if it's pushed down, it becomes destructive and it comes out in devious ways. You've been in meetings where the people argued about superficial items and really what it's all about is under the table. They’re not dealing and getting along with each other, they are not open and direct. They run clear around the outside to make a point and it comes out in sarcasm, or rudeness, or putting down remarks, or cutting remarks, or insults around the edges instead of being open and direct one to one. Don’t bury it. Don’t hide under the porch. Express it face to face. 

The Old Testament lesson says that this principle is not only what we do when a tension erupts, or when a situation presents itself. Ezekiel lays it on us. We are responsible to do something about the situation even before it erupts. Ezekiel said the Lord called him to be a sentry, to be a watchman. A watchman sits at the gates of the city and when he sees the enemy approaching, he sounds the horn to alert the people inside. That's his task. His responsibility is to blow the horn. But, if he blows the horn and the people inside ignore it, don't pay any attention to the warning, and the enemy comes in and attacks them, then it becomes the responsibility of the people. The watchman has done his task. 

But, if the watchman chooses not to blow the horn and not sound the warning, then the responsibility is upon the shoulders of the watchman. Ezekiel said, “If you do not speak a word of warning to the wicked to point out where they're going, and what's happening to them, that responsibility is on your shoulders.” It's as if you see somebody walking on thin ice, (I suspect you in California don’t know what I'm talking about!) and you know the ice is thin, you know that it’s unsafe, but you don't say anything and they fall in, the responsibility is upon you. That's heavy. When I read that this week, I didn't want to read it. I just as soon would like to shut the book. The word of warning is our responsibility. If you see a situation, and if you do not speak a word of concern, and a word of love to someone else, if you don't point it out, then it's on your head. In other words, the responsibility for the well being of those around us is ours. You and I are responsible to each other. You and I are to be concerned for each other not only in just meeting needs when they come up, not only in just responding to needs, but in speaking words of encouragement and words of concern. 

You and I are not only responsible to each other, we're responsible for the well being of our group, and whatever group you're finding yourself in. We are the church. You and I are responsible for the well being of this group, and when you see something that's not right, when you see something that needs to be corrected, when you see a concern, you must speak up. You are called to be a watchman. Usually we don't want to do that. We just as soon avoid it and we read back a few pages in Matthew where Jesus says, “Judge not that you be not judged.” Well, we like that! But that's a cop-out because expressing concern is our responsibility. 

This passage immediately follows the parable of the 99 sheep. Jesus spoke about the shepherd who had 100 sheep and when he counted, one was lost. Instead of being content with just the 99, he left the 99 and went out to search for that one lost sheep. After Jesus told about the love and concern of the shepherd for the lost sheep, then follows the hard words of being open, being direct. In other words, the reaching out to the lost sheep is all our responsibility. Speaking words of concern, say, “I haven't seen you in church lately. I'm concerned.” Or going to someone and saying, “You haven't seemed quite right lately, you haven't seemed your own happy self. Is something troubling you?” That's your responsibility, and mine. 

I remember one time I felt called upon to say to a person, “I really think you should see another doctor. What your doctor has diagnosed is pretty serious, don't you think you ought to get another opinion?” That person did and it was all changed around. If I had said nothing, if I had kept my nose clean and minded my own business, who knows how sick that person would have been. The responsibility is ours to speak, then the receiver can do what he or she wants to with it. They can ignore it, but we have done what is expected of us. Speak a word of warning. Someone has said, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for the good to do nothing.” And James 4:17, in the New Testament says, “Everyone who knows what is the right thing to do, and doesn't do it commits a sin.” 

The first principle in getting along together is to be direct and open. Don't play games. When you're hurt, and you've been offended, speak about it to the person. And when this doesn't work, when this principle fails in the marriage, or in the group, or in the church, then Jesus gives the second principle: rely on the fellowship. Jesus said, “If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you.” Take some witnesses. This is referring back to the Old Testament ancient law where no one could be accused and found guilty without two or three witnesses. Jesus is taking that principle from the legal system and applying it to human relationships—the necessity of sometimes involving another person or person. Turn to the church, turn to the community. If the person doesn't agree with the two or three witnesses, then take it to the community. “Judge not alone,” said the rabbis. Get some objective helpers, not to sustain you in your opinion, but to get another opinion, to get some objectivity and achieve reconciliation. This may involve going to a minister for counseling, or a friend or a whole group. We’ve let slide through the years of bringing it up to the group or to the fellowship. When there's tension, bring it out in the open and let the entire group deal with it, the redemptive power of the fellowship. That’s a new idea. I don't know exactly how we do it, but that's the power and the principle of Jesus’ teachings. Perhaps a wider group would be more useful than we realize. 

Now when all that fails, Jesus says, “If he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.” Tax collectors have the same status in Israel as they do in America! They were not at all liked. What Jesus is saying is that pagans and tax collectors in the Jewish community were ostracized. They were outsiders. Jesus is talking about the process of excommunication. There is a time for excommunication. “Separate yourselves,” Jesus says. The Roman Church has taken this very seriously in days gone by. The early Methodist movement took this very seriously. If you didn't read, study your Bible and pray, you were out. The class teacher would come around and visit with you and admonish you according to the principles of Jesus. And if you didn't want to cooperate— out! Well, we say that's pretty harsh, and we don't really have all that expertise to excommunicate anyone like that. But, doesn’t excommunication happen all the time in subtle, insidious, devious manners? We excommunicate people out of our groups. We excommunicate our spouses or our children. We excommunicate by giving the cold shoulder, ignoring people, cutting them off in very devious and sundry manners. We excommunicate without going through the principles of Jesus. We excommunicate to the detriment of the person without going through the procedures. 

But when we've gone through these procedures and there is still no reconciliation, they still cannot get along, then is the time to separate. But the separating, whether it's in a marriage, or whether it's in a group, the separating is done aboveboard and out in the open with everyone understanding what's gone on. And with outside people who love you working on the process, there is support and you are sustained through the separation. That's what I think Jesus meant by excommunication— do it openly and directly with as much understanding and support as possible. 

Jesus continues by giving very strange words. He says to the church, he says to the community, “I tell you solemnly, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven. And whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.” The Roman Catholic Church has taken that very seriously and says the church has the authority, has the keys to the kingdom of heaven; at least the church in the Middle Ages did. The church decides who is in and who is out. Protestants have never gone so far to say that we have the responsibility to say what is bound on earth and what will be bound in heaven. But I think what Jesus is saying here is that the relationships we develop here in the church, the relationships you develop in your groups, the relationships we develop in our families are the same in heaven. They are carried over into heaven. The relationships, the way we get along with people here is carried over. That is heavy! Since the responsibility and the admonition is on us, we better get it worked out right here. We better work at getting our relationships to be the best possible they can be because as they are bound on this earth, they are bound in heaven. 

It's in this context, it’s in this setting that Jesus says to the church, “If any two of you agree on anything in prayer, it shall be accomplished. And wherever two or three of you are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst.” In the context of human relationships, in the context of getting along together, Jesus gives us this promise—if any two of you can agree on anything (I suppose that's a very safe promise. Where can you ever find two people to agree on anything?} in the community, take it to God in prayer. You will discover me in your midst. Redemption and reconciliation are possible because of the power of Jesus in our midst. 

That’s the promise. If we deal openly and directly with each other, using witnesses from the fellowship, if we take our problems and our concerns with each other for arbitration by witnesses, and if we lift this matter to God, Jesus is in the midst. And anything we ask will be granted.

© 1978 Douglas I. Norris