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Getting Along Together
September 6, 1981

First United Methodist Church of Modesto

EZEKIEL 33:1-9; MATTHEW 18:15-20

Two boys were talking. One said, “You know that bully that always picks on us? Well, I beat him up and he came to me on his hands and knees.” The friend asked, “Well, what did he say to you when he was on his hands and knees?” “He said, ‘Come out from under that porch, you coward.” Getting along together is something we've all learned to do, more or less effectively. We've all designed our own system. Getting along together is a high priority these days with all the uncertainties and stresses. Getting along together may be a problem in our marriages, our family, employer and employee, with a neighbor, and in our church. We may fight or retreat under the porch, Those are two methods. 

But there are other alternatives. Jesus had much to say about getting along together. Our lesson today has three guidelines. If you'd like to follow along, see Matthew chapter 18, beginning with verse 15, page 18 in the Pew Bible—three guidelines on how to get along together in marriage, family, church. Number one, be direct and open. Verse 15, Jesus said, “When someone sins against you, (when someone hurts you, when you feel someone has mistreated you, misjudged you,) Go and tell him or her the fault between you and him or her alone.” One of the newer translations says, “Go and have it out.” Go and have it out with them. Be direct and open, don't bury it, don't hide, don't ignore and don't tell someone else. When we go underground, those feelings become very destructive. In the church family, when we go underground, it comes out in telephone gossiping,  divisive meetings, and killing meetings, because it's all under the table and destructive. 

In the home, we engage in nice superficial conversation, but underneath there's tension when we go underground. Jesus says, “Be direct and open.” I suggest that you speak in the first person, say, “I feel” and not in the second person, “what you should do, and what you did”. But, “I feel hurt. I feel mistreated. I feel misunderstood.” Be direct and open, face to face is the first guideline. I remember when I went to one of my former churches, there was a conflict between the teacher of the fourth grade Sunday School class and the United Methodist Women. And this had been going on strong for one year. I heard from all over the church about the strain, attention and anger between the fourth grade Sunday School teacher and the United Methodist Women. It seems they shared the same meeting room for years, and shared the same centerpiece—the cross and candlesticks. When the new building was built, and the women moved over to the Fireside Room, they took the centerpiece with them. The fourth grade teacher accused them of stealing his centerpiece. This had been going on for a year when I got there. I said, “Well, let's get them all together.” I invited the teacher and three women. We sat down in my office and I asked, “What can we do to work this out?” In ten minutes, the women offered to buy a new cross and candlesticks. We got out the Cokesbury Catalog,  picked it out and ordered it. The teacher said, “I’m going to like this one much better than the old one.” In ten minutes we went home. 

Be direct and open. Tell your brother or your sister the fault and have it out with them. This week while calling, a woman asked me two questions. I'm sure these questions are everywhere throughout the congregation, but she was the one who was direct and open. She asked, “Why aren't you living in the parsonage? And secondly, why do we need four ministers?” Now I like that. So I tried to explain that we don't live in the parsonage because of financial stewardship. Once you own your own home, you don't want to get out of the housing market. She understood that. I said, “We need four ministers to get the work done, and we juggle the staff around so that we are not using extra money. We’re not spending new money. We just are doing a better job with the budget that was given to us.” The problem is we don't have the budget underwritten but that's another matter. I liked her questioning—direct and open. 

The Old Testament lesson gives an added dimension to this guideline. It adds the dimension of not only are we to be direct and open after the situation is over, but we are to be direct and open even before the situation arises. We are called upon to function in the role of warning, of being a watchman or a sentry. Ezekiel said the Lord called him to be a sentry. A sentry was the one who stood at the edge of the village and looked out for the enemy, and when the enemy approached blew the horn. Now, the Lord said, if the people ignore the sentry and they are assaulted by the enemy, then the responsibility is on their heads. But if the sentry does not blow the horn and does not warn the people and they are assaulted by the enemy, then the sentry is held responsible and accountable. And the Lord is very severe on that irresponsibility. Ezekiel says, “His blood I shall require at your hand.” Pretty strong sense of accountability. 

Ezekiel was a prophet, and the role of a prophet is to warn. You and I are called to be prophets and to warn when we see situations arising that have the possibility of hurting people, or are very dangerous courses to take. And we feel, based on the revelation in Jesus Christ, what is the truth, or at least closer to the truth than the other course and it is our responsibility to be direct and open. If you see someone walking on thin ice and you say nothing, the drowning is on your head and on your conscience if you fail to act as a sentry. The New Testament lesson follows the parable of the 99 sheep where the shepherd expressed concern for the lost sheep. It is out of a concern for the lost sheep that we are called to be the watch people, the sentry. 

And this is the role of the church in society. Our responsibility to the world is to be a sentry. Our responsibility based on the revelation in Jesus Christ and applied to our society today is to warn our country, warn our community, warn our leaders, warn our people of dangerous courses to take. People say it's controversial and we shouldn't stick our nose into politics. We are being faithful as the watch people to be direct and open and to speak the truth as we feel it is revealed to us. Not popular but that's our calling. The first guideline on getting along together is to be direct and open both after the fact and before the fact. 

The second guideline is in verses 16 and 17. When the direct course fails, then rely on the group, rely on the church. Jesus said, “If he or she does not listen, take one or two others along with you. If he or she refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.” Jesus used this law for redemptive purposes. Often in getting along together, a third party is needed, an objective third party—a counselor, the minister, friend or a group in the church. Share it with the prayer group or share it with the class. Share it with people who care about you in the name of Jesus. Share it with the church. Then Jesus said that when this fails, when all fails, then you break the relationship—not first in the process, but at the end of the process. Jesus said in verse 17, “If he or she refuses to listen to the church, let them be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” They were the outsiders of the day. We call this excommunication or divorce—Final separation. Jesus is using it as a part of the whole process of reconciliation. Even when the separation is necessary, let it be done in openness, honesty and understanding. 

But, let the breaking of a relationship be the last possible resort because Jesus goes on to add a very interesting warning—misunderstood and controversial. In verse 18, “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven. And whatever you loose on earth shall be loose in heaven.” The Roman Catholic Church has interpreted it to mean that they have the authority as to who gets in and who is out of heaven. Our fundamentalist brothers and sisters, especially those on TV, say they have the authority. If you're not saved according to their process, their words and their 1-2-3 steps, you don't get in—as if they have the authority to say who's in heaven, and who is not. 

I think the truth of what Jesus is saying here in the context of this passage is that the relationships you develop on earth are bound in heaven. Whatever you do on earth is taken with you to heaven. If you do not get along with someone on this earth, you've got to do it in heaven. The way we get along, the way we live, the way we develop our relationships have eternal consequences and eternal significance. We are put on this earth to learn how to love God and how to love one another. If we don't learn our lesson, maybe there's something like a purgatory. I don't know. But I do feel Jesus is signifying the importance of getting along together with your spouse, with your children, with your parents, with one another in the Christian family has eternal consequences. It is significant. What you do on earth is done in heaven.

And thirdly, ask for and believe that God is in the process. Verse 19, “If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by God.” If two of you agree—that’s the power of prayer. There is power In intercessory prayer. When we pray after the offering, when we unite our hearts and our minds, when all of us are focused, and we pray in the chapel service, following the service, there is tremendous power. I believe it has something to do with our energies. As we all put our minds and our energies together, there is power. And when you add the power of the Holy Spirit, the source of all energy, things happen. 

As you work at getting along together, God is in the process. Jesus promised, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” The third guideline is to ask for God's presence and trust that Jesus is in our midst. With the power of God at hand, how can we fail? And as we get along together in our marriages and our homes and in our church, we are a shining example to the world.

© 1981 Douglas I. Norris