Sunday, September 04, 2011

Close Enough

Exodus 12:1-14
Matthew 18:15-20

It is often said that "close enough" only counts with hand grenades and horseshoes. A hand grenade does not have to hit its target directly in order to be effective since the shrapnel from the explosion can range as far as 50 feet. Close enough. Although the object of the game in horseshoes is to get the "ringer", it is only necessary to get "close enough" just to win the game; that is, getting closer to the ringer than the opponent. In either case "close enough" will do the job without actually touching the object itself.

When it comes to relationships, however, "close enough" without actually touching the object is inadequate. It's a little like the Facebook "friend" whom we may know through mutual acquaintances but do not actually have an engaging relationship. My friendship count, for instance, is over 400. To be perfectly honest, I am not sure I can actually name even 400 persons I know well enough to call "friend"! Acquaintances? Of course. Colleagues in ministry? Yes. Brothers and sisters in Christ? Absolutely. But friend? Questionable; at least in terms of how Jesus defines His own "friends" by an expressed willingness to surrender one's life (John 15:13-14).

Technology is a wonderful tool to have and to use that can actually enhance whatever task is before us, but it is only a tool ... a means to an end. Since there is no actual, literal, or physical connection, it cannot be the end especially when it comes to human relationships. Take, for instance, Jesus' lesson to us when it comes to dealing with a problem with a church brother or sister (Matthew 18:15). Though we know e-mail did not exist then, the command that comes from Jesus is as valid and for the same reason today: there must be personal, face-to-face interaction in order to convey precisely what must be conveyed. An e-mail to spell out hurt feelings or concerns just will not do it for a number of reasons, not least of which is that written words cannot carry the same thought as a word spoken and expressed. It is one of the many interesting characteristics of American Sign Language in that a hand sign only has its fullest meaning according to one's facial expression and posture. Jesus is very clear: one must get up close and personal.

The Passover is no exception which, of course, carries forward to us today in the Eucharist, the Holy Communion. To "commune" with Christ and with one another is exactly as it suggests: up close and intensely personal - yet very communal ... and necessarily so. We are actually joined together in Christ as we partake of the elements of the Eucharist in the bread and the Cup. It is in this moment when the Church is at its fullest and truest nature. It does not get much closer than to actually ingest these things and thus connect ourselves to our Lord and to one another. There can hardly be anything more intimate and connective than this.

"The blood shall be a sign for you ... when I see the blood, I will pass over you and no plague shall destroy you" (Exodus 12:13).

Clearly we will not be letting any blood anytime soon at the altar of the Lord. There is no more perfect Sacrifice we can make or offer that was not already done perfectly. When Jesus defines His friends - and His own love for His friends - by a willingness to surrender one's life, He is not talking about human sacrifice. In His own case, of course, He is painfully aware of what must come to be but when He is speaking to His disciples - then AND now - He is offering something not literal but even more profound, and it goes much further and deeper than what we drop into the collection plate ... though what we offer in this regard is pretty revealing as well.

The single, most precious resource we have is time. I say this because it has been my experience since long before I became a preacher that people, even faithful Christians, are often much more willing to write a check than they are to give too freely of their time. Too often we have been reduced to an either/or theology by which we have come to believe we can write that check - OR - help do the work. And because we have found ourselves so busy with work, social obligations, and downright selfishness when it comes to our time; clearly it is revealed that of all the resources we have at our disposal, we are far and away much more jealously protective of our time than anything else.

We fail to realize that, as aggressively as we might defend the concept of a "personal" Lord and "personal" salvation, the depth of that salvation and how it is made manifest is in how "up close and personal" we are willing to be with one another, the "least" among us - AND - the Church. The expected behavior and intimate connection of the faithful disciple within the Church is revealed in Matthew's Gospel reading. If we think we have been wronged, we should not go about and slander the one who has wronged us with anyone who will listen.

Gossip and slander are not even "close enough", but Lord how it seems to be the weapon of choice and preferred strategy! And when we spend more time trying to "make our case" to folks who are not even involved in the situation and drum up support AGAINST the offender, what is happening? The relationship that perhaps once existed - the relationship that could perhaps be made even stronger - is ultimately destroyed because of the profound and intentional disconnection. Before the offender has had a chance to explain himself or herself, he or she is already "put out" as a "Gentile or a tax collector" - all by means not of fact but of innuendo. It is not unlike the "collateral damage" wrought by a hand grenade or a bomb. You will likely hit what you meant to hit, but there will be others harmed as well - whether they deserved it or not.

Notice what Jesus is moving toward. His strategy is not so that we can decide for ourselves who is in "the club" or out. The whole move is geared and directed toward intentional restoration of the relationship. It is entirely what our new Membership Care Committee is all about, especially in pursuing those who have fallen away from a relationship with the Church. It is to remind them that the whole idea of Jesus the Christ Himself is RESTORATION, not JUDGMENT ... and certainly not DESTRUCTION!! And we are to go to great lengths until the "offender" is restored and peace has been made - OR - the offender has made it very clear that he or she is not interested in restoring the relationship.

A card or letter (electronic or USPS) is a very nice touch, a means to a noble end; but such means cannot be the end. We must never come to believe a mere attempt is "close enough" because when it comes to the doctrines and theology of the Holy Church and relationships with one another IN Christ - not one another OR Christ - "close enough" without actually touching the object is not close enough. Not by a long shot.

As I have shared in the past the wafer and the juice (or wine) of the Holy Eucharist are not "magic pills". They represent the willingness of Jesus to step forward in our behalf. They represent all Jesus did in our stead. They mean Jesus did what He needed to do. These elements stand for something so mysterious, so deep as to render us in our humility "unworthy" to come forward and yet so profoundly grateful in understanding what had to happen in order to make this Sacrament and our redemption possible. To get "close enough" in the Sacrament of Communion is to be "close enough" to see the Cross and Jesus' most anguished face, "close enough" to hear His painful groans, "close enough" to feel and perhaps even experience His pain, "close enough" to touch His blood-soaked feet. Indeed "close enough" to even care.

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