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[Sermon] Teach Me

Rev. Shelley Bryan Wee, Bishop, NW WA Synod + March 17, 2024

Bishop Shelley Bryan Wee's sermon emphasizes the importance of holy community and the inclusion of the vulnerable, as exemplified in Matthew 18. She underscores the need for individuals to support one another, bear each other's burdens, and live out Jesus' teachings collectively, even amidst change and challenges within the community. She encourages a deepening of faith through openness to learning, trust in God's promises, and gratitude for the shared journey of faith.


From automatically generated captions via YouTube, with punctuation and paragraphs added by ChatGPT.

I have to say that I was very impressed with you kneeling on the floor for that long, so that was impressive to do. So, I just got these new glasses, and they have like these bifocals. 'Cause I woke up one day and suddenly couldn't read anymore. And so if I fall down the stairs at any moment, it's because I don't know if any of you had these kinds of glasses, but it's like, whoa, you can't. It's hard to see. So anyway, just a warning, just come and help me up, as I was going to help Pastor Hector up, that would be great.

It's always a delight and a joy to be with you as we worship together, as we praise God together, as we sing together, as we pray together, and as we share our wonderings and our questions with God together. So, I'm so glad to be here. I am also thankful for you. I'm thankful that together we are the Synod, the Northwest Washington Synod. That together we are on a journey together. Together we are... the Word "Synod," as you probably know, means to walk together, to journey together. And so together we are walking in the way of Christ, following Jesus, asking our questions, being open to being taught about what Jesus has said who we are to be and what we are to be doing in this world. And that we are also to be together in big and small ways as we work to make a difference in this world. So thank you. Thank you for your generosity of spirit. And also, thank you for your generosity of finances. We are thankful in the Northwest Washington Synod for your mission support that continues the ministry of Jesus Christ beyond these walls and into the community of the greater area of the Synod and into the entire world. So thank you very much. Thank you. It's again, it's a joy and an honor to be with you today as your Bishop.

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and from our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

I know that the scripture that we just heard a moment ago is from Matthew 18:15-22. But I'm afraid I'm going to have to back up a little bit to share some context about how we got to the words that Jesus spoke today. So I'm going to propose that we're going to back up all the way to the beginning of Matthew chapter 18. If you have a Bible, you're welcome to open it up because then you can make sure that I'm telling you the correct thing. But if you don't, you're just gonna have to trust me.

At the very, very beginning of Matthew chapter 18, the disciples come to Jesus and they ask an important question. They ask, "Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?" Actually, I need to back up even more than that. I need to back up to Matthew chapter 16. Okay, I know I started clear over here, but now I'm in Matthew chapter 16. And in Matthew chapter 16, right after Jesus feeds thousands of people with a little bit of bread and fish, you remember that story, right? Jesus tells Peter and his disciples that he's going to be killed by the authorities. That's in Matthew chapter 16. That's the first time that he tells the disciples about what's going to happen, that he's going to die.

Okay, Matthew 16. Let me go to Matthew 17. In Matthew chapter 17, right after Jesus is transfigured on the mountain top, remember, there's all this white and they see all this light and Jesus appears with Moses and Elijah, and Peter blurts out, "Let's build some buildings here," right? Remember that? And then they go down the mountain after this exciting thing that happens. And what does Jesus tell the disciples in Matthew chapter 16? That he's going to be killed. Remember? Remember, this is what he's going to do. And I think maybe you used this scripture last week when Jesus rebuked Peter because Jesus said, "Get behind me, Satan," right? It was right after the Transfiguration.

So in Matthew chapter 16 and in Matthew chapter 17, Jesus has told his disciples what is coming, that he's going to die by the authorities. They've heard it. They've heard it. But even though Jesus has told Peter and the rest of the disciples repeatedly about what is going to happen, that it is not some road to glory, that he is going to be killed by the authorities, they just can't seem to get it into their minds about what this means. And so they concentrate more on, in chapter 16, the miraculous bread and fish that's fed to thousands. They focus on Jesus's Transfiguration. And throughout all of these chapters, they focus on the healings that he's been doing. And then they hear that a disciple, if the disciple has enough faith, that mustard seed's faith, that they could move mountains, they're like, "Yes, we're in on that one. We can move mountains, right?" So they're all excited. They perceive power. They perceive glory. They are so excited.

And now we get to chapter 18 in Matthew. And here, as I said, remember at the beginning of chapter 18, Peter and the disciples ask, "Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?" After hearing and experiencing the opposite of this with Jesus, the disciples ask, "Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?" Hoping, I think, that they can figure out how to get some of this power.

But do you remember what Jesus does at the beginning of chapter 18 of Matthew? Jesus brings a child. Jesus says, "Oh, okay, I'll bring a child to you." And Jesus puts this child in their midst. And you see, when Jesus puts this child into the center of the question, Jesus brings the most vulnerable to those who want power and prestige. Jesus says, "It's not about glory. Look at this child. This is what it means to be the greatest."

Now, I backed up to the beginning of chapter 18 really a little bit before that, but I backed up to the beginning of chapter 18 because we can't talk about the verses that we have before us today without talking about the whole of chapter 18. Actually, we can't really talk about it without knowing the entire Gospel of Jesus Christ. But you know, we can go here, for Jesus always places the most vulnerable and the most powerless members of society at the center of Christian community. Welcoming the vulnerable means welcoming Jesus.

Perhaps it might be helpful to remember that the community Jesus was originally talking to in chapter 18 was not a well-established church or a denomination or even a group of people who owned a building. Most scholars believe that the community Jesus was addressing in Matthew's Gospel was a collection of largely Jewish Jesus followers who had left or been recently kicked out of or were alienated from their former communities, estranged from their religious, social, and cultural homes. They had to figure out how to live in this new community. So this group that Jesus was talking to was likely a group of fragile, hurting, vulnerable folks who were trying to navigate a new kind of community amid pain and uncertainty.

Now, that first community that Jesus spoke with in chapter 18, just what I described, is a little different than us, right? Most of us gathered here today are not nearly as vulnerable as that first audience was. I mean, at the very least, we're not under Roman occupation, right? And we own this building. I mean, it's an expensive roof, but we own this building, right? And yet, the words Jesus first spoke to those people in the first century in chapter 18 speak to us today. For just as Jesus was telling them what it means to live in holy community, Jesus tells us how to center the vulnerable, how to live as salt of the earth and as light in the world together.

This chapter, chapter 18, and you're welcome to read it later when you get home if you want because I'm going to go really briefly over it. But if you want to read it later, you're welcome to. But this chapter 18 is often called the discourse on the community of faith. And while that title is not necessary to remember, I mean, you can, but you don't have to. But what's important to remember is that even as this ragtag group of Jesus followers was forming, holy community was paramount in all things. Even as these people were trying to figure out what it means to follow Jesus, what it means to be in community together, Jesus says, "Let me tell you."

You see, as we hear in Matthew, in Matthew chapter 18, it's not enough, Jesus says, to individually follow Jesus. It's not enough to say, "Oh, I'm a Christian," and not engage with others. It's not enough to profess the creeds of the church or to have singular prayers or to read the Bible by yourself. I mean, these are all good disciplines and worthy endeavors. But what we hear in Matthew chapter 18 is that Jesus calls us to be in community with one another, to bear one another's burdens. We are called to lay aside power. We are called to love and protect those whom society ignores. We are called, all of this is in chapter 18, we are called to both search for the lost sheep and to rejoice when this lost sheep is found. We are called to forgive, to practice mercy, to practice hospitality, to not be a stumbling block for another person. We are called to have interactions among one another that gives life to one another and that does not destroy each other. We are called to together walk in the way of Jesus. We are called to walk together in the way of the cross.

This is what chapter 18 is about in Matthew. All of those things I listed are there. And truthfully, it seems impossible to follow all of that, doesn't it? It is possible to follow all that, at least as much as we can, to the utter end, right? We cannot ever live completely into what Jesus calls us to do and to be. And yet, I hope, I pray, I trust that we are teachable people.

That's the theme for today, after all, to be open to learn. I hope that we can live into the values and the way of Jesus. I hope that we can always place the vulnerable at the center of everything that we do. I hope that we can bear one another's burdens and rejoice in one another's joys. I pray that together we work for the benefit of this beautiful, broken world that God has placed us in. And that together we form the holy community of love that God calls us towards. For we have this promise that Jesus gives us in Matthew 18, verse 20. "For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." This is the promise we have been given, and always and forever, as we are in holy community together, Jesus is with us. Jesus even promises. He goes on. He doesn't just stop at chapter 18. He goes on, right? And when Jesus, after the resurrection, when Jesus appears to his disciples, Jesus says, "And remember, remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

Now, I've been talking a lot about what it means to be in holy community, what it means to live into what Jesus calls us to do as a community of faith with one another and for the sake of the world. But we also know, as we gather here today, that our community is changing. As we all are aware today, the relationship between Pastor Jenna and the people of Trinity changes. Pastor Jenna is being called out of Trinity into a different future. She's leaving this particular community as she continues to listen to God's calling.

This news, I'm sure, brings different emotions to you all. For many, there is sadness and anxiety. It's difficult when a pastor leaves. It just is. And I know that it's difficult for Pastor Jenna as well. She, too, will miss you. Together, you have laughed and cried, worshiped and prayed together. You have celebrated milestones and grieved losses. When relationships are formed and trust is built, it is difficult when there is a parting of paths. And at the same time, we also trust in the promises we have from God through the Holy Spirit. The promise that the journey continues. The promise that when holy community is formed, it continues even when there is change.

And we trust, as we hear in today's Gospel, the promise that where two or three are gathered in Jesus' name, Jesus is present. Today, we live into this promise as we thank Pastor Jenna for her ministry with us. We thank you, Pastor Jenna, for the care and attention you have given, for your messages, for your love of those marginalized, for your honesty and candor, for your fierce advocacy, and for your vulnerability. We are grateful for the way that God has brought growth and change here at Trinity and the larger church through your leadership. We are thankful for being partners with you in this community and in this journey that we have been called to. We are thankful for you saying yes to this calling. We thank you for you.

And together, as we live in this holy community that Jesus calls us to be, as we thank Pastor Jenna, and as we journey together in old and new ways, may we place our trust and hope in the One who calls us into this place and who sends us out into the world. Now, I don't know how many of you remember Pastor Jenna's installation a few years ago, but I would like to close with the same words that I shared at Pastor Jenna's installation. And perhaps it would help to remind you that the Vulcan hello and goodbye is the same as the benediction and blessing of God, which we find in Numbers chapter 6. So I say to you, Pastor Jenna, and to all you beloved people of Trinity, "live long and prosper."

Be in holy community with one another, and may we trust that Jesus' words are true. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.


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