Friday, October 31, 2014

The Offering

Have you seen the movie As Good as it Gets? It is one of my all-time favorite movies and I watched it on Friday night. It is the story of an obsessive compulsive man named Melvin Udall who is just crazy OCD. He can't walk on sidewalk cracks and he lives in Manhattan so he walks around like some lunatic dancer hopping from one foot to another. He has all these rules, like he has to lock his door three times, turn his lights on and off three times and use a new bar of soap every time he washes his hands. He is also the rudest man alive and he alienates everyone he encounters, mainly because his life of rules can only be lived alone. No one alive could possibly put up with his eccentricities. And, as crazy as it seems, his life seems to work this way. He has written 63 best-selling romance novels in his solitary and sanitary apartment and he is rich.


But then Melvin's life is flipped upside down. He falls in love with his waitress and he realizes that he has to get well if he stands a chance to be with her. "She has evicted me from my life!" He screams to his neighbor. And calmly, his neighbor asks him, "Was your life really that good, Melvin?"


The Pharisees were rule-followers. Today, perhaps the worst of them would be diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder. They were scared, like all of us are, scared of the chaotic side of life and so, in order to gain a sense of control and to be faithful to God, they got really strict with the religious laws. They got really strict. It was almost impossible to live a Pharisaic life perfectly, it was just too hard. And they would spend hours and hours debating the laws of Judaism. 


And Judaism was set up for this kind of OCD rule-following. The Hebrew Scriptures have no less than 613 commandments! It could take a lifetime just to learn them all let alone follow them. When we think of the commandments, we think of ten. Most of us have just blocked out the other 603.


But even still, not all Pharisees were bad, remember that. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and he ended up loving Jesus and Joseph of Arimathea was also a Pharisee and he gave his tomb to bury Jesus. So, just like following laws with simplistic devotion is not adequate for God, neither should we generalize about this religious sect. There was some good among them.


As Carl mentioned last week, this gospel continues a long conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees. These Pharisees and some of the Saducees have challenged Jesus to a duel of the laws, a debate of sorts. They plan to trap him in his words and expose him as a fraud. He must be a fraud. He could not have been a teacher, a rabbi, because occasionally, he broke the rules. So they ask him, "Which commandment is the greatest?"


Now, I have a Jewish grandmother, so I think it's OK to tell you this joke about the Jewish grandmother. I loved my Jewish grandmother dearly but sometimes, she drove me crazy. And there is this great joke about the New York Jewish grandmother that captures mine. It goes like this...


The Jewish grandmother gives her grandson two shirts for Hanukah. He carefully puts on one of the shirts and comes down to eat. His grandmother looks up, frowns and says,


"So what? You didn't like the other shirt?"


The Pharisees were prepared to criticize Jesus for whatever commandments he did NOT say were the most important. No matter which commandment he chose, he could not please them. But he outsmarts them by giving them the most important underlying commandments of all...Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself. These two simple commandments are not rules so much as they are a way of life, a lens through which all rules can be observed and all judgements made. Jesus was teaching them to not get attached to rules and regulations but to think of the underlying relationship with God that illumines all our behavior. He was, quite literally, trying to evict them from their way of life.


We are all afraid. It is part of the human condition. These days, we have new words for it like anxiety and stress, but the feeling is timeless. As human beings, there is so much that we do not know...where will we be for sure tomorrow? Will we die tonight? Will our health hold out? Will we have enough? There are no secure answers to these questions. When someone tells you, out of great kindness, that everything will be OK, they are not telling you the truth. We don't know that everything will be OK, not in this world. Ebola may spread. Wars may increase. This world is chaotic and unpredictable. And, hear me on this, it is a NATURAL response to be afraid.


Melvin Udall was terribly afraid, but he tasted love and this love evicted him from the safe life he had created. He was changed. In order to find love, he had to walk on cracks, unlock doors and touch people. He made the choice to turn himself over to love and risk loosing everything in order to find something worthwhile. He had to break all his rules for love.


Today is Ingathering Sunday. As you approach the altar, you are invited to make your financial pledge to the church by placing a pledge card in the offering plate. Some of you have pledged online and you can just place a blank card in the basket or fill it out again. But as you approach the altar, I want you to pray about something. Pray with me that you and I can offer our whole lives, our whole selves to God. Pray that our fear, our stress, our anxiety and our busyness will not prevent us from offering everything to God. Allow God to evict you from the safety of your life and into a life of risk and purpose for Christ.


Jesus ends the debate finally by asking the Pharisees a question that they cannot answer. "If the Messiah is David's son, then why, in the Psalms, does David call him Lord?" The Pharisees have no answer. They are silent. After chapters of debate, they are finally silent. Jesus shows them that they do not have all the answers, that they never were safe. There will always be things that they cannot understand, questions that go unanswered.


    We are all lost and afraid and no amount of rules and regulations will protect us from the vast unknown. Only in Christ can we all find our safety, our home.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Invitation

Herman walked into the house after a long day at work. He took off his boots and started to put them away in the hallway closet but it was jammed with his little girls shoes and toys and her ladybug umbrella. Why doesn't Lorraine make her learn to clean up her things? Why were the women in his life both slobs? He started to clean up the toys and boots so that he could close the closet door, meanwhile his mind was drifting again to work.


Was Jennings going to get the promotion over him? Why had he agreed to let Lorraine stay home? Maybe he needed to put in more hours to show his dedication to his boss. And why couldn't Lorraine keep a clean house when she was home all day? 


Herman walked into his bedroom. His little girls dresses were strewn all over the bed, along with some of his wife's blouses. Where were they anyway? The cat, Mrs Spots, jumped on the bed. Herman sat on the bed and put his head in his hands. Why was he always so tired? It must be the pressure at work. If he got the promotion, would they have to move? Would they get any tax breaks this year? They needed a bigger house but that would just end up a bigger mess. He stood up, changed out of his suit and hung it up in the closet, put on his sweatpants and went into the living room, where there was a note from his wife on the coffee table.


"Herman, we waited until 5 and finally had to leave. Did you forget your own daughters birthday party? After all her planning about bowling with you and her friends? Please drive here as soon as you can...your cell must be turned off."


Herman remembered that he had turned off his cell about 3 so as not to be interrupted at work. He remembered the look on his little girl's face when she handed him a picture she drew, "that's you and me," she said, "bowling together." Then she looked up and asked him, "You'll be there, won't you, Daddy?"


And somewhere, deep in his soul,  Herman heard a door shut. 



Jesus said, the kingdom of heaven is like  when a King sends out invitations to a great party but people refuse to come. There was no greater party in Biblical times than a wedding feast. It could last for a week. The father would pull out all the stops, offer everything he had for he was celebrating life itself. With the marriage of his son came the possibility of children, of his family line continuing beyond his death. The wedding banquet was a celebration of life itself.


    The King sent out invitations to the banquet, but the guests refused to come. If you read the parable carefully, there are two kinds of refusals. Some seem violent in their refusal, like they hate the King and they try to kill his servants. But the second kind of refusal comes from people who may love the King and even be friends with him but they are too consumed with the responsibilities of life to celebrate. So one man goes to his farm, another to his business. Jesus says that these people "made light of the Kings invitation." They did not take the invitation seriously.  These are the people I want to focus on today. This invitation is no big deal to them. They have more important things to attend to, things that, if they could get them done, would make them happy.  The good people, the ones who really try, like you and me, get so consumed with the mundane aspects of life that they turn down God Himself.  Their fundamental mistake was that they confused happiness with joy. While chasing after happiness, they missed the invitation to joy itself.


There are tons of books out about happiness. Everybody in America wants to be happy. Walgreens tag line is "Where happy meets healthy." There is a book called The Happiness Project that is a National Bestseller and all it's about is a middle-aged woman who lives in New York City and how she is trying to be happy. Having the right amount of stuff, a decent job, exercise...all recipes for happiness. All we want is to feel good. All the time.


Meanwhile, God is offering us joy. Joy is very different from happiness. It has little to do with your moods. And it is all about waking up to the invitation that has ALREADY been offered to you in your baptism. To know that, no matter what happens to you in this life, you are loved with a kind of radical love that you do not deserve and all you have to do is say yes, put on your best clothes, and come to the party. All you need to do is agree to the invitation, to take it seriously, to come. Joy is a state of being. It is rock solid. It is nothing more than the acceptance of God's love.  It has nothing to do with the events of your life or how you are feeling. It is done. Joy only has to be accepted.


Do you know what the priest is called who presides over the Holy Eucharist? The one who tells the story at the table? That person is called the celebrant, because that person presides over a great banquet, a banquet of joy.


At the Bavarian National Opera House, there was a man named Karl Valentino who performed in the 1930's. He was the last of what people used to call "The Metaphysical  Clowns." He would dress like a clown and do pantomimes that had profound significance. 


One particular pantomime began with a bare stage except for one circle of light. The clown entered the stage and began to search diligently for something that he had lost. After a time, a policeman came up to him.


"Have you lost something?"


"The key to my house," answers the clown. "If I can't find it, I can't go home tonight." 


With that, the policeman joined the search. Finally, he asked, "Are you sure that you lost it here?"


"Oh, no, I lost it over there," said the clown, pointing to a darkened part of the stage.


"Then why on earth are you looking here?"


"Because there is no light over there."


To look for something where it doesn't exist is the ultimate form of futility. To search for joy where you can only find happiness at best, is to waste your life away. It is to say no to the invitation because you are too busy trying to be happy. 


To spend your time worrying about finances, mortgages, work issues, schedules, cleanliness is to waste the invitation. Worrying of any kind is a rejection of the invitation that God has already made. St Paul says, "Do not worry about anything but in everything, by prayer and supplication, let your requests be made known to God." Consumers are just that, they are consumed by the myth that buying stuff will make you happy. Happy. Even if it does make you happy, you get nowhere. You spend your life chasing after a mood or a feeling of wellbeing. You might as well chase after the wind. Meanwhile God is offering you joy itself.


The end of the parable is the most disturbing because the King gets mad, really mad. The King gets mad at the people who refuse to come to the banquet and He gets mad at the man who comes but refuses to put on a white robe. St Augustine taught that the wedding robe would be provided by the host for all who needed one. If that is true, then this guest had been provided with a robe but he refused to put it on. So although he came to the feast, he did not participate fully, and that was as bad as not coming at all.


Most Episcopalians don't like to think about an angry God. We prefer the God of the New Testament who is loving and not angry, we say. But, in truth, Jesus does talk about God getting mad and why shouldn't the King get mad? When you really love someone and you give them all that you have and you invite them to the most important celebration of life itself and they turn you down, wouldn't you be mad? Anger is not the opposite of love, it can be an expression of love. No, it is indifference that is the opposite of love. God is angry when you do not say yes to the invitation, when you forget your child's birthday party because you are so preoccupied at work, when you miss out on the joy of generosity because you are too busy trying to play it safe, when you run after happiness and miss the banquet of life itself.


And to make God angry is a serious matter that ends in death. In the parable, the King destroys the people that kill his servants and burns their city. This is no joke. Making God mad is no joke. We want to sugarcoat the story, but the truth is that nothing seems to make God more angry than when we refuse an invitation to the celebration of life itself.


But to please God is so easy. All you have to do is come. Come to church. Come to the celebrations of love and laughter in your life, with your whole self, not preoccupied or distracted, but being fully present.  Come to the eucharist with your whole self, ready to love and be loved, ready to give and to receive, ready to accept that God wants you despite all your faults and foibles. You have been invited. All you have to do is come.




Monday, October 06, 2014

Francis Moments

About twelve years ago, I was working at a church in Kansas and it was early on a Tuesday morning. My son Luke was four years old, my son Jacob was just two. My husband was off somewhere training for an Ironman and I had to get the boys ready for preschool, get myself ready for work, and get us all out the door on time.


Mornings are nuts with toddlers and pets. Mornings can be nuts even if you don't have kids. I was frazzled and I remember distinctly that I had butter in my hair. I locked the front door and herded the boys to the car but Jake saw something on the front lawn and he wriggled out from under my grasp.


"Mom,mom,mom, mom!!" He exclaimed with sheer joy. "Look!look!look!look!" There on the lawn was a dandelion. Jake wanted to "blow on it", that was the way he said it at two- "blow on it." But I was so anxious and mad at him for slipping away and I couldn't get it out of my head that we were going to be late. So I hustled him into the car.  He started to cry.


It's been twelve years and do you know what? I can't remember for the life of me what could have been so important that I had to rush. But I do remember my two year old's beautiful blond hair shining in the sun and how he wanted to blow a dandelion with me. And I remember his anguished face when I forced him to rush and we missed blowing on that dandelion.


Jesus said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants." Infants. The little ones. That early stage of childhood when you are overwhelmed by the sight of a bird in a tree or a spider in its web. That early stage of wonder and simplicity. That is when you can see God. When we get older, we become so absorbed in our busyness, in all the cares and occupations of this frantic life, that we lose the capacity to see God. We lose the gift of wonder.


But let me tell you something true.


You cannot find God by running faster or doing more.


Let me say that again. 


You cannot find God by moving faster or doing more. 


God can be found only by going back to that state of early wonder that you once loved. You must stop and blow on the dandelion.


St Francis is the most popular of all the saints. He is universally loved across Christian denominations. In the year 1204, Francis was a wealthy soldier on his way to war when he had a vision of God. This vision changed everything for Francis. It changed his perspective forever. He gave up life as he knew it and decided to live simply. When his father confronted him to bring him home, Francis stripped naked in front of his father, the bishop and the whole village. "Do you want my belongings? Take them! Do you want the clothes on my back? Take them!" 


Francis no longer cared about stuff. He gave up his wealth and prestige in exchange for the riches of nature. Francis was rich in the songs of the birds and filled with the beauty of the flowers. He saw the animals as his friends and as icons for the beauty and majesty of God's creation. He found nature so beautiful that sometimes he would sing to the sunrise, preach to the birds, or just stand there and stare at the beauty of God's handiwork with tears streaming down his face.



I love how little kids, when you see them in the grocery store, they just stare at you, right at your face, as if there is nothing more fascinating. They don't yet have the inhibitions or preconceived notions that tell them not to stare, that it is impolite. They don't care about what they need to do next or how their stare makes you feel. They are just fascinated. That's the way that Francis was, with the whole of creation. He was fascinated.


I want you to take a moment to stop and stare with me. Just gaze on the beauty of the animals before us, the majesty of the trees, the sight of the rays of the sun. Take a moment, stop and stare. (silence)


I realized recently that there are holy moments that come to all of us every day. Most of us race around, trying to get somewhere, speeding up in our cars, rushing down hallways, calling people on the phone, hopefully NOT texting while driving but listening to the radio and getting annoyed by the nasty driver who won't let us into the line or annoyed at the traffic jam that seems to go on forever. But whether you are in the car or on foot, sometimes you are gifted with a moment when you can stop and stare at something in nature, something that God made. A sunset, a blooming flower, a drop of rain on your winshield.  This is an invitation to take a Francis moment, to stop your motion and pray for the world and give thanks for the beauty that you see. Stop and stare. Pray and give thanks.


Are you a person who gets overwhelmed by the thought of praying daily? Maybe morning prayer or devotional reading is too much for you to take on and it just becomes another item on your to do list. What if you tried this instead...what if you looked for Francis moments, moments of wonder and fascination, when you can simply stop whatever you are doing and stare. Moments of being instead of doing. Moments that are totally unscheduled. Moments that are spontaneous. You never know when and where they will happen. Late at night as the rain beats down on the roof... Stepping outside as a fog lifts. Taking your dog for a walk. And you just take that moment and treat it as a gift from God and calm down, breathe and become like a small child again, full of joy and wonder.


I want you to try it this week. Let God give you Francis moments.


You cannot find God by running faster or doing more, but you can find God by acting like Francis, like a small child, who marvels at creation and stops to blow the dandelion.




Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Not Fair

Anna was eighteen and just starting college when she found out that she was pregnant. The father was a fling, totally unreliable and had no interest in the child. Anna's life was turned upside down. How could she be so careless? How could she let this happen?


After praying, crying and talking to her parents and friends, she decided to give the baby up for adoption. The child deserved a good life and she was unfit to be its mother. And, to be honest, she didn't want to sacrifice her life. She wanted to go to college.


A couple from Connecticut adopted her baby, a little girl. They had two boys and really wanted a girl but didn't want to chance a pregnancy in which they might get yet another boy. They took her baby as their own and Anna gave up all parental rights. She was no longer a mother, or so she thought.


But every day of her life, even if it was just for a moment, Anna would wonder about that little girl. How was she growing up? What did she look like? Was she happy? She wondered if her daughter would ever contact her, but she never did. And Anna assumed that she had no right to know what her daughter was up to. She went on with her life but a part of her always wondered.


When Anna's daughter, Jennifer, turned 30, she prepared to be married in Connecticut. One day, she came home from work and her fiancé gave her shocking news. "Jennifer," he said. "I don't think that you are ready to marry me."


"What!? Why?" she asked, about to burst into tears.


"You need to find your biological mother. You have always wondered about her. Find her. Find out who she is. Then we can be married..."


Jennifer began to search for Anna. Anna had always left her contact information with the adoption agency in the hope that her daughter might some day want to know her. So she was not hard to find.


You could have knocked Anna over with a feather when she first heard her daughter's voice on the phone. It sounded so much like her own! They began to speak, they met for a long weekend at the beach. And Jennifer decided that she wanted Anna at her wedding. And not only that,  Anna was to sit in the front row  with the parents who had raised her daughter.


Jennifer's adoptive parents were remarkably generous in welcoming Anna into all of their lives. Together, they shared grandparent duties when Jennifer had her first baby. But all the time,  Anna could not help feeling that it was so unfair. So unfair and yet so beautiful. She hadn't done any of the hard work. She hadn't changed diapers and put up with pimply adolescence. And she got all the benefits, as if she had been there from the start. She got to sit in the front row at her daughter's wedding.


Today Jesus tells us a parable about a landowner who is not fair. He hires workers all throughout the day, from morning to night. But when the day is done, he pays them all the same wage...those who worked for five minutes get the same amount as those who worked all day. It is clearly and unabashedly unfair.


God is not fair. God is good and infinitely generous but no where in the Bible does it say that God is fair.


I knew a man who lived the most wild life: partying and drugs and women and gambling- he did it all. At the age of 65, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He was all alone. His third wife had left him after he had yet another affair. 


This man found my church in the yellow pages (yes, it was years ago).  He came to my office and confessed his sins. One week later, he called asking me to come to his home because he was too sick to come to me. He sat in an armchair and told me that he had had a vision of Jesus walking towards him with his arms open. He cried. And the next day, he died.


His funeral was a mess. He had made no plans. His wives and mistresses were warring with one another, but I believe that God welcomed him home, at the eleventh hour.


And how is this fair? Here we are, worshipping faithfully, giving our money and time, serving the poor the sick and the needy, and all he did was party! It's not fair!


The notion of fair comes from the mind of a two or three-year old. It is a good notion but it is a human notion, too simplistic for God. God is too wise to be fair. God knows things we do not. God is too vast to give us all the same thing. We are so unique and so individual and only God can fathom what we need.


When John Claypool's daughter died at the age of nine from cancer, he sat at the breakfast table one morning so depressed he could hardly breathe. How could God be so unfair? Why did other parents get to keep their kids? Why did he have to suffer? Why did his daughter have to suffer?


Then, in  a moment, John looked up and he saw his son, sitting across the breakfast table eating Cheerios, healthy and alive. And in that moment, John realized that it was his choice. He could be angry about how unfair life was or he could be grateful for the child he had. That was the defining moment of his life. He decided that God was not fair but God was good. John realized that his daughters life was a gift. He had her for seven years.


Think about your life. Where do you feel like you've been cheated? How do you compare yourself to others? What do they have that you don't have? A better job? A nice house? Healthy kids? Life is difficult. But it is a gift and you won the lottery just to get here. Jesus never promised us that life would be fair. You have a choice as to how you see your life. Do you want to be grateful or do you want to be angry because life is unfair?


You may say to yourself, "Why should I be grateful? I have arthritis so bad I can hardly walk. My husband left me. I am alone in this world. I lost my job..."  And you are right. Some of you, in fact, most of us, have had to suffer in this life. But look around you. How is it that you were born? How incredible that, out of all the infinite possibilities of genome, that you came to be? How incredible that you breathe? Dr Ryan Uitti spoke at Episcopal this past week and he said that it is hard NOT to believe in God. It would be like believing that a tornado passed through a junkyard and left behind a F16 fighter jet. There is too much beauty and genius to the creation, there is too much intentionality.


Life is not fair. You are right. God never promised us fair. God promised us love and a front seat at the wedding of life itself, at the dance of creation, the great feast of God.




Monday, September 08, 2014

The Reality of Relationships

Richard grew up in a nearly perfect family. His dad was a renowned surgeon. His mom stayed at home. He had a younger  brothers and their life was full of safety, learning and fun. Their dad was stoic, calm and loving. They adored him and waited with excitement every night for him to come home. They loved to get him to wrestle with them on the living room floor after dinner. He was big and strong and seemingly invincible, their protector and their provider.

Richard grew up, got a law degree and began to practice law. At the age of 30, with no warning at all, his is dad...his dad, who he had looked up to his whole life, decided to start another family.

Richard's dad fell in love with a patient, a woman 20 years his junior, and he decided that he did not want to be a father to his adult children any longer. He told them that he had never told them how much he resented them. He sent Richard a letter. "I have raised you and provided for you. I have experienced too much sadness and resentment trying to raise you and care for your mother. I give up. I am no longer your father." Richard was so devastated that he could hardly breathe. His father had simply never come to him when he felt discouraged or angered by him. He did not communicate conflict and then he just left. Richard was devastated and alone. He felt that his whole childhood had somehow been a sham.

Richard was never able to reconcile with his dad, despite many letters and phone calls. When his dad died, he did not even know about it. One of his friends happened upon his dad's obituary and that's how Richard found out that his dad was gone forever.

There is a powerful myth that exists in the church. It is a myth that defies denomination, it exists in all churches from the evangelical to the progressive. The myth is about relationships. The myth tells us that if we are faithful we will not have broken relationships, that if we are faithful,we will not fight with one another. The good Christian gets along with everyone, right?

Conflict, disagreement, argument...these things are not bad. They are the way that we have of communicating difference, hurt, confusion. Conflict can be very painful but it can also be incredibly helpful. If you do not have conflict, be careful. Someone may not be telling the truth about how they are feeling. Richards father refused to communicate when there was conflict. He let his resentment build and then he ran away from his entire family. Conflict is an inevitable part of human relationships.

St Paul once wrote that we see through a glass dimly. Sometimes, when people are in a disagreement, it is almost as if there is a glass wall that stands between them. This glass wall is transparent but it is a bit warped. On one side, a person sees through it and everything looks one way but the person on the other side sees things differently. Many of the conflicts that arise between us arise simply because we have experienced an event differently. Our perspectives, what we see and experience, are different and we respond to what we are seeing and this leads to conflict.

Conflict in the world and especially in the church is inevitable. Let me say that again, conflict is inevitable. If there is conflict in your life, it is not because you did anything wrong. It has to do with our fallen world and our lack of perspective. We see through a glass dimly. Dimly. The glass is sometimes warped by our hurts and the repetitive patterns of our lives. Sometimes we can't even see each other at all.

Jesus talks about relationships today and he openly talks about conflict. He talks about conflict in a way that assumes each of us will experience it. "If your brother sins against you, this is what you do..." He gives us a clear and concise list of instructions. The instructions are simple and yet they are terribly hard to do.

First and perhaps most importantly, when someone wrongs you, GO AND TALK TO THEM. Out of all Jesus' instructions, this is the one we most avoid. We want to pretend that it didn't bother us. We don't think it is worth our time. We don't think the other person will respond well or we are just too darned tired. If we really followed this commandment, we would be talking to someone at least once a week right? Daily? Be honest. How many times does someone hurt your feelings or wrong you in some way? But so many times, if we just follow Jesus' instructions and go to the person alone, without gossip or self-pity or wallowing...so many times the dispute ends right there and in many cases, the relationship is strengthened. It is so hard to be honest about this. It takes time. It takes effort. And sometimes, we just want to do what is easiest, to pretend nothing is wrong, or to tell anyone or everyone else about our hurt and not the person who hurt us.

There are times when you do go directly to the one who hurt you and try to talk to them, and it doesn't work. There are times when people don't admit to wrongdoing or their perspective on life is so different from yours and in their eyes, they are the victim not the perpetrator. And in those cases, Jesus tells us to go back to the person but this time with witnesses or, literally, listeners, people who are objective and have integrity, who will not take sides. Take with you people who see clearly and have the capacity to listen. Let them see and hear the truth. If they cannot explain or help you reconcile, then bring the conflict to the church. Technically, the word ecclesia that Jesus used meant community. Clearly, Jesus wanted the conflict aired and discussed, not kept in the dark.

Finally, if none of this works, we are to end the relationship. Stop trying. Let the person be a non-relationship for you, like how a Jew was instructed in Jesus' day not to speak to a Gentile and a tax collector. Just let it be. And maybe this is the hardest part of all. It is hard to stop trying.

Jesus is telling us that it is OK to have people that you cannot or do not relate to. That is the final breakdown of the myth. Jesus is saying that, even in church, there are times when you have to end a relationship. Conflict should not last forever. After a number of tries, it becomes obsessive and sinful. Try, get help, and if you can't fix the relationship, end it. Don't let it live broken forever. Let it go.

The pain of saying goodbye to folks who will not change is devastating. Richard wanted a relationship with his father but his father would not have it. And this pain is something that he still carries with him today. He never really got to say goodbye.

No human relationships are perfect and sometimes the least inadequate solution is goodbye. Love does no wrong to a neighbor, Paul says. Sometimes, the only thing that we can do is not to harm each other.

"Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven," Jesus said. Heaven will be a place of relationships. The people who you love and live in relationship with will somehow be there. I am not sure that we will ever fully understand these words until we get there, but it is enough to know that relationships are part of your spiritual life. Relationships are part of how you live out your life of faith. You can bind people to you in love but you also have the capacity to loose them, to let them go. Why must we work so hard on our relationships? Because your relationship with God is impacted by your relationships with others. Your relationships affect your soul. And when we get along and truly connect, when two or three of us are really together and for even a brief moment, our barriers come down and we see each other clearly, God is there.

So communicate. Tell each other about the little conflicts before they get huge. Don't slack off or hold it in. Talk to one another. And, if after much effort, you cannot resolve a relationship, let it go. That's what forgiveness means, letting go. Do not stew or obsess or gossip. Just hand the relationship back to God.