“A Binding, Loosening Community”
Sermon for September 7, 2014 @ First Churches
Rev. Todd Weir
For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
I love this text. I was excited to see it as the featured Gospel for Gathering Sunday, because today as we gather ourselves for a new beginning of the Fall Church Season; we hear the good news!-Christ is among us today! We missed out on meeting the real Jesus, hearing him preach and shaking hands with him at coffee hour, liking his stuff on Facebook. We were born too late. But don’t despair, because when we meet in his name, his spirit is here and we know him. So we are gathered, Jesus is alive among us-NOW WHAT?
Here’s the rest of the Gospel text: “If you bind or loose something on earth (or at church council?), then that same binding and loosing occurs in heaven! If two of you get together and agree on anything, then the Father in heaven will make it happen. What do we do with that? As a blogger for a website called “The Hardest Questions” puts it:
I wouldn’t even want that to be true. I don’t want God taking instructions from me and my knucklehead friends. What does it even mean that something is loosed in heaven…How are we to take seriously Jesus’ claim that the Father in heaven will do anything we ask as long as there are two of us doing the asking?
As many atheists point out, this is what is wrong with religion-too many people assuming their misguided notions are coming from God’s lips. We go around telling God what to do. Quite a few religious people seem to agree that evolution did not happen, women shouldn’t have birth control and can’t decide things for themselves, gay people should not marry, we should not help the poor, ancient land disputes should be settled by rockets into Haifa and invading neighborhoods with tanks in Gaza and what the world really needs right now is a new Muslim Caliphate stretching across Syria and Iraq, beheading people with swords along the way. (Don’t they know drones are so much more effective?) Just ask Liberty College, the Christian school that trains the most drone pilots in America.) Clearly we need to be careful with this text. People agree on lots of stupid things.
What does it mean to bind and loose things on earth and into heaven? I found an answer in the 1906 version of the Jewish Encyclopedia (so thanks Google, but stop spying on me!) In Jesus day, this was a common term for the scholarly practice of deciding if a particular biblical commandment was applicable to a contemporary situation.
Jewish rabbis “bound” the law when they determined that a commandment was applicable to a particular situation, and they “loosed” the law when they determined that a word of scripture (while eternally valid) was not applicable under certain specific circumstances.” http://thq.wearesparkhouse.org/yeara/ordinary23gospel-2/
In Jesus day there were two competing rabbinical schools, those who followed Rabbi Shammai and those who followed Rabbi Hillel. There are over 300 recorded examples in the Talmud of their disagreements, though tradition says they had great respect for each other. There is an ancient joke explaining their differences in saying: “Shammai binds, Hillel loosens.” In other words the struggle between those who read the Bible literally and those who believe the context matters has ancient roots.
Here are a couple examples from scripture of Jesus doing this, right here in Matthew Gospel. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:21-22), Jesus says, 21 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister,