“There is a time for everything…a time to gather stones and a time to scatter them.” Long before Bob Dylan and the Byrds made this phrase popular back in the 60’s, someone else had penned these words. They are nestled in a book of Scripture named Ecclesiastes (see Ecclesiastes 3:1-14).
We usually forget (or never knew) that the title of the book literally means “gatherer.” We usually translate that word into English as teacher or preacher. You may recognize its root (ecclesia) which is a Greek word referring to an assembly. Bible readers generally think of that assembly as the church. This stands to reason since that’s exactly what the church is—an assembly.
So to put those terms in a modern day context, preachers are (at least to some degree) gatherers. They attempt to gather people to teach them. In their particular situation, the teaching of the assembly is centered on God’s Word—Scripture.
“Preaching is the easy part.”
In almost forty years of preaching, I’ve discovered (at least for me) that preaching is the easy part. Gathering… Well, that’s something different altogether. Not only can rounding up the stones be an arduous task, but keeping them together seems to be an impossibility—particularly these days.
Back in the mid 80’s, Marshall Shelley wrote a book entitled “Well Intentioned Dragons.” I never actually read it, but it was immensely popular among clergy types. The book was a treatise of sorts on how to minister to folks who seem to unconsciously undermine the ministry of the church. I guess the title says it all.
Even though I’ve never read it, I’ve often thought of that title. It seems to me, every one of us (at one time or another) becomes a well-intentioned dragon. We hit a blind spot where our prejudices or biases don’t allow us to see the big picture. We kick against the goads and the rest is history.
“The crux of the matter is forgiveness.”
Not having read the book, I’m not exactly sure what Shelley has to say about all this. But from my perspective, the crux of the matter is forgiveness. We need to extend forgiveness to our brothers and sisters who may, from time to time, fall into the dragon category. After all, we might be the next dragon in need of forgiveness.
Yet, there’s an even bigger reason to forgive them. When Jesus was teaching his disciples to pray, he taught them to ask for forgiveness. As he did so, he added this caveat. Forgive those who trespass against you. We ask the Lord to forgive us “as we forgive those…” The entire foundation of the church is built on mutual forgiveness. If we lose that, we’ve lost everything.
We are living in a time where gathering stones has become more important than it has been in a long time. Because of changes in our society and various culture shifts, most of us are at a loss as to how to do that. Forgiving each other might be a good place to begin.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently pastor of Smith Chapel in Great Falls, VA.]