This week we have a common text for our gospel. It is one we all have heard and know. It gives a practical way for dealing with disagreement, conflict, or tension not simply within our church community but also within our own personal lives. Jesus is teaching his disciples this method.
First, the translation “member of the church” does not give the full understanding of it. It is adepheos, or “brother”, such as Philadelphia is the “City of Brotherly Love”.
This text is about what to do when tension, conflict, or wrong-doing has happened between you and a brother or sister. We have all experienced the tension of conflict. It is not warm, fuzzy, or comforting to experience, and yet it is a part of our everyday, normal, ordinary life.
Although we think tension and conflict is bad, it by itself is not. When conflict is dealt with well, in a healthy manner, it can lead to growth:
- growth in your relationship with that individual;
- growth within that community; and
- growth for you personally.
This gospel text gives us steps for how to deal with conflict well.
The first thing to do is go directly, face-to-face to that individual seeking them out for a one-to-one conversation. It does a few things:
- It lets the individual know that you both value and have trust in the relationship.
- It indicts that you have a desire to work through the tension to improve the relational bond.
- It also cuts down on the drama, if we’re honest. (This is BIG).
If that does not work and the wrong behavior, conflict, and tension continues, the next step is to take 2 to 3 other people with you (a small group) to confront the individual again. The key is that these individuals (witnesses) are neither your best friends nor their best friends, but it is more of a neutral party.
This was a part of the legal system in Jesus’ day. You took a couple of witnesses with you, in order that these witnesses (1) essentially served as the “jury” to determine the situation and (2) could also provide more grounding for a true solution.
The reason is you confront individuals when you believe yourself to be in the “right”, but the witnesses after hearing the arguments may say that you are in the “wrong”. In other words, it keeps us honest while continuing to keep the drama down to a minimal.
If the witnesses confirm the wrong behavior and it, the conflict, or tension continues, then bring the concern to the community as a whole.
The Key Principle:
The process sounds basic and relatively simple but a challenging process to experience, which it is. BUT, there is an important key to this process.
Our texts today, especially Romans, the key principle is revealed as LOVE.
We have guidelines for how we are called to love together as family, as friends, as community, and as brothers and sisters. And yet, we are human and sinners. We will make mistakes and that is okay, but we are called to reach out to our brothers and sisters who have , small and large, in LOVE.
LOVE is the key, because the intention is not “Ah-ah, you are wrong and I am right”. The intention is to regain, to build, and to strengthen that relationship. The intention is to use the keys of reconciliation that unlocks the gift of forgiveness.
The last two weeks, we have explored these keys of grace, mercy, and reconciliation that unlocks forgiveness, as well as love in community.
Why is this LOVE important?
LOVE helps us to hear where we can grow, where there is opportunity to strengthen the bonds of a relationship. LOVE is the key and the Gospel.
In our world, in this time and place, I often witness people trying to “correct” the behaviors of other people. [Perhaps, we (as individuals) agree or disagree if the behavior needs “correcting” in the first place]. BUT, we witness it happening is means that are not governed by love. Our Romans text states that loving your neighbor is the fulfillment of the law and love does no wrong to neighbor.
How do we help people hear their growing edges in LOVE?
I think through this pattern that honors the relationship and the reconciliation that can come from it.
- Therefore, standing on a street corner yelling at people that they will go to Hell is probably NOT how to do this.
- Therefore, screaming at (or telling) people that these natural disasters are a result of their (wrong/sinful) behavior is probably NOT what is intended.
These methods do not seek the relationship first.
These methods are not grounded in genuine LOVE for one another (neighbor).
Honestly, what happens when we are confronted by those methods above?
The ears go off. We stop listening.
In our gospel, we have the phrase: “What is loosed on earth is loosed in heaven and what is bound on earth is bound in heaven”. This is a direct reference to two weeks ago when Peter is given the keys. Often, we hear the phrases: “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there” and “if two or three ask for something in my name, it will be done” without connecting it to our witnesses, those who are keeping us honest, who are neutral observers to the disagreement, conflict, or tension, and who held authority in the ‘case’.
Jesus within in the gospels speaks about this legal system and its use of the witnesses, but Jesus taught this process to go and reconcile with your neighbor prior to the courts because
- it may be resolved without ending up in a courtroom and
- if it goes to a courtroom, the relationship is broken and may be beyond repair.
What is the message? What is the theme? Why us this important?
It calls us to seek our relationships with one another as brothers and sisters (in Christ).
We are NOT called to turn a blind eye to hate, violence, or things that oppose God’s message of grace, mercy, love, reconciliation, and forgiveness.
We have a core calling to not seek to condemn but to speak out in love, seeking reconciliation and repairing the relationship when those core principles are threatened.
I pray that WE, not just individuals, not just the Church, but as a world-wide community regain that understanding of seeking reconciliation and that relationship before we turn to condemnation. Amen.
Scriptures – Ezekiel 33: 7-11, Psalm 119: 33-40, Romans 13: 8-14, and Matthew 18: 15-20. Originally preached on 10 September 2017 at Gloria Dei (Kelso, WA).