Filed under: Sermons | Tags: church conflict, community, conflict, fellowship, practical bible
Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.
When I saw the text for this morning, I admit I let out a little sigh of disappointment. It’s not a text I would have chosen for a day that is full of celebration, of welcoming people back after a summer of travel, a day of service and fellowship. Today’s a day I’ve been hoping will be a wonderful, happy day, full of good feelings and energy that will launch us all into an active and engaged program year here at church.
So, when I turned to today in my liturgical calendar and read Matthew 18, with its sobering reminder that churches have conflict, it put a damper on my mood. Who wants to be reminded of that tiff you’ve had with the person sitting across the aisle? Or acknowledge that even before there were parking lots, people knew how to tell others about how they’d been wronged and build an angry faction against the wrongdoer.
Matthew doesn’t tell us what’s going on in his early Christian community, but we know some conflict has come up and he’s seen unhealthy ways of dealing with it. Your own life experience can help you fill in the blank. You can guess what kinds of sins members of Matthew’s community feel have been committed against them based on the things you’ve seen in your community, or still feel the sting of in your memory.
This may not have been the text I would have picked for today, but its strong message is important for us at this new beginning. God has a vision for our coming together. In this world, misunderstandings and conflict occur. How we deal with these transgressions echos through this world and reverberates in heaven.
The steps Jesus teaches are straightforward enough, but they are not easy to follow. When most of us feel wronged, we don’t even make it to the first step. Jesus says, “When someone sins against you, go and point out the fault…” Right away, when you feel that sting or your stomach knotting up, don’t go to anyone else, just go straight to the person you feel has wronged you, and say why you feel hurt.
It’s so much easier to avoid confrontation! You aren’t alone if your first response is to call a friend or gather together a group to tell your story to, so that they can support you, tell you you did everything right, and can take your side against the sinner.
If you go to another and explain the experience from your perspective, you have to be willing to hear the perspective of the other. You have to be willing to hear the role you may be playing in the negative situation. It doesn’t sound like much fun.
The outcome Jesus is looking for doesn’t match what we’re typically looking for. Jesus says, “if the member listens to you, then you have regained that one.” When someone wrongs us, are we looking to be brought back into relationship with her? So often we want to put that person in her place. We want to get her back. We want to shame her, or only let her back into the community after she’s been appropriately humiliated or done enough penance to make us feel better.
If things went the way Jesus suggests, the next time another brother in Christ does something to hurt you, even if he really did mean to make you feel horrible, no one else would ever know. Only you and that person. You would have told that person your experience of his act, and that person would have listened, but no one else would ever know.
Think about what it does when we share our grievances with someone other than the one who has hurt us. We create a picture of our fellow member that paints his sin front and center, so that the hurt we feel colors the way others interact with that person. Bringing others into the situation is meant as a last option, when listening isn’t occurring. Only as a very last step does the person’s sin become known to the whole community, and then together they agree that it is necessary for the health of the community for that one to be known and set outside the community.
There are times when the sin is such that it would be too damaging to have the violated one confront the perpetrator. The process of reconciliation should never re-victimize. This process isn’t the way to solve all problems and have a perfect community. Rather, this scripture reminds us that there will be conflict, even in Christian community, and calls us to take action towards healing rather than retaliation.
Through this scripture, Jesus reminds us that our community matters. Jesus enters community. Jesus promises to be present where two or three are gathered. When you address the hurt that is breaking down relationship or threatening community, Jesus is there to bring reconciliation.
In this past week, someone said to me that they love the ELCA, our Lutheran expression of the church, because we have been clear that our members don’t believe the same way about everything, don’t live the same way as each other, and don’t always agree, but we have chosen to be members of each other, living together with our differences open and acknowledged.
Jesus Christ is the center of our community. It is Jesus, through the work of the Holy Spirit, who gathers us diverse people into one community. That we gather today matters. Our commitment to be present for each other is important because Jesus comes to us as a gathered people. Jesus comes to us primarily as we gather around word and sacrament. We meet Jesus through the read and interpreted Bible, the promise and the water, the bread and the wine. As much as it might sound easier to reach God all by yourself, without having to deal with the personalities and needs of other people, we simply cannot. Jesus doesn’t want an individualistic relationship with just you, Jesus comes for the whole, gathered community.
Keegan is entering into this community of the baptized today. He’ll probably be more familiar with the faces of his particular community at Crosspoint, but even while he’s worshipping down the street, we give thanks that we are united with him, and with all who gather in other buildings, into one community through Jesus.
Everything we do this morning reminds us that the way we live together matters. The way we are community together matters. It matters for each of us. It matters in the way those outside of us see us. It matters to God and to the kingdom God is building.
In this text, Jesus tells us that our community is reflected in heaven. What we allow in our relationships with each other affects the kingdom of God. As people who may be quick to think that in heaven God will make everything right, and God will heal all our misunderstandings, this text challenges us. If how we live together, how we talk about each other, how we seek to experience Jesus together, is reflected in heaven, we might want to work harder at growing in love.
God is at work to form us into members of each other in Christ. We are drawn to the Table, where Jesus serves each of us with his very life. There, elbow to elbow, be waiting on by Jesus, we hear the promise that binds us into one community: “This is the body of Christ, given for you.” Jesus died to reconcile you to God and to each other. May you know the joy of community forged in Jesus’ sacrifice of love.