“May the words from my lips and the meditations of our hearts always be pleasing to you O God.”
Did you ever order or receive or read Reader’s Digest Books? A very long time ago my parents gave me a copy of The Practice Problem Solver. If you are unfamiliar with this book it is filled with helpful hints on an amazing array of topics - its still on my bookshelf.
Well today’s Gospel is a little like this. It is Jesus at his practical best. He acknowledges conflict is a reality and he and Matthew tell us how we should go about resolving it.
Matthew 18 has been used as a way to enforce Church discipline. It can be and has been used in a heavy handed way. It has also been used to make the deeply wounded and victimized feel that it is up to them to work toward reconciliation. It is not the responsibility of the hurt to do this work.
How do we as individuals and as a Church deal with conflict? Do we deal with it in a healthy or an unhealthy way?
Are we following Jesus’ practical steps - practical solutions?
In what ways were you taught to avoid conflict?
In what ways have you been applauded for and in what ways harmed by your avoidance of conflict?
In what ways were you taught to be open to conflict?
In what ways have you been applauded for and in what ways harmed by your openness to conflict?
Conflict is a part of relationships and part of being in community.
Most of us need to hear and to heed Jesus’ mandate to go and point out the fault when you are alone. But how often do we speak openly and honestly with the person that has wounded us?
I suspect that most of us would rather nurse our grudges, gossip about the offender and expose them to shame.
The Church is made up of people. People find themselves in conflict over many things. So it stands to reason that people in Church will find themselves in conflict.
Conflict is inevitable and it is not necessarily a bad thing - its a bad thing when we do not deal with it properly.
Conflict in the Church can be deeply harmful. Conflict in the Church can lead to divisions that do not heal & it can lead to people leaving the community. Do you know someone who has been wounded by conflict in the Church? Do you know someone who has left Advent because of how deeply hurt they were? Do you know what happened to them?
Sometimes when people disappear we don’t notice or we rationalize things to ourselves like - oh maybe they moved or maybe they were not comfortable with the Pastor’s theology or the organ plays too loudly or ………whatever.
Perhaps sometimes we should ask people why they have left - maybe we would be surprised by the answer. Maybe we would hear that they were asked to leave - told they were not welcome here. Maybe we would hear that they have been deeply hurt by something someone said or did. And they never told anyone about it.
Being in community takes courage and love and a commitment to love our neighbour as ourselves. Being in community is not always easy and conflict is going to happen. It is how we deal with the conflict that matters.
Will we address conflict openly and with grace and love or will we let it fester til it drives people away? Drives people away hurting and wounded and not willing to trust again for awhile - or ever.
We acknowledge that too often in the Church we make decisions that do not reflect the law of love.
Jesus is our practical problem solver here in Matthew 18.
Reproving Another Who Sins
15 ‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. 1
Martin Luther’s explanation of the 8th commandment is especially relevant to today’s Gospel reading.
“When we interpret everything our neighbour does in the best possible light rather than assuming sinister intent we are far more likely to speak with them honestly about the conflict between us.” Seeing Christ in our neighbours also means encountering his light and love in them.