- Jesus said to his disciples: If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:15-20)
In any community, there are going to be differences and difficulties. Sometimes, these differences are minor because they are merely clashes in personalities. Sometimes, though, they are brought about by someone acting against the interests of the group. Recently, we have had a couple of incidents of people not acting in the interest of the group. People have been disrespectful of others and said things that were meant to hurt.
Conflict saps the life out of the community. We have to learn to talk to the person we are angry with first, then come back if we can’t work it out. I’m sure Jesus had to do this all the time with an unruly group of fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot and two brothers known as the Sons of Thunder. There may have been days when He felt like he would be better off without disciples, but his whole purpose was to create a community of believers, not just individuals. He wanted the spirit of God to dwell in a gathered group of believers.
It is straightforward wisdom – start by trying to work things out on your own – then invite people you can trust to listen and advise – and finally ask the community to make the final judgment.
It’s an invitation to talk to people instead of talking about them, and to be direct and honest. To do this we have to listen rather than arguing, and be gentle rather than being coercive. We have to let our compassion for the other be greater than our pain, and concern for the relationship be greater than concern about what others think of us. We have to trust that love transforms all discomfort, all disappointment, all offense. We have to trust that we’re going to be OK even if we tell the truth. We have to be willing to be loving rather than being right.
Bringing others in might tempt us to create triangles—to get third parties stuck in the middle of our conflicts. But the others are witnesses to keep us honest, not go-betweens to do our dirty work, or accomplices to help us gang up. They can help us see what we can’t, and say what we haven’t, and hear what we won’t.
Jesus’ asks us to honestly face the pain in our lives, stay in relationship, be loving, and invite people into healthy ways of relating.
The Kingdom is to be a place of openness, trust and honesty where differences can be aired and forgiveness given and received. This is not a random meeting of a few Christians coming together – but a gathering of people who have come together in a unity of heart and of purpose.
This is possible only because the single thing that underpins all the rest is love – a love which, at its best, resembles that of Jesus Himself – complete and unconditional.
Jesus closes with words that offer comfort and strength –
- where two or three meet in My name, I shall be there with them. (Matthew 18:20)
Let us pray:
Holy and loving Father, forgive us when we’ve thought more about getting even than we have about regaining
relationship with brothers and sisters. We know that when we am out of relationship with others, it blocks our relationship with you. Please give us the courage, wisdom, sensitivity, and timing to lovingly and redemptively confront those who sin against us. Amen.
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church On Capitol Square, Columbus, Oh 4 September 2011