Today Jesus offers practical advice in how to deal with conflict within the Christian community.
Conflict is not something new for the church.
Conflict has always been a part of church life from the beginning.
With this teaching Jesus gives us real help in how to work through conflict in a healthy manner.
The last thing that God wants is for the fellowship of the people of God to be broken.
Let’s take a closer look at this Scripture reading.
Verse fifteen: “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.”
Here Jesus is saying to go and to see the person, one on one.
This is the first and maybe most important step.
Jesus teaches us here to reach out to the person.
According to this teaching we are not to involve other people yet.
Rather, Jesus teaches us to go and to find the person that you have the conflict with and to speak directly to that person.
In today’s age of technology this does not mean to send the person a text or a Facebook message.
This means to actually go to the person face to face for a real conversation.
Let me pause here for just a moment to let this really to sink in.
I would say that this first step takes tremendous courage, humility, and grace.
Often our natural reaction to a conflict is that of turning away from the person in anger and resentment or to speak badly about that person to other people.
If we find the courage to seek out the person to share our truth and then to listen to the other person’s truth, we sometimes find that the relationship is not only healed but is strengthen.
This is not always the case of course, but I will simply speak from personal experience, if I meet directly with a person, that I am having a conflict with, I often find healing in the face to face encounter.
There is just something about meeting directly with a person where positive, life-giving reconciliation can and often does happen.
But if it does not happen and sometimes this does not work then Jesus offers us a second way.
Verse sixteen: “If you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you.”
The conflict is not getting resolved.
You spoke directly with the person and nothing happened.
Maybe the situation even got worse.
And so, you explain the situation to another person.
This time you involve another person.
That person then goes with you and the both of you confront the person once again.
This step also takes great courage.
Before getting to this next step you must take a hard look at the situation.
Rarely, in a conflict situation, is one person entirely innocent.
Do you have a part in the sin?
Do you need to hear some uncomfortable things about yourself?
Are you able to work out your part in the conflict?
When you are able then you are ready to go to the person.
Finally, if this still does not work, as a last resort, you involve the whole congregation in the conflict situation.
And if there is real sin and evil involved, and the person is not willing to face it, there is to be a break in the fellowship.
True forgiveness and reconciliation can only come after the sin is named and forgiven.
Once this happens you are able to gather once again in the name of Christ and your gathering will be blessed by God.
Jesus teaches us that he does not want us to come together if we have sin in our hearts for another member of the Body of Christ.
In fact, earlier in the Gospel of Mathew chapter five Jesus says,
“If you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.”
Again that is from Matthew chapter five.
You see a person’s broken relationship with someone will interfere with that person’s relationship with Christ.
If the conflict remains worship is also deeply affected.
If it feels like you are not getting a lot out of worship, if it feels like God is absent – then examine your life.
Is there someone in your life that you need to forgive?
Is there someone in your life that you need to talk to?
Don’t hold in your anger.
Jesus teaches us here in this Gospel reading to talk it out – to keep communication open.
This does not mean to gossip or to speak badly about the person to another person.
This means we are to enter into the hard work of engaging in real, maybe even painful conversation.
This is hard work.
This is difficult.
I have certainly been here where I have been more eager to speak badly about another person then to go directly to that person in order to resolve a conflict.
But these are the words of Jesus.
We abandon this teaching to our own peril.
Lastly, remember this -after Jesus teaches us to do this difficult conflict work, he leaves us with a promise.
When you do this difficult work, Jesus says to us – remember I am with you.
Verse twenty: “For where two or three gather together I am there.”
Jesus is saying here that when we come together to work out the conflict he is there.
Let me say that again when we come together to face the conflict and to speak about the conflict Christ is there.
This advice is for the church but I wonder how it might apply to the larger communities in which we live – maybe even to our country.
From what I know and from the life I have lived so far, I have never seen so much conflict and division in our county.
It is scary.
And the conflict is close to home with the recent shooting of Jacob Blake.
Sadly, one of the primary ways we handle conflict today is through social media.
Many of us have witnessed firsthand the loss of friendships and breaks in relationships simply through social media posts.
I am afraid it is only going to get worse in the next few months.
Heightened emotions, extreme polarities, intense levels of conviction, and deep personal attachments to issues that we hold dear creates a perfect environment for conflict and division.
At times it feels like we are very far from the Apostle Paul’s words from Roman’s today, “Love your neighbors as yourself.”
Can we remember that we are permanently connected to Christ through his great love for us?
In response to Christ’s love we continue to pay it forward meaning that we show love and grace and forgiveness to others because that is what Jesus shows us.
In doing so we begin to cultivate that inner peace within -it is a peace that is more precious than gold.
For what will it profit us if we even gain the whole world but then lose our soul?
May we come back to the Lord.
May we find ourselves growing ever deeper in our relationship with God.
But just as social media can be the problem it can also be part of the solution to the problem.
I recently came across this post on Facebook that I would like to share to conclude my sermon.
It reads simply:
“Post wisely over the next few months.
Contribute to discourse, not division.
Check your facts.
Resist memes and cheap digs.
Create beautiful content.
Lastly, we can transcend the bitterness and be better, even when we disagree.”
Community, reconciliation, peace-work, grace, and forgiveness – this is the way of following and gathering in the name of Jesus.