Sunday, September 7, 2008

Confrontation for Reconciliation

Confrontation for Reconcilation! Matthew 18: 15-20 Sept. 7, 2008
Initiatal trouble with the passage:
SIN – whatever became of sin…we don’t like to talk about sin.
confrontation—and I’m not one for confrontation
conflict and disagreement, church discipline, potential excommunication…not very nice topics.
Remember the scarlet letter? Haven’t we moved passed this stuff?
Plus, there’s confusion of binding and loosing. Not to mention the overused and often misunderstood scripture: if two agree to anything two are gathered in my name; where two or three are gathered in my name. I tempted to find greener pastures in scripture.

Unless I wanted to take the opportunity to preach my first hellfire and brimstone sermon: See that folks start shaping up!!

Actually, as happens so often, you get into it scripture and you find I find that there is a living and relevant word! This passage is about forgiveness and restoration; reconciliation and right relationships! That’s something worth talking about.

A look at the passage in depth. This seems to be a practice used in the Matthew’s community in dealing with broken relationships.
A three step process:
1. if you’re the one whose been sinned against, you go talk to the one who has done the sinning;
2. if they don’t listen, grab a few who will serve as witnesses to what is happening;
3. and if that doesn’t work bring the one before the whole church, before he or she gets the boot.

The passages that follow are intriguing passages because they are so frequently sighted, but out of context. When I first came to this church, it was not uncommon at 10 til 11, for Libby, Margaret, Helen and I to be the only ones in the sanctuary! And every time, Libby said….Where 2 or 3 are gathered. I don’t want to dwell on them too long, just briefly. These passages about binding and loosing and two or three gathered in Jesus’ name have been used in so many different ways throughout the centuries, we don’t know exactly what their original meaning was for the early community, above all else they seem to provide a theological foundation for community decision making: God stands behind the community, and Jesus abides within the community gathered in his name. This is why in the Presbyterian system that we do things in community… Committee meetings!

Going back to the step by step process: how many churches—Christian communities—do you know that practice this kind of reconciliation? Are these passages relevant in our day and age? Where does technology fit into the reconcilation process? Can you email your grievance to the person who has sinned against you instead of to confronting them face to face. Alone.
My tendency when someone does something that hurts me is:
1. to either yell at them and get them back (this usually occurs on the soccer field), and this resolves nothing except make makes me look dumb
2. hold it in and just let it fester inside me and then prentend like nothing happened,
and this allows the relationship to deteriorate, where it can even be hard to be in the same room with the person, so you just avoid her.
3. or tell someone else what happened…...
and let the rumors begin..

But go, alone, face to face, point out what has happened. That would take courage and a lot of grace. But if the two parties are in Christian community with one another, and understand this to be the common practice and the basis of everything is to not get someone back or punish someone, or to humiliate them, but love.
And seek right relationship.

Matthew’s community is the one that knows: When you are offering your gift at the alter, if you rmember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. (5:23-24)
IF your brother or sister sins against you… Yes, that’s right this isn’t an enemy, but a brother or sister.

Of course, there are different perspectives. Maybe the person that hurt the other didn’t think they had done anything wrong. Or maybe it wasn’t a big deal.
Or maybe the accuser is just being a little sensitive. There’s always potential for disagreement or misunderstanding…does the one offended go off and tell everyone how bad a person so and so is for doing such a thing? I tried to talk to him.. No, again this isn’t to defame, but to regain; this is hot pursuit of reconciliation. The person goes and gets others, of sound judgment hopefully to witness to the situation, hear both sides of the story, mediate, so as to achieve common ground.

4. .IF this doesn’t work.
A larger group is called upon to hear out the situation. The church. The community of believers. This seems the most intimidating and scary of scenarios.. (we now call ____ before the congregation..all rise. I’ve seen those court shows..why anyone would go on them is beyond me.) We are so quick to judge and seek punishment. But as I thought about it I remembered: Matthew’s community was one of reconciled sinners who are not seeking to punish, but to love. To have the situation come before the congregation isn’t to shame the person who has sinned against another, but maybe it is so that everyone can be aware of the situation, and hear it first hand, instead of second, third or fourth hand, and know what is going on. Maybe the community reminds everyone involved that there are more people who love and care for them, and it helps them to see beyond just themselves and their situation. The community takes broken relationships seriously, and seeks to restore them.

5. Finally, if the person is still unwilling to seek right relationship with the one he has hurt, treat him as a gentile or tax collector. I think too often people have a tendency to judge and want to punish…that’s why this passage has be used as grounds for excommunication over the course of history…but, maybe things were different back then in Matthew’s community.

It doesn’t say, kick them out or punish the offender. It says, treat him like a Gentile-someone who is outside the community; and a tax collector, someone who is unclean. Jesus hung out with gentiles, and Jesus ate with tax collectors. Is he suggesting that the person who sinned be outcast, or is he suggesting pursue that person like a lost sheep? Like someone who is outside the community, but has potential to be part of the community. It is like starting over with the relationship. The idea is to let the situation go, and begin again. Forgiveness 70 times 7.

IT wasn’t long after Trasie and I were dating that I would occasionally slip up and take our relationship for granted. Not treat her the way that I should, especially not the way that I did when we first met, and I was trying to really impress her: tell her how wonderful she was, pamper her, bring her flowers and always on my best behavior. She’s smart, and after a few of these instances when I didn’t treat her with the kindness and gentleness that I once had, maybe even when I hurt her feelings; she observed how friendly I was when I was meeting someone for the first time. And so she used this against me and when I was acting inappropriately she would say, hi, I’m Trasie, what’s your name? As if we were meeting for the first time…reminding me that I did have a gentler side.

Treat the one as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Here are our challenges: One I think this passage challenges us as a community to be better about reconciling our selves to one another, about forgiving one another and seeking right relationships.

And two, this challenges us to be in more intimate and trusting relationships with one another:
The point is, that the relationship with a brother or a sister is something more important than any issue or any mishap or misunderstanding or sin.
It’s certainly more important than arguing who is right and who is wrong.
It is about people being in loving relationship with one another. Just a God reconciled the world through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the son, so we are to be reconciled to one another. Especially to our Christian brothers and sisters, especially those brothers and sisters who sit in the pews right around us. What are some of the wounds you carry that were inflicted by others in this community? Maybe some are minor and are already healing, but are they completely healed? Maybe some are so deep that you can’t even bring it up…not now, not yet. But, I have confidence that in Christ Jesus there is no wound or hurt that is too deep for wholeness and healing and right relationship to take place. Maybe you can take the time to write down a hurt that you have, inflicted by someone in this community. Think about it…take it home and pray about it.

Can you confront that person?
And if you are confronted, (God forbid) would you have the humility and courage to recognized that you could have done something that offended someone that is very dear to you? It’s about being able to genuinely pass the peace and mean it. It’s about being able to laugh with someone freely, not holding a grudge inside.
It’s about swallowing our pride and loving in humility.

We know the lonely and dreadful road of hurt and broken relationships, the long and arduous road to reconciliation, but when reconciliation happens..what a gift.
And if we can practice reconciled relationships with brothers and sisters in the faith, here in this place, can we model this in other relationships in our lives?
In our schools: At work, In our families, with friends and neighbors.
Always the goal is to be united, not divided with others.

We experience this gift of reconciliation every time we come to this table. We come as forgiven sinners, whose lives are full of brokenness, and we come to be made whole. We are united as we share in a common bread and a common cup.
We are united as we recognized that none of us is perfect or better than anyone else, while at th same time recognizing the one who calls us his beloved.
And we are made whole again. What a gift! Thanks be to god that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus!

1. Harrington, Matthew.

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