Working it Out In Conflict – Jesus is There

The Rev. Robert P. Travis

14th  Sunday after Pentecost Sermon – 8am and 9:30am Chapel of St. John the Divine

Proper 18 RCL Year A 9/10/2017

 

Scripture Text:

Ezekiel 33:7-11

Psalm 119:33-40

Romans 13:8-14

Matthew 18:15-20

 

Sermon Text:

If we look at today’s gospel,

In the light of the other two readings,

We may see something that surprises us.

At first glance it seems

That Jesus is just instructing his disciples

With some very practical advice about

Managing conflict in the church.

It is good advice,

As dealing with someone who

Has done something wrong to you

In this three-step approach,

First going to them privately and explaining the problem.

Then if they don’t respond

Bringing one or two others as witnesses to what you say,

Giving them another chance if you will.

Before finally making the wrong a public

Issue to urge repentance.

Following this approach,

As many Christians do,

Since it is so prescriptive,

Is likely to get the best result.

Certainly it will get a better result,

Than if you took these steps out of order,

And say made your issue public,

Before going to the offender in private.

This works in our personal lives as well.

Taking your concern to the person privately first

Is certainly much better than not dealing with it,

Or than engaging in triangulation

By bringing other people into the conflict

To avoid going to the person directly.

 

But beneath the surface,

And when we look at this in the light,

Of the other two readings,

We see something interesting in what is at stake here.

It is about our obligations to one another,

In the community of faith,

As followers of Jesus.

 

In the passage from the Ezekiel,

We see the prophet being placed by God,

In a position of obligation to the people

He is bringing his prophecy.

It’s not just that he has this message from God,

But God is making him the sentinel of the people.

If he does not warn them,

And give them a chance to turn back to God,

Their blood will be on his hands.

It sounds kind of harsh,

After all Ezekiel isn’t the one

Who was walking away from God.

The Israelites were.

But it shows that God cares for God’s people,

And is willing to make the stakes so high,

By binding his prophet into an obligation,

to reach those people,

so that they might repent,

and return to God.

 

Then Paul describes in his letter to the Romans,

How rather than just be concerned

About following all the thou shalt nots,

In the Law of God,

That really Christians are to owe love

To one another,

The obligation to love one another,

Covers all of the negative laws,

And brings them to their highest fulfillment.

 

So when Jesus tells us as his followers,

This step by step process for dealing

With someone, a neighbor, who has wronged us,

It is not just for our own benefit

That he is giving us this advice.

It’s actually rather the other way around,

Out of our obligation to love our neighbor,

We owe our neighbor who has wronged us,

The chance first to hear of the wrong privately,

Then to hear about it with one or two witnesses,

Before one has to go public with the wrong.

We owe the person who has wronged us,

These loving steps to give them a chance

In the most loving way possible to make amends.

He does not urge the Christian

To ignore the wrong,

Though some of us might think

That is the best thing.

He shows us that rather than ignoring the wrong,

Confronting the wrongdoer in this loving way,

Actually is better,

It allows for true reconciliation

To have the best chance.

 

In each case, this is because God cares so much

About each person, and each group of people,

Even the people who are not doing what he wants,

Or the people who are sinning against his beloved.

He cares about them enough

to put his own prophet’s life on the line,

as a sentinel to warn them, in Ezekiel.

Then to Paul, who shows us that there is

No greater obligation than that we love our neighbor,

That this neighbor love takes care of

all of the commandments of God.

Then to Jesus himself, who cared enough about us,

To give his own life to bring us into reconciliation

With the father.

He urges us to seek reconciliation in our relationships

Whenever someone wrongs us,

But especially when it is a fellow follower of Jesus.

 

And to back up that responsibility we have to the other

Jesus promises us that whenever two or three of us

Are together, he is there with us.

 

Now of course that promise is great news

In other contexts as well,

Like when we are worshipping together

As a small church as we do each week.

Jesus is just as much present with us,

As he is in a larger church.

But notice that in this case

In this 18th chapter of Matthew,

Jesus is promising his presence

In the midst of our trying to work out a conflict.

 

How would his presence make a difference,

When we’re confronting someone

Who has wronged us in some way,

Or when we are the ones being confronted

By some way we have wronged another?

Well on the one hand,

And perhaps the most important,

Knowing that Jesus is there with you

Comforts both people.

But he is also there to emphasize the importance

Of reconciling, of owning up to the mistake,

Of forgiving.

Because for two or three who follow Jesus,

We know where that love comes from,

And what he did for us.

So his presence strengthens our resolve,

To resolve our issues.

 

Jesus making this promise to us,

That he will be with us whenever two or three

Are together, shows us how important

It is to God that we work out our conflicts,

And be unified with one another.

 

This takes the sentinel charge of Ezekiel

And raises it to the next level.

Each of us is responsible

To work on neighbor love with each other.

For when we take that responsibility,

And work out our conflicts within the community

Then the community of Jesus followers

Stands as a sentinel to the rest of the

World, that reconciliation is possible,

That love is the thing we need to strive for most,

And ultimately that the risen Lord Jesus

Is real, and among us.

 

Amen

The Rev. Robert P. Travis

Father Rob goes by Father so that he remembers his duty to the people of God whom he serves. He’s been ordained since 2006, serving in Florida and Tennessee and before that served as a youth minister in Long Island, NY. More details