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Sermon September 10 2023

Pentecost 15 A 2023 Resolving Conflict Sermon

Matthew 18:15-20

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Last Sunday we heard Peter rebuke Jesus, and Jesus’ rebuke Peter, and we were reminded that when we take up our Cross and follow Jesus, we often find ourselves at odds with the world and the people around us.  So the question becomes, “What happens when a brother or sister hurts us?”  And “What happens when we find ourselves at odds with our brother or sister in Christ?”

And the answer might surprise you.  Today in just a few short verses, Jesus gave His disciples (and us) a process for working out our difference.  It goes like this…

  1. Start by addressing the one who has hurt you face to face. When someone has harmed you, go immediately and tell that person what it is that is troubling you.
  2. If that doesn’t work, bring a witness who can also act as a mediator or advocate.
  3. If that doesn’t work, call on the resources of the larger church.
  4. And finally, if the resources of the larger church do not convince the person to repent and reconciliation to occur, “let such a one be to you as a Gentile or Tax collector.”

This all sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it, and yet it is not.  And the times that I have seen parishioners live out this “resolution formula” that Jesus has given to us, I have not seen a lot of success.  Anger still abounds in congregations.  Grudges are held.  Forgiveness is not shared.  And many times, in our life together, reconciliation does not seem possible.  Even when we have gone through all these steps.

So what are we to do?  Ignore this teaching and try something else?  And the answer is No.  Before we give up on Christ’s teaching on conflict management, we must first do a little soul searching.  And we must see and recognize our part in the conflict.

Earlier in the 18th chapter of Matthew, we were told to go and cut off any part of our body that causes us to sin.  For example: Jesus said: “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire.”

And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire.  Matthew 18:8-9

My friends, we must first recognize our sinfulness before we can address the sin that we see in others and live in the peace that the Kingdom of God brings to our lives.  Our reconciliation efforts do not work unless we approach one another with clean hands.

And yet, can you imagine the sight of someone approaching someone who has taken this teaching literally and has cut off their legs or cut off their arms because these body parts have caused them to sin?  It would look like this… (Frankenstein impression) I think the recipient of the complaint would be horrified.  And they would run away in fear.  

So how do we address this?  Well, not by cutting off body parts, but by asking ourselves a few questions.  And the first question we should ask is this… “Can I let it go?”  If the offense is minor, let it go, and don’t confront the other person.  Perhaps the worst thing you or I can do is overreact and cause things to escalate.

But if you (we) cannot let it go, and you know that the sin between you and someone else will eat you alive, it is time to ask ourselves another question.  The question is “What might the other person think that I have contributed to the problem?” 

In other words, take some time to see things from the other person’s point of view.  And then take responsibility for the words or actions that you (I) have said or done that have contributed to the problem before we go and confront someone else.

And if this does not help resolve conflict, we should then ask ourselves this important question.  “What does God see?”  This “balcony view” question can give us an even broader perspective.  And it can help us see things more objectively and prevent us from allowing anger and fear to cloud our judgment and our actions.

When we see things as God see things, we often discover that the problem we have is really within ourselves, and that we can avoid causing grief and distress in others (and in the church) through our own repentance and by picking up our cross and by following Jesus. 

It is then, and only then, when we are following Jesus and living out our baptismal covenant, that we should live out the “resolution formula” that Jesus gives us today in our Gospel reading.  And as we do so, let us not forget that even if we complete all the steps in the formula, and declare someone a tax collector or Gentile, we must still see these people from the perspective of the church.

And how does the church view them?  The church views them as the mission field of the church.  The church views them as people we are supposed to reach out to.  The church views them as people of value.  The church views them as people that we should welcome with open arms when they return to the church.

It is no wonder then, that when Peter asked Jesus how often he should forgive someone who has sinned against him, and then boldly offered “As many as seven times?”  Jesus replied “No, not seven times, but I tell you, seventy-seven times.”

Even so, as Christians we are called to address conflict directly and fairly.  And like most things Jesus asks us to do, it will not be easy. 

And yet, we must remember that Christ is with us.  He is with us when we succeed in resolving conflict, and He is with us when we fail to resolve the conflict in our lives.

In our text today Jesus has promised us that when two or three are gathered in His name, He is with us.  Therefore, let us go and live our lives, knowing that Christ is with us every step as His disciple.

Let us pray: God of mercy, help us to forgive, as you have forgiven us.  Help us to trust you, even when hope is failing.  Help us to take up our cross daily and follow you in your Redeeming work.  In Jesus name we pray.  Amen.