Over the last few weeks, our lectionary readings have covered some monumental topics related to discipleship. Today’s reading takes us in an entirely different direction. It’s a passage from Matthew that addresses how we should be the church together and, more specifically, how we should be the church in times of conflict with one another. The Gospels only use the word “church” twice, both in Matthew. And if you’re wondering why Jesus is talking about “the church” before the formation of “the church,” you’re asking a good question! Most likely Matthew, dealing with the ups and downs of the early church, has drawn on Jesus wisdom and language in order to speak an important word to the church community.
And the word he speaks is related to conflict. Here Jesus offers a model for what to do when another member of the church family “sins against” us. And while this might seem a little mundane compared to great themes about discipleship, it’s an important and necessary word. Any of us who have been a part of a church community know that conflict isn’t a matter of “if,” it’s a matter of “when.” Inevitably, when we are bound together in community, there will be love and grace but also struggle and conflict. It’s part of our human condition.
Jesus’ words via Matthew challenge us to think about how being part of a church community is different than being part of any other community. Because, for the most part, if we join a group and someone in the group offends us, we’ll have no qualms about leaving. But our passage for Sunday suggests that when we are part of a faith community, a family of faith, we are bound together in a different way. And, therefore, we address conflict in a different way, taking the initiative to seek genuine reconciliation before wounds and grudges and misunderstandings get out of hand. This passage encourages us to think of ourselves not simply as autonomous individuals but as members of one body, the body of Christ.
I hope you’ll join us on Sunday as we grapple with this topic. This Sunday we will also celebrate our oneness in the body of Christ by celebrating Holy Communion. Feel free to prepare your space with a candle or other sacred symbols. Gather your elements, a roll or cracker and some juice or water, and we’ll share together in these signs of God’s grace that sustain us. You are also welcome, each week, to join the Wednesday Bible Study that reviews the sermon topic from the previous Sunday and reflects on the questions that are listed below. If you’re interested in joining us from 11:30 to 12:30 on Wednesdays, please notify the church office or Pastor Lori and we’ll send you the Zoom link. Looking forward to being together on Sunday!
Matthew 18:15-20 (CEB)
“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
Consider these questions:
- How is being part of a Church different than being part of any other community or organization?
- Do you expect something different/more from yourself? Others?
- How do you personally deal with conflict?
- What has been your experience of conflict in the church? How have you seen it dealt with positively? Negatively?
How is being part of a Church different than being part of any other community or organization?
These church members recognize–often in varying ways–a life in God together. Thich Nhat Hanh describes the “inter-being” in time and space of each of us and all beings in one fabric. He talks about the extensions from the past into the present, and from the present into the future. As a Christian, this extension has specific resonance with me.
For Some Reason, my Olivewood Bible app would not open, so I googled the Matthew passage and found a commentary that explained how some people take this passage to mean that ALL sin should be confronted this way. No, the conservative commentator said, only when someone has sinned AGAINST YOU. The same commentator also said that church leaders and church members who are accused of sin invalidate the accuser by asking if they have followed the steps in Matthew.