“Caring Enough to Confront”

Matthew 18:15-20

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

East Rochester and West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

“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.”

 

Prayer.

 

There appears to be many words today

that society tells us to avoid.

Words like commitment,

responsibility,

and pledge.

I’d like to add another word to the list: confrontation.

Each of these words brings a feeling of dread.

Each of these words initiates all kinds of efforts

to avoid, delay, deny, or worse yet… “I’m out of here.”

However, people with a mature life of faith

have learned how to address each of these issues

in a healthy and constructive manner.

In today’s Gospel lesson,

the issue is confrontation.

Jesus tells us that we are to care enough to confront

those who sin against us,

with the goal of regaining the sinner.

 

If you have an issue with someone else,

deal with them directly and promptly.

Do not drag a 3rd party into your conflict to take sides.

Do not gossip.

Do not by-pass the process Jesus outlines.

Do not begin with taking your complaint before the entire congregation.

The sooner the better.

Putting off a necessary confrontation

encourages brooding, fretting, dwelling, and anxiety.

Irrational fears creep in over time.

Paranoia and delusions begin to grow like mold on old bread.

Know that no one can control the response of another person.

You may be blown off.

They may become angry with you.

Then again, you may be the open door,

through which healing and restoration can enter.

 

Christ makes the expectation of Proportionality:

our response to conflict must be measured and in context.

When you address the sin someone has done to you,

the response must be done in similar magnitude.

If the issue is small, the response must be small.

This is the process Jesus outlines in his message for today:

If there is one who sins against you,

something small,

go to that person individually first, and try to settle it …

… so that one is regained.

If that doesn’t work,

consult with one or two others and take them with you.

Try to settle it …

… so that one is regained.

If that doesn’t work,

tell it to the church, and allow the church to attempt to work it out …

… so that one is regained.

 

If that doesn’t work, Jesus says

“Let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

There is much debate about what he means here.

I believe Jesus means that if a person rejects you, others, and the church,

then we must let them go,

yet, all the while,

watch, hope, and pray for their return.

At every step of the process Jesus outlines,

the goal is “so that one is regained.”

If the issue is large and serious,

the degree of response should be likewise.

Serious crimes or conflict that involve violence,

I believe even Jesus would agree,

require the guidance of community standards and laws,

a just legal system,

and the active response of the church.

Serious crimes cannot be just swept under the table,

as if they didn’t exist.

At the same time,

even serious criminal offenses do not cut someone off

from the love of God or the grace of the church.

At all times

law and grace must be balanced,

with the goal “that one is regained.”

 

Christ’s directives for dealing with conflict

are meant to preserve the health and welfare

of human relationships

and the entire community,

while keeping God in the center. 

Relationships that are strong and healthy

are able to address issues of sin or conflict.

Constructive confrontation

identifies the transgression that has occurred,

the barriers that have been crossed.

Often times people who hurt others may be unaware of the sin.

Confrontation identifies the offense and names it for what it is.

Constructive confrontation communicates to the person who sinned

the fact that

you are committed to your relationship with them;

you’re not going to walk away mad.

You will not leave them.

You are committed to working it out.

This is what friends do.

This is what disciples of Jesus do.

Deal with issues while they are small,

and they rarely become large.

Proactive conflict resolution

is vital to ensure the integrity, health, and wholeness of the church.

And finally,

dealing with conflict and sin

makes a statement about the God we believe in.

Our God doesn’t guarantee us an easy life;

but he does guarantee us that He will walk with us

every step of the way

as we attempt to navigate through it.

 

Life is fraught with those who hurt you,

and, regrettably,

the hurt we cause others.

We are a community of sinners,

striving to become a community of saints

- more like Jesus every day.

Today’s lesson gives practical advice from our Lord himself,

about how we are to live together as disciples of Jesus;

how we should care enough to confront those who hurt us.

Confrontation can be the open door,

leading towards the process of repentance,

restoration,

and, finally, forgiveness.

Do not fear.

Do not avoid.

Do not postpone.

Do not run away.

We can do this.

Jesus is with us.

Jesus gives us the strength.

Jesus shows us the way.

 

Where two or more are gathered

God is in our midst

And makes us His home.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.