The Gospel reading for this morning is a prescription by Jesus for the proper way in which we are to handle broken relationships. The entire point of the 18th chapter of St. Matthew’s gospel is to help us to settle our differences when we have sinned against someone or they have sinned against us. What are the specific ways in which we can make sure that we always keep the door open to reestablishing relationships when a tear has occurred?
THE VERY FIRST PRINCIPLE IS THIS - the person who is offended against is called to take the initiative in seeking reconciliation, in seeking to make things right once again.
THE SECOND PRINICIPLE IS that Jesus gives us for dealing with those
who have sinned against us in today's gospel reading is this -attempt to set the matter straight privately.
JESUS OFFERS TO US A THIRD PRINCIPLE or guideline to cover these
cases - he suggests as a next step that: "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."
And again he says "If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church - here he means a group of caring and discerning fellow believers - and if the offender refuse to listen even to the church - let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector."
What Jesus is pointing out in the words by St. Matthew is that relationships are always worth restoring. This life we have been given here on earth is a place where we are to practice loving one another and for that reason God wants us to value relationships and make the effort to maintain them instead of getting rid of them whenever there is a hurt or conflict or disagreement or worse. In fact St. Paul reminds us as he reminded the church at Corinth that we have been given the ministry of reconciliation. He says in Chapter 5 verse 18, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.”
For St. Paul as for Jesus our ability to get along with one another is the hallmark of Christian spiritual maturity. Jesus wants his family, the faith communities to be known for our love for one another and for this reason broken relationships are a disgraceful testimony to the rest of the world. This is the very reason why St. Paul was so angry and embarrassed at the church in Corinth who were splitting into factions and taking each other to court. He was shocked that no one in that community had the spiritual maturity to setter and resolve conflicts peacefully.
If you want to be known to others as a child of God you must be willing to be a peacemaker. You will note that Jesus did not say blessed are the peace lovers because who doesn’t love peace? He also did not say blessed are the peaceable who are never disturbed by anything. What he said was, blessed are those who work for peace; those who actively seek to resolve conflict. Peacemakers are rare and it is hard work. But peacemaking is one of the most important skills you can develop.
So what is peacemaking? Well, sometimes we learn what something is by looking first at what it is not. Peacemaking is not avoiding conflict. It is not running from a problem, or pretending the problem does not exist, or being fearful to talk about it. Peacemaking is not appeasement. Always giving in, being a doormat and allowing others to run over you is not what Jesus had in mind when it comes to resolving conflict.
The big issue for us however is what steps can we employ to make sure that we give reconciliation a chance? Well, it is spelled out in our text for this morning but I would like to offer seven steps that are all derived from our text in St. Matthew’s gospel that may help to clarify the process a bit and that have helped me when I use them in being a reconciling force and peacemaker in the true sense of the word.
The first step is always try, when possible to talk to God before you talk with the person that has offended you. If you will pray about the problem first you will find that more often than not God will either change your heart in some way or the heart of the other person without your help.
Second, always take the initiative. It does not matter whether you are the offender or the offended: God expects us to take the initiative and make the first move towards reconciliation. For God broken relationships are more important than group worship. Jesus said, if you enter your place of worship and are going to make an offering but remember that you have a grudge against a friend, forget the offering, leave right away and make things right. (Matthew 5:23-24) Do not put off or delay any moment for reconciliation. Delay only deepens resentment. In acting quickly to restore broken relationships it not only helps the other but also spiritually helps you because unresolved conflict can block our fellowship with God.
Third, sympathize with the others feelings. Don’t try to talk people out of how they feel and let them unload emotionally without being defensive. Listening to the other says that you value the others opinion. There is an old saying that goes; “people do not care what we know, until they know we care. Listening lets them know we care.
Fourth, confess your part of the conflict. If you are serious about restoring broken relationships, you should begin with admitting your own mistakes. Jesus said, get rid of the log in your own eye and then maybe you will be able to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye. (Matthew 7:5)
Fifth, attack the problem, not the person. You cannot fix the problem if your main objective is to affix blame. How you say something can be as important as what you say.
Sixth, cooperate as much as possible. St. Paul said in his letter to the Romans (12:18) to do everything possible on your part to live in peace with somebody. Peace always has a price tag. It may cost us our pride and often costs us our self -centeredness. So we must always do our best to compromise and adjust to others for the sake of fellowship.
And finally, always empathize reconciliation not resolution. We are not being honest if we expect everyone to agree about everything. Reconciliation focuses on the relationship, while resolution focuses on the problem. It is possible to reestablish our relationships even when we cannot resolve our differences. God expects unity, not uniformity. This does not mean to give up finding a solution, but try to do it in the spirit of harmony.
These steps are simple but they are not easy to do. It takes a lot of effort to restore a broken relationship but it is in God’s eyes the most important thing we can do in our lives. St. Peter urged us to always work hard living in peace with others. (1 Peter 3:11) Most of all when we work for peace we are living into the very likeness and image of God and doing his work. What better purpose could we serve?
And always remember we do not do these things on our own. The success of reconciliation needs our participation and willingness to do the work but let us always remember that whenever two or three are gathered Christ is there and it is through his loving presence that we are able to do that which seems impossible for us to do.
In closing this morning I would like all of us to take a moment in light of what we have heard and hopefully will ponder and search your hearts and bring to mind a person that you need to contact as a result of our discussion and the lessons of Jesus that we heard today from St. Matthews Gospel and ask yourself this question: With whom do you need to restore fellowship?
(Pause) Say the following prayer.