Sunday, 7 September 2014

It's not about us...

Matthew 18:15-20
Reproving Another Who Sins
“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.”

When West Sound stopped broadcasting Pause for Thoughts each morning, I was approached by another radio station - Irvine Beat FM to see if I'd be prepared to write and deliver some material on their wavelength.
So, last week, I broadcast a series of thoughts on " Things I wish Jesus had never said".
I was talking about all those instructions that Jesus gave us, instructions that are so hard to follow.
I'm sure that's something we can all identify with.
Things we wish Jesus had never said.
Jesus said some pretty harsh things.
And gave us some pretty tricky instructions.
There are times when life would be a whole lot easier if Jesus hadn't said certain things.
Things like: 
Love one another
Forgive one another
Pray for those who persecute you.
Your faith has made you well.
And I am the way the truth and the life. 
All of these words, that shaped communities after Jesus died are useful words for shaping communities today.
Communities that are loving, forgiving, that are inclusive, that are infused with healing and hope.
But they are not easy to live up to.
And this passage, instructing us on how to deal with those who hurt us is particularly difficult.
“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.
How often do we follow that?
A contemporary approach would be to always have a witness to any difficult conversation.
Or, more likely, we'd rather talk to others about the difficulty instead of confronting someone directly.
So the conflict resolution outlined in our gospel passage never really gets off the ground.
Because too often we fall at the first hurdle.
Why would Jesus give us such a difficult model to follow?
“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.
Perhaps the next words, the instruction after this, shed a lot of light on Jesus teaching here.
After we meet in private with the one who has wronged us, Jesus says:
If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 
The purpose in confronting someone is not to condemn them or to alienate them, but to regain them.
If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.
The purpose in confronting someone is not about us, it is about them.
It's not about airing our hurts.
It's about regaining their friendship.
Each step that Jesus gives here about conflict resolution is not so much for the person wronged but for the one who caused the hurt.
The focus is on them.
And the purpose of engagement is to bring them back into relationship.
We are good at making so much all about us.
In this passage, Jesus encourages us to shift the focus and be concerned with those who are causing hurt.
And how hard is that?
We might, just might be able to follow Jesus instructions if we felt that we would get some vindication.
If our hurt were to be acknowledged and if there was some kind of apology or plan for compensation of hurt feelings and bruised ego.
But, if the purpose of following through in this scheme of resolution is simply to restore to community the one who  has wronged, we have little appetite for that.
It's much easier to leave them outside the community and take every opportunity to remind folk of why they should not be included.
Mud sticks.
Jesus doesn't make things easy for us in resolving conflict.
And the reality is that sometimes folk have to be left behind.
Sometimes the only option is to part company, to go our separate ways.
Sometimes reconciliation is just not possible.
Jesus acknowledges that - but only after all avenues of resolution have been pursued.
This gospel confronts us with a hard teaching of Jesus, one we could happily live without.
But a teaching that Jesus shared to help us build a healthy community.
A community where there is love and where there is forgiveness and where those who make mistakes are given the opportunity to find their way back.
And, when they have found their way back, to discover God in the midst.
And that is community, community built on the hard sayings of Jesus, community built on love.
Thanks be to God.

No comments: