Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, January 22, 2022
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Matthew 18:15-20

In the Gospel of Matthew, there are two sections dealing with issues of forgiveness and reconciliation: Here and in chapter 5. In chapter 5, the focus is on the one who knows that they have sinned against another. They are told to go and make peace. Here the focus is on the one who “has been sinned against.” He or she is also told to go and seek peace. Both are charged with the responsibility of reconciliation. No one gets a free pass. No one gets to say, “He knows what he did!” Well, maybe he doesn’t. We are often unaware of the ways in which we have sinned against others. Or, “She should come to me!” No, reconciliation is the responsibility of all Christ-followers.

Of course, there are right and wrong ways to respond to offenses. Let’s be honest and say, we usually pick the wrong ones! The worst thing that we can do is to hold onto resentment and brood about it. Let it fester in us. If we’re able to let it go, to just extend grace, that’s better. But if we can’t let it go, we should do something about it rather than let it fester in us.

We should keep it private, if possible. We shouldn’t unnecessarily involve others. But we like to. We like go around telling everyone what so-and-so did. We like to get people on our side. But it’s wrong to shame someone else publicly if it’s unnecessary.

We should go to the person, in person, if possible. Don’t send a text or an email, whatever you do. They say 90% of communication is non-verbal. It’s not just what we say; it’s how we say it: tone, body language, and so on. The actual words we say are only a small part of communication. It’s too easy to misinterpret written words. So go in person, if possible. But at the very least, give a phone call.

If you can’t make peace one-on-one, then take one or two others with you. Witnesses were very important in Jewish legal proceedings. Deuteronomy 19 says, “By the testimony of two or three witnesses, truth is established,” so take one or two trusted people with you. Don’t take your two best friends who are always going to take your side. Take people who are well respected throughout the church. In the United Methodist Church, this is one of the responsibilities of the SPRC. They are to help the church have good relationships.

If all else fails, then take it to the whole assembly. We interpret that as, “church.” Jesus’ first listeners would hear it as “synagogue.” The church and the synagogue are not just places of worship, they are centers of the holy community and the life of that community. And that included the role of discipline. The most extreme form of discipline is excommunication, removal from the holy assembly.

If you can’t be reconciled, then, “Treat them like a tax collector or a pagan unbeliever.” That means we get to hate them and cut them out of our lives, right? No. Is that how Jesus treated tax collectors and unbelievers? The goal of discipline is reconciliation, not punishment. Excommunication was intended to move the guilty party toward repentance.

In doing this, the community acts on the authority of God. That whole thing about binding and loosing refers to condemning or acquitting the guilty party, and it’s done with the authority of heaven, meaning God. The part about the prayer of two or three, in this context, refers to a prayer for the repentance of the guilty party.

One of the things that we should see, but we might not because of our preoccupation with individuality, is that throughout this whole instruction, it’s about more than just two people! Reconciliation is part of the life of the holy assembly of the people of God. There is a goal of personal reconciliation, but there’s more than just that.

There’s also a priority on preserving the straying member of the community. They are protected against the actions of the individual or just a small group of people. It’s only the whole community that can impose discipline.

And the whole community is protected against the slow erosion that happens through unresolved antagonism. If there’s no means of discipline, then relationships will often fall apart in the church community. Relationships in the Christian community are eternal, not just temporary things. We simply must get them right.

Here’s the bottom line: If we profess to be people of peace, and that God has made peace with us, then we must make peace with each other. Reconciliation is not easy, but reconciliation is necessary for a holy community.

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