Forgiveness, Grace and Reconciliation
You might find this hard to believe, but every once in a while my kids fight. It usually surrounds a toy and usually ends up with one or both of them in tears. Eventually one of them comes up to me or Kate and says, “Ethan hit me” or “Logan won’t share his toy.” The point is they come to us as parents and expect us to settle the fight fairly and impartially. They haven’t learned to sort things out for themselves and are still acting like children. Which of course makes sense as they are children.
As parents we try to let them figure things out, to work out a compromise as best as they can. We try never to side with one child over the other, but to demonstrate how they can work together to get through their misunderstanding.
It is a challenge, because they are young and are still trying to find their way around their feelings and what it means to share. My hope and my prayer is that they will grow up to be individuals who can articulate how they feel they have been wronged and work forward towards a resolution.
Forgiveness, Grace and Reconciliation – Audio Sermon
Working towards a resolution when we have conflict is something that our passage from Matthew deals with. However, I should say that it considers more than just conflict. It considers the instance when a brother or sister in Christ sins against you.
Jesus lays out a series of steps that we should take. Approaching the individual, if that fails then brining two or three others as witnesses and then if that fails. Well… we’ll talk about that in a moment.
This resolution process is perhaps very advanced for when it was written down. It is still something that many would advocate for today, inside and outside of the church. As Presbyterians we follow a conflict resolution process that is found in the Book of Forms which is based on the spirit of Matthew 18.
However, when we look at this passage and we consider it fully it really is not as easy as it seems. Because this passage is not about telling someone else they are wrong, but is about reaching reconciliation. When we read this passage through the legalistic and individualistic point of view that we have in society that is a difficult thing. We live in a world that is more interested in telling people they are wrong than in reaching reconciliation and I think that we probably get this one wrong more often than we get it right.
Let’s think for a moment about the outcomes of this passage if we do not take it seriously. What happens? Lost friendships, broken marriages, divided churches, injustice, oppression, war, the list goes on.
I often wonder, especially in the church, if we follow this teaching of Jesus out of a sense of duty or as a result of seeking true reconciliation?
Friends, I think it is time to take the business of reconciliation seriously.
Let’s be honest. It is very easy to pretend there is not a problem. To just say, it’s ok. I’m good with it. It’s easy to say that because seeking true reconciliation is hard work, it demands something of us. If we are interested in true reconciliation then we need to understand what it means to be forgiven, to offer grace.
Every week we pray the Lord’s prayer and in that prayer we pray ‘to forgive as I wish to be forgiven.’ Every week we pray that, yet when it comes to dealing with issues that divide and hurt us we seem to be unwilling to see the Lord’s prayer through.
We live in a culture that celebrates the individual. So I ask you in our individualistic culture what are our expectations of this piece of scripture?
Where does grace and forgiveness fit in?
What does it mean to be forgiven?
You can’t seek to forgive a wrong you aren’t willing to forgive. So this passage is as much about the individual who was wronged or sinned against is it is about the sinner.
We are asked to meet one on one with the individual and we should note that there are cases where this is not always appropriate. Instances of sexual misconduct or violence might lead us to skip the first step here and I believe we would be wise to do so.
If talking to the individual does not work we are told to bring one or two others as witnesses. The idea of taking others with you comes from an Old Testament reference about having the appropriate amount of witnesses.
Your judgement in selecting these witnesses is important too. Don’t just pick people who will agree with your position, select people who are impartial and be prepared to hear some truths that perhaps you yourself did not want to hear. Let’s be honest, no conflict is ever black and white or completely one sided.
Now friends this is where it gets interesting. Jesus says that if this step does not work take it to the whole church and if that does not work then we should treat that individual as a gentile, an outsider, and a tax collector. This is where I think we get this passage wrong. When we read this passage it sounds like Jesus is closing the door on that individual. You have had your chance, you blew it, so long, see you later!
Friends, is that what Jesus really means? Is Jesus giving up on the offender who refuses to listen to the church, is that person to be considered a tax collector or gentile? This is the same Jesus who brought a tax collector into his inner circle. This is the same Jesus who spoke with the Samaritan woman, who told the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Is Jesus serious here?
Is his intent that after all attempts of reconciliation that we turn our back on people? Or is this Jesus subtly telling us something else?
Friends, forgiveness is a main goal or purpose of the church, but it is also the most powerful expression of divine grace.
As a result I do not believe for a moment that we are to turn our back on those whom we cannot reach reconciliation.
Let’s be honest, because of our inability to reconcile ourselves to God, God sent his son Jesus Christ to do it for us. So is Jesus really telling us to turn our back on people, to give up on them? Where would we be if God gave up on us?
No, Jesus is telling us something very different here.
When we read those words of tax collector and Gentile an alarm should be going off in our heads. We should be asking ourselves how Jesus treated those very same people. The answer is easy, Jesus did not give up on them.
This passage says something very powerful about God and about God’s ability to forgive.
Friends, I believe that Jesus is telling us something very importance about forgiveness, grace and reconciliation. His words here about losing on Earth and Heaven remind us of our reading a few weeks ago. About Peter’s confession about who Jesus is and Jesus responding that upon that confession Jesus would build his church. A church which understands the power of forgiveness, grace and reconciliation.
The church is the church because it is founded on Jesus, by Jesus. It isn’t enough for us to be gathered. We must be gathered as a community of faith that not only believes in the promises of God, but believes God.
Friends, when we gather Jesus is with us. Where two or three have gathered in my name, I am there among them. Jesus is here with us now as we have gathered. When we go to our enemy, to the one who has offended us Jesus is there with us also.
Friends, I wonder if the point of this text to lead us to unity in decision or to embrace one another in love. Is Jesus more concerned that we all agree about doctrine, law and process or is Jesus more concerned that we do not give up on people. That we always love one another, that forgiveness and grace are always offered.
That Jesus is with us should serve as both encouragement and a warning. Encouragement because Jesus is with us now and forever. A warning because when Jesus is with us he is watching us and ensuring that we are doing our level best to love, forgive and offer grace in the same way we have been offered love, forgiveness and grace. This final where verse where Jesus is with us speaks of the risen Christ, which I believe forces us to look beyond our own individual concerns and to look at reconciliation for all of creation. If we as the church cannot offer forgiveness, love and grace to one another then how do we offer it to the world which so desperately needs it.
Reconciliation will cost us. It takes courage to go to one who has hurt you, to explain that hurt and then be willing to offer forgiveness. At a deep level it means we do love someone who has hurt us when we are willing to forgive. However, when we go forward to each other in this way, in a way shown to us and exemplified by Jesus Christ then it is done with real hope.
Friends, reconciliation overcomes all divisions through the power of the cross. It is in the body of Christ that we find the healing and reconciliation required for us and for all of creation. Amen.
Text: Matthew 18: 15-20