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Bible Talks


Rev. Alan ShawRev. Alan Shaw, September 7, 2014
Part of the Lectionary series, preached at a Lismore Sunday service


Conflict is a natural part of life - & the resolution of conflict is a major theme in our gospel reading today – which also contains one of Jesus’ best-known parables – The Lost Sheep [18:10-14].

? Can we discover something new in such a well-known story?

This image of a loving God depicted as a shepherd tending his flock was a favourite of Jesus - & can teach us something - despite its familiarity.

It reminds us that God’s love is a personal love – God knows each of us by name – each of us is special – yet none more special than another. However large a family might be, there is none who don’t matter to a loving parent. God longs for the whole flock to be gathered in – that none should be lost.
It reminds us that God’s love is a seeking love – the shepherd didn’t wait for the sheep to find its own way back to the fold – but went out searching & didn’t rest until the lost was found. Likewise God seeks us out when we wander & lovingly draws us back to him.
It reminds us of God’s patient love – We might be impatient with foolish people – we might say ‘It’s their own fault’ when they get themselves into strife. God isn’t like that. God loves even the foolish who have no one else to blame for their sins & silly situations.
It tells us of God’s rejoicing love – when the lost are found there is rejoicing in heaven. Recall the Prodigal Son (or Prodigal Father). We tend to hold grudges that tarnish our relationships – but God offers forgiveness to all – especially the lost & broken who are restored with great rejoicing.
It tells us of a protecting love – where even the least are watched over by our Father in heaven & his angels [v10].
The Parable of the Lost Sheep tells of God’s unending love for his people & God’s desire that we love him & each other in return.
The next passage [vv15-18] deals with conflict - & reminds us of the human tendency to withdraw our love from others during times of conflict.
We can forget that disagreements & controversy are natural – that conflict can be a healthy thing when handled properly. Conflict can help bring about change – move us out of stagnation into action – open our eyes to new possibilities.

From OT times it’s clear that conflict has always been a part of community life in the story of the people of God.
Matthew has recorded a step-by-step process that might be followed in a Christian community where conflict has arisen – like a ‘How To Manual’.
Thing is – part of it sounds more like it’s been written by a Church committee than the actual words of Jesus. Some scholars go as far as to suggest that in its present form these exact words were rather based on something Jesus said. Let’s have a closer look................

Suppose something goes wobbly within the church. Someone says or does something that causes someone to get their nose out of joint....
? Do we ignore it hoping it will go away? Sometimes we do.
Do we avoid those who are troubling us – maybe bad-mouth them behind their backs? Whoops! Sometimes we do that too.

The Apostle John had something to say about this: [1 Jn 4: 20-21] “ If people say ‘I love God’ but hate their brothers or sisters they are liars. Those who don’t love their brothers & sisters whom they have seen cannot love God whom they have NEVER seen. And this commandment we have from him: those who love God must also love their brothers & sisters.”

Strong words! ?OK – So how do we start mending broken relationships within the faith community?

Earlier in Matthew Jesus has something to say about having the RIGHT ATTITUDE. [Mt 18:4] “Therefore whoever humbles themselves as a little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven”
Humility is clearly a quality Jesus values – a quality that should mark a true follower. !! Let’s look at the 4 steps outlined by Matthew......

[Look at v.15] If we believe someone has wronged us we should first get clear about what our complaint is – through prayer & reflection - put it into words – write it down - & not brood or whinge about it.
Then we should gather the courage to present the matter personally – face to face – a quiet word in private - not in a letter. It’s too easy to read into a letter or an email something that was never meant. This isn’t easy I know.
A few years ago someone did this for me. She came to me when we were alone & let me know how I had hurt her by a careless comment. She didn't have to do it. She could have told all her friends. But by talking to me – which took courage - she gave me the opportunity to apologise - & ask her forgiveness.
By telling me to my face she reminded me of who I am & who I’m called to be.
And I have always been - & will always be grateful.

Remember the AIM must always be about reconciliation – restoring relationships that are valuable to GOD & therefore to US.
[v16 says:] If THIS doesn’t work - then call a small group meeting. Take along 1 or 2 trusted witnesses who are impartial & mature in the faith - not involved in the conflict – perhaps even a mediator. They aren’t there to back you up or take sides. Most conflict can be resolved by this approach.
BUT if THIS doesn’t work......
[v17a] Then it requires the THIRD stage. When the hurt is so deep – when stubbornness & avoidance leaves no other option - the matter can be brought before the Church.
Bringing your disagreement before the church isn’t an easy thing to do – airing your dirty laundry in front of the faith community takes great courage & must be carefully thought through. But a healthy Christian community will try to judge all matters fairly in the light of love. Our Diocese has a formal Grievance Policy that seeks to provide a fair & logical way to address conflict between people at this stage. I stress that prayer is absolutely vital at every stage. It’s GOD’S WILL we’re seeking – not our own.

FINALLY (here’s the most difficult part) - when reconciliation & agreement can’t be reached – Matt says [v17b] ‘if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile & a tax-collector.”
!! Finally we can get rid of that troublemaker!! RIGHT? WRONG !!

Hang on! Would Jesus have used the word ‘church’ ? According to Matthew he did when he said to Peter, ‘On this rock I will build my church’ [Mt16:18]
But v17b suggests an organised church with a developed system of discipline based on the kind of leadership structure that evolved later in the 1stC.
(Matthew’s gospel is believed to have been written about 65CE).

? Would Jesus have placed such a limit on forgiveness? Think about the Jesus we know through Scripture. Gentiles & tax-collectors were the very ones he sought out. Matthew himself was a tax collector & became one of Jesus’ closest friends! Nobody is beyond hope with Jesus!

As if to make a point, Jesus repeats the phrase recorded during his conversation with Simon Peter 2 weeks ago: “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.” [18:18]

What we do – or don’t do – in the natural has implications for the supernatural – the spiritual realm. Forgiveness is ours to extend – to offer to others – or to withhold.
Matthew’s Gospel is full of examples of Jesus’ constant care for ALL his people - including the outcasts – the lawbreakers. Jesus went out of his way to bring back the lost sheep - even if it was just 1% of the flock. And by his own words - when that ONE LOST SHEEP is found & returned to the fold – there’s more rejoicing than over the 99% that stayed home & behaved themselves!

!! Perhaps what Jesus really meant was....‘When you’ve done all that you can – when you’ve made every effort – when every opportunity has been offered to make peace & they remain stubborn – you might think they are no better than God-less Gentiles or renegade tax-collectors – & perhaps they aren’t. But deep down they have a heart that longs to be touched – just like yours. And some - like Matthew & Zaccheus - will respond & may even become good friends. There is always hope.’

We can’t always be in complete agreement about EVERYthing (though we could probably manage it more often than we do.)
And there ARE times when we must hold fast to what we believe to be truth against falsehood – (though probably less often than we would like.)

But against that temptation to squabble – Jesus gives us a vision of what our unity might accomplish. [v.19] “Again, truly I tell you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.”

[‘Oh & by the way – I’ll be there with you!!’] Verse 20 says:
"For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them."

There’s a touch of sarcasm in that verse: “IF even just TWO of you could agree about anything........”. !! What a high price we pay for our addiction to pride & disunity!!

Again the Apostle John reminds us...[1 Jn4: 7,12] ‘Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.’

We forgive because we have been forgiven.

LET US PRAY: Loving Lord Thank you that in the midst of the storms & unpredictability of life – you are here with us & you love us without measure – without favourites.
Thank you for your promises which we believe by faith.
Help us to set aside all pride & hardness of heart as we seek to live according to your gospel of love – building relationships that bring you glory.
In Jesus Name. AMEN.

Barclay, W. The New Daily Study Bible – The Gospel of Matthew vol.2, WJK: Louisville, 2001
Hunt, J. "Go and Point Out the Fault When the Two of You are Alone...." http://words.dancingwiththeword.com/2014/08/go-and-point-out-fault-when-two-of-you.html 31/8/2014


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