Jesus Christ our Reconciliation!
Exodus 12: 1-14
Romans 13: 8-14
Matthew 18: 15-20
‘Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.’ Romans 13: 8
Tena koutou katoa e te whanau o Te Wairua Tapu.
In last week’s gospel, we saw how Jesus told his disciples that to follow him was to take up a cross: to live lives of sacrifice and service to others—to live good lives but not easy lives.
Today, Jesus tells them what they should do when conflict arises in the community. Not just conflict concerning disagreements—but wrongs. Not because he anticipates his church will be a troubled group of people, but because he knows they will simply be a group of people. Jesus knows that even while the church will point to something beyond itself—something greater—it’s still made up of humans. And so it will be bound to the same limitations of any other human institution: there will be conflict. Mistakes will be made and there will be some serious mistakes. There will be huge disagreement, unrest and fractures, ill-will towards each other that inflicts deep hurtful pain. Jesus knew this and the rest of the New Testament writers knew it too. The book of Acts is filled with stories of conflict within the early church. A vast majority of Paul’s letters deal directly with conflict within churches—sometimes the typical, petty “he said, she said”, but at times conflict that would make you think, “Seriously, is this church?” Conflict has been present in the church ever since there’s been a church and even before that. Each of the gospels record infighting between the disciples: right there, sitting at the feet of Jesus and they couldn’t get on.
Christ knows there will be conflict, even in his church. But he tells them how to deal with conflict. Don’t ignore it or sweep it under the carpet, where it can fester or spread. It’s got to be addressed head on. Jesus gives clear and practical instructions on what to do. Direct communication with the offending party—always face to face. No gossip or back stabbing. One on one to begin with, but if that doesn’t work, then you take someone else with you. And if that doesn’t work, then it comes before the whole church. And if the offending party still won’t budge, only then are they removed from the community. This may sound cold and even a bit harsh—at least for Jesus. Especially when Jesus gathers the children around him; reaches out to the lost and brings everyone into the fold. And yet, even Jesus highlights the importance of accountability in relationships and in community. But each step in this process is focused on restoration for the offender not revenge for the offended. The point is to try and keep that one in the fold so the community remains intact and in harmony but not necessarily at peace.
However, if reconciliation can’t be reached, it doesn’t mean the offending party is simply written off—this is not what Jesus is implying when he says they’ll become like a “Gentile or a tax collector.” Remember, Jesus ate with tax collectors and reached out to Gentiles. They were simply outside the community but always invited in. Exclusion here isn’t the last word. The hope is always that the lost sheep will return. Reconciliation, restoration is always the hope. And this is so different from the world outside the church—where justice not reconciliation is the goal.
I know today’s gospel is tough. It’s a reminder that the church is not some high-minded exclusive thought process. It’s real, practical and hard. Community is hard. Relationships are hard—they are messy, painful and above all fragile—relationships are fragile, maybe even more so in the church. When the church is working as it should, where we are bound together by the deepest bonds there are: the bonds of faith, hope, love and a shared vision for what’s good and right. But this makes it all the more painful when church relationships fall apart. Jesus is clear about this delicate balance within the church, the balance of fragility and power. On the one hand it’s as fragile as human relationships, with our egos and insecurities, but on the other, it’s as powerful as the presence of God in the world. It’s fragile enough that it’s health must be vigorously defended, fragile enough that one offender left unchecked can throw the whole system out of whack, but powerful enough that Christ promises to be present within it wherever two or three are gathered.
But the great mystery of the church, which is the incarnation—that God would take on our human frailty and weakness—our brokenness, that in the end, that can be our strength. Because only people who know they are broken can be healed. What sets the church apart in the world is not that we are holier than everyone else or less likely to fall short or mess things up—God knows that isn’t true as well as we do. The church is set apart because we are aware of our brokenness. When we know how broken we all are, it is then, that we find ourselves ready to be healed. And with our own wounds still mending, we find ourselves ready to wait for, work for and pray for the healing of others. We can’t write anyone else off because we haven’t been written off. And it’s to that extent that we commit ourselves to this kind of healing work within our own walls, our own relationships, that the church—through our very being—proclaims the good news we’ve been given.
The good news Jesus offers isn’t some abstract notion of salvation when we die: it’s the promise of living resurrected lives in the here and now. Lives of redemption and wholeness. Lives once broken that through the power of the Holy Spirit working through a community are repaired. Relationships once torn apart that are restored. Hope once thought to be lost that’s rekindled through acts of grace and mercy and forgiveness—this is the good news; that this kind of resurrected living can happen now among us and in us. Even in you. Amen.
Archdeacon Kaio Karipa
Gracious God, when two or three are gathered in your name you are there. Ever present with your family, the church. Give us grace and maturity when we are in conflict. Help us to listen, to forgive and to live together in mutual love. Through Jesus Christ our Liberator, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen
The Venerable Kaio Karipa
Sydney Maori Anglican Fellowship Church of Te Wairua Tapu