TITLE: If Someone Sins Against You SCRIPTURE: Matthew 18:15-20
In his book, In Search of God, Conrad Simonson tells about a vacation with his parents and sister. They were at a cabin on a lake in northern Minnesota. It was a beautiful day. The sky was blue -- just a few clouds to make it interesting. The lake was calm. It was perfect -- the kind of day where tensions melt away and you just feel great.
But they weren't feeling great that day. Simonson's sister had returned from visiting their brother, who was a pastor in Montana. When she began talking about that visit, it reminded their father that the brother had borrowed money but had failed to pay it back. The more the father thought about it, the angrier he got. Before long, the day was ruined.
Simonson responded by sitting down and writing a letter to his brother. He told his brother how his father's anger had spoiled the day -- and how his mother hoped to see the absent brother -- and how his father said, "Not until he does something about that loan."
The absent brother responded by writing his father a letter. He acknowledged his debt -- laid out his financial situation -- and explained why he couldn't pay off the loan at the moment. That was all it took. With that explanation, the father's anger evaporated. A few months later, the parents visited their son in Montana, and everyone had a great time.
Then, about six months later, the father and mother were involved in a bad automobile accident. The mother was grievously injured. Simonson called his brother, who came immediately to see his parents.
Then the mother died. The father and the once-absent son -- absent no longer -- were together in their grief -- able to comfort each other.
Simonson talks about seeing his brother and his father helping each other through those terrible hours. He concluded his story with these words. He said:
"The thought went through my head:
If God has ever acted in my life,
it was then."
"If God has ever acted in my life, it was then." It was when? When the brother came to the hospital? No. When the brother comforted his father? No.
It was when Simonson sat down to write his brother that God acted in his life. Before he wrote that letter, the conflict between father and son cast a pall on everything -- on their family -- on their lives. But that letter, telling the absent brother of the problem and the need for action -- that was the hand of God at work in Simonson's life. That letter pried the lid off the can of worms. It allowed the brother to see the mess and encouraged him to do something about it.
Fortunately, the brother responded. He wrote his father a letter and effected a reconciliation. Not everyone responds like that. The brother might have just let his father stew, but that wouldn't have helped. The brother might have responded, "Dad can afford it! -- but that wouldn't have helped. The brother might have responded, "Tell the old man to go jump in the lake" -- but that wouldn't have helped.
But the brother -- a decent man who happened to be in over his head -- did what he could. He couldn't pay his father what he owed, but he could acknowledge his debt -- explain his situation -- and ask for patience. That's all it took. Fortunately, that's what the brother did. Fortunately, the father responded.
That story demonstrates how it is supposed to work among Christians when there is a problem. Now you wouldn't think that there would ever be a problem among Christians, would you!
- You wouldn't think that Christians would ever disagree with each other, would you -- but you would be wrong.
- You would think that there would always be harmony in the church, wouldn't you -- but you would be wrong.
- You might guess that Christians would disagree about a doctrine -- like the Real Presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper -- but you wouldn't think that Christians would ever get really sideways with each other over the color of the carpet, would you -- but you would be wrong.
- You wouldn't think that any Christian would commit a grievous sin and then refuse to repent, would you -- but you would be wrong.
Anyone who has been in ministry for any length of time has seen it all. We have seen Christians angry at each other. We have seen church members angry at us. We have seen people get mad and quit the church. We have seen issues go round and round at church board meetings (session meetings, committee meetings, parish council meetings) with lots of heat and very little light. We have seen suspicions and backbiting. We've heard gossip. We've seen it all and heard it all -- and have been the target of a fair amount of it.
So what should we do? Should we just sweep the conflict under the rug and hope that it will go away? That's what we often do. But that wasn't Jesus' way. Jesus always confronted conflict head-on -- and that's what he wants us to do.
But listen carefully! This is important! Jesus wants us to confront conflict head-on, but he doesn't want us to win. Nor does he want us to lose. Jesus wants us to be reconciled to our Christian brother or sister. That's the goal -- reconciliation! Jesus wants us to love one another.
That's so important that I'm going to repeat it. Jesus wants us to confront conflict head-on, but he doesn't want us to win. Nor does he want us to lose. Jesus wants us to be reconciled to our Christian brother or sister. That's the goal -- reconciliation! Jesus wants us to love one another.
Simple, isn't it! But not easy! Lots of things are simple without being easy. How can we lose weight? Eat less! Exercise more! Simple! But not easy!
So what is it that Jesus wants? He wants us to be reconciled to each other! He wants us to love one another! Simple! But not easy!
So what should we do if we have a bone to pick with another church member? Jesus prescribes four steps:
- First, go to your Christian brother or sister and try to talk it out. Don't go determined to win. Go in love. Go with an open mind. Go with the goal of working through the problem to achieve reconciliation.
- If that fails, Jesus says that we should take one or two other Christians with us to be part of the conversation. Maybe they can help us to achieve reconciliation.
- If that fails, Jesus says that we should take it to the church -- perhaps to the deacons or elders. Let them try to help us.
- And if that fails, Jesus says, "Let (that person) be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector." In other words, stay away from them. Leave them alone. Walk on the other side of the street. Avoid them.
Simple! But not necessarily easy!
I might add one step. It isn't that I think I can improve on what Jesus prescribed -- but I will mention something that Jesus said elsewhere. He said, "Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44).
Add that to the mix. "Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you." You will be surprised how it will change your heart when you pray for your enemies -- and God might just change their hearts as well.
Let me close with this last thought. The next time that you are angry with another church member, you probably won't remember the one -- two -- three -- four process that Jesus told us to use. In the heat of anger, you probably won't even be able to find it in the Bible.
So let me suggest an alternative. Instead of trying to remember the one -- two -- three-- four process, it would be enough if you would just remember the goal. So what is the goal? Does anyone remember what we are supposed to accomplish here?
Let me remind you. The goal is that we be reconciled to one another. The goal is that we might love each other.
Simple! Not easy, but simple! If you will just remember to try to love the person with whom you are angry -- and to go to that person in love to work out your differences -- then God will bless you -- and God will bless the cause of Christ-- and God will bless this congregation too.
It beats going away mad.