St John Lutheran Church,
Champaign, IL


Be Reconciled

Matthew 18:15

Service Readings:
Numbers 11:4-6,10-16, 24-29, James 4:7-5:6, Mark 9:38-50

Rev. Dr. James Wright

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.”
One thing I’ve learned from these words of Jesus is that conflict has always been present in the Christian church. While we often complain about this situation, we can grow to recognize that conflict is full of opportunity: opportunity to glorify God, opportunity to confess our sins and share forgiveness, and opportunity to be reconciled with others.

John and Mary had a troubled marriage. They were conflicted on many issues, from differences in parenting to spending habits to whether Mary should work outside the home. In public they put up a good front, but at home they argued most of the time, and when they weren’t arguing, they weren’t talking.

When they finally went to their pastor for help, they expected him to say something like, “You know divorce is a sin. You’ll just have to try harder to get along.”

Instead, the pastor surprised them by asking them to read out loud from the Bible. 1 Corinthians 10:31So whatever you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God". The pastor asked the couple, “How can you glorify God in the situation of your marriage?”

The pastor’s message was this: instead of dwelling on what you want from the other person and blaming them for what goes wrong, we can rejoice in the Lord and bring him praise when we depend on His forgiveness, wisdom, power, and love. Just because someone does something that hurts you or does something wrong doesn’t mean you should hurt them or spread gossip about them.

St. Paul said, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the sight of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:17-18).

When we seek to make peace with other we are in conflict with, instead of making war, we bring glory to God as we forgive others and the world sees our good deeds and gives glory to our Father in heaven.

There’s a big difference between resolving conflict and being reconciled. Divorce resolves conflict but doesn’t bring reconciliation. The next time you find yourself in conflict and either want to run away or attack the other party through harsh words or actions like litigation, remember how God chose to resolve our conflict with Him. He chose to reconcile us to Himself, rather than condemning, destroying, or abandoning us. While we were still enemies of God, He sent Jesus to reconcile the world to himself. He gave His life to bring justice for us. He rose from the dead, which tells us that he has defeated our sin, our death, and gives that victory over to us.

If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you probably noticed we usually don’t deal with conflict any better than those outside the church. For example, one family becomes so upset with something at church that they stop coming to services. Soon the pastor receives a letter from another church requesting a transfer of membership. When the pastor calls the family on the telephone or visits with them, very few will state the real problem. They simply don’t want to be reconciled to the real issue. They figure if they leave things will get better. I’ve done this myself at times.

Running away or denying there’s a problem only makes matters worse, for the people you abandon and robs you of the inner peace you seek. The ultimate example of running away is suicide, where a person takes their own life rather than be reconciled to the person or thing they dread.

On the other hand, sometimes we seek to resolve conflict by attacking or overpowering the other party. St. Paul wrote: “How dare you take a dispute between one believer and another to a civil court? The fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already.” Isn’t that what murder is, attacking another to resolve a conflict? The Lord says if we have hateful thoughts against another person, we are guilty of murder.

It doesn’t have to be this way, especially among Christians! Jesus said, “If you brother has something against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.” Notice he says, “If your brother has something against you.” If someone claims you have wronged them, it’s your Christian responsibility to seek out that person.

This is where the opportunity to be reconciled begins. This confrontation is good if it comes from a proper Christian attitude of humility, patience, genuine love for the other person and a desire to end the conflict and be reconciled.

If you have sinned against that other person, admit it. And when you do, don’t just say, “I’m sorry.” Sorry can mean a lot of things: “I’m sorry you feel the way you do,” “I’m sorry you are so closed minded,” or “I’m sorry I got caught.”

Instead, the Christian uses words like, “I confess my sin against you.” He avoids words like “if,” “but,” and “maybe,” which are excuses, not apologies. These words usually blow the mind of the other person. We just aren’t used to hearing them.

If the other person confesses their sin to you, don’t say, “It’s all right.” It’s not all right! Sin is a serious trespass on God’s laws and your feelings! Instead, say, “I forgive you.” Jesus said at Luke 13, “If your brother sins, rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in one day and seven times comes to you and says, “I repent,” forgive him.”

You see, conflict is an opportunity to confess our sins and proclaim forgiveness to others. If a meeting like this between two people can’t bring peace, someone should be invited to meet with them. We call this mediation.

Paul’s neighbor planted a tree too close to his backyard fence. For years he ignored it, but after many years the tree was so large that its branches reached all the way to his house. Paul got angry one day and cut off the branches of the tree, bringing him into conflict with his neighbor. Neither would speak to the other for some time. Finally, Paul approached his neighbor, confessed his sin of anger and of cutting the branches, and offered to bring in a tree expert to give some advice on how to deal with the tree. The two reconciled and agreed on a trimming method that pleased both of them. Conflict resolved. Neighbors reconciled.

In situations where the parties refuse to be reconciled, we have the Lord’s instruction to tell it to the church. The point here is not to embarrass the other person, humiliate or alienate them, but to enlist help through the prayers and encouragement of the congregation.

Finally, if reconciliation is not reached after much effort, Jesus says to treat the person as an unbeliever. This does not mean we should abandon or shun the other person, but simply to treat them as someone who needs to be reached with the gospel again.

I hope that you can see in all these steps--go and tell, bring a mediator, tell the church, and treat like an unbeliever—the goal is always reconciliation, that we may live as one people under one God. No one deserves to be attacked or abandoned. God wants us to reach out to everyone in love. Because our heavenly Father valued each one of us enough to give his Son to die for us, we should reach out to others as well.

I have a confession of my own to make to you this morning. Usually I hear you confess your sins, but today I need you to hear mine. I haven’t always followed these words of Jesus. People have left this church and I haven’t always reached out to them, especially if the reason is something I said or did. Other times people dropped out, and I didn’t seek them out. This is my sin and it burdens me. I cannot justify it by saying I’m to busy, or they deserve it by their behavior. I confess it to God, and to you, for it is a sin against you as a congregation. I ask your forgiveness.

(The people are invited to read the announcement of forgiveness from the beginning of the divine service.)

You need to hear forgiveness from those you have wronged. Seek them out. Jesus promises peace and joy when you do. Amen.

October 22, 2006

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