Did you know today’s reading from the gospel according to Matthew 18:15-21 is in our church constitution? Every congregation in our denomination has a constitution, a document that outlines how we live our life together as a community. Each congregation’s constitution is unique but they follow the model established by our denomination. Today’s gospel passage is how we resolve conflict between members in our community. This method is not the only method available to resolve conflict inside the church but it shows us that conflict inside the church is normal. As a community of faith, we sometimes mess up and hurt other people. As a community filled with people, each one of us sometimes hurt each other or the community itself. We are not perfect. Conflict has, does, and will happen in this church. But conflict does not mean we are an unhealthy community. Conflict can be healthy and help us discover how the Spirit is leading us in exciting, effective, and life-giving ways.
One of the fun parts of this passage is the assumption inside it that we, as disciples of Jesus, and the church itself are always right. But if we’re honest, there are times when the issue we have with another person is our issue and not theirs. How many times have you heard someone talk about someone else but know, deep down, that the talker is at fault? How many times, after reflection or confrontation, have you realized you were the one with the problem and not the other way around? Conflict isn’t the sign of a broken community. The community is broken when we refuse to talk to each other. When we, as a church, avoid difficult conversations, we’re avoiding the possibilities healthy conflict can bring. I honestly believe that the Holy Spirit brings us specifically together not because we are all alike but because the Holy Spirit knows we need each other. When we talk together, we can see more clearly what the Spirit is doing.
So how can we disagree with each, talk to each other, and experience conflict while still being the community the Spirit wants us to be? One way, I think, is by first knowing who we are. We are beloved children of God. We are, through our baptism, united with Christ. When two of us are together, Jesus is right there. Jesus is there in our committee meetings, congregational meetings, and when we meet one-on-one. We are a community that gathers together not because we are all friends and we never disagree with each other. We are a church because we belong to Jesus and Jesus calls us to be right here.
Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for 14th Sunday After Pentecost, 9/10/2017.