Weekly Bible Devotional
“Fear Not: Courageous Conversations”
October 25, 2020
Scripture for Sunday: Matthew 18:15-20
15 “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 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. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
Notes on the Text:
Jesus knew the importance of teaching his community about responding with love in times of conflict to heal and to transform the way people deal with each other. He recognized that conflict was an inevitable part of community life. Even his inner circle of friends had disagreements among them. Jesus gave a step by step process for dealing with conflict in a kingdom of God kind of way. Jesus took conflict seriously and saw in it a potential for greater healing and growth.
Here is the process. First, you go and speak to the person directly. This is one of the hardest steps because it takes courage and vulnerability. We would have to own our own feelings without attacking or degrading the other person. It is much easier to complain, avoid, or gossip about the person who hurt us. The second step is taking another person with us, not to attack the offender or gang up on them, but to allow for a more neutral person to enter the scene. The third step is to have a gathering of the community to speak about the conflict/offense. This is another hard step because people tend to take sides instead of creating soulful spaces where one can be honest and loving at the same time and where the norms provide respect and dignity for all.
One piece that is often misunderstood about this scripture is the end of the process that Jesus provides. When Jesus says that if the offender refuses to listen, they are to be for us like a Gentile or a tax collector, we have to remember that Jesus treated those two groups very well. He did not hate them. Instead he included them every chance he got. Jesus was not recommending getting rid of the offending party if they didn’t reform their behavior. What I believe this piece helps us see is that if the person we have a conflict with, is not willing to work through the conflict to transform their behavior, then more work is needed for building bridges with them. While they are not to be part of the inner circle of a community and its leadership, the work is to continue to offer them opportunities to find healing. Just like the disciples had to work on building bridges to Gentiles and tax collectors, when a person remains stuck in their hate, anger, or abusive behavior, our work with them is different and requires more bridge building.
Verse 20 of our scripture for this week from Matthew 18 in which Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them” is often taken out of context and used to think of people being gathered in the name of Christ. It is important to remember that the actual context of that chapter was conflict. Jesus was saying that he is with us in the midst of conflict to bring us healing and wholeness. Our work is to trust in his guidance and in his example.
As we conclude this sermon series on fear and the invitation of God to not fear, I believe that creating soulful spaces and norms could bring us a lot of healing. We have an opportunity this week to continue to practice this creativity of spirit with each other so that when we are in our other social circles, we are equipped to bring this energy of love in very practical ways.
Eric Law offers helpful guidelines on how to set up norms that create space of grace. The guidelines are simple and yet very powerful:
- R – take Responsibility for what you say and feel without blaming others
- E – use Empathetic listening
- S – be Sensitive to differences in communication/cultural styles
- P – Ponder what you hear and feel before you speak
- E – Examine your own assumptions and perceptions
- C – keep Confidentiality
- T – Tolerate ambiguity because we are not here to debate. There are no winners or losers.
Here is a link to how one church adapted and developed these guidelines for their community: https://www.sttimothy.indydio.org/documents/Church%20Forms/R.E.S.P.E.C.T.%20Communications.pdf
What if we agreed on such norms in our families, churches, and other circles? It does not mean that conflict wouldn’t happen. Instead, we would be equipped to handle it in the way of Christ. This takes commitment and practice. By following the guidance of Christ and living by his norms, we can be the healing hands and feet of Christ knowing that his Spirit is always with us remembering his words, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
Prayer by Henri J. M Nouwen:
O Lord, awaken the consciousness of all peoples and their leaders; raise up men and women full of love and generosity who can speak and act for peace, and show us new ways in which hatred can be left behind, wounds can be healed, and unity can be restored. Amen