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Pope,G - How to Have a Good Fight

Pope,G - How to Have a Good Fight

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Published by: ObltSB on Jan 16, 2010
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Crescent Hill Baptist ChurchLouisville, Kentucky
Pentecost 17September 7, 2008W. Gregory Pope
SERIES: The New Monasticism
Exodus 12:1-14; Psalm 149; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20We have before us in today’s texts and the ones for next week the most important words to a church inorder to protect it from disaster. They are words that address disagreement, confrontation, forgiveness andreconciliation.At work within these texts are two monastic values the Rule of Benedict addresses in detail but areforeign to contemporary church life: discipline and stability.
All of which is wrapped up in the call to love even in the midst of conflict.Benedict says the Rule is given
in order to amend faults and to safeguard love.
[1]The apostle Paul writes, “Owe no one anything but to love them.”When you sign up to be a disciple of Jesus you are taking a vow against hatred; you’re making a promise,in so far as you can with God’s help, to see all people through eyes of love. That includes our enemies.Jesus couldn’t have said it plainer: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”We continually bear out the truth the Bible teaches that human beings are broken by sin. So it ought notsurprise us when people can’t get along. The Bible doesn’t teach us to expect a world where everybodynaturally loves and respects everyone else. But Jesus does tell his disciples to “love one another.” AndJesus seems to think that the Holy Spirit will enable members of his body to do that. Indeed, that’s howJesus says other people will know that there is good news for the world - because a church exists wherepeople genuinely love one another. It’s a little scary to say it, but I think John Howard Yoder was rightwhen he said, “Where Christians are not united, the gospel is not true in that place.” [2]We all inevitably create trouble for the people around us. Not just because all of us are flawed, though weare; it’s also because we are simply different from each other, with different temperaments, and differentideas about how to proceed. And our differences rub up against each other.There is possibly a place where differences do not rub up against each other. In his book 
The Great  Divorce
, C. S. Lewis imagines hell as a vast, gray city that spreads out forever, inhabited only at theedges, the enormous center of it filled with millions of vacant houses on endless empty streets. All thehouses were once occupied by citizens of hell, who disliked their neighbors and moved, and disliked theirnew neighbors and moved again and again. Preferring vast distance to dealing with difficulty anddifference. [3]We can’t love each other without some conflict. And we can’t keep loving each other without reachingthrough conflict to be reconciled. Jesus gives guidance as to how.
Crescent Hill Baptist Churchhttp://www.crescenthillbaptistchurch.org/oldsite/sermon-09-7-08.ht1 of 515/01/2010 15:24
First: “If a brother or sister sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If they listen - a most important Benedictine, monastic word - if they listen you’ve got back your brother orsister.”Notice two things:One, Jesus is talking about people in a covenant relationship. When he says “brother,” he means amember of the family of faith, the church. Maybe an official church, like Crescent Hill Baptist, or anunofficial church, as in friends who live in a covenant of faith, or a family, the church in your house. He istalking to people in a love relationship, and he’s saying these things all for the purpose of staying faithfulto each other.It’s what Benedictine monastics strive for when they take a vow of stability. It is the promise to stay inone place for the rest of your life. Can you imagine in our highly mobile society that sees mobility as asymbol of our freedom, can you imagine deciding that you are going to remain in one place for theremainder of your life?Whatever could be the benefit of such a vow? Well, Benedict would say that you can only grow in thespiritual life by staying with one community. Where people get to know you through and through and holdyou accountable to grow and change. The vow of stability also helps the monastic avoid the temptation tobelieve that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence in another faith community. [4]So, this guidance from Jesus on confronting one who lives with us in covenant community is for thepurpose of helping us stay faithful to each other.A second point about this guidance is that it is primarily for serious offenses. It’s not about someone whorubs you the wrong way or disagrees with your position or looks at you funny. It’s about someone whosins against you. Disagreements and annoyances are normal parts of relationship. What mature love doeswith those is to bear them with patience. But to be sinned against - lied to, betrayed, attacked, abandoned,having someone not live up to their responsibilities to you - this is serious because it has the potential of breaking covenant. And that’s why Jesus says we are to confront it.And you do it yourself, just you and the other alone, face to face. We keep the matter private. There’s nospreading of the news to others. We must not go about condemning the offender. You don’t gossip aboutyour hurt, but neither do you nurse it in wounded silence. You could do that if it were all about you, butit’s not about you. A relationship is at stake. And not just a personal relationship, but a communitycovenant relationship. The purpose of this guidance is not to help justify the anger or hurt feelings of theoffended but to restore relationship.So you take the initiative. Isn’t that something? Jesus hands the initiative to the sinned-against. He tells usto make time to talk, one on one, with those who have done us wrong.We take the initiative because, in some cases, the offender may be unaware of the offense. It is a gestureof reconciliation. The one who has been offended bears the responsibility of initiating reconciliation andmending the breach. The offended is not to sit back and wait for the other to apologize.If this guidance gives us pause, I think it’s meant to. The very difficulty of deciding to go to someone likethis invites us to pause and consider how we ourselves may also have been at fault. Maybe we’ll come tosee that the greater sin was our own. Maybe we’ll go and tell them more about our sin than theirs.David Garland wants us to notice that this call to reprove a fellow Christian is preceded by demands to behumble as a child, to purge one’s one sins, and to seek urgently after the one who strays like a shepherdafter a lost sheep, and that it is followed by a demand for unlimited forgiveness. [5]
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Barbara Brown Taylor suggests we ask some questions before we proceed, such as: Am I sure I knowwhat I’m talking about? Have I given the other person every benefit of the doubt? What are my motives inconfronting her with my feelings? Do I want to make him feel bad, or do I really want peace? Andremember, Taylor says, being right is less important than being in relationship. [6]Those are important questions to ask before pressing on to the difficult task of saying hard truth to peoplewho have sinned against us.It’s all the harder because of the tone it must take: not castigating or shaming, just telling the truth in love.This is a call for direct confrontation but not verbal abuse. Do you remember those words fromEphesians? “Speak the truth in love. . . Be angry, but do not sin . . .Let no evil talk come out of yourmouths, but only what is useful for building up . . . And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgivingone another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” Kindness is the best chance we have of winning back abrother or sister. Scripture says it is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. And that is the point -not to get something off your chest, or to heal yourself, but to restore relationship. And that’s what makesit a good fight.Even if harm was done deliberately, your attitude of love and gentleness may very well lead toreconciliation. What matters is repairing the relationship between the two family members. It’s aboutwinning your brother or sister, not winning an argument. It is possible to win the argument and lose yourbrother.If the person listens, which would seem to include hearing, accepting, repenting, and perhaps requestingforgiveness, then you have gained your brother or sister back to full relationship, to make the flock wholeagain.Sometimes, though, it doesn’t succeed. Some of us don’t listen well, even when we are lovinglyconfronted with our sins. So Jesus goes on.
“But of you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may beconfirmed by two or three witnesses.”Now, what is this - a posse? No, this is about people in covenant who aren’t about to give up on eachother. To bring witnesses is to convince and persuade not to judge and convict. It’s about how incrediblyprecious our relationships under God truly are, and how all of us are harmed when even two of us areestranged. Jesus learned this from the Law of Moses in Deuteronomy (19:15).So, you take one or two with you, and not your best buddies either, maybe their best buddies; but mostimportantly, one or two people who live in covenant with both of you, helping you both hear and say andsee what’s true. It may be that we are wrong and we need wisdom outside ourselves.But of course, even this can fail.
If it does, then Jesus says go ahead and bring in the whole family, the entire congregation. Let all of youstretch toward the healing of a wound and the restoring of relationship. This is the length that covenantlove will go to. We’re to go as far as we possibly can for the sake of reconciliation.Frank Stagg says that these instructions picture a community where every member watches over another,the whole church assumes responsibility for every member, and every member is accountable to the wholechurch. [7]
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