In his closing to his most excellent and deeply personal message on the ministry of reconciliation, the speaker gives a discussion about the communal aspects of reconciliation. It is inevitable that sensitive and prickly and flawed people in a group will hurt and offend each other, so there need to be aspects of reconciliation that relate to how people get along as part of a community. To be sure, this is an issue in our congregations–it certainly has been an issue in any congregation or group I have been a part of–and it is little surprise that in this light the author returns to Matthew 18, that vital chapter in explaining the biblical view of reconciliation and overcoming offenses . Obviously, as believers our desire ought to desire to be at peace with fellow believers and ought to come to grips with our own struggles and shortcomings, but that is not always so obvious in practice.
In many ways, this conclusion brings the author back to the context with which he began this message. This series of messages was given in the first half of 2011, shortly after a massive split in the church in which both the speaker and I are a part of. During that time a lot of offenses were committed, which is common in a situation of conflict, and those who desired peace and reconciliation generally found the situation deeply unpleasant. Having seen the massive failures of peacemaking efforts–his own and others–fail to spectacularly, the speaker seems to have taken the matter to heart and poured over what sort of attitude and behavior we should have in seeking to get along and work with our fellow brethren. Now, I was not aware of this series of messages when it came out, although it would have been highly relevant to me, and the messages were brought to my attention by someone for whim this particular situation is equally relevant, being a young woman of conspicuous ability and considerable spiritual maturity, who has struggled with conflict in her own life and the lives of others around me, myself included. In listening to these messages I have been convinced that she had me at least somewhat in mind in what she was listening to and attempting to apply in her life with the help of God.
Returning to the message itself, the speaker notes that in looking at conflict resolution we are often all of the parties involved. It is difficult to do the work of conflict resolution and reconciliation. I know I have always found reconciliation to be immensely difficult in my own life, and it is far easier not to attempt it at all. Sadly, at least in my own life, the author mentions the struggle we have to continually try to reconcile until it is no longer possible. Whether it can be said that I have done enough efforts at reconciliation to be considered heroic in this regard or not is not something I can say. In returning to his example of a gentleman making unwanted advances towards a young lady, the speaker notes that gossip makes private sin into a community matter and that makes matters more difficult to resolve. The speaker notes, in a massive understatement, that we as a church community have not done this very well. Are we committed to doing better, though?
The author then turns to the situation of Moses in Exodus 18 and the responsibility of church leaders. Jethro’s advice to Moses in the face of the overwhelming burden of being the judge for all ancient Israelites is advice our own leaders of church and state would do well to remember. When the people are taught the law, leaders can spend their time teaching God’s way and how to apply it, and in interceding with God for the people, rather than being stuck in mediating and arbitrating endless conflicts. The result was a proliferation of court systems–the elders at the gates that rule over the cities and that judge local issues, the tribal leaders that judge issues on a tribal level, and the levitical priesthood that was supposed to assist in religious leadership, and if matters could not be resolved in these letters matters went up to the judges themselves. All of this was done without a legislature, since the law-giving was done. Are we careful enough about dragging our neighbors and brethren before judgment? It is little wonder that slander and bearing false witness are considered such grave sins in light of the seriousness of judicial procedures and legal consequences.
In looking at the application of community law, the speaker goes to one of my favorite stories of the Bible, the book of Ruth . The fact that the marriage of widows to relatives was a matter of community law is one that required the involvement of the community as a whole shows how this law was applied. Do we know the law and are we able to apply it in our own lives? God’s law has never worked perfectly because we have never worked perfectly. The fault is not in our laws, it is in ourselves. Under what circumstances are we supposed to take our conflicts and difficulties before the congregation as a whole? Partisan support in broken families is certainly one case that would require communal resolution of communal problems, and certainly a relevant problem in my own life. Dealing with the public sins of the ministry also requires a public rebuke, which gives one an idea of the context of which the speaker is wrestling with in terms of applying the scriptures to our existence, because our goal is reconciliation. In going to 2 Corinthians and in providing examples of what a public sin of an elder would be, the speaker also seeks to apply the biblical example to our own lives and to our own situation.
The closing of this message adds a sense of obligation to us. The speaker closes this sermon, and his series on the ministry of reconciliation, with a discussion of a Protestant church where the minister, elders, and deacons all confessed their carnality in having dealt poorly with conflict with each other to the edification of the congregation as a whole. Can we do that ourselves? Can we humble ourselves and admit when we have wronged others? Can we forgive those who have wronged us? Can we restore good relations with others, and no longer hold the sins and faults of people against them when their behavior has changed. Can we be at peace with God and with each other? As the hymn goes, let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with us. I must admit that after having listened to this entire message I do not know to what extent I was in the mind of the person who recommended this series to me. But I know there are many ways in which it applies to her and applies to me and applies to the context in which we are all a part. And as we are ambassadors for Christ, we implore to each other that we may be reconciled to God and to each other, and that we might live according to the righteousness of God that is within us. Let it be so.
 See, for example:
 See, for example: