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Not Repairing the Relationship: Conflict in Church

May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In my previous life as a teacher I had the great privilege and the great pain of working with teenagers. The wonderful thing about teenagers is that so often they are just lots of fun, they are discovering who they are and they are usually growing up in to wonderful adults. But they are also really, really, really difficult on occasion. The classic sketch of teenager Kevin from Harry Enfield is just spot on, on occasion isn’t it? I was forever dealing with teenagers who were best friends one minute and not talking to each other the next. Perhaps we can remember some of the stupid things we did as teenagers? I remember once, getting so irritated with my Dad who was having a go at me about not revising enough demanding to get out of the car on the M3. Thankfully my Dad didn’t listen to my request but was wise enough to stop until we got out of the car! Why is it that teenagers can be so difficult? Here is my theory, that to be a teenager is a time when we move from the innocence of childhood into the mistakes of adulthood and it’s a time when we haven’t got sophisticated enough to cover the mistakes that we make.

How many times, in church life, do we hear of people falling out or refusing to speak to so and so, or not going to an activity or event such-a-body is at, or having a disagreement with Mr Smith or Gertrude or whoever. Often, unlike teenagers who have the wherewithal to at least bother an exacerbated teacher with their fall out for help, adults in church will simply and forever often refuse to deal with that person.

Our Lord though is quite explicit about just how wrong this kind of behaviour is. ‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift’

How many of us receive communion when we remain angry at a sister or brother in the church? How many of us go years without reconciling with a fellow believer, beloved of Christ, despite how difficult they may be personally? But our Lord doesn’t speak mysteriously or in riddles about this – it simply isn’t acceptable.

So what are we to do? Because the bit that Jesus doesn’t seem to address is that there are people who are difficult, who rub us up the wrong way and who frankly have sinned against us. The reality is of course that we are not in control of others behaviour, but we need to be in control of our own. First, we need to seek forgiveness from the Lord for every time we do a disservice to others through our anger, every time we think an insult, every time we say ‘you fool’. Thank the Lord that in His grace and wisdom He forgives us our nonsense. Second, if we have seriously fallen out with a fellow church member we are to seek reconciliation. That may be as simple as going straight to the person with whom you have had an issue and seeking peace with them. Making a point of sitting with them in church. It could be speaking honestly about how they made you feel. Whatever way it happens, what cannot happen is that we break off contact or refuse to love them. The Lord is explicit about the problems of doing that. Lastly, pray for that person, thank the Lord for that person, pray a blessing upon them. By doing so, we are bringing the love of God to them.

All of this can be so very difficult and sometimes we need others to help find reconciliation and sometimes this is a path that takes time. It can very often be painful, I know from experience, not only dealing with the hurt we have suffered, but perhaps more dealing with the hurt we have caused others. Afterall, the command to seek reconciliation with others doesn’t mean they are an innocent party but rather that it is upon each of us to seek peace with all other believers. There is room in heaven for all of creation but there is simply no room for factions or hate or rejection of brothers and sisters in Christ.

So, let us take the words of Christ seriously, let us seek reconciliation with one another before we come to the altar, and let us grow in the love He has called us to that demands we love others, even difficult others, as ourselves. Amen.   

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