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14 Pentecost - Matthew 18:15-20

Years ago, when I was doing a lot more premarital counseling than I am now, I posted a

disclaimer on my office door.

Your dog has no right to walk off and leave you, Charlie Brown!, Lucy says.

You feed him, and you give him a return, it's his job to guard your property,

and be your friend!

The trouble with you is you don't know how to raise a dog, Charlie Brown!

Have you ever raised a dog? he asks.

Of course not!!

I wouldn't even own a dog!

Charlie Brown sighs.

Another unmarried marriage counselor.

I tip my hat to all couples who are married, whether it has been weeks or years.

I don't know how you do it.

Marriage doesn't seem to be getting any easier, with the rising popularity and acceptance of

divorce and now, this year, the imposed proximity of lock-down.

Families now have the blessing, or the curse, of much more time together than usual; I've heard multiple stories in both directions.

Intimacy and family connection are up; so are domestic conflict and abuse.

Life is magnified in crisis; we see our best and our worst more clearly, and I'm told that

no one knows both better than a spouse.

At some point, marriage is hard work.

Conflict is inevitable.

So too with church, also an institution founded on love.

Both church and marriage are created in the image of the Triune God; both are designed

to be communities of mutual love spilling over to bless and better the world.

Jesus knows we're not always up to such a high and holy calling.

Five minutes with his disciples was more than enough to reveal that it's not all rainbows

and roses on earth as it is in heaven.

Conflict and hurt feelings don't happen if, but when.

So Jesus teaches his disciples not how to avoid conflict, but how to navigate and

overcome it.

If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.

The exception, it must be pointed out, is when it is not safe to do so; both parties must be

protected from the dangers of receiving or inflicting violence.

But direct communication, without third parties, is the way to begin and hopefully also to end the process.

My own parents, who didn't agree on much, both agreed that the biggest mistake they made in their broken marriage was listening to outside voices instead of to each other.

Some of those voices didn't approve of their marriage and wanted to break it up.

Jesus has the opposite agenda.

Tom Long observes: [This procedure's] most impressive feature is how persistent and time

consuming it is.

In this process nobody is written off in haste, no one is fired on the spot, no one slams the door in another's face in rage; on the contrary, a sea of energy is expended trying, time and

again, to make peace.

In contrast to the attitudes of the prevailing culture, relationships are of precious and enduring value to the church.

When a relationship is broken, it is worth going back over and over to work toward reconciiation.