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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.

The whole process is focused on the restoration of the offender, not revenge for the offended.

That's why this teaching is bracketed by two stories.

In the first, a shepherd goes to extraordinary lengths to find and rescue one lost sheep.

In the second, Peter's extravagant suggestion of forgiving someone as many as seven times is rejected as far too stingy.

Reconciliation is always the goal.

But it is not always the outcome.

When the offender refuses to be restored; when abuse continues; when forgiveness is mistaken or exploited as a blank check for damaging behavior; when one or the other refuses to let go of the sin, either by continually bringing it up or by continually bringing it back; when one or both parties refuse for whatever reason to let the break in the relationship heal; when co-dependency and enabling replace real love with a flimsy illusion; when even

trusted wider circles both small and large fail to prove helpful; when the healthiest option

for everyone is separation with solid boundaries, let such a one be to you as a Gentile or

a tax collector.

In other words, show them the door but hold onto the key.

When all reason for optimism is exhausted, there is still hope.

In the great surprise of Easter, the Christ who goes to every length, who refuses to give up on us, tells his eleven disciples (because one was shown the door), including the tax collector, to go make Gentiles into disciples.

And remember, I am with you, even to the end of the age.

Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.

Christ, who is God's reconciliation of all things, who is our peace, persists with us.

It is his love that teaches us to love our spouses and families and communities and world.

Happy and blessed anniversaries to all you couples who are doing this.

Happy and blessed resurrection day to all you church folk who are doing this.

Where there is love, seen and unseen, smooth and stormy, God is present.

Christ is with you.

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