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By Pastor Terry Wines
No matter how many times I turn my smartphone or tablet, the screen adjusts so that I’m looking at it right-side-up. I was astounded to learn that this was not magic, but the work of a gyroscope that senses every motion the phone or iPad makes.
In Matthew 18, Jesus urges us to keep our relationships right-side up. The problem is that unlike smartphones and iPads, we don't have a built-in gyroscope to make it automatic and easy − not one that was scientifically created.
Jesus warns us not to ignore conflict. Yet many churches do just that. I’ve heard it said that the greatest spiritual gift many clergy and congregations possess is passive aggressiveness. We pretend problems don't exist and hope they go away. Fear of making things worse, or of hurting someone's feelings, leaves us paralyzed.
We want to believe that love equals a lack of conflict. Yet in any relationship there will be some confrontation. On the 20th of this month my most beauteous wife Amelia and I will be celebrating 20 years of happiness on our 28th wedding anniversary−I believe in truth in advertising. Love, especially among Christians, is not just a heartfelt affection for one another, it is a passionate championing of the will of God for one another. Therefore, when we see each other struggling or feel the sting of one's sin, Jesus tells us to go and speak up. And yes, it will likely hurt. But all that hurts is not harmful.
What makes conflict worth going through is that no matter how upside down we make a relationship, God’s unmerited grace is ready to put us right-side up. Yet to allow for grace to work some things need to happen: repentance, restitution, and confession. All those involved must be truly sorry, ready to make amends and acknowledge their wrongdoing−no one is totally blameless.
Matthew 18 is not a chapter about church discipline. It's a chapter about the danger of sin and the beauty of God's amazing grace. Previously, Jesus talked about the lost sheep and of a Shepherd who will gladly forsake 99 to locate the one that got lost. We then hear about the servant who was forgiven a huge debt and how the debts we're called to forgive pale in comparison.
God shows us our sin, but does so with compassion. God does not whisper our infidelities to our neighbors, but invites us into a dialog that can be tough, but when done in love, turns our relationships right-side up.
Terry Wines is pastor at First United Methodist Church of Chiefland.