Worship Service, September 6, 2020 “Christ is in the Conflict”
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Pastor Erik Sunday morning via YouTube
The message for September 06, 2020 by Pastor Erik, “Christ is in the Conflict”
can be heard during HTLC Virtual Worship Service on Sunday.
“Christ in the Conflict:
For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am among them. (Matthew 18:20) In Christian circles these words get used to reassure a group who has gathered that even though there are not many people present, it’s okay because Christ is still with them. It doesn’t take a big crowd to get Jesus to show up. Just a handful of people is enough for the presence of Jesus to be real. While it is good to know we do not have to have a packed house for Jesus to be present, this verse is not only meant to be a comforting word to Christians in regard to a lack of attendance at church events, it actually has to do with Christ being present even in the midst of conflict.
This passage in Matthew 18 is a part of one of the most direct and practical teachings of Jesus that we hear in the Gospels. The purpose of this teaching was to talk about how to deal with conflict. But the teaching is not about how to win at an argument. It is not about being victorious in a debate. It isn’t about showing how you are right, and another person is wrong. It is not about simply justifying your own point of view.
Rather, this teaching of Jesus’ is about confronting someone who has hurt you so that there can be reconciliation. It is about holding someone accountable to the expectations of the community. It is ultimately about offering forgiveness so that that person who has caused harm can be restored back into right relationship with the person who was offended, as well as back into the community as a whole.
Conflict is not fun. It can threaten to ruin relationships and stress the connections that would bind a group together. I experienced this first-hand on one of the very first youth trips I ever led which ended in a conflict.
It was towards the end of my internship year in Santa Barbara. For almost 8 months I had been planning the trip for the High School youth group I was helping to lead. The trip was to a Lutheran ministry site not far across the border in Baja California. It was just south of the city of Tecate in a small town called “Valle de las Palmas.” On the site there was a large garden where they were growing food to be given to local folks including an orphanage that the ministry interacted with. They were also trying to construct straw bale houses to demonstrate a more affordable and environmentally friendly way to address housing needs.
The week had gone really well. The students had worked hard. They had gotten to know some of the children from the orphanage as well as a young adult from the town who was working at the site. In the evenings around the campfire we had felt the presence of Christ among our small group through worship and reflection.
But on the last night we got word from some students that a couple of the boys had bought illegal fireworks and alcohol on one of their trips into town. This was against the covenant of the group and the rules of the trip and could put us in trouble with the border patrol as we crossed back into the US. After confronting the boys, we discovered they indeed had purchased both the alcohol and the fireworks and had tried to hide the alcohol in the soda they were drinking from their water bottles. We had a group meeting where we tried to figure out how everything had happened. The other members of the group expressed feelings of anger, hurt and betrayal at what the boys had done.
After dismissing the group for the night, one of the boys was very upset. We ended up walking for a couple of hours, talking about what was going on inside of him. He was scared and ashamed because he knew he would disappoint his parents and hurt them. It turned out he had struggled with alcohol in the 8th grade and may have even been struggling with what was bordering on an addiction. I knew nothing about this before the trip. I listened a lot, but I was firm that we were still going to need to tell his parents.
Needless to say, it was a long ride home the next day. The car was silent for most of the way back, and I could tell our parent leader on the trip with us was upset since one of the boys who had been a part of getting the alcohol and fireworks was his son. Upon arriving back at the church in Santa Barbara we did the work of sitting down with each student and parent individually so that each of them heard from the adult leaders what had happened on the trip. The last set of parents to come into the room were of the young man who had told me about his prior issues with alcohol—the one who had been so worried and afraid of what his parents might think or what they might do when they found out he had been a part of another incident.
I was nervous to tell the parents what happened and how they might react, but I knew we had to get the truth out. The parents listened and asked questions. They were sad and concerned. They were disappointed. But they did not react with anger. They talked about how they needed to help their son and still loved him. Before they left they gave him a hug. I could see relief in the boy’s face. There was a sense he was really sorry for what happened and grateful that his parents received him back home as opposed to pressing him with guilt or shunning him with shame.
The purpose of Jesus’ teaching is to attempt to bring people back into relationship. He talks about confronting a person who has offended and getting others to be a witness if the person does not listen the first time. But before Jesus tells his followers about this process, he has just told them the story of the lost sheep. He has just told a parable about how a shepherd loses a sheep and leaves the 99 in the pen to go looking for that one which is lost, and when he finds the lost one, he rejoices.
The point of the process of confrontation that Jesus is talking about is not to press a wrongdoer with guilt or shun them with shame, but to bring them back into the fold. The point is to bring back the lost by showing them they can find forgiveness even in the midst of conflict, and not just once but multiple times. For when Peter asks Jesus, “How many times should I forgive?” Jesus says not just seven times, but 77 times.
In the teaching of how to resolve a conflict, Jesus does seem to enact a consequence. He says that if the offender refuses to listen to the church, let them be as a Gentile and a tax collector to you. This sounds like a kind of punishment for those who don’t listen. Yet, Jesus still seems to be implying that reconciliation could be possible. For what did Jesus do with the tax collectors? He reached out and ate with them. He still associated with them even though they were looked down upon and considered sinners or outcasts.
Eating together with Jesus reminds me of the sacrament of communion, and how I saw the Spirit of Christ, as a dad and a son shared communion despite a conflict. I told you that when we got home from the youth trip when the boys had purchased the alcohol, the one boy was welcomed back by his family and the inner conflict he had seem to be experiencing was partially resolved. What I haven’t told you yet, is that before the dad who had been a leader with us on the trip left to go home, he said to me he wasn’t sure he could ever come back to church. Stunned, I asked him why not?
His reply that was that he was ashamed that one of the boys who gotten the alcohol and fireworks was his son. He wasn’t sure he could face people at church if they knew what his son had done this on a church trip. I told him I thought people would understand, but as he left, I wasn’t sure if I would see him back at church, which made me very sad. I prayed that he might still be open to coming to worship.
Sunday rolled around, and the parent did show up. He brought in his guitar and set up for praise band like he normally would. His son was scheduled to be the acolyte, so he was there too. Being the acolyte meant that his son would be helping with communion. I wondered what was going in the minds of father and son. I especially thought about this as the time for communion came and it was the band’s turn to go up and receive the sacrament.
The dad put down his guitar and went up to the railing and when the son came around the dad put out his hands. After he had eaten the bread, he received the small cup from his son and looked him in the eyes. Just a couple nights ago, the dad wasn’t sure he could come back to church again because of what his son had done, and now he was sharing communion with that same son. To me, it was a picture of the gift of reconciliation that Christ can give us through the sacrament.
When Jesus said that where two or more are gathered he will be there also, he wasn’t just talking about low attendance at a church event. He was talking about how even when people are walking through a conflict, he will still be present. He was talking about, it may even take the process of going through a conflict to see how his presence can be revealed.
It may take going through that process to discover that through Christ, what has been torn apart can be brought together again.
-Pastor Erik Goehner
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