Kingdom Challenges & Cohesion: Worth
by Laretta Benjamin
Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans that “all creation groans.” We live in a broken world. You and I are both deeply broken. Relationships are broken, systems are broken, communities are broken, nature itself is broken, our ways of looking at the world and each other are broken. No matter how smart, well educated, clever, experienced, skilled or wise we might think we are, we are all broken. I find incredible freedom in acknowledging the truth of that. A burden is lifted.
The God of creation has not left us to spend life wallowing in our brokenness, trying to save ourselves and climb out of this mess on our own – which we cannot do. Through the cross, the way of Jesus, there is forgiveness, healing, restoration, renewal, reconciliation, hope, strength and transformation— the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; for those living in a land of deep darkness, a light has shone upon them. Therein lies our salvation, a new creation, a new kingdom, a new way. We don’t experience that perfectly yet. Challenges, struggles, failures, and weaknesses are still part of life for us. But we are a new creation headed down a new path, going from strength to strength, as we learn to walk in the way of Jesus and the wisdom He displayed. Scripture gives a clear picture of what the way of Jesus looks like amidst the brokenness all around us and within us— what it means to love friends & enemies, what it looks like to be a peacemaker, how to speak the truth in love, how to live together in unity. The importance of God's people seeking and discerning together the way of Jesus in any and all situations can’t be overstated. Living out this new creation, this new way, this new kingdom is who we are. The groaning creation around us needs to see a different way.
Matthew 18 gives one of many beautiful pictures of life together as the people of God— a community of those on this journey. We are reminded that we are connected, that what we do affects the community as a whole. Conflict and tensions, if not faced and dealt with, can destroy relationships and communities— which ultimately destroys that reflection of the kingdom that we are called to live out before the world. So, how does a broken and motley group of folks, committed to the way of Jesus, live out an authentic witness to this new creation?
Matthew 18 is full of insight for us. Humility abounds in this chapter, as it should abound in our lives. As the disciples are concerned about being the greatest, Jesus responds with the need to have the posture of a child (.1-5). Remembering that we are all in this together, we are reminded of the importance of caring enough for others to avoid actions that might cause another to stumble (.6-9). My love for you is greater than what I think is my freedom to do what I’m sure is fine to do. There will always be those among us who are vulnerable (.6, .10, .14). Being part of a community of believers brings great responsibility for each other. It is not every person for themselves— but every person for the good of each other and all creation. Jesus demonstrated great compassion for the least of these, those on the bottom of the human pile. Jesus speaks of a deep concern for those who go astray (.12-14,15-17), leaving 99 to take time and energy to look for one. Forgiveness without limit (.21-35) might be one of the most amazing evidences of God’s kingdom— always making space among us for healing and reconciliation to take place!
What about those tensions, conflicts, hurts and offenses that most surely will arise from time to time among this imperfect group of travelers? Matthew shares wisdom in navigating those sometimes challenging situations. Let’s not hide things, cover things up, pretend this “thing” is not a “thing” when it is. If there’s a problem, then go to the other (in humility and love) and talk it through. If that doesn’t bring the reconciliation that’s needed, then take another person with you and go at it again— someone you both trust, who can listen, speak the truth in love, hear with an open mind, and one who cares deeply about restoration. If that still doesn’t bring the desired end, then take it to the church. Why? Bitterness, resentfulness, division, hypocrisy, lack of authenticity, a confusing witness, stiffness, aloofness, and avoidance of others are all natural consequences of unresolved conflicts and unforgiveness within a community and its relationships.
What if that still does not bring about the much-needed reconciliation? Do we just let it go and hope for the best? We simply can’t. The cost of that is too great. Matthew 18.15-20 aren’t about power, church discipline, judgment or condemnation, but quite the opposite. They are about the church being the church— the presence of God in the world— creating space and conditions always for forgiveness and restoration to take place. The church needs to be careful of the lines it draws, the paths it sets in motion, the preconceived assumptions and privileges of power it might carry. It can take us in directions we don’t want to go. Or, on the other hand, it can open wide the door to the kingdom of God coming on earth as it is in heaven. The good news is that we have the promise of the presence of Christ in every step we take (.19-20).