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Making Space in the Neighborhood For Reconciliation: Matt 18:15-20 as a Way of Life

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On Facebook this morning I wrote:

The default modus operandi of Americans when working for racial reconciliation is to work for change in the government systems that mediate justice. We look to change laws, the racial composition of police forces, or school systems, etc. etc. All of this has its place. But the first move of the church is to open space for presence, where people come together face to face, listen, confess their sins, make things right, discern the future. In these local spaces of presence Jesus promises to be present. Here what is bound on earth is bound in heaven. Here the Kingdom authority of heaven bursts in and disrupts the antagonisms and violence of our day. It is the prolepsis of the Kingdom of God. From here laws can be changed, governments changed, and a new world begun.

The basis for this mode of operating is grounded in the discipline of reconciliation as given to us by Christ in Matt 18:15-20. It is the face to face encounter where under the Lordship of Christ, we gather in his name, submit to Him and one another. We seek not to win an argument, we do not even seek to mete out who’s right and who’s wrong. We start with ourselves. We seek confession of sin. We seek making things right. We seek reconciliation, forgiveness and a way to move forward. The goal is agreement about where do we go from here: binding and loosing. And when we do reach agreement, what is bound on earth is bound in heaven, and what is loosed on earth is loosed in heaven.” The very authority of His Reign is released from the seat of His authority. 

I believe when Paul argues in 1 Cor 6 that the Corinthians should NOT go to courts but work out their everyday (“ordinary matters” vs. 6) disputes among themselves under Christ Lordship, that this practice of reconciliation was not just for internal church matters. It was to be practiced as everyday life.

I believe when Jesus put “Blessed are the peacemakers” right before “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake” and Blessed are you when people revile you” (Matt 5:9-11), he was implying we carry these same reconciliation practices of the church into the world in the midst of hostile conditions.

This practice then, of gathering people who are at strife against each other into the space of His Lordship, forgiveness, reconciliation and renewal, is more than something we do on Sundays before the Lord’s Table. It is a way of life. We offer it as something God is doing. We offer it as a space to be opened where people gather, listen, forgive, release ego. It is the extension of the church into the world of 2 Cor 5:18-19. Ultimately it is only possible in Christ. It shall not always be received. It shall not always happen amidst a large protest march. Sometimes It shall happen in a back yard, at a barbecue, over food., It will often be refused. Nonetheless, where it is recieved, God’s Kingdom in Christ breaks in, His rule takes shape among us. And the gospel goes forth.

You see these kind of episodes happening already., There were some that happened in Baltimore. There were many reported in Ferguson.  These places bring great changes. From these places, we can work together for great change in police departments, legal systems, governmental systems, because a ground swell has already born witness and great fruit. Here we begin a change that is more than surface. Here the church witnesses to Christ and His Kingdom in ways hard to deny.  

What do you think? Has your church experienced these spaces of reconciliation in your neighborhoods?

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4 responses to “Making Space in the Neighborhood For Reconciliation: Matt 18:15-20 as a Way of Life

  1. Bro,

    I’ve been witnessing this in my own little city. A cluster of black pastors who have been on the ground for 30+ yrs have invited me to learn and watch their reconciling dialogue. Once a month they organize sitting over a meal with members of the police force and they share their perspectives and pains. Members from police force share their vantage point. The listen deeply to one another and brainstorm how to help each other. These pastors then pray for the officers. This practice has been blowing my mind. The kingdom is breaking in as they open space to converse and confess. Thing is the prophetic pastors don’t have blogs, books or Twitter feeds and they want to keep it that way. The enjoy their quiet subterranean work.

    Dan White Jr.

  2. "They love their quiet subterranean work." Best sentence I’ve read all day. It captures what pastoring really is…

  3. As always, I like your ecclesio centered theology here, especially the notion of living reconciliation out in public life and seizing "micro" moments in which the Kingdom of God might be seeded amongst us. I wouldn’t be so though quick to impose a sequential order to transformation that sets "church" before law and policy. After all, the Church by virtue of its people is embedded and invested daily in those other institutions as well. Let’s not unnecessarily truncate our creativity as the people of God to operate both congregationally and via our dispersion in the public world.

    I also think its important not to leave law and policy out of ecclesial conversations because we as a Church often underestimate the ways in which prejudicial and sinful government policy are already operative, undercutting (not eliminates) our ability to have such reconciliatory conversations. Such policies have shaped where congregations and their members have built their homes and thus also shape how they are inclined to socialize. Such policies have created and sustained the inequities and segregation of suburban life – a place that you have rightly referred to as a place for mission many times. Without being mindful of how law, policy and economy have circumscribed our choices we might not realize what kind of effort it will take on the part of many Christians, particularly US majority culture Christians, to have reconciliatory conversations. Such mindfulness helps us to differentiate the Christian "we" behind your post, accounting for the ways in which each of us are distinctly racialized and enculturated to varying effects. Only then will Christians, understanding their diverse identities, be better prepared to seize the opportunities for conversation that the Spirit gives.

  4. JMorrow,
    That’s helpful. My one pushback is I do not know how Christians can resist – and counter "the policies have created and sustained the inequities and segregation of suburban life," especially when they are as formative of our lives as you suggest, apart from the counter formation a church community should be offering as part of its way of life in the world. The epistemological priority of the hermeneutic of community seems to put more emphasis on the prior importance of the church, not less.

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