Deaut. 30:15-20; Matthew 5: 17-24 Feb.12, 2017 PEACE PRACTICE
Have you ever described yourself- to a friend- like this? “I was so mad that I could have spit nails.” or “Yeah, I told him off, but good!” or even “When I was done with her, she didn’t know what hit her.” Anger is an emotion and it’s a fact of life, but as followers of Christ, how we use it and when it becomes a sin is the subject of this part of the Sermon on the Mount, preached by our Lord.
Conflict resolution—solving a problem in a relationship between two people, to groups of people — is the most important set of skills we can learn in life. It is one of the keys to happiness in life. It is also one of the keys to your spiritual growth in life. It is a key to parenting, If you are a business owner, it’s key to keeping good employees, or if you are an employee, it is paramount in getting promoted. If you are a student, it’s a key to your successful career, wherever there are people who interact, knowing how to kindly agree and disagree is important.
We belong to a denomination whose belief in the priesthood of all believers puts us all on the same level, but because we are human and there will be conflict wherever there are two or more passionate people, we need to be taught. Because right now, I am somewhat ashamed to call myself a Mennonite. So many church leaders, in the face of conflict, choose emotional and physical cut off- removal- instead of the thing we sing about—being people of God’s peace! Churches who claim the peace of the Lord Jesus Christ have picked up and left, adding to the growing legacy of church splits instead of doing the hard work of conflict resolution. And division is not of God. God is a gatherer, not a divider. Conflict inside the Body of Christ, if handled with agape love, looks VASTLY different than conflict in the world.
“ Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” Earlier in the 5th chapter of Matthew, Jesus taught about being blessed, about being truly happy. Say this aloud with me: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”
Being blessed as a peacemaker means that we are truly acting in the image of God, with God’s character, with God’s love. We are truly reflecting God’s nature. (You know, we love to look at babies and say things like, “Ah, Mike, he has your forehead”, or “Janine, he has your nose”…” or whatever. Our goal in peacemaking, however, is for someone to say, “Hey…you look…. just like Jesus”.
James Jackson, an African American preacher in Indianapolis, outlines what he believes peacemaking is NOT. He says, Peacemaking is NOT….
- Avoiding and Appeasing. (this is a form of passive aggressive culture). Example might be “Well, I’ll just grin and bear it.” Or “I don’t’ like this but I don’t want to rock the boat so I’ll just sweep this under the rug.” “I’ll stuff it…”
Peacemaking is NOT running from it (Avoidance) We can convince ourselves that we’re too mad to talk, and while that may be true, it also lets us off the hook. It will come back later, that anger and it will be stronger and harder to control the next time.
- Peacemaking is not always giving in. (Codependancy) “I have to live with him, so….OK…”
- Peacemaking is not always compromising (Peace at all costs/ walking on eggshells)
- Peacemaking is not about winning by force.
No, we need loving tools with which to do surgery and then healing in our relationships!
The first is active listening…..not thinking what to say in defense when the other is speaking….truly listening deeply.
Jesus is our example. He was a GREAT listener. That comes first. In a few weeks we’ll examine the story of Nicodemus and how Jesus listened deeply to him. He did not always protect himself First, he helped the other person. The Spirit wants to teach us and give us the heart of Jesus so that conflict can be not a wall but an opportunity for lasting relationships. God help us if we become a surface church, where everything is “just fine” on the surface! If we are a surface church, then we might as well change our sign to read Summit Kowanas Club, or Surface Summit- a place where faith is an inch thick and a mile wide. No. We learn from early church writings that despite sizeable theological and ethnic differences among Christians, the Spirit of Christ was what was nurtured and esteemed in this early group. This is what we’ve come close to losing –unity in diversity.
We heard Lee read this a few moments ago: “if you’re standing before the altar in the Temple, giving an offering or sacrifice to God, and you suddenly remember someone has something against you, leave your offering there beside the altar. Go at once and first be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your gift to God.” Matt. 5:23-24.
OUR WORHSIP IS AFFECTED WHEN WE IGNORE ANGER AGAINST US OR OUR OWN ANGER!
Let’s talk about anger. There is danger in anger, since you only need to add “d” to the word to make it “danger”. There is righteous anger and unrighteous anger. According to Jesus, if our righteousness must surpass—be more than—that of the scribes and Pharisees, we won’t even begin to enter his Kingdom. Now those Pharisees knew the law and they knew all about righteous anger. But I’ll save that for another Sunday. Today I just want to tackle unrighteous anger. Jesus says in our text today that when we sin and are overcome with rage, it is like murder. The sixth commandment says, ‘Thou shalt not kill’ (Exodus 20:13). Pretty much everyone listening to Jesus on that mountain was probably thinking, “Well, that commandment doesn’t apply to me, since I’ve never physically killed anyone.” But Jesus undoes this smug thinking. He drops a preaching bomb…
Verse 22: “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing’ ( in Aramaic, “RACA!”, meaning I spit in your face!), shall be guilty before the Supreme Court; and whoever says, ‘You fool’ “Moras”, shall be guilty enough to go into fiery hell.” Jesus affirms everything in the Old Testament, but he’s also fulfilling it. He fills it full of meaning. Jesus makes it explicit. He is showing what is at the very heart of the Law so that those who have ears to hear may begin to live out its deepest meaning. He goes to the very foundation, the very root of murder and that is a rotten heart attitude. He says we are all guilty of murder because we’ve all been angry in word, thought, attitude, or action.
The word behind “fool” is the Greek noun moros, from which we get “moron.” In Jesus’ day, moros was used to describe a person’s mental abilities; however, it was also used to describe a person’s moral character. Today there are plenty of words flying around used to destroy character and the worth of a person.
Now…I have to be honest….conflict resolution has not always been a strong area in my life. The Lord knew this when I was sent to West Africa, coming out of fourteen years of civil war, to put me- a Kidron Swiss Miss– in charge of teaching conflict resolution to former child soldiers and people who saw their own relatives killed, sometimes in front of them. And I was an angry woman. God, also—I think—having a great sense of humor—knew that I would have to study and rehearse and learn just as much or more than the students I taught, since I was raised in a passive aggressive atmosphere—where women were to be quiet and conflict was considered a sin. I learned to stuff a lot of anger. Raised as a fixer and a smoother, it took extreme measures in Liberia to teach me that I, too, could preach and teach as a woman. I had learned to weave and duck….anything to avoid direct conflict….”Let sleeping dogs lie” was a phrase I heard a lot growing up….
Learning to resolve conflict is a skill, a practiced craft, an opportunity. Peacemaking takes practice! Never believe it if you hear that conflict is usually healed if you give it some time. Time does not heal conflict. It makes it worse.
If you have 2nd or 3rd stage cancer diagnosis, you don’t say, “Well, let’s just wait and see—Time heals”…No, you go and see a doctor. If time healed everything, you wouldn’t care if you had to wait three months to see a doctor….”That’s OK, because Time heals.”
If you don’t deal with an infection, it gets infected and that’s the problem with unresolved conflicts- they get worse and color new relationships. Unresolved conflicts—and the problem with bitterness and resentment– get worse to the point that they cloud everything. Have you ever met someone with deeply buried resentment who can’t even remember when or where it all started?
No, like the campfire song (sing)“Going on a Bear hunt”, when you come to a swamp or a desert or some sort of an obstacle, “ya can’t go over it, ya can’t go under it, ya can’t go around it…guess we’ll have to….(go THROUGH it).”
If Frank had taken this attitude, (its not my fault)-his reconciliation to one near and dear to him would never had taken place. If you were not here to hear his recent testimony, ask Frank about his taking the first step.
God knows your heart! God wants you to choose LIFE! If you are praying for an opportunity to right a wrong, it will happen! God is faithful. (personal story) God helped me yesterday to choose life!
You see, the problem of fear of conflict goes all the way back to Adam and Eve hiding from God when they felt naked. In fear, Adam said, “I heard You were in the garden, God, and I was afraid, because I was naked; so I hid.” Adam felt exposed and vulnerable, no longer accepted, like looking in from the outside…. And humankind has been hiding from God ever since… Men have had a tendency of hiding from their wives ever since…when they feel exposed, they run, they hide their feelings. And wives have become emotionally distant and isolated in the same circumstances. Whether you are married or single—unresolved anger lands us in the valley of fear and keeps us from communicating at a deep level. “They won’t understand” or “They won’t accept me”, but I read in 2 Timothy 1;7 that God doesn’t give us a spirit of fear, but of love and power and a sound mind.
How can we begin this thing called conflict resolution? I’d like you to remember FOUR simple rules today ABOUT CONFLICT. They come from Matthew 18. Jesus says to:
- Do it quickly, as soon as it happens, or as soon as the Spirit brings it to mind. Be quick to obey.
- Do it face to face. Matthew 18:15 (in person) Do it one on one. Notice I didn’t say Facebook to Facebook. No twitter, telling the whole world, no email, not even phone. More than half our message is our nonverbal and unless you do Facetime, you can’t tell about your emotion on the phone. Work out anything negative IN PERSON
- Do it one on one. Just you and the other. Don’t triangle.
This is a model for personal conflict resolution. As a follower of Jesus Christ, are we not called to a different way than the world? Our nation, our state, our government and many of us are very conflicted right now, but as Christ-followers, we are to be different in the way we deal with conflict. ARE WE CHOOSING LIFE OR DEATH IN OUR ANGER??And are we, like the world, addicted to the drama of conflict?
- If the personal intervention is not effective, then and only then bring a friend along and try again.
Review the 4 steps of Matthew 18:
1.Do it quickly. 2. Do it face to face. 3. Do it one-on-one. 4. Get help (if 3 doesn’t work.)
In one of the old Peanuts comic strips, Charles Schulz shows Sally trying to locate her memory verse for Sunday School. She has forgotten it, and can’t find it in the Bible. She is lost in her thoughts trying to remember the reference when she suddenly says, “Maybe it was something from the book of Reevaluation.” Sally’s butchering of the book of Revelation is apropos, because the entire Bible is aimed at getting people to reevaluate their lives. In our Matthew 5 passage, Jesus forces us to reevaluate our conception of anger.
May we strive in community to live as Jesus lived, esteeming relationships and living seamlessly and vulnerably as a witness to this broken world. AMEN.