I don’t know about you, but I hate conflict. I go out of my way to avoid it. I know that is not always a good thing. Sometimes you have to confront things head on for the good of all concerned.
The scripture readings today give us advice on how to handle conflict. The toughest conflict is that which happens within a family.
I can tell you from experience of being a police chaplain, the calls that the cops dread the most are family disturbances. For some reason, conflict between close family members can turn violent very quickly, and the cops have to barge right into the middle of it, and try to diffuse it.You can tell from the stories of the Bible that conflict among the family is grieves the Lord, too. The very first evidence of conflict is between the first two humans to inhabit this earth; Adam and Eve.
The conflict is initiated by the devil, whose smooth talk convinces Eve that no harm will come from eating the forbidden fruit, and that in fact it will make her wise like God, and she will know good and evil. Adam is standing there, and does nothing to protect Eve from the attack of the enemy, and so accepts the fruit as well. Some like to blame Eve for the fall of man, but it was clearly Adam’s fault for not protecting Eve.
Their fate, as we know, was to be driven from the Garden of Eden, and forced to go to work for a living. I bet they were mad at each other over this!
In the fourth chapter of Genesis, family domestic violence occured for the first time, when Cain rose up against Abel and killed him.
By the sixth chapter of Genesis, mankind had become so evil that the Lord was sorry he ever created them. There was only one righteous man, whose efforts would help the Lord begin again, and because Noah was obedient, the Lord started over.
Jumping forward some years, we come to the story of Jacob and his sons, Joseph being the youngest. He was his father’s favorite, and thus was despised by his brothers. They threw him into a pit, hoping a wild beast would eat him.
By the time of Moses, who had led the children of Israel out of Egypt, the Lord gave them the Ten Commandments. This was intended to get to act with civility toward each other that they might grow into a great nation. Of course, this didn’t stop the people from doing what was evil.
Later, there were Judges appointed by the Lord to make decisions for the good of the people. They kept on doing what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and he give them over to some of their enemies, then when they cried out long enough, he would save them again. This happened again and again, and eventually, the people wanted a king to rule over them
Maybe they thought this would make the people behave better toward each other, since even the last of the judges took bribes and perverted justice
So you can see that conflict was a constant in the lives of the people of God. Jesus had a different approach to conflict. He taught a way to peacefully end conflict. To do this, he preached that while rulers may be necessary for governing kingdom, that his disciples must be humble with each other.
In Matthew 20, Jesus taught them about true greatness
“Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,c 27and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,d 28even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Like many of the teachings of Jesus, he turned the world upside down. He himself did not come to be a great ruler, to be served by the people, but to be a servant of all, even to the point of giving his life for all.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives his disciples a method of conflict resolution that is both peaceful and non-violent.
He says that if anyone has a conflict with another, to try to work it out privately, and it that does not work, to take one of two others along as witnesses. The last resort then, is to involve the church, that is the body of believers in that place, to go together to resolve the conflict, and if the person is found at fault he is to be treated as an outsider.
Yes, Jesus said that anyone who defies the church in discipline should be shunned. I know this is hard to accept by many who see Jesus as loving and accepting of everyone no matter what they do. Jesus expected the people of his church to confess their sins, and to repent, and told them there were consequences for not doing so.
That being said, I have never heard of anyone being shunned in our church. I hear that it happens in some others, but you know how we hate conflict!
Even when Bp. James Pike of California was accused of heresy for his denial of the virgin birth of Jesus, and the doctrine of the Trinity, in the mid 1960’s, the other bishops decided it was not in the church’s best interest to pursue an actual heresy trial.
St. Paul also gives instruction to the church about their behavior;
9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality.
These are great words, and are good advice to us in the church. We are to love each other, or better to say we should care about each other. We are a family, and this is how a family is supposed to act. We should care less about our own needs, and more about the needs of others.
Lately, we have had much opportunity to care about others, especially those who have been victims of hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The Anglican Relief and Development Fund is very active in sending funds, and we have the command from St. Paul, “Contribute to the needs of the saints,” and that means all the people who have been affected by these tragedies.
If you wish to make a special contribution, you can do so here, or to the Anglican Relief and Development Fund online at ARDF.org
We have a great opportunity here, so let us never flag in zeal, but be aglow with the Spirit, as St. Paul said. It is an opportunity for us to show our gratitude for all of our blessings from the Lord.