It might be surprising to you but clergy these days when they are trained for ministry, one of the things that they have to learn is how to deal with and manage conflict within the life of the Church. Does that surprise you? One of the things that I have learned over the years, is that conflict, which happens within a person is inevitable. People deal with conflict within themselves all the time. Personal conflict gives rise to a number of really good pieces of music it, especially country music. The old hurting songs that talk about the wife leaving husband behind with kids to feed and crops in the fields that need to be harvested. The dog has died and the cat won’t speak to anyone anymore. “Picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille!”
If conflict is inevitable then combat is most often optional. We can choose how to act on what goes on inside us. And the way in which the Gospel calls on us to deal with conflict is interesting. It is put on the injured party to confront the other person and to try and gain satisfaction/relief from the situation. If that does not work, then try again with a couple of witnesses who may be able to help you work things out. If you cannot prevail to get a satisfactory outcome, then everyone goes before the church (local congregation and you try again to settle matters. If the offender does not listen will not act with contrition, then the offender is excommunicated and treated as a tax collector or a public sinner. Modern people at this point would think that this is where they could wash their hands of the offender. Would Jesus have? I do not think so. I believe Jesus would have continued to sort things out and draw that offender back into the life of the congregation.
I would point out to you that there are so many people, not only outside the Church who need forgiveness and thus of healing, but there are as many inside the Church who need the same thing. Are they finding it? And need and the desire for forgiveness goes well beyond the absolution of the Eucharist. Absolution is the reminder of God’s willingness to forgive, to heal and to bless as he is to remove sin and sent it as far as the East is from the West.
We need to consider God and his divine nature. The Father forgives iniquity, heals disease, redeems from the Pit. He crowns the faithful with steadfast love and mercy. God satisfies his people with Good as long as they live. The Father renews the youthful vigor of his people like that of an eagle. God is not foiled by numbers and is not stymied by our failures. In fact, he works all things to the good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. The Father by his very nature (and contrary to common thinking) leans always towards showing mercy and grace; slow to anger and swift to bless. Divine anger is swift to dissipate; bygones are bygones. God does not operate on an ‘eye for an eye’ basis, always looking to get revenge and to balance the books. He is sympathetic to our nature and our plight as people he created and that through sin, have been separated from him.
That reminds me of a parishioner, who in the middle of a Lenten sermon, got on her feet and rejected the idea that she was a sinner in a rather loud manner. She said to me, “I am just fine. God likes me just the way that I am. I am not a sinner.” Thing is, there is a misunderstanding about what a sin is. It is what everyone else does and you do not. It is more than about what we do, it is about what we do not do. It is the things that we did not do well and where we fall short of the mark. The Gospel calls us back to God, to come and be transformed into the creations he intended for each and all of us to become the marvelous creature we were meant to be. We are called to be more than right and work on rights, we are called to be righteous.
Lastly let me remind us all of what Jesus himself has said: “Love your enemy. Turn the other cheek. Do good to those who persecute you. If you are angry with your brother or sister, you are liable to judgement. If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. Do not resist an evil doer. (Be perfect (in mercy) as your Father in heaven is perfect (in mercy)”.
So how do we handle conflict? We have two ears and on mouth. We should listen at least twice as much as we talk. We listen so that we can ask clarifying questions to better understand what is being shared with us. We need to take care in how we speak to each other, including in social media. We listen o learn how we might serve another person and how to lead in various situations. Let us be known in this community (inside and outside this congregation) for how we genuinely love, how we genuinely love one another. Is that easy? No, but consider the alternative by looking around you.