[Wild west whistle]
We know how the story goes.
Hot dusty street.
People hiding on porches and behind closed windows.
Good Guy meets Bad Guy for a showdown.
And then the confrontation.
As simple and pure and black and white as those old westerns were…. The world we live in is a whole lot more complicated than that.
There are no clear lines marked out in the road to separate the good from the bad.
Here in the church, in this community, we are each a mix of good and bad, saints and sinners, well-intentioned folks who stumble sometimes.
We aren’t perfect.
And even if we were all perfect, we are unique individuals with different perspectives and opinions.
So there are bound to be disagreements.
Rev. Dr. Jill Sanders is a Field Outreach Minister in our conference. She has often reminded me that conflict is simply two ideas existing in the same space.
Let me repeat that: Conflict is two ideas existing in the same space.
Maybe the conflict is over what color the carpet should be.
Or the style of music.
Or who gets to sit in the back pew.
Whenever two or more people have two or more ideas, there will be conflict.
It’s not about who is good and who is bad, who is right and who is wrong…. It is just that we are different.
Now, in the rest of the world when we experience conflict, we often chose to leave a situation. We might quit a job when we disagree with a management style. We might end a relationship if we find that we are no longer interested in the same things. We quit shopping at a store or eating at a restaurant if we have a bad experience. We can unfriend someone on Facebook with the click of a button when they start posting stuff we disagree with.
In a world of choice and options, we don’t always have to resolve our differences.
If someone in the church offends you or causes a problem for you – you are called to address it… directly… one on one with that person.
And this is for one simple reason.
There is not a good side and a bad side in the body of Christ.
And we simply cannot walk away from one another.
We… the church… are one body.
God has brought us all together to form one community in Christ. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12 – we can’t say to another part of this body “I don’t need you.” And we can’t simply walk away from the church without hurting both ourselves and the community.
Imagine what this body of Christ would look like if every time we disagreed or were offended we picked up our rocks and stones and left? What would be left of the church? What would be left of the witness of Jesus Christ in the world?
As Jin Kim writes regarding this passage, “What makes us Christian is not whether or not we fight, disagree, or wound each other, but how we go about addressing and resolving these issues.” (Feasting on the Word)
Jesus makes it very simple for us. When someone offends you or sins against you or hurts your feelings, tell them!
Respect that person enough to go directly to them and tell them how you feel. Be honest with them. And do it with love.
That doesn’t seem so hard, does it?
And yet, how often do we do exactly the opposite of this.
We go and tell someone else about our problem so that we can get them on our side.
We are passive aggressive with each other.
Or even worse, we yell and preach and emotionally and verbally beat up on the person who has made a mistake.
And in the process, we bring one another down, we bring the community down, and we bring the body of Christ down with us.
Instead, we should look to how our Lord and Savior dealt with our sin. We should approach one another with the same kind of confrontational love of Jesus Christ.
Oh yes, because we have offended Jesus with our action and our inaction.
We have sinned against God.
We aren’t perfect… remember?
And yet God doesn’t talk behind our backs or gossip or turn others against us.
No, God so loved you and me and this whole world that God came directly to us.
Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God-with-us.
Jesus came to you and me in order to show us how our lives had missed the mark and to invite us to get back on track.
Jesus came to invite us to become a part of his body, the church, to find our place… no matter how many times we messed up or no matter how bad we have been.
Jesus ate with the sinners and hung out with the prostitutes and invited the cheats and the swindles to follow him.
And when he came across someone who was straying from God’s will, he told them the truth.
To Peter, “Get behind me Satan.”
To the woman at the well, “You haven’t had just one husband, but many.”
To the woman caught in adultery, “Go and sin no more.”
Today, we are kicking off our fall lineup of activities here at the church. Some of us have had busy summers, but here we are, ready to learn and grow, sing and play, teach and serve.
And some things are different than they have been in the past. Some of us are new. Some of us are trying something we never have before.
And in the midst of the excitement and chaos, we will experiment and have a whole lot of fun.
But occasionally, we’ll step on each other’s toes.
Sometimes we will make mistakes.
There will most definitely be conflict, of some kind or another.
But we are the body of Christ.
We are the people of God.
And we need each other.
We need your smiles and your hugs, your questions and your insights. We need your hands to help us wash dishes and your voices to fill our choir. And you need us, too. You need our love and our support.
We have promised to be there for one another. That’s what being the church is all about.
Not taking sides.
Not stirring up problems.
But in love and care, supporting and encouraging one another to be the best we all can be.
So when you have a problem, be honest about it. Go to the person who has upset you and tell them how you feel. Do it in love. Find a way to work out your differences.
And if you are someone who is approached by another person here, listen. Admit where you’ve made mistakes.
If that doesn’t work, then invite someone else to come along and help mediate and help you work through the issue.
If that doesn’t work… if all else fails, then our scripture says to treat that person like a Gentile and a tax collector.
Well, we know how Jesus treated those folks. He loved them. He ate with them. He never stopped inviting them to follow.
Above all else, ask God to help you forgive one another and to mend the relationship.
God has the power to do just that. We know how Jesus gave his life to forgive us and make us his body. And the love of God and the grace of God can give us the strength to live together in unity and peace and we will be a stronger church BECAUSE of the conflict we experience.