Resolving Conflict

CALL TO WORSHIP: The promise of God is for those who put their trust in Him. Jesus tells us that when two or three are gathered in His name, then He is there amongst them.  This is His promise. Lord we trust You.  We claim Your promise.  We believe that You are with us by Your Spirit.

Lord, we come to You as people who are ready to learn. Young and old, we all need to know more about what it means to follow Jesus. You have so much to teach us, through the bible, through Your world, through those around us.

Help us to have open minds and hearts, so that we may grow in understanding, and through learning more from You, become more like Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen

HYMN 81: NOW THANK WE ALL OUR GOD -StF

PRAYER OF ADORATION:

God, You are with us; By Your Spirit, You are here.

Lord, You are our maker. Before this world existed, You were there. When everything has ceased to be, You will still be there. You give us life, and all that we need for life to continue; food, water, air, all the laws that make our earth work as it should. You also give us laws to live by; ways to behave amongst others, showing that every person matters to You.

God, You are with us; By Your Spirit, You are here.

You sent Jesus to live on earth. In Him, You showed us a perfect life, so that we could see through Jesus what it means to keep Your law. He told us that we should love one another, and showed what Your great love is like by dying on the cross for us.

God, You are with us; By Your Spirit, You are here.

Jesus said that when two or three are gathered together, He is there. We praise You Lord that You are with us now by Your Spirit. We praise You that You listen to our prayers and that You still guide us today. We can never praise You as You deserve. But lift our worship by Your Spirit, so that it may reach the very steps of Your throne.

God, You are with us; By Your Spirit, You are here.

In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen

TALK FOR ALL: BEING A PROBLEM SOLVER (Matthew 18:15-20)

Have you ever done something that was not so nice?

It’s hard to admit, but I bet we can all think of times that we haven’t been as kind as we could have been. And I bet you can also think of times that others have been unkind to you.

So here’s a question: What should we do about it?

That’s a pretty easy question when we’re the ones who are wrong, isn’t it? What’s the right thing to do when we’ve been unkind in some way? (Apologize – and change our behaviours.) But what about when others are unkind to us?

What’s the best way to solve that problem? (Solicit children’s answers)

Sounds like you have some very good problem solving skills!

In tonight’s Gospel Jesus teaches a lesson about problem solving in our relationships with others – and what he suggests sounds similar to some of your ideas.

Jesus says that when others have sinned against us – and done something unkind – that the first thing to do is have a talk with them. Most of the time when you have a problem talking it over can get things fixed, can’t it?

If that doesn’t work, maybe we need to some help? Sometimes asking a friend or two can really make things better.

And when none of that works, sometimes we just need to take a break – don’t we?

Sounds like your ideas are a lot like Jesus’ when it comes to solving problems. Keep those good ideas in mind this week, OK? Let’s pray.

Dear God,

Help us to be kind to others and to be good problem solvers, following in your path, when we face problems with others. Amen.

HYMN 536: HE’S GOT THE WHOLE WORLD IN HIS HAND – StF

PRAYER OF CONFESSION AND THANKSGIVING:  In today’s reading, Jesus talks about putting things right when people in the church have quarreled. Let us think about the busy conversation we’ve had during the week, months and years. Let us remember the people that we saw, or spoken to. Let us remember those we may have avoided.

Let us pray.

Lord of the whole church, we thank You for our brothers and sisters in Jesus, especially those who come to our own church. We know that when we gather together, You are there amongst us; but we come to say sorry, because sometimes we can behave towards others as if You are not looking.

We say things that are unkind; we snap; we spread gossip. We allow old grudges to play upon our minds and refuse to let go of them.

Lord, by Your Spirit, help us to release these feelings to You, and show us how to love one another as You call us to do. Through Jesus we are forgiven. Help us to live and love as forgiven people. Amen.

READINGS: MATTHEW 18: 15-21

HYMN 434: ROCK OF AGES CLEFT FOR ME – StF

SERMON: RESOLVING CONFLICT (MATTHEW 18: 15-21)

Today’s gospel is rich with advice on getting along with each other. And even in a secular context, we need to get along just to survive. While at times we may hear the call of some inner lone wolf, we are primarily communal creatures. We need to stick together. We have little choice. Isolation means extinction.

The reading, also gives us some real, concrete, step-by-step instructions from Jesus with regard to how we should handle conflict.  In this passage, Jesus lays out a step-by-step plan for how one Christian should handle a disagreement with another member of the community.

Want to take a crash course in forgiveness? Get married or start a relationship. Want to take a graduate degree in forgiveness? Have children or adopt one or two. The closer we live together, the more we need to forgive. If we don’t, then we can’t live together. In successful relationships, romance is not the primary manifestation of love. Forgiveness is. And forgiveness is not a natural reflex. It must be learned and practiced over and over. Like riding a bike or skiing, there are basics we must master or we are in for a fall.

In most churches, families, organisations and relationships of today – what typically happens when people disagree with each other is that the one who is upset says nothing to the person who has caused the upset.  But the angry person does talk to his or her friends and supporters and begins to gather sympathetic ears for a message that the other person has done the injured party wrong.  Soon there is a large and growing group who knows of the wrong done and they all begin to search their own memory banks for examples of when the person wronged them as well.  Meanwhile, the person who is now being vilified and whose list of transgressions grows every day has no idea that he or she has done anything to anyone.  Then when the problem ultimately comes to a head, the original issue has either been completely forgotten or has morphed into something entirely different than the slight it started as.  Meanwhile, the person who started it all with some relatively minor act has become a major villain, – simply from the power of bad feelings, innuendo and accusations, simmering over time.  This is precisely what Jesus talks about in Matthew 18: 15-21.

Jesus lays out how these things are to be handled by a Christian community.  And quite simply, His prescription is to talk about things openly, honestly and directly, person-to-person.  Jesus wanted people who had been hurt to talk directly to the one who hurt them and to lay things out in an honest fashion, in hopes of having the issues worked out.  Jesus doesn’t say, “Ambush them.”  And neither did He say, “Meet at high noon, in the middle of Main Street and shoot it out and let the best man win.”  Instead, He says that we should speak honestly and directly with each other, not in anger, but also not hiding the hurt that has been done.  Now note also that He did not suggest that one person should be the winner and one the loser.  No … what He wants from this direct communication is reconciliation.  Both parties getting back as much as is possible, to a place of shared care and concern – of forgiveness and understanding.

Jesus wants all of His people to be reconciled to one another, not so that one is right and one is wrong, but that both can come together and put their differences behind them.  Or, as St. Paul told the Romans, “Let’s therefore throw off the works of darkness, and let’s put on the armour of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day; …not in strife and jealousy....” Romans 13: 12-14.  Jesus didn’t give His instructions so that the person who has sinned against gets a free pass.  What He really wants is for the person who has been sinned against to engage in forgiveness, so that that person can get his or her life back in order, no longer bound by anger and resentment that can extinguish the flame of Christian love.

You see, no matter how much harm may come to the person who has committed a wrong and is then ambushed by people because of what he has done, it is the person who was originally wronged, the one against whom a sin was committed, who suffers irreparable harm if there is no forgiveness.  The one who asks for forgiveness goes on, once the forgiveness is requested.  That person has done what he or she can do by asking forgiveness.  It is the person who refuses to forgive who continues to suffer.

The great Anglican writer, C.S. Lewis in his book, The Great Divorce, describes Hell as a great, huge, dark place where there is no contact between people.  He says that Hell started out small, but people quarrelled with one another and moved away from each other.  Then there was another quarrel and the people moved farther away.  And so on, and so on, until finally no one could even see anyone else.  And there they lived, alone in the darkness.  That’s what Jesus wants us to avoid.

Jesus says we should take our disagreements directly to those with whom we disagreed precisely because that is the opposite of Lewis’ vision of Hell.  As children of God we are to love one another, and that requires contact and involvement in each other’s lives.  But it’s not just because we are all children of God and should be reconciled with each other … no, it’s for us who harbour grudges.  It is for us that Jesus says this straight forward communication should be done.

If we tell the one who wronged us how we feel about what they have done and we then give them the opportunity to ask for forgiveness, we set a process in motion.  If the person asks for forgiveness and acknowledges the wrong done, then the issue is to be put to rest.  That is Jesus’ prescription.  That means that we are enjoined by Christ to forgive our brothers and sisters who ask forgiveness.  Because just as Jesus says that the one who refuses to acknowledge wrongdoing should be put out of the assembly, the same is true of the one who refuses to accept the request for forgiveness when it’s made.  And I would submit to you that Jesus wasn’t really talking about “putting people out” of the assembly in a literal sense – at least not in most cases.  I think it was more like an extension of what Lewis talks about in The Great Divorce.  The people disagree, refuse to be reconciled and then begin to live farther and farther apart – putting themselves out of the assembly.

Of course, like every other, seemingly easy to follow, statement in the Bible, people can pervert this one if they try hard enough.  This simple set of rules has been used to expel people from their worship communities because they don’t agree with those who are in power and won’t capitulate, regardless of how many times they’re asked to do so.  But there is a safeguard for that as well, Paul’s call to the Romans to “love one another.”  For, Paul says, “the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’  Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”

Love here does not mean wet, sloppy kisses, nor does it mean hearts and flowers.  This kind of love is about care for the other person’s well being.  Wanting what is best for the other person, even when he or she has made you angry.  If we have that sort of love for each other, we will always want to be reconciled and will always accept each other’s apologies – because that’s what people who love each other do.  That’s what Christ did – and does – with us every day.

If there is someone whom you know holds a grudge against you for something you did, or were perceived to have done, either recently or ages ago, apologize and sincerely ask forgiveness.  Likewise, if there is someone who comes to you and asks forgiveness for something that has caused you to hold a grudge against them, grant them forgiveness.  To ask forgiveness is not weakness.  And to grant forgiveness is not to condone what someone has done.  They are merely steps toward reconciliation – the thing that Jesus did when He reconciled the whole world to God by hanging on a cross.  If He can do that for us, surely we can do this for each other, and for Him.

AMEN

HYMN 619: THANKS FOR FRIENDS WHO KEEP ON LOVING- StF

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION: Lord, You have heard all the conversations today, and You know our needs even before we ask. We remember in a few moments silence the things that we have heard about just now.

Pray for those who rub us the wrong way, but let us don’t stop there. Pray for our enemies, as well. Remember what Jesus told his disciples:“… love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you…” (Matthew 5:44)

Praying for others, especially those we don’t know, is one of the hallmarks of Christian love. It links us with others across every conceivable barrier. We may not share the same culture or speak the same language, but we share a common humanity. Just as Christ died for the sins of the whole world, praying for others over the scope of the whole world brings us that much closer to living as one in Christ.

So, pray for all men and women, whether we know them or not, and pray for those in authority.

Pray for the Prime Minister and all elected officials at every level of government. Please, let us follow the admonition of Paul, who told the Romans, “Let every soul be in subjection to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those who exist are ordained by God.” (Romans 13:1)

Can we be the first to pray for someone who’s hungry to be given bread to eat. Can we be the first that also want them to taste the bread of heaven? Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will not be hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”  (John 6:35)

In a way, it’s similar to the old proverb: “If you give a man a fish, he can eat for a day; If you teach a man to fish, he can eat for a lifetime.”

We ask that You will answer our prayers in the way that is best, supplying what we need as You always do. Help us to remember to pray for each other every day, knowing that though apart, we are still Your people.

Amen

HYMN 615: LET LOVE BE REAL IN GIVING AND RECEIVING-StF

BLESSINGS: Today, we have remembered how Jesus is amongst us. As we go, help us to remember that by Your Spirit You are with us everywhere we go. The Blessings of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be upon us and remain with us always. Amen