October 29, 2016
This was preached as part of a series about where our faith comes into play in the difficulties we face in our lives. Part of the 5:40 Program at St. Peter’s, Comox.
St. Paul calls us ambassadors of reconciliation. He says that because God has reconciled us to himself in Christ we are the message of his appeal to the world to be reconciled with him.
We’re going to be talking about conflict this evening. Before looking at how we deal with the reality of conflict it is important to bring to mind its counter-measure. Let us consider for a moment the peace in which we rest. Recall the words of the heavenly armies at Jesus’s birth “Glory be to God on high and in earth peace and good will to all people.”For before we were at war with heaven. NOW by the grace of our baptism we rest in his peace. For this reason we are called to be reconciled one to another. Not because it is good for us to get along for its own sake. Rather it is because of who we are and who God is. In this peace we are made one body, of one baptism and one Lord. Conflict is outside of this. It is not for the hand to dispute with the foot but for both to eagerly submit to the head.
We are at our core the image of God. We are at the core called to reconciliation with each other in Christ.
Yet there are conflicts. They are real. They happen and we find ourselves in them. We as human beings have expectations of each other that we do not meet. We fail. We disagree because of the imperfection of our reason or love or effort. Given that we are at our core called to reconciliation with each other in Christ what should we do when we find ourselves at odds? Seek reconciliation in Christ.
For this the Lord teaches us in the Gospel when he tells us that when we realize we are at odds with a brother or sister we are to abandon our offering upon the altar and seek reconciliation before we proceed with worship (Matthew 5:21-24). When I was a child of ten or eleven years old that text troubled me very deeply. I mean I really was in love with the church, falling in love with it really. And apparently I could not go to church if I was not at peace with my brother or sister! I interpreted brother and sister fairly extensively to include everyone. Have you met everyone? They are very hard to get along with! And so, every time I found myself in a dispute about anything I would seek immediate resolution with whoever I had upset.
One thing I learned very quickly is that not everyone wants to be reconciled quickly. Sometimes people run from pain in anger and bitterness. Sometimes people do not see that they have hurt you. Sometimes people find forgiveness comes slowly and with difficulty if it can come at all.
So we see that in this life conflict is going to happen. We see that sometimes it is extended and messy. It is real. And it is important to remember in the palpable reality of disputes the transformative reality of who we really are. Remember: we are ambassadors of reconciliation. We are at our core called to reconciliation, one to another, in Christ.
What does this mean though, for finding ourselves in the messiness of real conflict? Where does this real faith of ours meet the reality of the conflicts we find ourselves in?
In conflict remember: you are the image of the living God.
Be merciful. Forgive! Forgive seven times seventy times. Forgive without price or pride. Forgive with all that you have as our Father who is in heaven has forgiven you. Set your brother free from the pain he issues at your expense. You are no longer a slave but free. Therefore make not a slave of your sister.
And yes, mercy can be painful.
Be humble. In our relationships, especially those fractured by conflict, have the same mindset at Christ who made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant. We must humble ourselves. We must be obedient and open to being rebuked where our hearts and our lips and our actions have failed to be outpouring springs of the God of love. Examine yourself. See perhaps where the brokenness in you contributed to this conflict and repent.
And yes, humility can be painful.
Be patient. Bare with one another brothers and sisters. Healing can take time. Forgiveness can take time. Examination and humility can take time. Trust in the Lord. Pray for your sister and love her. Pray that both your hearts may be turned into Christ’s peace and delivered from the crafts and assaults of the devil. Wait on the Lord.
And yes, patience can be painful.
But wait upon the Lord. For again: true reconciliation, true peace, true deliverance from conflict is only real in the body of Christ. It is in him that we are made whole again and in him alone. Settle not for any cheaper good labeled peace.
We know. We know that heaven and earth are united together into a single peace through Christ. We know that we are fully real, fully who we are only in that peace. Deliverance from conflict is only freedom in the person of Jesus. We are made living testaments to this reconciliation. And so where conflicts persist have hope, know that all things in the end shall be ordered according to his will. So seek his will.
In summary-conflicts happen. Conflicts get prolonged and messy. Because of who we are what are we to do about this messiness? We are to be merciful. We are to be humble. We are to be patient. It is painful. That pain can persist generations. But Christ takes that pain up into himself. And so we wait upon our reconciliation in his body by his grace. For that is who we are-the image of that reconciled body.
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