September 7, 2014

Proper 18

Exodus 12:1 – 14

Romans 13:8-114

Matthew 18:15-20

 Resolving Conflict is About Attitude - Think Win-Win.

 Matthew’s gospel today is not about condemnation – it is all about forgiveness and restoration. In Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits the 4th is:  Think Win-Win.  Think Win - Win isn't about being nice, nor is it a quick-fix technique. It is a character-based code for human interaction and collaboration. This is a great way to explain our gospel passage today.

Most of us learn to base our self-worth on comparisons and competition. We think about succeeding in terms of someone else failing--that is, if I win, you lose; or if you win, I lose. Life becomes a zero-sum game. There is only so much pie to go around, and if you get a big piece, there is less for me; it's not fair, and I'm going to make sure you don't get anymore. We all play the game, but how much fun is it really?

Win-win sees life as a cooperative arena, not a competitive one. Win-win is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions. Win-win means agreements or solutions are mutually beneficial and satisfying. We both get to eat the pie, and it really tastes scrumptious!

Many people think in terms of either/or: either you're nice or you're tough. Win-win requires that you be both. It is a balancing act between courage and consideration. To go for win-win, you not only have to be empathic, but you also have to be confident. You not only have to be considerate and sensitive, you also have to be brave. To do that--to achieve that balance between courage and consideration--is the essence of real maturity and is fundamental to win-win.

In the paragraph following our Gospel reading this morning, we find Peter’s question recorded

“Lord how many times should I forgive my brother? Seven times? ….to which Jesus replied “up to seventy times seven times”

God forgives freely, and those who have been forgiven must respond to that forgiveness by forgiving others.

Jesus was realistic. He recognized that there would be conflicts within the Church - just as there have been in families since the time of Cain and Abel.

And these conflicts really do need sorting out. If they are just swept under the carpet – resentment will fester until – to mix my metaphors the dam bursts.

The apostle Paul was very wise when he said: “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger” (Eph 4:26)

You and I are connected with one another through Jesus. Our connection with the Father affects and governs our relationships with each other, and our relationships with each other affect our relationship with God.

It is so important that we have a right relationship with each other that Jesus said in Matthew 5:23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” In fact, the last thing that Jesus prayed for His church was that the Father would make us one as Jesus is one with the Father!

You heard last week what it means to walk in love. The gospel said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  “But how do we walk in love when there is conflict with each other?  Or as our gospel today discusses, the church?

Larry Crabb wrote “The difference between spiritual and unspiritual community is not whether conflict exists, but is rather in our attitude toward it and our approach to handling it. When conflict is seen as an opportunity to draw more fully on spiritual resources, we have the makings of spiritual community.” In other words, it is how we handle conflict that determines the level of our spiritual maturity!

The truth of the matter is that relationships can be strengthened through conflict, if we handle them correctly. What makes or breaks relationships, and what makes or breaks churches, is what they choose to do in conflict. We must learn how to walk in love while dealing with conflict. This involves three things:

We must have the right attitude.

At the beginning of Matthew 18, Jesus sets the stage for His teaching on resolving conflict by saying this: (v.3-4). We are to become as little children. Granted, we’ve all seen Christians act like little children when it comes to getting their way, but that is not what Jesus is talking about. We are to humble ourselves like a little child.

We must approach conflicts with humility.
To humble means to bring low. And that is the opposite of what the flesh wants to do in conflict. It seeks to exalt itself, to justify itself, to prove itself right. If that is how we approach a conflict, the conflict will only grow.  When we are dealing with conflict with another person, the goal is reconciliation, not justification. 

We must have the right approach.

Jesus gives us a very simple plan on how to handle conflict. We make things so complicated, but Jesus makes it SIMPLE! We would save ourselves much heartache and would show Jesus to the world much more effectively if we would simply FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS!

We must start with:  A private conversation.

This is where we most often miss it right off the bat! We go to others instead.  Most conflicts can be resolved in this stage, if we will have the courage and care enough about another person to take that first step.  When we deal with conflict appropriately, we see positive results in our lives and in our church.

It is said that Leonardo da Vinci, when painting the Last Supper, painted Judas’ face as the face of someone with whom he was angry. But he found that he could not paint the face of Jesus until he changed the face of Judas. Remember the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”

Conflict will come, even in the church. But what are you and I going to do when it comes? We must start by walking in brokenness and humility.  We are going to seek a Win Win solution. Remember the words from Romans:  Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who love another has fulfilled the law.  Put on the armor of light; live honorable as in the day not in quarreling and jealousy.  Instead put on the Lord Jesus Christ.  Can you think of a relationship with someone that could be better?  Think of our church – is there a ministry that you could become a part of that will strengthen our spiritual community?  This week let us be brave and walk in love as Christ loved us.