September 10, 2017

Pastor Tammy Sharp

Matthew 18:15-20
The night Harvey began his wrath on our area, was the night of the Mayweather Vs. McGregor fight. Maybe it was a sign of what was about to strike. When we walked the neighborhoods as the water subsided to see who we could help, we heard more than one story of people who had several guests at a fight watching party. They came inside to watch the fight. When they looked outside after the fight, which wasn’t very long, those guests’ cars were underwater. It was crazy.
Today’s gospel tells us how to fight in the church. Maybe it is better to say it tells us how to deal with conflict and fight fair. LOL Really, the principles can work in most settings. We want to believe that the church is a place to go where people are always nice to each other. Everyone is always welcomed with open arms and no matter who you talk to you will feel “The Love of Jesus” glowing in your heart. By this point, you should be laughing a bit. Yes, because I say that with a bit of sarcasm. But also because we know that as much as we desire the church to be that sort of place, it is full of PEOPLE. REAL, LIVE, FLAWED PEOPLE. AND…. We are not robots. We do not agree on things at times. We do not all communicate the same way. And sometimes, each and every one of us is not very nice. Jesus was fully aware that just like these 12 misfits he chose as his disciples were flawed individuals and would blow it, the people for thousands of years to come who would be the church would be equally flawed. With deep compassion for all people, Jesus gives us a way to deal with conflict in the church, and in our own lives.
Conflicts that are avoided are conflict that blow up in your face. So many people would rather just walk away when they are hurt by someone, or they disagree with someone, than to face an uncomfortable conversation. And, honestly, sometimes that is the best thing you can do. When your emotions are very intense or the other persons emotions are very intense, the ability for either of you to listen to the other is nearly impossible and so engaging only heightens the conflict and can lead to things you cannot undo or resolve. When the feelings are hot, walk away and get a clear perspective. Getting that clear perspective is considering how you could have approached that situation a little better. Yes, sometimes there is nothing you can do, but, you have to consider your part in the conflict.
What OFTEN happens immediately following a conflict is I go to someone who knows us both, and I am probably closer to, and I relay the conflict to my friend, usually without cooling down. My friend almost always understands completely how horribly wrong the other person was, fueling the self-righteousness I have. This gives me more power and more strength to confront you and show you how wrong you are. THAT IS NOT THE EXAMPLE WE FIND IN SCRIPTURE. Running to our best friend to be fueled for a fight is unhealthy and dangerous, at least as it pertains to salvaging a relationship. If you can go to a friend who will help you see the big picture and not just the one clouded by your RIGHTNESS, that isn’t a bad idea. For those of us who are extreme extroverts, it is almost necessary to talk something through before moving ahead. It is how we process things. But you can’t do that with a yes man (or woman). Whatever it takes to cool down, do that first.
Then go directly to the person that you have a conflict with. Yes even if/especially if it is with your Pastor. In this church, with this pastor, I have always invited you to come to me at any time if there is something I have said or done that has offended you. Some of you are good about taking me up on that. Sometimes we discover that you misunderstood something. Sometimes we discover that I have been unkind or short sited in something I said or did and it did cause anger or hurt and I have to apologize and do what I can to make it right. Sometimes we learn that we simply look at things a bit differently and we work to find a way to graciously disagree. Whatever it may be, coming to me with the anger, frustration, or confusion is the best and quickest way to clear the air so we can continue to be the church together. And again, I have had to apologize on more than one occasion.
The same is true for lay people in the church. The first thing that should happen is to go directly to the person you have a conflict with and let them know your feelings. It doesn’t mean go to them with your voice raised ready to intimidate whomever you are going to. It doesn’t mean to come with a blast of sarcasm or a list of 15 things you think they have done wrong in their life. You go to them out of love and express how their actions or their words hurt you or frustrated you or even made you angry. Do what you can to have them hear you out without attacking them.
When that doesn’t work you should get together with another person. If it is a church related matter, I would suggest that would be the time to get me involved. The three of us can sit down and talk about whatever happened. Hopefully I am a little more objective and can help keep the conversation calm, and help both sides see where the other is coming from. Best case scenario, it’s a misunderstanding that can be resolved and life can go on as before. It may be that the two of you can’t see eye to eye, but you can be the church together caring for others around you. You just might not be best friends.
When conflict isn’t just between two people, but for whatever reason involves the entire congregation, these rules still apply. I do talk with individuals alone if at all possible. Often times conflicts arise when we are working together to get food ready for an event, or we are cleaning up the church building together or something of that nature, or when we have a big festival coming up. Everyone who wants to help has a way of doing things that they are sure is best and sometimes those best ideas collide. I have the privilege of knowing most of you fairly well as individuals. Just as I have a way of talking to people when trying to get a task completed, so do all of you. Some of you are very nurturing and move through tasks like teachers who are as concerned about completing the task so everyone feels they had their part and feel good about it. Others are more Business manager type, or even military types. Here’s the task. Here’s your job, and this is how you will do that job. Not so nurturing and not concerned that each person has a say so in how things get don. There is a most efficient way and that is how we will do it. This can seem very bossy and abrupt when in fact, these people are trying to be the most efficient they can be. As you can imagine, oil and water clash hard. Neither is WRONG, and both are Not all right.. One thing I have worked at doing is to help people learn to listen to those who operate differently than they do and hear the content without getting upset by the tone. Sometimes we have to teach our compassionate caregivers that getting the task done is most important and being subtle is not helpful. It is hard for these folks to just be task masters, but, sometimes it is important. And for our Manager/Military types, we have to remind them that sometimes the journey to completing a task IS the mission of the church.
When we can talk with each other directly, almost always, things can be resolved. But there are times when someone sees their need to control the church, the way things are done, the way we worship and even what we teach, and their way of trying to make sure all that happens is destructive. Not just to one or two individuals, but to the church as a whole. We have experienced that at Christus Victor and it was not a fun time for us. We took the proper steps to try to reconcile the situation, beginning the an individual talk, and then a talk with a few people and finally in front of the church council. It truly was one of most difficult things I have done as a pastor, but this portion of scripture is what guided that entire process. When the individual would not work with us, and was removed from the assembly, things did settle down, and we as a church gained a greater understanding of the importance of facing conflict head on rather than letting it build to a place that could not be resolved.
I wish we would never have conflicts. But we will. After all, we are the FAMILY of God. Take a look at your own family. Don’t kid yourself. You have conflict. We all do. And just as the church is admonished to deal with conflict in an appropriate, and healthy way, our families need the same thing. When we can do that. Believe it or not, gathering with family for whatever reason is a much more enjoyable experience. Who actually enjoys going to the family gathering when you know there is an underlying conflict brewing…. UGH.
Jesus loves us, His people so much that he showed us how to really care for one another. He knew we would have conflicts. We are after all, sinful people in need of God’s grace. There is no name calling or object throwing. Just peaceful conversation lead with the grace and the love of God in each of us that helps us all to be together and to be heard and we find the best in each of us that God can and will use to share the glory of God with the world.
BUT…PS. Just a quick, and I promise quick. Note on an understanding swirling around in these conversations about Harvey and the aftermath.
I had a conversation with one of our school board members. We talked about the fact that neither of us sustained any real damage in our homes during Harvey. He expressed that he really feels guilty about that. I told him that guilt is not necessary and not very helpful. He had done nothing to flood someone else’s home and he has been out there working his tail off helping people to clean up the mess and move forward. I look around our church, even considering those that are not in worship and I feel such pride in the way each and every one of you have stepped up to do God’s work with your hands. Stop apologizing for those things you can’t do, and many things you SHOULDN’T do. If you can’t or shouldn’t, those aren’t your jobs. Embrace the ways you have been able to give comfort and shelter and meals, and deep, genuine compassion to people who are suffering. Guilt is not needed and it is not helpful. Do your part. No more no less.
He went on to say that he had chatted with someone in the store. He commented that he was luck to have not had damage. The person corrected him and said “you weren’t lucky. You were blessed”. This made him uncomfortable, as it does me. To say that I am blessed because my house was not damaged is to say that the Smarts and the Shorts were not just not blessed but flat out cursed because their homes were destroyed. No one wants to say that! I don’t think anyone really believes that. Why would God bless me but not you with protection from a storm? It certainly isn’t because I am more holy, just cause I have a collar. I am not more holy and sometimes even less holy. In this storm, God’s blessings are ever present in every household. For some it doesn’t feel that way, but you and I are the ones who help reveal God’s blessings as we walk the journey of recovery with one another. God’s blessings aren’t THINGS. God’s blessings are understanding God so that we can make the most of what we have. God’s blessings come when we are so very weak and worn out and one of God’s people comes to us to lift us, sometime literally out of the water to safety. God’s blessings come as we waded through flood waters, rich and poor, black and white, Christian and Muslim, not asking for credentials and we pulled people to safety and gave them warm blankets and food to eat. All of God’s people doing what we should be doing always; bringing hope and safety and life to the most frightened and vulnerable. And the great blessing for those of us who are high and dry; we get to be the agents of those blessings. We get to be the kingdom of God in a destructive and sinful world. Choose your words of comfort and statements of faith carefully. Always share grace, and hope and love. You can’t fix things with a word or two, but you can most certainly bring hope with those words. Continue to be the hands of God doing the work of God.