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The sermon for week April 12, 2015

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Conflict

John 20:19-31

“Doubting Thomas.” That’s what they called me. I didn’t know we were still children on the playground. “Doubter. Ye of little faith.”

To be clear, I never lost faith in Jesus. I never doubted Jesus. I doubted THEM! I doubted the disciples, those cowards. They holed up in that locked room, shut off from the world. And they have the gall to imply that I had no faith. Did you ever wonder why I wasn’t in the room? I was out getting the story! I was out praying in the synagogues. Mourning as is our custom and tradition.

I lost a friend and teacher too! So when they told me this crazy story… Jesus was here?! If that were true, why did they stay in that room? Why did they hide? If it were me, I would run out and tell everyone! I would say exactly what I said, “My Lord and my God.”

I said this because when Jesus was talking to us just before the events of last week, he said “I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I’m going.”

And I asked, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

And he said, “Thomas, I am the way. No one comes to the Father but through me.”

And I remembered that, and when I saw him, I understood what he meant and I felt the presence of God. I was staring God in the face! And what’s worse, when I looked at those idiots… those disciples, my friends and fellow travelers, I saw God in them too!
Peter and his stubbornness. So convicted all the time and making drastic overstatements. Mary Magdalene and her positive attitude and her willingness to risk. She gave up everything to follow Jesus. And the rest, oh the rest.

I was at peace there. I was whole and loved and knew God was good. But let me be clear about peace. So many of us confuse peace and comfort. Or peace and rest. These are not the same. It’s as if people think peace is the absence of conflict and I say NO! Peace is how you act in conflict. There is no way to peace, peace IS the way!

I think that there are 2 ways to act in conflict (Van Yperen). One way is to over-emphasize relationships. So you act in ways to preserve the relationship, like becoming passive or evasive in conflict. When conflict arrives, you get silent or change the subject. Do you do that?

When you find yourself in conflict, do you become silent? Do you make a related joke and shift the conversation away? Then you're lying and withholding your truth. The disciples did this all the time, they spoke behind Jesus’ back, they wondered what he was talking about but never asked him. Just ask him! Granted, Jesus will answer your question with another question, but it’s something! He’ll at least know where you’re coming from and more so, you’ll know where you’re coming from.

I tended to be more defensive and aggressive in my conflict style. I need the Truth! I don’t care about your feelings! This is the other way of being in conflict, I over emphasize the truth and am indifferent to the feelings of others. Do any of you do this? Is every word you say a challenge for someone else to prove you wrong?

When I’m in conflict I claim special knowledge or experience, rationalize and defend. If this doesn’t work, I try to force it. So when these passive and evasive people came up to me, I got defensive. They know I’m not hanging out with them and they’re trying to shame or trick me into sticking around then, and frankly speaking, I was thinking about leaving that bunch. So I said my famous words, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” The perfect blend of defensive and aggressive. And the disciples were silent, and I think John said, "So what are we having for dinner?" The perfect blend of passive and evasive.

Yet I also remember Jesus saying, "Know what is in front of your face, and what is hidden from you will be disclosed to you. For there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed. [And there is nothing buried that will not be raised.]" (Gospel of Thomas 5) Once again, I never doubted or lost faith in Jesus, just his disciples.

There is another option in conflict. The trick is trying to be lovingly truthful and truly loving. Jesus was able to bridge this gap. He would speak to the aggressive and defensive, those scribes and Pharisees and religious people who discriminated on the basis of their beliefs, “You white-washed tombs! You brood of vipers! Your brothers and sisters are dying! The widow, the orphan, the stranger, those whom your religion is supposed to be about are being trampled under your feet! Love your neighbor as yourself!” Notice how he had to use strong language--with aggressive and defensive types you have to speak in strong language to demand their respect often enough.

And to those oppressed people who lived under this lie and were passive/evasive, he said, “God loves you. You are a child of God. Do as the scribes and Pharisees say but do not do as they do. Go and sin no more. Today, salvation has come to this house.” Notice how he comforted them, spoke to them in love yet directly. He never blamed, but he knew where they were was not a healthy place.

Jesus balanced conflict. He’s the prince of peace after all. And peace isn’t the absence of conflict, it’s the way you act while in conflict. I don’t doubt that. And it’s in that mindset, I’m trying to live into and learn. I still struggle with it, but I’m working on it. I’m still with the disciples. Peter has invited us to go fishing with him, and we’re going to get out of the city and take some time to pray alone and gather our thoughts and think about what Jesus has revealed to all of us. Jesus always did that, he was always going off and praying to find clarity. So we’re going to do that. Maybe we’ll see Jesus there too.

I see so many of your communities in conflict. So many churches in conflict struggling to be lovingly truthful and truly loving. I heard a story recently of a church in Florida that was growing by leaps and bounds (Stephenson). Growth causes conflict. One elderly woman couldn’t sit in her pew, because all these new people were sitting there. She couldn’t get to her coffee, because there were too many new people blocking her path. She could have kept silent and left. Instead she told her pastor. Her pastor could have defended the new people and pushed her away. Instead the pastor did what Jesus would do. The pastor enlisted the help of the woman and together they spoke to the leaders of the church, and the leadership noted that with all the new people, they'd outgrown their space. They also noticed that access to their building wasn’t easy for their aging population. What started as one woman’s complaint about not getting to her pew and her coffee turned into a $3.6 million renovation. In that renovation, they put in more pews, made their social space bigger, and removed all of the steps inside and parking lot curbs outside, so that everything was on one level. What could have been conflict turned into a community caring for itself. In this process, new members mixed with the members who had been around awhile and they became close friends and learned from one another. This is what being lovingly truthful and truly loving can do for a community.

I take the name “Doubting Thomas” in stride now. I wear that name like a badge of honor because it healed me of my aggressive and defensive nature. Well, maybe not healed, but it inspires me to work more on it. And Jesus gave me just what I needed to see, to believe, and to go out and try to be better.

Jesus was all about being lovingly truthful and truly loving. It’s a hard thing to do, but once you do… you’ll start running around saying “I belong to you, you belong to me, you’re my sweetheart!” (The Lumineers)

Works Cited
Gospel of Thomas < a href="http://gnosis.org/naghamm/gosthom.html ">found here

The Lumineers, “Ho Hey” Stubborn Love, 2012 Dualtone. Used under CCLI License 2438131. All rights reserved.

Stephenson, Jack. NGLI January Notes: January 4 to 10, 2015.

Van Yperen, Jim. Conflict Style Assessment, a guide to identifying & correcting your negative habits of handling conflict. Church Smart Resources, 2002.

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