The core of conflict resolution
Text study for Matthew 18:15-20 Lectionary texts for September 4, 2011
I’m worn out and weary of people not knowing how to talk to each other. I’m baffled that we can’t find the words that could bring us to the beginning of understanding and the hope of healing. And it moves out far beyond my circle of relationships to our communities, our country, our world.
We’ve come up against gates, walls and deep divides. We are all worn out. Our ears seem to be closing, our eyes seem to see ever-narrowing pictures. And worse, our hearts seem to be shutting down.
Then we come to the Gospel of Matthew that lays out Jesus’ blueprint of how to deal with conflict. For many of us who are long-time workers in the church, this passage becomes a mantra of how to approach issues of dissension within our faith communities.
You go to the one with whom you have issues. You share your concerns. And if that doesn’t work, you bring in others.
In biblical times this was tied into legal requirements. Today we do this so others can hear and see what we, the conflict-involved, may not.
Is this Gospel text being adhered to in the church? Judging by the number of parking lot meetings, sacristy whisperings and back hall murmurings, I think not. The last person we would talk to would be the one who is at the heart of our discontent.
And yet we believe the heart is the place where all goodness and wholeness lives. The heart is the place from which we begin to really hear and see others -- the wellspring from which we can love our neighbors as ourselves.
When we enter that place where two or three are gathered, we come into holy space. God is present -- a God who gives sealed-with-the-cross-of-baptism children the courage to open up, to be honest, to be true listeners, to be forgivers, to be lovers of one another. If we want to reach beyond weariness and separation, we need to begin to see others with "God’s eyes."
With God’s heart and eyes, walls will crumble. We will become people who actually live out those Sunday morning words, "Peace be with you."
• What obstacles get in the way when you try to creatively deal with conflict?
• Try looking at people through God’s eyes for one week: How does it change how you see them, react to them?
• How can faith communities begin to be better role models for how to resolve conflict?
Carol Detweiler, an associate in ministry, is the director of Christian Education at New Hanover Evangelical Lutheran Church, Gilbertsville, Pa. Much of her teaching for the last 30 years has centered around peace and justice issues.