Sunday, June 19, 2016

Coping with Conflict on the Cross Road (luke 11:14-32)- On The Cross Road: Jesus Journey to Jerusalem in Luke's Gospel (CH 10-19) and what it means for us as his followers (Part 5)

I have to admit that I don’t like dealing with conflict. I don’t really know anyone who does …

My default conflict management style: The one I instinctively use is avoidance. If I can avoid having to deal with an issue or conflict  I will. You know I’ll try and sweep it under the carpet and act like its gone away. With some small things it can work. The problem with that of course is that, you can then find yourself tripping up and falling over the big lump that’s builds up of all the things you’ve put under the carpet. Right! Things tend to become a big problem.

My other default conflict management style is if I can’t avoid something I’m competing. If I can’t avoid it then I’m going to win. right! ’If I can’t dodge it on lifes highway then It’s my way or the Highway’. When you get your own way, you might be able to have that Rocky moment.  You know standing on the top of the steps with your hands in the air ruler over all you survey. But maybe the underlying conflict isn’t totally resolved. Like the rocky movies, it will keep coming back sequel after sequel… after tired sequel.

I don’t think our political leaders are a good example of conflict resolution for us. I’ll  often watch the parliamentary question time on TV. And yes I get wound up more than wind down. Often there you’ll see that nothing really gets resolved, because important issues will be avoided by politicians making snide remarks against each other, or blaming the other party when they were in office, or using semantics to side step the question…  In the US presidential race at the moment we are seeing the way in which even what is supposed to be the showcase of democracy is descending into personal taunts and insults rather than dealing with issues and truth and looking for a way forward.

It might not be very profound but it’s true that conflict is part of our everyday lives, and it’s something that we actually need help in knowing how to handle.  It can destroy relationships, families, churches,  communities and on a world stage we need peace makers, people who can help resolve conflicts between people groups and nations and prevent conflicts becoming wars.

We are working our way through Jesus Journey to Jerusalem in Luke’s gospel.  A journey that will lead Jesus to the Cross, a journey narrative that takes up the central third of the gospel (ch 10-19) and a journey narrative that is full of Jesus teaching on what it means to be a follower of his. But it’s also a journey that takes Jesus into deeper and deeper into conflict with the religious and political powers of his day. The passage that we had read to us today is one of those passages.  While it may seem easy to follow Jesus during times of plain sailing and ease, it is a real challenge to keep on following Jesus when we find ourselves challenged and in conflict situations. Maybe that is also when People need to see the difference that being a follower of Jesus makes in our lives.

Jesus conflict here starts with him preforming a miracle. He heals a man who had been mute, an affliction that we are told had a demonic cause. The focus of the passage is on how People are reacting to Jesus. We have two reaction recorded, the first is that there is a group of people who think they know what is really going on behind the scenes and they accuse Jesus of being able to deal with such situations by the power of the prince of demons. They are calling Jesus acts of kindness evil in origin. He is being misrepresented and misunderstood, a common cause of conflict. The other reaction is that people haven’t made their mind up about Jesus and they are looking for another sign, something spectacular. Jesus we want some good special effects. They want Jesus to conform to their expectations of what the Messiah is going to be like. And trying to live up to others people expectations is another common cause of conflict in life.

How does Jesus deal with this situation? The first thing that Jesus does is that he addresses the Issue not the people involved. It does not become personal. He deals with the untruth, he deals with it on a logical level. He tells the people that any kingdom divided against itself will fall. It just does not make sense for people to be set free and healed by the same power that wants to hold them captive and destroy them . In Jewish religion exorcism was not unique to Jesus. The Jews had people who would deal with spiritual issues, and Jesus asks if he is doing it by evil powers what about these guys? He goes on to say that if he is doing these things by God’s power then they need to be careful  and think about what they are saying. 

He then gets to the important issue.  He puts his ministry and life in the context of the very spiritual battle they are talking about, and says he comes with a power stronger than Satan,  the power of God, able to overpower him and set what he has made captive free.  We often think that Jesus teaching here about a demon being evicted from its home and then coming back and seeing it all put in order and bringing seven worse demons back is about an individual’s life but it’s not in Matthews account of this passage Jesus finishes his words by saying ‘it will be like this for this wicked generation’. Jesus is talking about the nation of Israel, that in their history they have had times of great reform and times when they have been bought back to know God, and yet unless that relationship with God was made strong and took central place, worse things would happen. If you read through the history books of the Old Testament you’ll see that cycle, revival, moving away from God, slipping into worse and worse evil until the exile happens.  This is a warning from Jesus that the people don’t want to miss this opportunity to know God’s grace and salvation.  He gets to the heart of the situation; in Jesus God has come near and they have a chance to be reconciled with God…If they will respond.  

 It’s interesting in the passage that Jesus deals with praise in the same way he deals with conflict. A woman in the crowd cries out ‘blessed is the mother who gave birth to you!’ and while Luke’s gospel starts out with Elizabeth telling Mary she is most blessed amongst women, and Mary says that all generations will call her blessed, here Jesus seems aware that this praise and compliment is also off target and draws people back to the central issue once again ‘rather blessed are those who hear the Word of God and obey it’.

That leads Jesus to respond to those who want Jesus to fulfil their expectations of what the messiah will be like, who want signs in the heavens. He is sure of his own call and mission so he tells those people that the only sign he will give them is the sign of Jonah. You remember Jonah in the Old Testament was the prophet who was in the stomach of a fish for three days and then was spewed up on dry land. But Jonah was also one who preached for people to repent and turn to God and if you read the story about him that is what people did. So Jesus is saying the only sign he will offer them is that offering of reconciliation with God. He also challenges them about their attitude, by saying pointing to the queen of Sheba who had come to listen to Solomon’s wisdom and the people of Niniva who had heard Jonah’s message, but one greater was in their midst. In this case their expectations were stopping them from seeing the truth about Jesus Christ. Jesus focus is on th important issue peoples relationship with God. Instead of other people’s expectations it is on the common good.

So what does all this have to say to us about dealing with conflict?

I think the first thing is that truth matters. It’s interesting in this passage the people who accused Jesus of doing things in the name of Beealzebub, kind of a Knick name for the devil, didn’t know what was going on, they hadn’t looked deeply enough into it. Maybe their own preconceived ideas were blinding them. But the passage says that “Jesus knew their thoughts” it’s easy to jump to conclusions and we need to be willing to seek and find the truth of a situation, as that is the way through conflict.

Secondly as I said before we need to able to differentiate between the person and the issue. We are called to love one another even to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us and bless those who curse us. But it does not mean we always agree with each other and we get it wrong and hurt each other and we need to deal with that. Jesus here was able to deal with some real slights on his ministry and personhood, and in his replies we see the offer of grace and the opening of reconciliation, without compromise of the truth. It involves being willing to listen and to understand the other persons position.  Jesus is the ultimate example, as t says in the romans 8:5 while we were still rebelling against God Jesus died for us.”:  For our salvation and healing.

How do we deal with all the emotions that are caught up in that conflict in people misunderstanding or misrepresenting us?  I think that is a good question. I wonder if part of the solution to that isn’t why the Psalms ae not full of People being angry about such things in their prayers to God. Is that that is a good place to bring those emotions and hurts and pain, bring them to the one who can heal and restore who understands us and knows the real truth about us. lets not use them as an excuse to hurl hurt on others.  It does not help when those things are a barrier to dealing with the problem or cause of the conflict either. In the marriage course Nicky and Sila Lee talk about in a marriage that the way to deal with problems and conflicts is to sit on the couch together with the problem on the table in front of you, rather than between you on the couch. Forgiveness and healing may come as the truth and the way forward is looked for.

One of the things I’ve found most helpful in learning to deal with conflict  was knowing my instinctive default setting when facing conflict, what people call your conflict management style.  I mentioned mine before and part of wanting to act in conflict situations in a way that glorifies Jesus and shows his love to other people, I’ve had to realise that I do that… I’ll try and duck it avoidance… or I’ll try and win the fight… and I have had to stop and ask myself if that is the right style, the right way forward in this situation.. The Mennonite church has a useful resource to help look at conflict management styles and your default style. I use as part of my premarraige counselling and there are copies of it in the foyer for you to take home and do.

The final thing is in all this the hope is the same as Jesus hope in his response in this conflict situation that we might allow God’s truth and grace and freedom to come into the conflict situations we are in.  It’s in knowing Christ and allowing him to minister his peace and wholeness into our lives that we are able to grow into maturity and deal with conflict in a Christ-like manner.

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