by Rev. Doug Gray
In one Peanuts comic strip, Lucy demands that Linus change TV channels and threatens him with her fist if he doesn’t. “What makes you think you can walk right in here and take over?” asks Linus. “These five fingers,” says Lucy. “Individually they’re nothing but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold.” “Which channel do you want?” asks Linus. Turning away, he looks at his fingers and says, “Why can’t you guys get organized like that?” Anyone else remember having a conversation like this with one of your brothers or sisters when you were growing up? I think Lucy may have studied the Colin Powell Doctrine: If you’re going to do get into a conflict, her idea for settling conflict is to bring the overwhelming force. Jesus has other ideas, three simple steps to dealing with conflict that tries to keep, even heal a relationship.
Step 1: One on one.
The first step is perhaps the hardest: we have to tell the person who has hurt us what they have done. Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” If we are really hurt, we have to do this face-to-face. No emails. No phone calls. No texting. Face-to-face makes it clear that we value the person we are talking with. Jesus says, “go and show him his fault.” The courage and respect you show by non-threateningly sharing encourages the other person to do the same. Problem solved!
Step 2: Take a witness.
If your first conversation does not solve the problem, then try again, but with someone along. This witness is a safety for both sides of the argument. The witness helps both parties from going ballistic, and also ensures both sides are being heard. Again, there is respect and the hope that the matter can be resolved and the relationship healed.
Step 3: Tell it to the church.
Now the community is invited in to bring resolution. If the wrong-doer still will not repent (literally, “turn around”) then Jesus says they are to be treated “as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” I think many of us think of this step kind of like Lucy standing over Linus—the church using its authority to punish people by casting wrong-doers out of the church. But how did Jesus treat pagans and tax-collectors? He spent time with them, loved and respected them, and found that they had an easier time turning to God than the “holy rollers” of His day. They were his mission field, the lost sheep the Good Shepherd wanted to find. A wrong-doer who will not change, then, is no longer part of the church, but should still receive the same kind of grace Jesus showed the outsiders of His time.
Why is this so revolutionary? Why do these simple, common sense steps have such power? Why is this church the hope of the world?
Jesus said, “Wherever two or three gather in my name, there am I in the middle.”
Lucy doesn’t really care about what will happen to Linus and her relationship—she just wants to watch what she wants to on TV. For those of who follow Jesus, though, we don’t want to be either Lucy—who always wants her own way and is happy to threaten others to get. Nor do we want to be Linus—who just lets it happen. All too often, the church has settled for one of these, when we are called to be like Jesus.
And Jesus said, “Wherever two or three gather in my name, there am I in the middle.”
The world is ready to turn its back on those who wrong them, or to use community as a club, like Lucy’s five fingers making a “weapon terrible to behold.” Jesus is after extreme grace, grace so radical that the world can’t believe it’s eyes. Dr. Larry Crabb, one of the Spiritual Directors for American Association of Christian Counselors, 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.”
Jesus said, “Wherever two or three gather in my name, there am I in the middle.”
It’s part of the genius of Congregationalism, where people covenant with each other to walk and live and disagree and serve and dream with Jesus there in the middle. We are called as a community to rise up for Christ, and hold each other accountable. Why two or three? Because according to the Old and New Testament, you cannot convict someone unless you have two or three witnesses. Congregationalists gather with two or three (or more) because we are called to witness to the power of Jesus Christ in the middle.
So when we are wronged, and we go to that person, Jesus is there in the middle. The one who wronged the other and the one who was wronged are to look for Christ in their midst. Perhaps Jesus helps them to seek the other like a lost sheep, helps them to see the face of Christ on each other, to see with the eyes of compassion and hope.
Robert Baake tells a story that happened a little more than 30 years ago: a young man was studying to be a doctor in Cairo. The craziness of his residency in a downtown hospital was made harder when his father was murdered. Though everyone knew who had done it, the police could not find enough evidence to arrest the man. One day this young resident was working in the ER when he received word that the ambulance was bringing in a gunshot victim. When the gunshot victim came in on the gurney, the young doctor couldn’t believe his luck: there on the gurney was the man who had killed his father! Shaken, the young doctor ordered the necessary, preliminary work, and then he found a phone and called his mother. “Mom,” he said, “the guy who killed dad is in the other room. He’s been shot. All I have to do is take my time and he will die. What should I do?” She paused for a moment. Then she said clearly, “Jesus Christ was a healer. You are a healer. You must heal this man for Jesus.” The young doctor did just that. You can imagine the wounded man’s surprise when he came out of anesthesia to discover one of the people who most wanted him dead had saved his life. When the young doctor explained that this is what Jesus would have done, the murderer burst into tears, confessed his crime and begged for forgiveness. The young doctor surprised himself by giving it. Eventually the two men became friends. After a time, they concluded that God wanted them to do something for the poorest people in Cairo. They could think of no one poorer than those who work in the landfills of the city. Because the Jews and Muslims have taboos about dealing with the unclean, the vast majority of the 80,000 people who work amid the utter squalor of the dumps of Cairo are Christian. These two former enemies found a small building that was not being used and started a Bible study. Their first meeting had 11 people, including themselves. Fast forward twenty years. That Sunday school class now meets in a hollowed-out hall in one of the hillsides, enough to seat 5000 at a time. The point of this story is not how great the numbers are. No, the point of this story is that forgiveness and healing between two people was the seed God grew into a mighty fruit tree that not only transformed those two souls, but fed the bodies and souls of many people since. We who follow Jesus see conflict as an opportunity to see the face of Christ on each other, to help someone who has stumbled back into a right relationship with Jesus, and to make God’s Kingdom a little more real on earth as it is in heaven.
The world doesn’t need more of Lucy—plenty of bullies like to wield their power and authority like a club. Nor does it need more of Linus—plenty of people are weak, wishing they were strong just like Lucy, and when they get into power become bullies themselves. What the world desperately needs is for two or three to gather in Jesus’ Name, to find that Jesus has come into their disagreements and differences, that Jesus has come into their seeking a solution to a relationship problem, even between enemies. Too often the church has settled for nice, when the world needs Christ’s extreme grace. This is why this church is the hope of the world, because we are trying to live like Jesus did.
You see, every day and every moment, we are faced with the extreme grace of Jesus, who was willing to go to the cross to show us how loved we are, to model leadership that seeks the good of others even at the cost of their own life. Before we were good, before we were kind or nice, even while we were doing all the wrong things, Jesus died for us, to make a path of healing between us and God. So no matter how often you and I have messed up, if we want it, if we will turn and confess our faults, the way back is open to us. In the light of Jesus’ extreme grace and through our relationship with Him, we are called to show that same extreme grace, the mind-blowing grace of God that we can bring to bear on all our relationships. Have you been wronged? Follow the steps:
1. Go one-on-one. Go show him his faults in hope that things can be different.
2. Take a witness. Perhaps a neutral person can open the doors.
3. Take it to the church. Perhaps the wisdom of others can make a difference.
Whatever we do, let us do it with Jesus’ sacrificial love so that God can blow people’s minds with His extreme grace, change the world by that grace.