Sermon from 6.19.11 “Roundabout Peace”

2 Corinthians 13.11-13

11 Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.
13 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

It deserves to be said that today’s message will be very personal for both you and me. Without naming names, I will be talking about all of us at one point or another. Sometimes I will be talking about someone else when I am talking about you. Other times–and this is important for all of us to hear–I will be talking about you when you think I am talking about someone else. With that being the case, I encourage those who have ears to listen.
Unfortunately, the last couple of months have been wrought with conflict here at the Kewanna United Methodist Church. There have been rumors circulating. There has been salacious gossip spread about one another. There have been personal attacks waged against many people. Some has been directed at me, some has been directed at others. It is dysfunctional and possibly deathly destructive if it is not brought under control.
As if I am telling you something you don’t already know, this sort of thing happens in communities of faith. Why? Churches are filled with opinionated, deeply caring, thoughtful and sometimes overly sensitive human beings. Church gatherings can be like any extended family mustered together for the holidays; it can be a messy mixture of joy, jealousy, creativity and chaos. People hurt each other, sometimes intentionally, but often they don’t realize the pain they cause. So, is Why? the proper question? The more appropriate question would seem to be “How do we deal with it when it happens?”
Talking about conflict in the church seems to be very much like talking about traffic congestion and problems at intersections. When we are on the road, we typically have a goal or destination in mind. The only problem is that there are others on the road with which we must compete to get there. That’s why we will gauge how long the light has been yellow and attempt to speed through to the other side. That’s why we inch out into the intersection in an attempt to find the exact right time to step on the gas. This sort of thinking leads to accidents and fatalities on the roads. How many of you have every been there, or know anyone who has?
Our friends in Europe have studied the problem and have come up with a solution which is finding an ever-increasing home here in the States. Roundabouts–or rotaries here in America.
If you have ever seen or driven in a roundabout, you may have varying opinions about this particular traffic solution. Some think they are confusing. Others think they cause more problems than they could ever prevent. This is not the case.
Studies of areas that have constructed these things have discovered a drastic decline in accidents and fatalities from those accidents. These numbers are lower because when accidents do occur, the cars involved are moving at a slower pace. Also, you are removing the desire to beat a traffic light by forcing people to work with other motorists, rather than against them.
Some people like them, and others don’t. At any given time in the life of a church, some people like what is happening and others don’t. The difference between traffic roundabouts and the community of faith is that the disagreeing parties cannot avoid each other. They are inextricably linked by their common interests and beliefs. Their desires to live faithfully unite them as Christians, but their ideas differ greatly enough to cause conflict. This conflict can be harsh, nasty, personal and damaging.
When this conflict happens, we often look for someone to pin it on. Far too often, that someone is the other person. There may certainly be blame to pass around for whatever situation you are in. Paul, in his letters to the church at Corinth, addresses these conflicts–and has some advice which can be difficult for us to follow.
Paul has spent the better part of two letters to this church dealing with the conflict which ran rampant. This church was particularly mired in conflict of all kinds. The food they ate. The divisions they made amongst themselves. Whether or not speaking in tongues was a valid thing. Whether or not men or women should wear coverings on their head. The list goes on.
In the verses prior to this morning’s passage, Paul talks about not wanting to have to deal with these things when he returns on his third trip. He says, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith.” He goes on to say that he would prefer not to have to deal with these internal conflicts and sins as he has the power to do.
I have a theory about his desire to not have to deal with this conflict. It got in the way of the gospel. Paul was traveling around the Mediterranean in service to God and for the sake of the gospel. His time was better served preaching and teaching–not mediating. There is a time and place for the resolution of these conflicts–his letters were how he chose to address them. There is certainly a time and reason for us today to get our stuff worked out.
The reason is that there is a world out there which needs to hear the gospel. There is a world out there that needs to hear of the unconditional love of god. There is a world out there that needs to hear of the hope they can only find in a life as a disciple of Christ.
So, Paul tells the church “farewell.” He urges them to “put things in order.” “Agree with one another.” “Live in peace.” “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” I said this was difficult advice Paul was giving. I want you to picture someone with whom you have had a disagreement recently. Better yet, think of someone who you just don’t like. Or think of someone who has hurt you.
Now, think of Paul’s words. Let’s go further and consider Jesus’ words for people who have been injured or wronged by others. “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.” (Luke 6.29) Paul also encourages us to not let the sun go down on our anger. (Ephesians 4.26) These are very important things for us to consider.
Christians are just not allowed to act any way we want. We can’t lash out or harbor anger. We are to love our enemies. It is easy to talk the Christian game, but much more difficult to live it. When we refuse to live it to the fullest extent of our abilities, we do a grave disservice to the gospel. This is the big problem we run into when we let out disagreements and petty personal preferences become huge problems within the life of the church. Church isn’t about “me” but “we.” That’s not some cheap saying, it’s the church.
We know when we are living according to the words of Jesus or Paul when relative peace exists in the pews. When the love of God rules in your life–as Paul says–peace will be the fruit. When this is not the case, the church is diseased–and we need to find a cure. To not find a cure is to create a stumbling block before the world–the world which we should be concerned with reaching.
The unconditional love of God should be the Christian’s main interest and area of expertise. This means we should understand we are recipients of it. It also means we should understand we are to be purveyors of it. It is the church’s stock and trade. When we cannot love and forgive each other, what is the person on the street supposed to think? The world sees plenty of crap as it is. When the church and its people are engaging in it, why should they even bother?
Bob Clyde reminded me of a great song this week. He calls it his “conflict song.” If he is out on business with the fire department and comes up against someone who is looking to cause problems, he sings it to himself. He remembers it anytime he is in a conflict. It’s a great song by Dave Mason. The words go like this:

There ain’t no good guys
There ain’t no bad guys
There’s only you and me and we just disagree

When we fight amongst ourselves, these lyrics just about sum everything up. In Christian terms, Mr. Mason is exactly right. If we believe we are the good guys, we are wrong. We might be right, but the attitude which allows us to claim some sort of superiority is wrong. If we believe the other person is the bad guy, we are wrong.
We need to understand that we all are just sinners attempting to allow the grace of God to transform us into the people he desires us to be. Our attempts to fight amongst ourselves while claiming some sort of superiority over the other party are useless–and wrong.

There ain’t no good guys
There ain’t no bad guys
There’s only you and me and we just disagree

Paul is pointing out to us the importance of working together for the same goal. The roundabout analogy helps us to imagine how this actually happens. You can’t attempt to run through the traffic or the traffic light in a roundabout. If you do, you hurt yourself and many others around you. The roundabout forces you to slow down, consider the traffic around you, and proceed as if there are others around you.
Paul is speaking of peace–a peace which is crucial to the life of the church.
Peace forces you to slow down. When we let ourselves get emotional and heated, we tend to go full speed into the situation which has gotten us so hot. If you do that in a roundabout, people will get hurt. When you do that in the church, people will get hurt.
Peace requires us to consider the traffic around us. When we fail to consider others around us, we just plain fail. When we fail to consider others around us, we just plow right over them. This failure denies the sacred worth of those around us. There is no peace when we deny the power of God in those around us.
Peace asks us proceed as if there others around us. This is different from the last one. We can know there are others around us, but to act like there is is a whole other animal. If we have an issue, idea or problem, it can be so easy to grab ahold of it and ride. However, especially in the life of the church, there are others who have ideas and issues they feel just as strongly about as you do. Peace requires that we don’t plow over the crowd in order to get our way. The person we are attempting to roll over has a family who hangs their picture on their wall. They are creatures of sacred worth.

There ain’t no good guys
There ain’t no bad guys
There’s only you and me and we just disagree

Paul knows that if the Corinthians follow his advice, they will live in peace. He will get fewer letters of complaint. He will have fewer fires to put out. Finally–and most importantly–the people can get back to the business of building and being disciples. Isn’t that why we are here?
Monument Circle is a roundabout in Indianapolis. You’ve probably seen pictures or been there yourself. It is a roadway that works very well. The better part is that, at the center, there is a beautiful monument. This is not uncommon in roundabouts. There aren’t necessarily monuments at the center. Much of the time, roundabouts are beautifully landscaped–giving drivers something beautiful to look at on their commute.
Peace in the life of the church requires some work, but the results can also be beautiful. It takes work. It is never easy, but we are never alone in the endeavor. As Paul says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”
How beautiful is that?

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