An Open Table where Love knows no borders

Fighting Right

A sermon on 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 & Matthew 5:21-37 by Nathan Nettleton

It’s often said that one of the main reasons that the churches are failing is because there are so many disagreements and divisions among them. Well maybe there’s some truth in that, but I suspect that we’d be better off having more good fights in the church. I reckon most of our attempts to smooth everything over actually undermine what God is trying to do in us.

Now that may seem a strange thing to say in light of the scriptures we’ve heard read today. We’ve heard Jesus say that “if you are angry with a brother or sister you will be liable to judgment.” And we’ve heard the Apostle Paul say, “I can’t speak to you as people of the Spirit, because when there is jealously among you and you quarrel with one another, it’s clear that you are still living by the standards this world.” In fact he says we’re like babies in the faith and he can only feed us spiritual milk, not solid foods.

Now I’m not disputing any of that. The presence of jealousies, arguments and divisions among us is certainly evidence that we are a long way short of the goal of wholeness and maturity to which Christ calls us. It’s just that we don’t progress on the journey by pretending we’re further down the track than we really are. Sweeping things under the carpet is not evidence of spiritual maturity. It’s evidence that not only do we have disagreements but that we’re too gutless to face them, too timid to use the disagreement as a stepping stone to greater understanding and greater depth of community and love. If we pretend everything’s nice and we’re all of one mind on everything, we’re just adding to the sins of division the sin of dishonesty.

God is not interested in us pretending to be Christlike – God wants us to become Christlike. That’s a long process and God knows we’re still closer to the start than we are to the goal. The unity and peace that God is wanting to form among us comes from having the mind of Christ formed in us, not from avoiding anything that might lead us to disagree with one another. When we just avoid things, what happens is, at best, that we just get more and more wishy washy. At worst, jealousy, resentment and bitterness fester under the surface poisoning us from within and most likely eventually erupting in uncontrollable, destructive rage.

Christ calls us to live in unity, to live in community with one another. But he doesn’t call us to it because he thinks we’re ready to live it without trouble. Living in community with real human beings is no picnic. The closer we draw to one another and the more we invest in our relationships the higher the stakes and the more things we will run up against that will need to be sorted out. And that’s often painful. Ask any married couple – if the relationship didn’t matter and if they decided not to live together they probably wouldn’t fight at all. Living in union with one other person is hard enough. Try to form meaningful covenant relationships with a whole group of people and you’ll run smack bang into all sorts of touchy issues, tension points and unresolved conflicts. Like I said, it’s no picnic.

But despite our aversion to such things, this is actually good news. Why? Because these struggles in community are the raw materials for God’s reconstruction of us. If you chuck half a dozen rough jagged edged rocks into a concrete mixer and let them fly around smashing into each other for long enough, you’ll end up with six much rounder smoother rocks. We usually manage to hide our nasty edges from ourselves, but when we try to live in close relationships with others we’re forced to face up to them pretty quickly.

The only way we can avoid fights is to keep everything superficial, to avoid any depth or intimacy. But there’s no stepping stones towards Christlikeness in superficiality. God calls us into Christian community because it is only within such covenant relationships that we can risk the depth and vulnerability needed to learn to love one another. It is only when we commit ourselves to facing up to our differences and working through them to new places of mutual respect and unity that we will mature sufficiently to be ready for the solid food that Paul speaks of. And let’s face it, as Jesus made so clear in today’s gospel reading, hiding anger in the recesses of your heart is no more virtuous than blowing your fuse in public, so we might as well be honest and get it out where God can use it to draw us deeper into the mystery of new life and new love in the Holy Spirit.


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