Herb Beyer

Rev. Herbert Beyer

As persons of faith, how are we going to deal with one another? As long as you have human beings, you’re going to have disagreements, misunderstandings and conflict. They happen with all sorts of people — a married couple, parent-child, among other family, between friends, in the work place, even a religious community. Some mistakenly believe that once a Christian, that all will be great. But we know the Church is composed of sinners, forgiven sinners. We all have frailties and failings. We are all a bit chipped, cracked, or broken. St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans, “We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” What is puzzling is that “imperfect people expect perfection out of other imperfect people.”

The challenge for believers is not to behave like the “world,” giving people Hell. Our task is to give a taste of Heaven — to love the way Jesus loves and to forgive the way Jesus forgives.

In the community of the Church, it’s not that we won’t have conflicts, we will. The big thing is how they are resolved. St. Paul, in Second Corinthians, lets us know, “We have this ministry of reconciliation.” As Church to each other, we have this ministry to help and heal broken relationships, the task and obligation to restore relationships in love.

Jesus makes it clear in the Gospel that it doesn’t matter if you are the offender or the offended. Both have mutual obligation to heal the relationship (read Matthew 5:23-24 and Matthew 18:15-20). This means taking steps laid out by Jesus and putting the Word into practice. Unfortunately, instead of going through a process shaped by the love and forgiveness of Jesus, folks may simply ignore you or “right you off” or walk away from an otherwise salvageable relationship.

There were these two women where there was an obvious conflict. One was more than willing to meet and to make amends wherever possible. She had no idea what she had done to anger the other woman. The other woman, when invited to meet, responded, “Pastor, if you bring that woman into my presence, I’ll walk out.” It appeared that she not only had a problem with the willing participant, but also with the Lord. She refused Jesus’ counsel. Sad. But it was a long-held pattern for the woman.

Another friend of mine shared how her husband dealt with conflict. It was pretty consistent — walk away. This was repeatedly sad. It happened in the community, and later in marriage. He wouldn’t communicate or commit to reflection and working things out. A happy and healthy marriage requires two committed spouses and God. A divorce takes only one person unwilling to change or work things out. This is so often a story for many couples, and friendships.

The good news is, there are people of faith who take these words of Jesus to heart. Not that it’s an easy process — reconciliation. But it is possible, and in fact broken relationships are healed. When people are willing to engage in civil conversation, hear one another out or find out the “whole story,” misunderstandings are often cleared up. And a relationship restored and even made stronger.

The Scriptures provide us some wonderful practical principles for daily living, for the care of our relationships — friendships, family, church, work and elsewhere. It is faith put into practice. When there is love within the heart, there is forgiveness.

Martin Luther might also add something to this topic with his interpretation of the commandment, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” I don’t know if it’s happened to you, but it did happen to me. A person wrongly quoted me and misrepresented the conversation. It’s like if you’re going to quote me, get it right. The fortunate thing was a third person was present, who heard the whole conversation, and who later called out the individual for their inappropriate behavior.

Luther states in his explanation to the commandment: “We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him (her), slander him (her), or hurt his (her) reputation, but defend him (her), speak well of him (her), and explain everything in the kindest way.” God’s good guidance, when followed, serves to protect our relationships. It is best to put the kindest of interpretations on a person’s words and actions, instead of the worst.

So in all those places and spaces where people come together, be sure to invite Christ to be present. Let us always be willing to help and heal those who hurt. And let us deal with one another — at home, work, community, church — with love and grace.

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The Rev. Herb Beyer is pastor of Tri-County Cooperative Ministries, ELCA.

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