Glorify God
Matthew 5:4,9

Today we begin a four week series on peacemaking principles.  The first in the series is titled Glorify God.  In other words, thinking about how you might be able to glorify God as a response to a particular conflict.  We have a two-fold focus today though, given that we are celebrating All Saints Day and we are thanking and praising God for the lives of all those who have gone before and are now a part of the multitude gathered around the throne of Christ.  How can we bring these two themes together?

I’m going to play you a new song that was released just over a week ago by country music artist Tim McGraw on his new album Southern Voice; the song is titled Love You Goodbye.  It journeys through the life of a boy whose family had some issues, it speaks of reconciliation and death. 

I think this song beautifully illustrates how we can glorify God when we seek ways to reconcile following conflicts, whatever the cause or whoever is involved.  In the second to last verse the Father gives glory to God, “Boy Jesus took my sins and I pray someday maybe you’ll forgive me too.”  I know if you are reading this on the internet you probably won’t be able to hear the full song, but might be able to listen on You Tube.  One thing that really struck me about this song was that the mother died without apparently being reconciled to her husband.

It has always been one of my biggest fears that people might realise too late that they could or should have reconciled their differences with one another.  Yes there are times when people don’t even attend funerals of family members or former friends because of “irreconcilable differences”, I’m sure many of you have seen this take place.

I often compare that to the joy that the father of the prodigal son expresses when his son returns, he doesn’t judge, he rejoices and kills the fatted calf.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could all be like that!

Conflict resolution is one of those terms that seem to be in fashion at the moment.  As I was refreshing my memory on what we were taught in our Peacemakers course I recalled a Ted Kober describing the difference between reconciliation and conflict resolution.  I checked again in his book Confession and Forgiveness to clarify, he says, “Divorce resolves conflict, but it fails to bring reconciliation…A congregational president and his wife transfer their memberships to a neighbouring church to remove themselves from the fray.  Both congregation and couple believe that this resolves the problem but reconciliation never takes place.” 

 Conflict resolution can actually bring about separation of people and relationships, but reconciliation puts Christ and the forgiveness he has given us at the centre of the conflict in order to bring about true peace between those involved.  Rather than flight, that is, running away from a conflict, to attempt reconciliation is to trust God rather than ourselves, to keep his commands rather than obey our desires and to imitate Christ rather than other people.  That’s the first opportunity in conflict, to trust God.  I bet you’ve never seen conflict as an opportunity have you?
There are two more opportunities, the next being to serve others, we read in Galatians 6, “Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”  Rather than going through conflict alone, you can share burdens with others.
The third opportunity is to grow to be more like Christ, as we read in Romans 8 “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.”  In all things, that includes conflict people!
Most of us in the church would rather avoid it though.  But when we avoid conflict, turn and run the other way, we are actually doing ourselves and our neighbours a disservice.  I am a classic avoider, I would rather run five kilometers in the opposite direction than have a direct conflict, but I am slowly learning that it is better to deal with it than to avoid it, because funnily enough, it won’t just go away, as much as we would like it to.  It is far better to respond as a peacemaker.
There are three biblical ways to reconcile conflicts between you and another person, it could be that we need to overlook an offence, “Those with good sense are slow to anger, and it is their glory to overlook an offence” from Proverbs 19.   If an offence is too serious to overlook, then we should seek to resolve things through confession, loving correction and forgiveness.  The third is through negotiation.  Even if we have sorted out personal issues there might still need to be some form of settlement if money, goods or property are involved at the centre of a conflict.
Where a conflict can’t be sorted out between the two people God calls us to seek the help of other Christians to set things straight.  Once again there are three forms of doing this.  The first is mediation, that is, to take another person along, to support, give advice and guide.  Next is arbitration, when you can’t sort it out between you and need to get a judge to sit and sort them out for you.  Most people would rather never get to this stage!  The third and by far most embarrassing, “If the member refuses to listen, tell it to the church.”  Apparently this used to happen not so many years ago quite a bit, but has fallen out of favour.  It’s at the far end of the spectrum and if the other methods listed above are followed, it shouldn’t have to come to that.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is central to peacemaking, “A true peacemaker is guided, motivated, and empowered by the gospel, the good news that God has forgiven all our sins and made peace with us through the death and resurrection of his Son.”  Each Sunday when we gather together we communally confess our sins and then hear the pastor proclaim these words, “As a called and ordained servant of the Word I announce the grace of God to all of you.  On behalf of my Lord, Jesus Christ and by his command, I forgive the sins of all of you who repent and believe, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Peace be with you.  These words enact the forgiveness of sins, given to you by Christ through his death and resurrection.  It puts Christ firmly at the centre of our lives, our forgiveness and in reconciliation with others.
So guided by our illustrative song, as we give thanks to God for the lives of friends and loved ones, Christ has forgiven us, so we should also forgive others, restore them to a right relationship with us and with our loving and gracious God and in doing so, give him the glory for the great and marvelous things he has done.
Amen.