First Mennonite Church
June 21, 2015
The Journey From Conflict to Forgiveness II
Text: Genesis 3:1-19; Matthew 5: 21-26
Let us remember the main points of last Sunday’s discussion. Last Sunday we saw several points in relationship to the origin of conflict. First and foremost, we saw that God created diversity in all his works of creation. We also saw that when God created humans he created them in his image and likeness, which means that humans were endowed with freedom to think and to choose, the capacity to co-create and care for the world God gave them as home. We also acknowledged that in the words of Elohim, “Let us create humanity in our image and likeness, God revealed the harmony and equal mutuality there is in the Divine Court. This harmony and equality within the Divine assembly implies that God also imprinted this quality in the man and woman he created. We can therefore say that in the beginning when God created humans he gave them the capacity to love, live in harmony, mutual respect and equality. No one was above the other.
Chapter 3 of Genesis tells us what Adam and Eve did after they had been endowed with freedom to choose and think for themselves. We read the process of deception Eve went through before she disobeyed God. Verse 6 reads: So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.
In this one verse lays the biblical foundation for the rise of conflict. Conflict arises from a desire for something. In the case of Adam and Eve, it was their desire for something forbidden. It was for a desire to become wise. It was for a desire to be like God as the serpent told Eve. The choice Adam and Eve made set in motion a cosmic conflict. The result of this action brought about a division between God and his creatures, conflict between Adam and Eve, and a thorough disruption of God’s beautiful and orderly creation.
The harmony between God and Adam and Eve was broken. The man and his wife felt shame when they realized they were naked. They hid from God. The harmony between Adam and Eve was shattered. When both of them were confronted by God, the blame-game began. Adam blamed God for the woman God had given him. Eve blamed the serpent for deceiving her.
The harmony there was in creation was also broken. In Genesis 1, verse 28, God blessed the man and then commissioned him to subdue the earth. Last Sunday, I said that the meaning of the Hebrew word “Kabas” translated “subdue” means to cultivate and to bring about the utmost beauty out of the earth. In chapter 3, verse 17, when God pronounced his sentence over Adam and the work he was supposed to do to make a living, the word used there for “toiling” the land is “itzabon.” “Itzabon” means sorrow, pain, hardship, or grief. It mean that from there on, producing a livelihood will demand hard work. But the greatest disruption of all was the relationship between the human race and God. God ushered the man and his wife out of the Garden of Eden. The communion and relationship there was before the “fall” was disrupted.
Once more, conflict is defined as a serious disagreement, a clash, or incompatibility of opinions or principles. And so, what the first few chapters of Genesis tell us is not only about the beginning of the world and life. They also tell us of the beginning of human conflict. The goodness God saw in the world he created, the harmony and edenic quality there were between God and his crown creatures, and among all of the rest of creation, were all interrupted, if not lost. Yet, regardless of the outcome, God would not have created the first human beings to act like robots. God would not have created Adam and Eve preprogramed to follow commands. Ingrained in that image and likeness of God was their ability to freely make decisions on their own. Embedded in that freedom was the ability to follow even their selfish desires. Therefore, what all this means is that we humans can use our God-given freedom for the wrong purposes. And entering in conflict can be one of those situation our freedom can create. Let me use the illustration John Paul Lederach uses to make this point:
Ants live in large colonies. Humans live in families, neighborhoods, and cities. What differences are there between ants and humans?
What things in common are there between these two?
Do you know that ants never fight among themselves? Instinct? Built-in social skills? Pre-programmed life activities?
Today’s New Testament reading are the words of Jesus regarding anger. Let me read once more Matthew 5:21-22 from the Message Bible:
“You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.
The stages of anger
Most usually, anger is what leads us to conflict with one another. But anger among married couples, close friends, family or the church does not happen out of the blue. There are various stages of emotional distress we go through.
First you get annoyed or frustrated over something. Let us say, someone does or says something you do not like but you bear it with patience. You know you want to maintain harmony and keep the good relationship you have with the other person. So, you brush away the hurtful word or act and continue on with the relationship. But then, the person says or does the same thing again and again. Your frustration turns to anger. From there on, anytime you are around that person your anxiety level rises. At this level of anxiety and tenseness, if the person either says or does the same thing or if the person seems unaware of his or her actions, rage or burst of anger engulfs you. You feel your face gets hot, your heartbeat gets faster, your muscles get tense, your mind loses its capacity to reason, and your lose control of your words.
My dear brothers and sisters, the words of Jesus reveal the seed from which murder germinates. Anger is the seed for murder. But murder according to Jesus words, never takes place by accident. It grows in the heart that allows the seed of anger to fully develop. Jesus did not want his disciples to have hearts where anger would find a fertile soil to grow in. Therefore, in his desire to weed out murder, Jesus tells us to weed out anger from our heart.
Let me just remind you of last Sundays event. A young man murdered 9 praying Christians. We can only wonder what was going on in the heart of this young man. Let us hear the words of Jesus regarding murder: “You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. The simple moral fact is that words kill.
May the Lord help us to rid from our heart anger, prejudice, and hatred. May the Lord guard our lips from using words that hurt and destroy. May the Lord plant and nourish in us seeds of love that celebrate and honor life and the image and likeness of God in others. Amen!
 John P. Lederach, Reconcile: Conflict Transformation for Ordinary Christians. Harrisonburg: Herald Press, 2014.