First Mennonite Church
August 2, 2015
Journey Through Conflict: Betrayal
Texts: Psalm 55; Ezekiel 3:16-21
Last Sunday we read Matthew 18: 15-20, but did not go over the steps for conflict resolution Jesus gives there. Still yet, we will make a detour today again. We will go over those steps for conflict resolution next Sunday. As for today, I would like us to go to some passages in the book of Psalm where the psalmist seems to express anger or the desire for God’s judgment to come over those he considers his enemy. What these Psalms express seem to go against what Jesus teaches about forgiveness or love for the enemy. So what do we do with them? How should we understand them? Being that we are studying the topic of conflict, it should be of our best interest to consider them, at least briefly.
1Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me. 4 May those who seek my life be disgraced and put to shame; may those who plot my ruin be turned back in dismay. 5 May they be like chaff before the wind… 6 may their path be dark and slippery,… 8 may ruin overtake them by surprise— may the net they hid entangle them, may they fall into the pit, to their ruin.
1 My God, whom I praise, do not remain silent, 2 for people who are wicked and deceitful have opened their mouths against me; they have spoken against me with lying tongues. 3 With words of hatred they surround me; they attack me without cause. 4 In return for my friendship they accuse me, but I am a man of prayer. 5 They repay me evil for good, and hatred for my friendship.
6 Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy; let an accuser stand at his right hand. 7 When he is tried, let him be found guilty, and may his prayers condemn him. 8 May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership. 9 May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. 10 May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes. 11 May a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor. 12 May no one extend kindness to him or take pity on his fatherless children. 13 May his descendants be cut off, their names blotted out from the next generation. 14 May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord; may the sin of his mother never be blotted out. 15 May their sins always remain before the Lord, that he may blot out their name from the earth.
20 May this be the Lord’s payment to my accusers, to those who speak evil of me.
In these two Psalm the writers cries out to God because of conflict. They were experiencing pain and suffering from someone who hated their lives. Even when these Psalms are prayers offered to God, they do not seem “Christianly” from our Christian point of view. The words they prayed do express rage, ill-will, and plea for judgment. The prayers in these Psalm express desperation before God at the torment the psalmist was enduring. Although, “unchristian” as they sound, these are honest prayers from the heart of a “man of prayer” (verse 4). But what about a Psalm where it is not an enemy the one who is causing pain and suffering? In Psalm 55 we find the words of someone who has experienced betrayal from a close friend.
1 Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; 2 hear me and answer me. My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught 3 because of what my enemy is saying, because of the threats of the wicked; for they bring down suffering on me and assail me in their anger.
12 If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide. 13 But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, 14 with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked about among the worshipers.
15 Let death take my enemies by surprise; let them go down alive to the realm of the dead, for evil finds lodging among them.
20 My companion attacks his friends; he violates his covenant. 21 His talk is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart; his words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords.
23 But you, God, will bring down the wicked into the pit of decay; the bloodthirsty and deceitful will not live out half their days.
But as for me, I trust in you.
This Psalm is the heart-cry of someone who has been betrayed. The first thing betrayal does is that it destroys trust between the parties in conflict. The greater the trust given to a person the greater the sense of betrayal is felt. Betrayal causes grief, pain, rage, and above all, distrust. In the case of Psalm 55, the “betrayer” was not a casual acquaintance to the psalmist. It was in fact a close fellow worshiper with whom the psalmist had enjoyed sweet companionship. These two friends in bitter conflict describes what happens sometimes among church people. Before the conflict erupted, these close friends had worked, ate, served, shared, and worshipped together in sweet company. Before the conflict came by, these two church members sang in the choir, or served in the church board, did outreach together, and loved each other. We know so well that it hurts even more when close friends offends or rejects our company. It hurts more when a member in the family treats us wrong that if the hurt were to come from someone we meet on the street.
Once I told you about what happened to me one day. As I left the church office to go and have lunch at home, I saw a stalled car in the middle of the street in front of my house. Two ladies came out of the car and started pushing the car off the road. So, I started to head that way to help them push the car. One of the two women turned around and saw me coming and she stepped forward and yelled at me saying, “Go away! I do not need your help. Go away!” As I turned around to go, another driver came by but could not because of the stalled car. He came out of his truck and helped the ladies push the car off the road so he could pass. My help or I was rejected.
I have a dear friend with whom I travelled to various parts in Central America and even other parts of the world. We worked together, prayed together, studied together and visited each other. After he got into some moral problems he withdrew from our circle. Communication between this friend and me was always candid and open. But about four Christmases ago, I received one his Christmas reflection as usual. And according to our habit, I wrote a lengthy email appreciating his words. This time his reply was simply “OK.” That was the last communication. All other attempts to open communication has not worked.
It is easier to brush off rejection from someone we do not know or from someone we know who does not agree with us. And the psalmist knew that so well. He expressed his readiness to get over the offense and betrayal had the offense were from an enemy or opponent of some kind. Verse 12 reads: If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide. Unfortunately the psalmist could not get rid or hide from the one he had trouble with. They had to meet in the sanctuary of God. When the psalmist came together to worship, there he was. Yet, their communion was broken. The trust between them had been shattered. The families and close friends of each of them knew of what was going on and remained apart from each other.
Let me say something about family churches. Family churches are churches where the majority, if not all, of its members at interconnected by family relationship. First Mennonite Church has been a family church for much of its 100 plus years. I know that you are fully aware of that. It still is a family church, although not as it used to be. You now have some “intruders,” including myself! There are some advantages to being a family church. Family churches enjoy intimate fellowship; and because everyone knows the leadership structure, everyone works coordinately, that is, every member knows what his or her role is. Everyone knows his or her place within the group and everyone is careful not to overstep his or her boundary. But one major disadvantage family churches have, besides being too internally focused, is the stress these experience when conflict arise. When conflict arises in family churches the aftermath can be devastating. The close-knit character of the church can become its greatest obstacle to overcome when dealing with conflict. Being that the congregation is made up of interconnected families, the pain, hurt, and division brought about by the conflict result too hard to overcome or to heal. And the division, hurt, and pain are sometimes recycled and passed down to the next generations within those families. Sometimes, the lingering fear to be hurt again and the distrust brought about by past conflicts makes it impossible to connect deeply in fellowship and much less spiritually. The church suffers from superfluous relationship long after the initial conflict. The church members relate with each other at a very basic level. Real heart to heart relationships, genuine spiritual connections within the church are seldom experienced, if at all, and tension and contention arise at the minimum hints of disagreement.
Let us consider two important lessons we can learn from these Psalms. First, we have to acknowledge that it does not matter how spiritual a person can be, no matter how patient a person can be, or it does not matter how close a person can be to another, whatever the cause for conflict, whether it is betrayal, hurtful words, gossip, inconsideration, putdowns, or any form of interpersonal injury, interpersonal conflict deeply affects our emotions. Conflict hurts. Offenses are like deep cuts that even when these are healed the scars remain. This brings to the fore the question we posed at the beginning of this series: Can we forgive and forget the offense? If you take a look at your hand or anywhere in your body where you have a scar, you can remember what happened there that left you the scar. I have a scar here in my pinky finger. I know what happened, where, how it happened and everything I went through because of it. Does it still hurt? No? But can I forget it? No! It will be sad when I cannot remember the things that have happened to me. I no longer have the pain there was when I got hurt, because it has healed. Healing is possible for our emotional injuries, but only when the offense has been dealt with. Dealing with the conflict by asking for forgiveness or offering forgiveness is how emotional injuries begin to heal. It is until we are forgiven or we have forgiven others that healing begins to take place. Otherwise, the injury is only covered with a bandage. Niceness and keeping a distance are some of those bandages used to cover up bleeding injuries. Underneath a smile is the attempt to cover an open and bleeding injury.
Dear church, there might be injuries that are and have been bleeding for a long time among ourselves if those injuries have not been addressed. Just as it is with our body, if an injury is left unattended for a long time, infection can grow in it and the wound can become more difficult not only to heal but to dress or address. It takes God’s grace of humility to address past open injuries among the fellowship. However, healing is necessary. If someone does not get help for injuries on time or at all, the result is likely to be fatal.
The second lesson we can learn is the psalmist attitude towards conflict. He went to God in prayer about his troubles. The Psalm begins with four petitions:
Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea;
hear me and
The words of the Apostle Peter where he urges the believers to “cast their burden on Jesus because he cares” (1Pt. 5:7) are taken from Psalm 55, verse 22. It is not uncommon to take this verse in Peter to pray about our material needs, yet the original context is one in which the Psalmist was dealing with betrayal from a close friend.
Today, as we close in prayer, pray with the Psalmist about any past injury that has not been addressed. Cast that burden, anxiety, anger, pain, and fear which the unaddressed offense is causing you. First release it before God’s throne of grace. Forgive the offender. Overcome your pride that gets between what you know is the right way to address the conflict. Let the healing of God’s Spirit to come in your heart. Let the Spirit’s oil or balm to soften and heal any unhealed scars or open wounds in your heart.
Psalm 55, verse 22 reads:
Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.
Righteousness is to do what is right. And God’s promise is that those who do righteousness— God will never let the righteous to be shaken. On the contrary, God will make you stronger, firmly standing in the righteousness of Jesus his Son. Amen!