Conflict as prelude

August 8, 2011

For more commentary on this week's readings, see the Reflections on the Lectionary page, which
includes Ott's current Living by the Word column as well as past magazine
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Matthew invites us into a whole variety of experiences this
Sunday. Verses 10 through 20, considered optional, center around a conflict
about tradition and authority followed by a parable about the truth of the
actions of the heart. This is followed by healings and feedings. The next
chapter begins with more conflict.

In my experience, this Sunday's texts and those that
surround them are the life of ministry. Acts 2:44-47, in which "all who
believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their
goods and distribute proceeds to all," reflects a sensibility that is fleeting
at best. It is often misleading to people who are just beginning to get
involved in congregational life.

Family systems specialist Roberta Gilbert writes that one of
the ways to think about tense or intense relationships is to maintain
connections and relate one to one. Her description of developing maturity in
relationships is seeking something that is "open, equal and separate." Our
commitment to communities of faith challenges us to think about how we might do
that with those with whom we share our worship and ministry life.

Conflict is a way of making connections with others. I think
it's an ingenious one. It both connects and distances all at the same time. It
works this way in marriages as well as congregational leadership.

Students often approach me with their fears about dealing
with conflict and the fact that they feel ill equipped. I do too. I have to
remind myself that the key to conflict is to stay with it--to be curious about
it, to stay thoughtful and try not to absorb the intensity.

In Matthew, stories of conflict surround something new
emerging for the church. It is a prelude to resurrection. We often avoid or
deny conflict, resulting in more pain. How do we keep the resurrection in view
as we stay engaged, think through a response and offer respect in the process?

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