Scripture Passage – Mark 14:43-51
Description – The first sermon of the 2011 Lenten Series
click here for audio file of this sermon delivered in the early service 031301sermon
The most significant feud in American history started because of an argument over ownership of a pig!
The feud so named being, of course, between the Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s. It would end with the deaths of two McCoy children and their mother in a massacre on New Year’s Night, 1888. Eventually seven Hatfield’s were given life sentences.
One of the things I discovered in my research of this feud is that there was conflict between the two families going back to the Civil War and that the pig incident took place in 1878, 13 years after the Civil War ended.
Now having lived for a while, I understand more and more the inner dynamics that create a explosive and often deadly environment in which a conflict escalates from “being a molehill into being a mountain.”
Can you think of a time when something insignificant became all blown out of proportion? A mountain out of a molehill experience?
What was the tipping point, the point of decision if you will, in which the disagreement escalated from being a molehill to being a mountain?
Who pushed it over the tipping point?
Once it became a major conflict, did anyone try to de-escalate the situation? If not, why not?
Escalation was part of our Savior’s arrest and crucifixion as we read in Mark’s gospel, chapter 14 and verses 43-52:
Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders.
Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. The men seized Jesus and arrested him. Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.
“Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” Then everyone deserted him and fled.
A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.
Today, there is no shortage of running away like the disciples and the young man did in our main text. In an article entitled “Running Away,” Fredrick Schmidt makes a very strong statement, in that running away from conflict and solving problems related to conflict is “at root a betrayal of responsibility, a problematic precedent, and a failure of character.”
He goes on to say that “running away solves nothing. Our inability to deal with difference is our own fault…The success and survival of democracies depend upon our willingness to support the system that brought us together by participating—win or lose. And the survival of the church depends upon the ability of its people to listen for the voice of God.”
Our Lenten series is entitled By His Stripes: Healing Wounded Relationships. And I am grateful to the people at Creative Communications for the Parish to provide the materials and ideas for this year’s Lenten series. (www.creativecommunications.com)
As part of this series I will be sharing, at the end of the each message, I will be some ideas for applying that message, from Rev Roger R Sonnenberg. They will be on the inserts that will appear each week in your bulletin.
Now you might be asking why are we dealing with this issue during Lent? Why not focus on our sinfulness and how Christ came to save us from our sins and that we can be forgiven?
But in recalling the results of Adam and Eve’s disobeying of God’s directions and purposes in the Garden, we need to remember that it created the conditions for one of their sons to die at the hands of one of their other sons.
The escalation of conflict, that is part of the story of Cain and Abel, is an early by product and result of our sinfulness and sinful choices. And so we cannot afford to neglect the need and necessity to neither stop running and turn, as best we are able with God’s help, mountains back into flat places nor whipping out a sword, as someone did, and swing it at someone in a very tense situation. We need to look at, and implement, Jesus’ example of de-escalating tense situations.
The tensions are high as Jesus is arrested. In fact weapons are brought, brandished, and used, because people on both sides are ready to go to war and win!
But Jesus says, in effect, “STOP IT!”
In Matthew’s account, chapter 26, we read Jesus as saying, “Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly?” But He did not call them down. He de-escalated the situation by stopping it and He even healed the wounded man’s ear.
Why do situations escalate into violence? Why are there standstills in state government, including our own, when important action needs to take place and people, in their anger, escalate a situation by taking off across the state line? Why is it that people who pledge their love for one another “in sickness and health until death do us part,” within a few years are ready to fight to the death over a household item in a house where a marriage went to pieces because they escalated molehills into mountains?
Part of the strength of escalation certainly lies in its capacity to generate a large amount of negativity that eats like an acid at a relationship. The increasing amount of words to posture and provoke, and dare I say it, bully, others has made escalation, it seems to me, the norm these days.
And to try and put a stop to it is well, dangerous!
But Jesus stepped in and de-escalated the conflict by His act of willingly surrendering to those who would see that He finally got what they wanted – His death on a cross. How crazy is that?
How many of us would do such a thing? The only people I know who do such a thing would be people who considered themselves Jesus.
But Jesus did so that the scripture would be fulfilled; so that He would die on the cross for our sins that we might, with the power and help of the Holy Spirit, have the desire, the willingness, and the ability to de-escalate stressful situations by de-escalating ourselves.
And we de-escalate ourselves in the following ways:
First we start by practicing what Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.” Or, as the Message translates it, “A gentle response defuses anger, but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire.”
We have to throw cold water on an escalating situation and a gentle word, and a kind word is cold water. The temperature in the room (and in our hearts) has to be lowered. When it isn’t? Big.trouble.
And in responding with a gentle answer, especially a truthful gentle answer, an honest gentle answer, a necessary gentle answer, we can hopefully lower the temperature and begin the process of making things right. But in expressing a truly gentle answer, it is not an answer that appeases the situation, but helps to facilitate a resolution.
And in expressing a gentle answer we have to nip pride in the bud, which is a second way we can de-escalate a conflict. And sometimes our health, in fact our very life, depends upon nipping pride in the bud. Recall a powerful man who was told to take a dip, not once, not twice, but seven times in the Jordan River:
Naaman lost his temper. He turned on his heel saying, “I thought he’d personally come out and meet me, call on the name of God, wave his hand over the diseased spot, and get rid of the disease. The Damascus rivers, Abana and Pharpar, are cleaner by far than any of the rivers in Israel. Why not bathe in them? I’d at least get clean.” He stomped off, mad as a hornet.
But his servants caught up with him and said, “Father, if the prophet had asked you to do something hard and heroic, wouldn’t you have done it? So why not this simple ‘wash and be clean’?” (2 Kings 5:11-13)
Namaan was a powerful general who had contracted the dreaded disease of leprosy that would end anyone’s career and community standing. It was, if you will, the AIDS of that day, and those who contracted it were not just physically separated but socially outcast as well.
But Namaan swallowed his pride (expressed through his anger) and bathed in the Jordan as directed by Elisha the prophet. And he was made whole. Namaan’s servants de-escalated the situation with a kind, honest and probably anxious question, “Father, if the prophet had asked you to do something hard and heroic, wouldn’t you have done it? So why not this simple ‘wash and be clean’?“
Pride, and the attendant attitudes of impatience and anger, often leads to an escalation of a situation that no one really wants to develop but we don’t want to look bad and so fear, another part of pride, kicks in and off we go climbing not a mountain but a raging volcano that explodes on us and others.
Another way we de-escalate a situation is expressed in an another verse that is vital for us to practice and that is Philippians 2:12-13 “my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”
One of the ways we work out our salvation is to allow God to get to the roots of our anger, and it is often with fear and trembling that we get there. Sometimes God delivers us from certain things almost instantaneously. But most of the time, the growth and development of our faith, requires a conscious and continuous effort on our part, working with the Holy Spirit.
And, I think that here is where we learn how to de-escalate. And one of the key ways we do so is by walking with God inward and downward to discover the roots of our anger, impatience, and pride that creates the conditions for escalation to occur. And I would also add fear to this list as well as I think that fear triggers anger, impatience, and pride.
What we are afraid of can make us angry.
Becoming (and we become) impatient because we get afraid that we will not get their first, fastest, or have the most because others are blocking our way. (Guilty!) And our pride, our fear of looking bad at its root, creates in us a fear that we will lose the respect of others and so we bring out pride and we often end up losing in many ways more than we bargained for!
In working out our salvation, we have to turn these issues over to God again and again and again. We cannot deal with them once and think we are done. Yes sometimes the Lord comes in and we have immediate victory. But many times we have to keep surrendering to the Holy Spirit these issues and ask for Him to help us! And He wants to help us!
And finally we learn how to de-escalate a situation as we, in the words of one of my pastoral colleagues, “pray, take time to reflect, and admit your faults.” In doing so, we are able to first look for “the log in our own eye.”
Jesus, fully aware of His mission and purpose and fully desirous to accomplish that mission and purpose, de-escalated the situation with His intentional surrender to those who would later be involved in crucifying Him. And, as a result, through His redeeming forgiveness “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can make the choice to end the destructive pattern of escalation in our relationships.
Where does this need to happen to you and for you? Are you open to allowing God to work in you and the other person or persons? Are you willing to set aside “your right to be right” and allow God to work?
The take home exercise in your bulletin can be of help but we can only become victorious as we allow the Holy Spirit to have His way with us and others as well. Let us obey the Lord this morning in this matter and continue our journey toward Jerusalem. Amen.