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Fighting Well

You can find the sermon manuscript below for Sunday's message on fighting well. We would also love your feedback on our worship times. You can find the online survey here.

Message for Sunday, February 20, 2022 The Rev. Megan Collins

I was reading a story this week about two neighbors who were in an epic battle. One of the neighbors, Mike, had an impeccable lawn at his home. The edging was perfectly in line with the sidewalk. The bushes were neatly trimmed every week. The grass was always freshly cut. There was not one leaf or stick out of place anywhere. The other neighbor, Tom, didn’t worry much about his lawn. His grass was more a gathering of weeds he mowed down every so often. The bushes were overgrown and he had a large pine tree right on the edge of his property, so the branches reached out over Mike’s yard. The two men have managed to tolerate each other until one fall when Tom’s tree dropped dozens of pine cones on Mike’s yard.

This is where the fight began. Tom didn’t come get the pine cones and Mike became frustrated that they were ruining his perfect lawn. One afternoon he took matters into his own hands. He collected all of the pinecones into a bucket and tossed them, one by one, over Tom’s back fence. What he didn’t know was that Tom had a camera on his backyard and later saw the video of the pinecones flying through the air from Mike’s side. Tom decided to let it go. It didn’t seem worth the fight.

But then later that week, after Tom mowed down the weeds in his yard, the lawn clippings and leaves blew from Tom’s yard over onto Mike’s perfectly manicured grass. Mike came out to get the mail and saw the leaves and grass clippings everywhere and he got angry all over again. This time he called the police. When the police showed up on Tom’s doorstep, something in him broke.

Tom spent the rest of that fall planting clover in his front lawn. Mike saw him do it, but wasn’t sure exactly what he was up to. Then a few months later, the clover flowered. One afternoon Mike saw Tom unloading an industrial fan out of his truck. He pointed the fan over the clover, right toward Mike’s yard. He plugged it in and a cloud of clover seed blew into the air and settled across Mike’s grass.

Fighting is something we’ve all dealt with, and it’s usually about much bigger issues than pinecones and there is a lot more at stake than our front yard. You have fought with your friends, and with your family. Sometimes it was about silly disagreements that were blown way out of proportion. Other times it was about things that were really important to you. If we are talking about fighting here at church, it would seem we would tell you the answer is clear. Don’t fight. Just don’t do it. But what if it’s not that simple. Let's a look at the book of Ephesians, chapter 4. I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, Let’s stop here for a minute, because this will frame the rest of our conversation this morning. “Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” You have a calling. God has called you. God has spoken your name and called you to follow Him. But it’s not enough to just believe it. Ephesians says “lead a life worthy” of this calling. In other words, your life, if you are a follower of Jesus, your life should look different. The choices you make, the words you use, should look different if you have really let God change your heart. Ephesians goes on:

2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

One important way your life looks different is what we just read in these verses. As a Christian, you are someone who is called to build unity, to live with gentleness and patience, to make every effort to bring peace. Does this mean then that we don’t fight at all? It does not. Let’s pick up in verse 25 of this same chapter:

25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.

Now I don’t know about you but if I really speak the truth to people in my life, the whole, unfiltered, truth, I’m pretty sure it would cause a fight. That’s not going to bring unity or peace. Then Ephesians goes a step further:

26 Be angry

We have seen so far that we are called to be people of gentleness and humility and patience. We have seen that we are called to build unity. But at the same time Ephesians says we need to speak the truth, and that sometimes we will be angry. So what if the answer isn’t not fighting at all? What if instead we are called to fight well?

Sometimes a fight is needed. The kind of unity Ephesians talks about is not unity where we just go along to get along, or do whatever it takes to not rock the boat, or ignore things that need to be addressed. It’s real unity, the kind that comes from people who have decided to do what it takes to be together. This kind of unity doesn’t come from never fighting. It comes from fighting well. Ephesians goes on:

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,

You can fight. You can even be angry. But fighting well means doing this within certain boundaries. We just read a couple of them. First, do not sin. Do not let that feeling of anger lead you to do something you will regret or something that will hurt someone else. Also don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Don’t let a fight stretch out for days.

27 and do not make room for the devil.

If you don’t fight well, you are going to make room for all kinds of sin and hurt and heartache.

28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.

If you want to fight well, watch your words. Don’t say whatever you are thinking, say only what can ultimately build up. This is where the tools we have been working on these past few weeks come in. Use things like “I feel” or “I notice” instead of “why on earth did you do that.” Think about the patterns you inherited from your family when it comes to fighting and how you might break the generational curses you see. Learn to name what you are feeling instead of shoving it down.

30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you

Then once you have hashed it out, put it away. Put away the anger and the negative talk. Don’t leave the fight then come back into a room with “and another thing.” Be forgiving. Once the fight is over, put it away. Forgive one another. Let it go.

It’s not that we shouldn’t fight. It’s that we should fight within the boundaries. We should fight well. But to do all of this, we need to do some work on our own first, long before we are in a fight with someone else. That’s what we’ll spend some time with today. Let’s talk about how we prepare ourselves to fight well.

First, get your heart right in prayer.

To fight well, the best thing you can do is to pray first. A number of years ago, William Meninger, a Trappist monk wrote a prayer to be used when you are angry or fighting with someone. Before you read it, I want you to do something. Picture someone you are fighting with or someone you might have a fight with in the future. Are you picturing them? Now take on the posture of prayer, whatever that means for you. Close your eyes, or quiet yourself down, and pray this prayer, thinking about that person.

May you be happy, may you be free.

May you be loving, may you be loved.

May you come to the perfect fulfillment of what God has planned for you.

May you experience the fullness of peace in body and soul.

May you know what it means to be a child of God.

May every fiber of your being resonate to the glory to which God calls you.

May all good things be yours.

May you receive and grow in the fullness of the grace Jesus has won for you.

May you know the Lord in all His goodness and compassion.

May you be forgiven every transgression.

I forgive you (or I try to forgive you) every transgression with all my heart.

May you live and walk in peace and fellowship with all of God’s creatures.

May goodness and love show itself in everything that you do and in all that is done to you.

May Almighty God bless you and keep you, show His countenance to you, and give you His peace. Hard, right? But think about what it would mean if you prayed this prayer for your spouse when you know you aren’t seeing eye to eye? Or for your kids when they are making you crazy? Or for your friend, when they post something online that makes you angry? Or for your neighbor, when their pinecones keep falling on your yard?

To fight well we get our heart in the right place with prayer. Then, when it’s time to talk with the person you disagree with,

Understand the purpose of fighting well.

As a follower of Jesus, you are not fighting to make yourself look big, or smart, or to win the fight over someone else. Scazzero writes that a clean fight is “a negotiation between two people for the sake of the relationship.” Fighting isn’t about you winning, it’s about you and the person you are fighting with working on the relationship, together. This is why you hear marriage counselors worry when a couple who has been fighting hasn’t made up but they have stopped arguing. They have given up and stopped negotiating. Instead of being led by your anger, approach it as a negotiation. If you have something hard to talk about, don’t spring it on the other person like a nighttime attack during war. Instead set up a time to talk, when you can both come to the table and bring your best. Instead of talking over the other person, listen to them, hear what they have to say. Try to stay in the conversation, instead of storming out of the room. Fighting well is a negotiation for the sake of the relationship. In a good fight, the end goal is to get back on track, to save the relationship. If you keep that in mind, you’ll fight differently than if you are fighting to win.

Church, the impact of doing this right, of learning to fight well, is bigger than just the relationships in your life. Remember the first part of Ephesians said “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” If there is one thing you could do right now to show the world the calling you have on your life, it would be to learn how to fight well. You know as well as I do that the whole world is fighting. Countries are waging war on one another. Political parties here in our nation are more divided than ever. Neighbors and friends aren’t speaking or are yelling at one another on social media. Everywhere we look, people are fighting, and they aren’t fighting well. There is plenty of "be angry" but everyone stopped reading before "and do not sin."

In the midst of this world, Jesus has called us to be peacemakers. We are not able to solve all of the problems facing the world. You and I certainly cannot single handedly stop global war or the divisions in our nation. But if we can learn, as disciples of Christ, learn to fight in such a way that we bring unity, that we offer forgiveness to other people, this becomes a part of our witness. It’s something that makes our lives look different. It’s a way we lead a life worthy of the calling. It’s a way we can become peacemakers.


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