February 12, 2023 SERMON ‘Eyes, Shoes & Bridges’
Rev. Jane Courtright
From the Jewish tradition
has come wonderful stories & storytellers.
In these stories, those of Jewish faith don’t mind
poking fun at themselves. Here are two examples:
During a service at an old synagogue in Eastern Europe,
when the Shema (Sha-Mah’) prayer was being said,
half the congregation stood up & half remained seated.
The half that was seated started yelling
at those standing to SIT DOWN!
The ones standing yelled at the ones sitting down
to STAND UP!
Their new Rabbi was educated in the Law & Commentaries,
but he didn’t know WHAT to do with this situation!
His congregation finally suggested that he consult
a shut-in, a 98 year-old man,
who was one of the original founders of the temple.
The Rabbi was hoping that THIS man could tell him
WHAT THE ACTUAL temple tradition was…
was it STANDING or SITTING for this important prayer.
The old man was asked,
“Is the tradition to STAND during Shema?”
He answered, “NO, THAT IS NOT THE TRADITION.”
Then he was asked,
“Then, is it the tradition to SIT during Shema?”
He answered, “NO, THAT IS NOT THE TRADITION.”
“But,’ the Rabbi said to the old man in frustration,
“The people in our congregation fight over this all the time,
YELLING at each other about whether…”
The old man interrupted him, exclaiming,
“THAT IS the tradition!”
Here’s the other funny Jewish story:
The Jewish school, YESHIVA UNIVERSITY,
decided to enter a rowing or crew team
in competition with other schools.
Unfortunately, their team lost race after race!
They practiced for hours everyday,
but they never managed to come in any better than last!
The head of the university finally decided
to send someone, a man named Yankel,
to SPY on the Harvard team.
Yankel went off to Cambridge and hid
in the bullrushes by the Charles River….
where he carefully watched the Harvard team
as they practiced.
Yankel finally returned to Yeshiva University.
“I have figured out their secret,” he announced.
“They have 8 guys rowing,
and ONLY one guy shouting!”
The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth,
“Now, I appeal to you, brothers & sisters,
in the name of Jesus Christ,
that all of you be in agreement
and that there be no divisions among you,
But that you be united
in the same mind & the same purpose!
For it has been told me by Chloe’s people…
that there are QUARRELS among you,
my brothers and sisters.”
Paul was definitely writing to a church in conflict!
Conflict is a very real part of life, isn’t it?
We have conflict in church.
We have conflict in our workplaces.
We have conflict in our homes.
Bill Cosby (way before allegations against him,)
was one of my favorite comedians.
When I was a child, I owned several of his record albums.
Many of his comedy routines are now on dvds,
and popular media being what it is,
of course, Bill Cosby is on the internet!
This particular comedy routine has been on the internet:
Cosby says, “Whenever your kids are out of control,
you can take comfort from this story of God’s kids.
After creating heaven & earth, God created Adam & Eve.
The first thing God said to them was: “DON’T.”
“Don’t what?” Adams asked.
“Don’t eat the forbidden fruit,” God answered.
“Forbidden fruit? REALLY? Where is it?” Adam asked.
“It’s over there,” said God (probably thinking that
Creation should have been halted after elephants!)
A few minutes later, God saw the kids
having an apple break, & was very angry!
“DIDN’T I TELL YOU NOT TO EAT THAT FRUIT?!”
the first parent asked.
“UH HUH,” Adam answered. “THEN, WHY DID YOU?”
“I DON’T KNOW.”
God’s punishment, said Cosby,
“was that Adam & Eve should have children of their own..”
Thus, the pattern was set,
and it has never changed!.
CONFLICT. It is a part of life –
with co-workers, co-members, children, parents, spouses.
CONFLICT is not in itself, a bad thing.
WHAT’S IMPORTANT IS HOW IT’S HANDLED,
HOW WE DEAL WITH CONFLICT,
Wherever we may find it.
Let me share with you 3 ways that experts suggest
We deal with this age-old & universal conflict:
EYES, SHOES & BRIDGES!
First of all, think of EYES:
In any conflict, try to see what the other person sees.
All of us have our own perception or way of looking at reality.
When we’re in conflict with another person,
it may NOT even be that they are
trying to be hard to get along with.
They may simply & actually see reality
In a different way than we do!
Some years ago,
while I was jumping the hoops of Ordination as a minister,
I was required to undergo a 2-day career assessment.
It turned out to be interesting, positive and affirming!
One of the tests I took was a Myers-Brigg type indicator-
a questionnaire which identifies differences in people
that result from where they focus their attention,
how they decide things,
and the style they choose to deal with the world.
I learned a LOT about myself,
including the fact that my Myers-Brigg type is one
that only a small portion of the population shares!
But just as importantly,
I learned how different people REALLY ARE in the ways
they think, feel, understand & express themselves.
I learned that one way of looking at the world
is not better than another!…
Each has it’s strengths and weaknesses.
Understanding that, we can complement one another
instead of creating friction.
It’s certainly not easy,
but the 1st step in resolving any conflict is to try
to see the reality that the other person sees.
Or as Stephen Covey puts it:
“First seek to understand, then seek to be understood.”
Which leads us secondly, to SHOES.
Try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
Like the old saying goes:
‘Walk a mile in someone else’s moccasins.’
In the heat of conflict, our first human impulse
is to strike back or to retreat: fight or flight.
Unfortunately, neither solves anything!
Either impulse can escalate the battle
or bury it, but only temporarily.
Remember the humility Paul shows in his letter.
Factions in the Corinthian church were forming
around different strong personalities.
Individuals claimed to belong to Paul himself,
or Apollos the great teacher, or Cephas,
or even Christ
(as if Christ was just another personality
among the rest!)
Notice that Paul takes to task,
first of all, his own fan club.
“Has Christ been divided?” he asks.
“Was Paul crucified for you?”
“Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
Paul is identifying with the members of other factions
to scold those who unite behind him!
He knew this would help the church
to come together and heal.
It IS hard to step back & clear our hearts
& IDENTIFY with that other person
with whom we are in conflict.
Try to see what they see, feel what they feel,
try to put ourselves in their shoes!
The third step in resolving conflict is to find
a common bridge, a common ground.
Because unless your goal is to simply
destroy and walk away,
you have to find an area of agreement.
In 1994, a Korean air jetliner
crashed while landing during a storm,
while the pilot & co-pilot argued
about whether the roadway was long enough!
Then, they fought each other for control
of the aircraft as it touched down….
causing it to skid off the runway
& ram a safety barricade.
Fortunately, all 152 passengers & all crew members
survived by jumping down an escape chute
just moments before the plane exploded in flames,
BUT..pilots Barry Woods & co-pilot Chung Chankyou
continued their argument….
now blaming each other for the crash!
Unresolved conflict can bring down NOT ONLY planes,
But companies, nations, churches, families &
ALL KINDS of important relationships.
Paul, as he tried to intervene in the conflict
in the Corinthian church, may have been thinking
of these words of Jesus:
“So, when you are offering your gift at the altar,
if you remember that your brother or sister
has something against you,
leave your gift there before the altar & go;
first be reconciled to your brother or sister,
then come and offer your gift.”
Because someone has to take the first step
to build a bridge.
Paul was a bridge builder. So was Jesus!
Jesus’ call to his followers
is that we build bridges to others,
whether they be in our workplaces, our families,
our churches, our world.
So, remember….EYES, SHOES, BRIDGES.
As followers of Christ Jesus, we are called to:
*SEE through the other person’s EYES,
WALK a mile in their SHOES,
then build a BRIDGE! Amen.