Perhaps you heard about the two churches that were struggling, losing members, having trouble paying the bills, getting discouraged. Since they were right across the street from one another, they began to have discussions about merging, joining forces, fighting and loving and praying and working together. The two congregations began to have covered dish suppers, the leaders from both churches began to meet together on a regular basis, and then finally the day came when they had a worship service…together! It started off wonderfully. Folks were intermingled so that each pew had people from both churches represented in it. When they were told to “greet one another,” there was electricity in the air as people hugged and shook hands and celebrated the unity they felt with the folks that had previously been referred to as “that church across the street.”
Then it happened. One of the pastors got up to lead the morning prayer, and ended it with a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, asking everyone to join him. The folks from the south side of the street said, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Those from the church on the north side said, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” There was an embarrassing silence when the prayer was done. The pastor who led the prayer happened to be on the debtor side, and he wasn’t sure how to proceed, so he tried to make a joke out of it, saying something like, “Well, I guess we need to put up a ‘no trespassing’ sign in the building, heh, heh…um…OK, let’s all turn in our hymnals to page 232…” The service limped along to its conclusion, but the wind was out of the sails. There was a mechanical nature to the rest of the worship, a half-hearted listening to the sermon, which, ironically enough, was from the text, “Let each of you look out not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” When it was over, the people filed out, went home, and gave up on the idea of a merge. The newspaper reported that the one church went back to its debts, and the other back to its trespasses!
Then there was the story of the two unmarried sisters who lived together. There came a disagreement one day over an insignificant issue, and they stopped speaking to one another. Each was unwilling to move out, so they stayed together in a tiny house. They ate at the same table, at different times, and slept in the same bedroom. One of the sisters drew a line with chalk down the middle and it was understood that each sister was to stay on her side of the room, never to touch the other. The sisters would come and go, eat and sew, read and do hand-work, without ever once speaking a word to the other. This grinding silence went on for years because neither was willing to take the first step towards reconciliation.
I love the book of James in the Bible. I believe he would answer these churches and these sisters by going right to the heart of the matter. He says, “But what about the feuds and struggles that exist among you—where do you suppose they come from? Can’t you see that they arise from conflicting desires for pleasure within yourselves? You crave for something and don’t get it…you only want to satisfy your own desires.” (JB Phillips translation)
The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. That’s the source of our conflicts.