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  • Writer's pictureDean Moyer

My Work in Sacred Space (Part 4)

In Part 4 of "My Work in Sacred Space," we move on to discover the biblical character of Nehemiah, in his efforts to rebuild the town center of Jerusalem, was creating a place where conflicts could be resolved. He was making provision for elders and judges to fulfill their role as peace-restorers at the gates. Why? It should be painfully obvious. Because where you have people you have conflict.  I've said for years (tongue in cheek), "ministry would be great if it weren't for the people." You may have said the same about your work. As much as we "are fearfully and wonderfully made," this wonderfulness can be messy. Conflict happens. 

 Positioned at the perimeter of ancient gates of the city, beyond the bustle of market street vendors and community, is where the court was in session. There, the elders and judges would sit settling disputes and governing legal exchanges. We find a real-life example of this in the Old Testament story Ruth. In short, Boaz, the kinsman-redeemer, offered to take Ruth to be his wife, but there was someone else, more closely related, in line for Ruth, and it also involved the purchase of some land. (Ruth was just part of the deal). Boaz couldn't just marry her. He had to work out some legal details. In Ruth 4, we read where “Boaz went up to the gate and sat down there. And behold, the redeemer, of whom Boaz had spoken came by. So Boaz said, "Turn aside, friend: sit down here." And he turned aside and sat down. And he took ten men of the elders of the city and said, sit down here."  

 This kind of transaction occurred in the presence of the elders and witnesses at the gate. We visited Israel a few years ago and saw excavations of cities where benches for these have been discovered.

 I want to be careful not to stretch this beyond what scripture teaches. I think we are on safe ground. So, allow me to say more about their role in the community and what they might represent for us by stating two principles.

 One: Working well with others is hard, but it is also right. I have a recollection of my elementary school report card that was sent home to mom and dad. There was column and “grade” for “plays well with friends.” A good grade would indicate I was learning the skills of getting along with other people; learning to share.  Apparently, this was a skill we needed to learn. From birth we are most naturally for ourselves. It doesn’t take long to hear and see evidence of this: “Me!” “Mine!” Sadly, this is a hard inclination to correct. “Me” may not be heard quite so overtly as we start adulting, but there is evidence all around to suggest it is a life-long battle and it can wreak havoc.  Our brokenness  (sin) nurtured by culture press us to be independent, alone, and proud of it.  “Don't get in my way!” And when we do get in each other’s way, and we will,  the natural response is either fight or flight; battle it out or flee back to myself, away from others.  In the midst of conflict we will always seek to preserve ourselves. This is as natural as breathing.  But in the end there is no delight in it.  Here is the good news.   This self-absorbed way of living is not part of God’s original design. His design is for us to flourish as “Us” not “Me.” But this comes with a price. We must embrace, “us.”  Not in a communal, socialist kind of way but in a way that is “for us” first.

 TWO: We must embrace “us.”   Could it be what these elders represent for us today? These leaders were keepers and restorers of peace. The ancient idea of peace transcends our present day understanding. It is not just the absence of war or conflict. It is much richer, rooted in "shalom," meaning wholeness, completeness, soundness, health, safety and prosperity. Shalom speaks to the way life ought to be. Shalom is the way life was in the garden before the fall, with God. It is what is sought as God reestablishes his Kingdom. There is the very real sense these peace-restorers had shalom in mind. Their God-ordained role was to restore God's design of wholeness and wellness.  Their work was far richer than simple resolution; it was relational. It was a with-God and with-others restoration. I wondering if a simple solution to our most challenging conflicts is to pursue “shalom,’ a place where “us” trumps “me.”

For us, today, what does this suggest? Here are some questions.

  1. Think of a current conflict with which you are dealing. How much of “me” (from you or others) is evident?

  2. When we isolate work into the false secular realm “me” can often rule. Can understanding my work as a place of sacred living help me lean into pursuing God’s kind of restorative peace where “us” rules?

  3. How does embracing God's design to flourish best when we are together change how you view your work? How does it change how you view conflict?

  4. Sacred-living in a community setting is humbling but it can be so fulfilling and rich. Who or what might serve as an “elder at the gate” to guide you through conflict to a place of peace and flourishing?  (see part 3 of this article)

Next week, hang on to your hat. We are going to look at something pretty radical and perhaps a little contentious.


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