Summary: For Martin Luther King Sunday. Misunderstanding comes about because we do not hear one another, we do not have the context to understand, or someone deliberately creates distance. Racial understanding needs to take all this into account.
Misunderstanding is an inevitable part of life. Just because we are human, just because we have limitations and are imperfect, we are going to misunderstand one another. And the sooner we accept that as a part of life and learn to deal with it, the better off we’ll be.
There are several reasons why people get crossways of each other.
Sometimes people misunderstand because they do not hear one another. They literally do not hear what the other has said. And the results can be spectacular.
An old sea captain had been called in by the admiral because there had been an accident in the harbor. It seems that the captain had run his ship aground, and there was a lot of damage and lot of confusion for the Navy to deal with. And so the brass, of course, had to find out all about the accident. The admiral was especially concerned about all the damage to the ship.
And so there was an investigation, and they put the captain in the brig until they could figure it all out. When the admiral questioned the captain about the condition of the ship and got all that he wanted about that, he got a little concerned about the captain there in prison and about what might be happening to the captain’s family. The admiral asked, "How about your wife now? Is there anything we can do for her?"
To which the old captain, who just wasn’t really listening, replied, "Well, admiral, I suggest you put her in dry-dock and scrape her ’til she’s clean again".
Some misunderstandings come just because we do not really hear each other.
Or again, misunderstanding comes about when we listen, but we don’t understand what we are hearing. The words are all there and we got them down, we took them in, but we didn’t understand the context, and so we create a misunderstanding and a conflict.
The pretty young thing had her first secretarial job with a company that made spare parts for the Air Force. It was a lucrative contract, and there was a good deal of attention paid to how accurate the estimates were and how high the prices were to be. Her boss, dictating a memo, tried to say that the figures he had come up with were not too accurate, since they had been calculated with a slide rule (do you folks who have known only about calculators and computers known that a slide rule is an instrument for doing math?)
Maybe she heard it wrong, and then again maybe she got it right, when what came out of her typewriter was this gem of a sentence, "These figures are not too accurate, because they have been calculated with a sly drool. "
Some misunderstandings come about because we do not understand what we do hear. When you just plain don’t understand the context, your intentions may be the best and your heart may be in the right place, but you just don’t have the background or the context to understand what is being said, and so there is a misunderstanding.
So I’ve said so far: misunderstandings may come because we do not hear each other; misunderstandings may come because we don’t have the background and the context within which to understand one another.
And there’s something else too. Sometimes misunderstandings are deliberately brought about by those who want conflict to occur. Let’s not be naive this morning; in every human setting, whether it be the family or the church or the nation at large, whatever it may be, there are those who create conflict on purpose. There are those who love to play the game, "Let’s you and him fight". And deep wounds, serious misunderstandings, can result.
There was an occasion in the early Christian church when all of these things happened to the Apostle Paul and his relationships with the church in the city of Corinth.
Paul, we believe, had been criticized by some of the leaders in and around the Corinthian church -- criticized because he had not shown up when he was supposed to, criticized because he had urged them to take an unpleasant course of action to discipline a church member who was out of line, and criticized because, some said, he was arrogant and selfish and egotistical.
Paul’s reply, Paul’s defense, is recorded for us in the second chapter of Second Corinthians. And in Paul’s actions and his reply are some very important principles for us. What do you do when someone has misunderstood you? How do you read it and what do you do about it?
I really have two sermons for you today. Two sermons out of this passage. One of them has to do with how we as human beings handle personal conflict. And the other is for the larger setting we are celebrating today -- the Martin Luther King Birthday and the climate of racism in our nation. Two messages -- but, you’ll be glad to know, not twice the usual amount of time.