How Shall We Reconcile? Nov 13, 2016

Text: Colossians 1: 11-20

November 13, 2016

Prayer:   O Lord, may we hear a word from you today from this text. Speak to our hearts and minds by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit and receive it with joy. Amen.

Artist Billy Davis recorded a song a few years ago that goes something like this:

“I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony,

I’d like to hold it in my arms and keep it company.

I’d like to see the world for once all standing hand‑in‑hand,

And hear them echo through the hills for peace throughout the land.”

Well, wouldn’t we all? Is peace and harmony a pipe dream or a purposeful pursuit? Is reconciliation a realistic expectation or a useless fascination? What is this ministry of reconciliation to which God has called us in Christ Jesus, our Lord?

I’d like to talk about that for a few moments today.

November 9, 2016 finally arrived and gone. The votes have been counted and the United States has a new president‑elect. After more than a year and a half of campaigning, it’s over. Or is it?

United Methodist pastor, the Rev. W. Craig Gilliam, shares some techniques and tips about how to begin a process of healing and find peace. Gilliam is an expert on conflict transformation in the church.

For one he says “it’s a time for “Reconnecting.”

The divisiveness of the campaign has made many uneasy, or what some counselors call anxious. “We are living in an extremely anxious culture,” Gilliam reports.

When we are anxious, we tend to rely on emotional reactions rather than reasoned responses. You probably saw this in your social media feed.

In our anxiety, Gilliam reports, “We do each other harm in ways we didn’t even know we had the capacity to do, or in ways we’re not even aware we’re doing it.”

One unhealthy way we cope with our anxiety is to retreat to safe places by finding people with whom we agree and limiting our connection to others. We unfriend people on Facebook, limit our phone calls with that one uncle, and avoid certain people at church.

Living in these “safe spaces,” however, allows us to fool ourselves. “When I cut off from another,” Gilliam notes, “I begin to create narratives about them.” Those stories often include what we believe about ourselves and God.

The false narrative usually goes something like this: They are bad. We are good. God is on our side. This, of course, is not true. The Bible tells us that all of us are created in God’s image, are loved by God, and have God’s grace available to us.

Now that the election is over, we need to reconnect. Where we once moved away, we must now move toward.

“If I’m interacting with that other, if I’m sitting down looking at them eye‑to‑eye, if I’m listening to their stories,” Gilliam says, “that very interaction helps make space for the alternative narratives and for the correction in the narrative I’m telling myself about the other.”

Our diverse United Methodist churches provide wonderful opportunities for connection. Worship, small groups, choir, committee meetings, and the sacrament of Holy Communion bring us into contact with one another, and reinforce the true narrative that we are all children of God.

After all the ultimate hope for our world does not lie in a political election, nor a political platform. It lies in Jesus Christ. In the midst of distress, we offer Christ as the ultimate source of our salvation. Our constant hope is not found in Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives, but in the power of Jesus Christ to change lives and transform community.

We must help people remember that God is still sovereign and that God is still moving and active in our world to bring about God’s will.

We can help our nation heal by reminding people that regardless of their political party affiliation, Jesus calls us to stand with the marginalized, the poor and the oppressed. This means that there is work to do in our communities. There are people who have simply given up on all institutions including the church. These are the very people who desperately need to see a church unified in its resolve to offer hope in the midst of a broken world.

In the twelfth chapter of Romans (12:9-15), the Apostle Paul gives would‑be Christians with practical advice like: Love one another, Honor one another, Bless one another, Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those weep. It is one of my favorite passages in the New Testament. Then he says this, “Live in harmony with one another.” How can we do that? May I suggest some ways?

First, we can balance the books of justice. Reconciliation begins with the principle of justice. It you pull out your financial records and begin to work on balancing the books, you spend time on reconciling the bank statements.

To reconcile is to make consistent. To reconcile is to harmonize. To reconcile is to obtain an agreement between two records by accounting for outstanding items. If people hope to be reconciled to one another, then rightness must reign. The facts have to be put on the table and all parties have to pursue full disclosure. Justice must become the order of the day.

Are people of color targeted more for possible offenses than white people? Somebody needs to answer that question. Is it fair for predatory lenders to make loans to poor people who have no chance of paying that loan back? Somebody, including Congress, needs to ask that question. Should a few insiders be able to cash in their assets in a company headed for bankruptcy while the rank and file lose their hope for retirement? Somebody ought to examine that issue.

As the temperature of our ocean rises, shall we do nothing and hope for the best, or strive fervently to reduce our carbon emissions? The earth is in need of healing.

So we pray for a just and equal sharing of things the earth affords. Do we really mean “liberty and justice for all?” Reconciliation begins with justice. We who call ourselves Christian, individually and collectively, must commit ourselves unfailingly, even when it hurts, in that direction.

In the second place, to reconcile is to break down the walls of hostility. “Remember the Titans” was a popular movie. It is a true story of a Virginia high school football team that faced their fears of integration. That made them champions in the community as well as on the football field. The year was 1971. Herman Boone, a black man, had just replaced Bill Yoast, a white man, as football coach at T.C. Williams High School. Coach Boone had the awesome responsibility of taking two groups of young people and merging them together into a team while a community was angry and ready to riot.

Thanks to an all‑American high school kid by the name of Gary, and a star defensive player by the name of Julius, the impossible happens in the movie. The walls of hatred and hostility begin to break and come down.

These two great football players lead their team toward a state championship. It is a high moment in their team life. Then Gary suffers an automobile accident and winds up in a hospital.

When Julius comes to see him, Gary’s mother says, “Julius, you are the only one he wants to see. Go in and talk to him.” Julius, this black kid, walks through the door and the nurse says, “Only kin are allowed in here.” Gary responds, “He’s my brother, can’t you see the resemblance?” Then he says to Julius, “I was scared of you Julius. I could only see what I was afraid of. Now I know I was just hating my brother.”

And Julius says in response to him, “I tell you what though, when all of this stuff is over, we’re going to move out to the same neighborhood, you and I, and when we get old and fat together, ain’t going to be any more of this black and white stuff. We’re going to get beyond that.”

Love doesn’t want a wall, it wants it down. I do not know what the walls may be in your life. But, I know that our fears need to be faced. I ask you today what hurts need to be forgiven? I ask you what prejudices need to be surrendered? I ask you today what changes need to be made down in the depths of your life so that the walls that separate us one from another can be removed? Because God doesn’t want a wall, God wants it down.

In Christ there is no east or west, in Him no north nor south, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth. These are the words of a beautiful hymn. Reconciliation happens when we break the walls of hostility between us.

Just one more thing. We have got to balance the books of justice. We have to break the walls of hostility, but there is one more thing. We need to build a bridge of love. In John 13:35 Jesus said, By this shall all people know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. Love is an action verb. Reconciliation is love in action.

Nearly twenty years ago there was another interesting letter this time to advice columnist Ann Landers. It also dealt with handling anger and resentment. It reads like this:

Dear Ann Landers, I’ve suddenly become aware that the years are flying by. Time somehow seems more precious. My parents suddenly seem old. My aunts and uncles are sick. I haven’t seen some of my cousins for several years. I love my family Ann, but we’ve grown apart. Then my thoughts turn to the dark side. I remember the feelings I’ve hurt, and I recall my own hurt feelings the misunderstandings and unmended fences that separated us and set up barriers.

I think of my mother and her sister, who haven’t spoken to each other in five years. As a result of that argument my cousin and I haven’t spoken either. What a waste of precious time.

Wouldn’t it be terrific if a special day could be set aside to reach out and make amends? We could call it “Reconciliation Day.”

Everyone would vow to write a letter or make a phone call and mend a strained or broken relationship. It could also be the day on which we would all agree to accept the olive branch extended by a former friend. This day could be the starting place. We could go on from here to heal the wounds in our hearts and rejoice in a brand new beginning. Signed, Van Nuys.

 

Ann’s response was this: “This is a great idea. I propose that every year at this time we do just that, that we celebrate “Reconciliation Day” and pick up the phone or write a letter that will bring joy to someone who might be in pain.”

I don’t know if Reconciliation Day ever got off the ground, but it is certainly a great idea. Jesus says in Matthew 18:15, “If your brother or sister sins [against you], go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over . . .”

You see, reconciliation is at the heart of Christian faith.

Paul writes in II Corinthians 5:18, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation . . .” That is who we are. We are a reconciling community. Christ has reconciled us with God. We, then, are to be reconciled with one another. So, if someone has something against us, or if someone has done something to us, rather than striking out in anger we are to go to that person and seek to be reconciled.

All of us are tempted to strike back when we are hurt. All of us are tempted to hold on to resentments even to the point of allowing precious relationships to be severed. But what would Jesus have us do? It’s clear in this passage. He would have us make today our Reconciliation Day. Amen.

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Prayer: O Lord, help us to hear and respond to your message of reconciliation. Our country is divided and we need to come together. We need to reconnect with those who differ from us, whether in opinion, politics, or whatever differences we might have. We need to reconcile with those who have hurt us and whom we have hurt. Help us, dear God, to follow the teachings of Jesus and have our day of reconciliation. For his sake we pray. Amen.