DifferenceMakers Sermon 6 March 2016

Working for Reconciliation

Pastor John Gibson preached this sermon on March 6, 2016 on Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32.

The other week I was at the gym talking to my friend Mohammad. Mohammad is a Moslem from India. He and I talk from time to time about his life. Mohammad believes he is a failure because of an event that happened 26 years ago. He has never said what happened, other than that it destroyed his marriage and permanently stunted the development of his four children, who are all in their forties or late thirties and who have never married or had careers.

Mohammad asked me why he had failed. He wanted to know what his children had done to deserve their fate. I groped for answers. As best I could, I tried to understand Mohammad’s situation, to support him, and to help him find peace with his past and a sense of God’s forgiveness and mercy in the context of his own faith. I hope and pray that one day Mohammad will be able to reconcile with his own past.

This week we are continuing our sermon series on Difference Makers, how we can make a difference in our community. Over the past two weeks we have talked about the importance of wanting to make a difference and working to improve our local institutions. This week we look at how we can make a difference by working for reconciliation.

If forgiveness is difficult, reconciliation is harder. It is possible to forgive someone and never reconcile with that person. I wrote you in one of my congregational emails about my struggle to forgive the woman I dated in the eighties who broke up with me. While I did finally forgive her, I never reconciled with her, because I never reestablished any type of relationship with her.

It is important to say that sometimes it may be inappropriate to reconcile in this life. A person, for example, who has been violated in some way needs to forgive to be freed from that painful trauma, but might never reconcile because of the danger of being violated again.

Reconciliation, like forgiveness, springs from God. God is the great reconciler. We see that in today’s Gospel from Luke. The father, who represents God, runs out to meet the younger son. In the ancient world, this behavior would have been scandalous. The younger son in demanding his inheritance had essentially said he wished his father dead. The father though not only welcomes the son back home but also runs to greet him. No father in the ancient world, where the father ruled the family, would ever run to meet a son or daughter under any circumstance. The father, however, not only rushes to meet his younger son but also leaves the party for his older son, who is sulking outside. While we do not know the outcome with older son, it is clear that the father, who represents God, is a reconciler.

We also see God’s reconciling hand in Jesus. The apostle Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians that we heard today, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (5:17-19).

The Greek word translated “reconcile” literally means exchange or change. In and through Jesus Christ, our relationship with God is changed. We have gone from being estranged from God and from one another to being adopted as sons and daughters of God and brothers and sisters of one another in Christ. God’s reconciling work continues in and through the Holy Spirit in us.

Last September the story of Raleigh police officer JD Boyd and Cory Sanders went viral. In the fall of 2014, Sanders had taken a swing at Officer Boyd with a knife when Boyd came upon a fight between Sanders and a woman. Boyd drew his service revolver on Sanders. The two stood in a standoff until other officers arrived and Sanders surrendered.

Last fall, a year after that incident, Boyd saw Sanders again and went up to him. Sanders told him that he had turned his life around. He had a job and a son on the way. Sanders asked Boyd to forgive him. Boyd had his picture taken with Sanders and posted it on Facebook writing of their altercation, “I was glad it ended well for us both that day and I am ecstatic now to learn that he has turned his life around and we can embrace as friends. No one is ever lost forever and as long as you continue to work to be a better version of yourself than you were yesterday things will work out eventually.” When I looked at that Facebook status update on Friday, it had 231,000 likes and over 600 comments. We are a world hungry for reconciliation.

Reconciliation frequently is not only necessary with another person but also with oneself. We often are angry at ourselves, blaming ourselves for allowing the painful incident to have happened. We must reconcile with ourselves as well as with others to find true healing and peace. The Roman Catholic monk Richard Rohr writes, “If we cannot find a way to make our wounds into sacred wounds, we invariably become negative or bitter—because we will be wounded. That is a given. All suffering is potentially redemptive, all wounds are potentially sacred wounds. It depends on what you do with them. Can you find God in them or not?”

An important place to begin the process of reconciliation is to look for God in the hurt, anger and division. The next step is to forgive yourself and to forgive the other person. The third, and often the most challenging, is the process of rebuilding a broken relationship with someone else. This process requires honesty, openness, acceptance, letting go and rebuilding trust.

Desmond Tutu said, “Forgiveness and reconciliation are not just ethereal, spiritual, other-worldly activities. The have to do with the real world. They are realpolitik, because in a very real sense, without forgiveness (and reconciliation, I would add) there is no future.”

We make a difference when we work for reconciliation. When we work for reconciliation, we are part of God’s reconciliation, God’s healing and God’s redemption for all peoples. When we seek to unite those who are estranged from one another and sometimes from themselves, we proclaim Christ’s message of reconciliation for all the world.