Sermon,  Sermons

Defining Reconciliation

sermon video, pt1. Click for parts 2, 3 & 4

When Howie and I were first married, he told me that one of the things to which he intended to commit was to always be the first to apologize. It wasn’t out of some excessively competitive nature that has to be first at everything – even humility. Though he does exhibit an impressively large capacity to be competitive. Still, I knew he wanted to communicate to me his desire to be intentional, proactive about making things right in our relationship when the inevitable disagreements emerged. He was making the statement that our marriage would, in part, be defined by reconciliation.

We don’t agree on everything. But we are in harmony about most things. And when we do have seemingly opposing stances on even weighty matters, we continue in our discussion with an eye to notice where we do actually agree. Because, whatever the issue and how opposing our viewpoint might seem on the surface, the crux of our views are grounded in a sure and solid foundation. And even then, this foundation shifts and evolves because our viewpoints shift and evolve – because we continue to talk it out and ask questions and fine-tune what each means to say until we recognize a point of reconciliation.

According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, reconciliation is defined:

  1. the restoration of friendly relations
  2. the act of making one view or belief compatible with another

After sharing with the crowd what we know as the Beatitudes, Jesus goes on to say in Matthew 5.19-26

19Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

21 ‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.” 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, [“You’re crazy, fool”], you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you,24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

It is clear that for Jesus it is more important that the attitude of my heart toward you and the disconnect in our relationship is the meaning of sin – not the particular act contained in the outline of scripture. It is equally clear that Jesus is more concerned we are in communion with one another then that we give our offering. Now I should say, if you are concerned about a relationship with someone, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give an offering today. The attitude of my heart.

Justice is where the heart is

The OT scripture reading today was taken from Isaiah chapter 1. Here, as in most of the prophets the relationship and heart attitude is the point, not the offerings:

11 What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
   says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt-offerings of rams
   and the fat of fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
   or of lambs, or of goats. 

12 When you come to appear before me,
   who asked this from your hand?
   Trample my courts no more; 
13 bringing offerings is futile;
   incense is an abomination to me
New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation—
   I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity

Isaiah 1:11-13, NRSV

In the passage I spoke about last week, the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was their acute lack of concern for the vulnerable while living in excess, and that it was their arrogance that was the abomination to God (Ez 16:50). In Isaiah, in much the same way, the abomination is offerings without justice in the land.  

So God speaks to Israel through Isaiah and says,

“Let us argue it out” (Isaiah 1:18, NRSV)

“Let’s settle this” (NLT)

As I was meditating over this passage, this phrase in verse 18 struck me as hugely important. First, what I find remarkable here, God is inviting the Israelites to sit with God and have a conversation about what is going on. The word, yakhach, is also used to mean “decide,” “reprove,” and “appoint.” It is making a decision together about how things will be handled, what is the reality of the situation between us, and how we must proceed.

I think more often than not, we get hung up on the thing that follows (the so-called command, the for instance that is recommended – the details that are for that particular situation) than on what the scripture is revealing about God – who God is, what is God’s character, act and being. So I did a deep dive into the Hebrew.

So the form yahkach taken in this instance is found in this way only here. Nifal imperfect cohortative: niphal (not active or passive, but in between – the so-called middle voice, reciprocal); imperfect (in the sense of, we will – not a command, but an expectation it will come about, an invitation to participate – together); and cohortative (it is found only in first-person forms, it is not a command, but is more than the super passive suggestion, “we could do this”) because God is confident that God will hold up God’s part.

The whole word together, then, l’ku-na’ v’nivvakhah (walk, go together; please, now) “come now”: in the sense of, please, now, let us walk together, go together – on this journey, making things right between us.

Please, now come, let’s argue it out.

This is who God IS. God is not indiscriminately executing wrath on all the people who do not act according to the goodness God made us to be and do. When we do act in such a way, we feel the blowback – because God did not make us to live other than in communion with one another.

God invites us into conversation about what is going on. God comes into our situation, into our space, God moves and walks and wants to be in conversation – with us. That is what this verse is telling us, using a word that is used in this way, this form, only once.

And God always – always – holds up God’s end.

So, God gave instructions on how sacrifices ought to be carried out – in painstaking detail – in the Pentateuch. But here, God says, “your offerings are futile . . . an abomination.” (1:13) Then God says, “make yourself clean” and this is the way to do it:

            learn to do good;

            seek justice,

                        rescue the oppressed,

            defend the orphan,

                        plead for the widow.” (1:17)

So, please come, now, let us walk together through this, let us talk about this, argue it out – so that we can come to an understanding: all that you do that is not goodness, out of love – that will be completely washed clean. Just stop doing it! Learn to do good, be active in making things right in this world and between each one another – together.

Understanding the definition and parameters of reconciliation is useful.

Still, we are also defined by our reconciliation, our witness to the world of God’s reconciling action with us and with one another. – they will know we are Christians by our . . . Love . . .

Authentic reconciliation identifies and speaks truth – not for tearing others down or dominating the conversation – rather, to “create relationships and communities grounded in peace with justice.” And remember, to create is to make something that has never existed before. It is something new.

If we view relationships as a creative activity, our expectations are very different. I do not have a preset expectation about it. Rather, I expect something new, something beautiful will transpire between us. And in this way, I can see into, listen into knowing your perspective because I view it as creating something new – not as a threat to my own perspective.

Reconciling Ministries Network is exactly that: a ministry network. It is a UMC ministry network that many churches in our denomination are choosing to join.

In fact, 65 churches in IL, over 1,000 in the US, and over 41,000 individuals participate in this network.

The opening statement for the RMN includes the imperative to seek justice for all people, including those of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

Because whether I agree with some people does not mean those with whom I disagree are somehow less than human. And it also doesn’t mean they are wrong. I can hold in tension the actuality of a disagreement, and the possibility that I am wrong. Multiple telescopes with a variety of visual capabilities (x-ray, ultraviolet, infrared . . .) I might only be capable of seeing ultraviolet light. You, infrared . . . But overlain, we perceive a clearer picture of the complexities.

The definition of reconciliation is 1st, restoring friendly relations – friendship; and 2nd, the act of making one view or belief compatible with another.

All my belief and theology is based on two things: God IS, and Jesus is who he says he is. I can also add, everything is summed up in this: Love God with everything, and your neighbor as yourself. Everything else is interpretation. The Bible is meant to reveal God’s character – and when we look closely we find that God invites us to reconcile and be reconciled.

Most of you know there are some people here who support inclusion, and there are some who don’t. Friends, family, long-time companions in Christ – so many of you have walked through births and marriages and deaths and baptisms and divorce and committing a spouse to end-of-life care – together.

And some of us have the conviction that inclusion of all people is absolutely of God. Some of us have the conviction that anything other than heterosexual intimacy is a sin. We do ministry and life together. But we aren’t talking about it. and so some are quietly in agony because they can’t talk about a son or niece or sibling who identifies as LGBTQ because they fear condemnation.

The RMN is a community where members can share their stories, indicate why equality on this issue is important to you, personally or as a congregation, and maybe participate in actively working toward that end. It indicates that your space is open to all people, and that your preference for gender expression or whom you love is not a condition for entering that space and fully participating in all aspects of worshiping God – together.

We can be involved on multiple levels – as a congregation, as a smaller community, as individuals. Our church does not seem to be situated in a space-time where it would be a Reconciling Church. However, I want to suggest that we have more conversations about how we might be a church that supports both some who are involved in the RMN, and some who are not. This is a conversation. I will be continuing to preach on ways that this might happen, and you will have opportunity to speak together about what this all means for this church in the context of Durand and as members of the UMC.

To be clear: no one is signaling that any congregation in the United Methodist Church of the Northern Illinois Conference will be forced to become a reconciling church. But the plan that was provisionally passed at the Special Session of the General Conference this year, if implemented, will compel all reconciling churches to disassociate from the denomination. The Bishop will be disciplined, the pastor will be disciplined and fined – only once, and then let go. And the congregation that sticks with reconciling ministries will be effectually kicked out.

“The vital act is the act of participation. ‘Participator’ is the incontrovertible new concept given by quantum mechanics. It strikes down the term ‘observer’ of classical theory, the one who stands safely behind the thick glass wall and watches what goes on without taking part. It can’t be done, quantum mechanics says.”

– John Wheeler

I cannot fully live until I participate. To remain observer is death to my soul and perpetuation of injustice for the underresourced. What is holding me at observer? – because in life, there is no glass behind which to stand – We see each other and the people in the spaces in which we move, face-to-face. I cannot merely observe – it means decay for my soul. So Why am I afraid to participate?

#participate #act #speakup #JohnWheeler #quantummechanics #scienceandspirituality #justiceandrighteousness #womeninministry #womenclergy