Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Fear of Reconciliation - Sermon

Reconciliation means reaching out and saying “I’m sorry” or “I forgive you” or simply, “It’s not nearly as important for me to be right as it is for us to remain friends.”  I note this especially in this depressingly but predictably nasty campaign season.  

Family members are at each others throats.  I read venomous comments on the online newspapers, then find myself writing equally heated comments before deleting them because I am getting too heated up -- and in doing so add nothing to a constructive discussion where both sides can learn.  I’ve deleted a LOT of comments lately.

I even had to send an e-mail to a friend recently -- after what turned out to be a surprisingly heated exchange of e-mails about the presidential race -- I said that our long friendship is more important to me than our political differences, so we’d just have to agree to disagree.  It’s called reconciliation, and it’s not easy.

Jesus knew that.  He knew that people have a hard time moving from their defensiveness -- from that fight or flight reflex we all have.  People have a hard time admitting that they are wrong.  

That’s why he made this remarkable command.  Don’t just talk behind someone’s back.  Don’t just go to the authorities to rip into them.  Don’t just walk away from that brother or sister.  Go to them.  Alone.  Before doing anything else.  Lay out your issues and see what happens.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there.  He says, if they don’t listen, come back to them with one or two others -- try again.

And again.  If they won’t listen, take it to the church - have a mediator who will try to at least make that person listen.  Three escalating moves that show how important it is to keep trying for reconciliation.  It’s only after all that effort that a person might conclude it’s time to move on.

Yet, I’m betting Jesus wouldn’t be upset if you decided to try again -- and again.  In another place in the Gospel, he tells us to forgive our brothers and sisters not 7 times but 7X7 times.  

And God will forgive us far more than that.  Endlessly.

Reconciliation is at the heart of our faith.  It is what the cross signaled to us.  It is the invitation to live a new life with each other and with God.  It is our only hope.

Funny, then, that we’re so afraid of it.  But that fear of reconciliation lies burried deep in our fear that we are no good.  That if we forgive, we’ll just get walked all over.  And if we seek forgiveness, we’ll be belittled - or exposed.  And we’re afraid not to win -- to always be right.  One of the reasons our politics is so volatile is because we feel we have to WIN a race rather than guide a country.  So, we end up beating ourselves. Of course, it’s far more complicated than that, but you’d have to get a degree in human dynamics to begin to get a handle on why people do the things they do.

We all know that you can’t make someone else do what you want, whether it’s seek forgiveness (and really change their ways) or to forgive you or even to just drop the subject -- nope, we can’t make them.  There are deep scars some of these hurts leave, and for some it’s hard to even imagine forgiving or being forgiven.  But Jesus calls us out of our isolation and says “Let us come together over what is truly important.”  All we can do is reach out.

It’s important that we do because some of the worst wounds we suffer are relationship wounds.  And it’s those wounds that do more to get in the way of our individual and collective relationship with God.  Because if we can’t come together in love, we’re shutting out God.  As Jesus said, “whenever two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them.”  It’s not in Jesus’ name if it’s filled with anger and fear.

It doesn’t matter if the thing keeping you from reconciliation is personal or political (or whatever).  And believe me, I think it’s very important to hold your political beliefs passionately.  But today’s Gospel tells us how much more important it is to reconcile, as frightening as that is.

This morning I got an e-mail from that friend of the heated presidential exchange.  It said, “Amen.”