A sermon given by The Reverend Joan Claring-Bould, Honorary Assistant Priest
The Second in the Lent Sermon Series on Reconciliation
“I set before you this day life and death; choose life.” Deut. 30:19-20
When we contemplate life in many other parts of the world, it is not hard to be grateful for the life with which we are blessed in the country. Thank God we live in Australia!
And yet we still live with pain and division. In the world, within the community, within the church, within our city, within families – it’s the stuff which constitutes much of the daily news.
We have a dramatic example of the result of human fear, anger, resentment and hatred being born out in the Ukraine right now. And whilst none of us know the full story, what we are seeing is an inhumane and catastrophic example of warmongering.
Yet we know that whilst the Ukraine is in the spotlight today, this is not the only part of the world where devastating wars and fighting go on. It seems like only yesterday when we were seeing those heart wrenching pictures of people clinging to the wings of planes taking off, desperate to get out of war-torn Afghanistan. Their country is far from at peace. Then, there is Syria which for awhile captured our attention – to say nothing of the countless other places of ongoing tragedy and unrest which go under our radar.
Sadly, there is nothing new about that. The reason so many people totally dismiss the Old Testament and then Christianity, is because they see it as being full of stories of gruesome battles and vindictive killing. And there is some justification for that interpretation.
It seems that from the beginning of human history, different groups of people have developed strategies to defend their own way of life at all costs.
If we think about it, one of the ways we delineate history is the eras of wars. But as I suggested before, it is not just conflicts at a national level that threaten our peace, but at a community level and most significantly, at a personal level.
So that raises the question, what is it about human nature that prevents us from living at peace with one another? Why is there always the temptation, not just at a national or community but also at a personal level, to fall into the trap of bitterness, resentment, anger, withdrawal and paranoia?
How many families have relatives they don’t talk to? I grew in such a family! Its actually been quite a delight in my adulthood to meet relatives I never knew existed! But I can’t help wondering, what was all that about?
We try to love, we want to be at peace with each other, but when we feel let down, betrayed, or wounded, we can instinctively respond with bitterness, which can then lead to hatred and even violence.
It is understandable, it is very human, but at any level, as a nation, a community, a church or as an individual, this kind of response is destructive.
The Catholic theologian Richard Rolheiser writes “When we choose to live out of bitterness and hatred we have already chosen to live in hell”. Reading that came as a shock to me, and yet we know only too well, that living with bitterness, resentment and anger is both life -sapping and soul destroying. We know that it is frighteningly easy to find ourselves trapped in that destructive way of living at a personal level, let alone at a community or national level.
But as dark as that realisation might be, it is not the whole story. There is hope!
Day by day, moment by moment, our ever-gracious and merciful God presents us with a choice; “I set before you this day life and death; choose life.” (Deut. 30:19-20)
And the way from destruction and negativity to the joy of new life is reconciliation.
Reconciliation can mean many things depending on the context of whatever we are talking about. But fundamentally, at a personal level, it first means recognising our woundedness, our neuroses, our narrow loyalties and our chosen lack of joy.
The answer may be as simple as getting to know the other person better or group better and trying to understand things from their perspective, but it can be more complex than that.
Reconciliation involves a willingness to look at and own our own failures and to seek forgiveness for them. At the same time, it involves a willingness to offer forgiveness to those who may have wounded us.
We can and should seek and offer forgiveness, but we have no control over whether that forgiveness will be offered or received by others. That can leave us feeling very uneasy, but in such situations, all we can do then is leave the situation to God, and keep praying for the other person without judgement.
Reconciliation is more than forgiveness. Christian reconciliation is about restoring our relationship with God. Many of us might think, “ well my relationship with God has never been broken, I have been coming to church and praying all my life.” And that may well be true.
But just like any long term relationship, it is amazing what a small time out for renewal can do! I remember hearing from surprised parishioners after doing a marriage enrichment course with some apprehension, how delighted they were with the discoveries they had made about each other, even after man years of being happily married.
Lent is a good time for us to acknowledge our personal woundedness, our sinfulness, our own bitterness, our resentfulness – whatever it is that saps our lives of energy and joy.
All we need to do after a time of honest reflection is to bring these things to God, and ask for God’s forgiveness, knowing that God is always reading and waiting to respond with mercy and grace.
Some of us find ourselves weeping over our sins, as did the psalmist, whilst others weep in their hearts. Weeping over our sins is a healthy thing to do. It is symbolic of God washing away our sins, cleansing us, renewing us, in order that we can move on to live out the gospel of reconciliation in our lives.
When we experience that liberation of being forgiven loved and free, and even if just for a moment, we sense the searing, redeeming love of God, nothing has changed but everything is different.
After that we are more open to be vessels of God’s reconciliation. It is not what we do – it is the wonder and grace of what God does through us when we are open to be instruments of his love, peace, forgiveness, healing and joy.
I can testify to the wonder of that grace. Not long ago I met up with someone with whom I had had a difficult relationship for a number of years. This was someone that I cared about and it pained me to be estranged from him and his wife. I had prayed about it, wept over it, tried to rationalise it, then finally decided that I would have to live with it. But on that day when we met at a funeral quite out of our normal context, I found myself standing next to him an without a second thought saying to him “I’m deeply sorry if I have offended you and I want to restore our relationship.” I don’t know where that came from. I had had many previous opportunities to say that – but spiritually I would not have been in the right place. I needed that personal reconciliation with God first, and then when I least expected it, the miracle of reconciliation happened in God’s time. My friend was as stunned as I was. We both knew ourselves to be forgiven loved and free! It was indeed amazing grace!
To each of us God is always laying before us this choice.
“I set before you this day life and death; choose life”. God is willing us with all God’s love, Choose life! Amen.