This is the message I shared yesterday with the lovely people at Grinter Chapel UMC. Not sure it reads the same as I shared it but thought I'd share. The scripture references are Joshua 5:9-12, 2 Corinthians 5:26-21 and Luke 15:1-3, 16-32.
Forgiveness and Reconciliation
A couple of weeks ago, when I last spoke here, we talked about being imitators of Christ and I have to say that is not always easy. There is one of his actions that I find incredibly hard to imitate… it’s the first thing I thought when I read the scriptures for this morning and that is Forgiveness. It is a hard one for me and yet every Sunday as we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we say that we will forgive. In fact we ask God to forgive us as we forgive… That can be pretty scary for those of us who have a hard time with forgiveness. I want God to WAY better than I do, because sometimes I fail at it!
Our reading today from Joshua is really quite interesting. When I first read it, “today I have rolled away the disgrace of Egypt”, I immediately thought of forgiveness. Then I read it several days later and couldn’t find forgiveness anywhere in it and had to wonder if I was losing my mind! Then I read it again a few days later and found forgiveness again but then I was kind of worried about my mental state so I started reading different translations and looking for commentary. The first commentary I read didn’t mention forgiveness. It talked about the disgrace of being slaves and leaving that behind. At this point I really think I’ve lost it and am wondering how in the world, I found the topic of forgiveness here! You may be thinking the same thing by now. But stick with me a moment. I did finally figure out what I was thinking and where the thoughts were but now, I’m really thinking I need some back up here! I need some confirmation that I’m not the only person to see this in these scriptures. So I googled some more and found a lot of really interesting commentary that is way too deep for me but I did find other people who backed up my thinking a bit. You may think I’m crazy for needing for the back up but… I still do. Anyway, in my way of the thinking about the Israelites at this time, they were kind of whiners. Remember they were rescued out of slavery in Egypt and they seemed to rejoice and praise God in one moment only to whine and complain about the trip in the next. Now, I’m not saying that I wouldn’t complain too but since I’m not the there and I know the whole story, I can say that they seemed a bit ungrateful at times on this journey, which took 40 years! Why did it take so long? Well, because they were so ungrateful. With each hardship, they would whine, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?” What?? Really?? They would turn to other Gods and Idols even though they knew it was the One True God who saved them! So to me these verses in Joshua are about God saying, “Ok, I’m letting go of that and we are starting anew. I forgive you and now you have a new life, a new place, and new food.” They experience God’s grace and get a new fresh start.
Then we read our scriptures from 2 Corinthians and it talks all about how with Christ we are a new creation and tells us that the old has passed away. It talks about reconciliation, another word for forgiveness. It says we are reconciled to God and that we have been given the ministry of reconciliation. What? That’s not looking too good for someone like me who struggles with reconciliation, with forgiveness.
This week as I started really thinking on these scriptures, I found myself angry with Shannon. I know it’s hard to believe but sometimes that guy makes me crazy mad and I found myself putting off working on this sermon because well, I couldn’t really write a sermon on forgiveness when I was still mad at him and to be honest, I didn’t really want to let go of it but by Thursday, I knew I had to get started writing. I sat down at the computer and started writing. Actually, I started it Wednesday morning but stopped because I was still angry and not letting go. So Thursday, I sat down to get it done and it was going ok, except Shannon kept coming to my mind. I kept telling myself, “Oh I forgive him but that doesn’t mean I can’t still be a little upset. That doesn’t mean I have to be nice to him yet.” Yes, well, with those thoughts going through my mind, this sermon was not happening! So I finally picked up the phone and called him at work. I told him to just listen and that it was going to weird but to let me have my say. I said, “I’m still not over the other day but I forgive you. I’m writing a sermon on forgiveness and I can’t until I forgive you and so I forgive but I’m still not totally over it.” He said. “OK” and I said bye.
I got back to writing and well, he still kept interrupting my thoughts, by now, I realize that it’s probably God and the Holy spirit convicting me so I call him back. This time I say, “Ok, so I guess that’s not good enough. I have to be over it so, I forgive you.” This time he says, “Ok, I love you.” And I said, “I love you too.” To which he replied, “it’s doesn’t sound like it!” and so I laughed and said, “I love you.” And he said, “ok bye.”
See this reading from Corinthians, was just getting to me! I kept thinking on the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…” Through Christ we are reconciled with God and our ministry, our ministry according to Paul, is that of reconciliation! See why I couldn’t get on with writing this sermon until I reconciled with Shannon? Until I forgave him, and did so wholeheartedly?
Reconciliation is our ministry. We are called to forgive. We are called to reconcile. Now, as I wrote that, I started thinking about those two words, reconciliation and forgiveness. At first glance I thought they were synonyms but I decided I needed to look to them up. To forgive in simple terms means to stop feeling anger towards someone or something. One site I read said, that forgiveness is an internal discipline, it’s private. But to reconcile… well, that one is a little more complicated. Reconciliation happens between two or more people. The simple definition of reconcile to me isn’t so simple but here it is… to find a way of making two different ideas, facts or whatever exist or be true at the same time… to cause people or groups to become friendly again after an argument or disagreement. Hmmm… The full definition is to restore to friendship or harmony, this one made me laugh… to cause to submit to or accept something unpleasant.
Suddenly the politics of today came to mind. The division in congress, the division we as a church, the big church, have been feeling, honestly, there is too much division in the world to list it all! But as we read the verses from 2 Corinthians we are told that we need to reconcile our differences. We need to reconcile. It’s our ministry. Can you imagine a world where everyone made reconciliation their ministry? Wow!
I think this is what the father in the Prodigal Son parable was trying to teach his older son. It’s what Jesus wanted to us learn, about him and also about ourselves. We don’t all do the same things, we don’t all make the same decisions, the same choices but we can live together in harmony. We can forgive each other, we can adjust to our differences. We can learn from each other and we can try to walk each others shoes. I’m not saying we all have to agree, I’ll be honest, Shannon and I will never agree on a lot of things but we can choose to adjust, to forgive, to love each other through and in spite of our differences. What a world this would be if we could all do that as a church, as a society to adjust, to forgive, to love each other through and in spite of difference. To reconcile with one another so that we fully participate in the reconciliation with God that is offered to us through Jesus Christ and given to us as our ministry in the world.