Tag Archives: reconciliation

Reconciliation – The Love of Christ Compels Us

[A video of the service where this was preached may be seen here: https://www.facebook.com/epiphanyucc/ ]

Scripture: Psalm 27, Isaiah 9:1-4, Matthew 4:12-17, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, 2 Corinthians 5:14-20

The week of prayer for Christian Unity was developed and is sponsored by the World Council of Churches and the Vatican.

This year’s theme for Christian Unity Week was developed two years ago by some German Christians, in response to conditions in Europe. But boy, I can’t imagine a better time to talk about reconciliation than right here, right now.

I started putting together the worship service about a week ago and started writing this sermon two days before the inauguration. As I wrote, I had no idea how the next few days of traditional ceremonies and parties, punctuated with protests and marches were going to unfold. But I’ve known for more than a year that our nation — our world — is heading into a crisis of divisions and discord.

I have alternated between wanting to engage in angry resistance to injustice and wanting to just hunker down and pray for release. Frankly, I am tired of witnessing people who disagree with each other descend into name-calling and worse. I’m tired of the “I’ve got mine” crowd, but I’m also tired of the “I’m so right” and “You’re a moron,” crowd too.

So when I saw that I had fallen into the Sunday in the midst of the week of prayer for Christian Unity, I was encouraged by the theme. The organizers took the title from Pope Francis, who cited Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. The Love of Christ Compels Us.

But lets start at the beginning. We began our scripture reading today with a psalm lament. Aside from it being one of the lectionary scriptures, what does a psalm pleading, “Do not forsake me” have to do with reconciliation?

I would say that reconciliation probably should begin with lament, with an expression of fear, because fear is behind so many of our divisions and harmful acts toward each other. Even greed could be traced back to the fear of not having enough, or the fear of someone else getting more than you or beating you in some competition for scarce resources. Before we can conquer our fear and reach out to someone else, we have to name and face our fear and realize the source of the threat.

The psalmist faces fear by recognizing God as the “stronghold of my life.” And with that kind of support, “of whom shall I be afraid?” he says. Indeed. In these scary times, we need reassurance. We ask,  are you with me, God?

We touched on the Old Testament reading from Isaiah in our second hymn, when we sang, that “God rescues us from fear.” “Through holy prophets, God has sworn to free us from alarm, to save us from the heavy hand of all who wish us harm.” The people Isaiah was addressing really had it tough. And a lot of them would have scoffed at the idea that God was saving them, as they were dragged off to Babylon to be slaves.

The lectionary Isaiah passage includes the verse, “the people in darkness have seen a great light.” We read this verse at Christmastime and see in it a description of what Jesus brought to the world. In fact, it’s quoted in today’s gospel reading.

But Isaiah was writing about a different event. A return of the exiles from Babylon. They’d been in darkness. In fact, many of the returnees were too young or weren’t born yet to remember their time in Israel. And many had died in exile.

Understand — they did not return from exile because they won a battle. In fact, they had just been transferred from one conquerer to another, from Babylon to Persia, who defeated Babylon. Cyrus, the Persian leader, didn’t release them because they rose up in rebellion. He sent them home, scripture tells us, because God softened his heart.

The people who returned from Babylon had been transformed. Judaism would never be the same — and that was a good thing. Defeat and exile brought them together and made them depend on God, in a way that ordinary worldly success and comfort could never do. In exile, they lost their possessions and their status and their power. All they had were their scripture, their traditions and each other, and God.

Isaiah and the prophets didn’t actually promise that the people would never experience hard times. Just that God would deliver them . . . eventually. And they would be stronger, with a stronger trust in God and a better understanding of what is important.

I’m reminded of the movie, “Independence Day” with Will Smith and Jeff Goldblume. The plot is familiar: the world is attacked by aliens and the heroes and heroines are challenged to defend their planet. The scenes that stick in my mind are the little vignettes of people all over the world — in India and Europe and Africa as well as America — first, suffering the attack and then . . . banding together to fight back. No bickering, no talk of letting the marketplace determine the winner, no ideological arguments over who is God (or where is God). They had a common enemy and a common goal.

Is having a common enemy the only way to begin to share a common goal? If that were the case, in our day and age, climate change would appear to be the kind of common enemy that could unite the world to work together. But that’s not happening so far — at least on a scale broad enough to include all of our leaders and fellow Americans.

In fact, the divide and conquer strategy, much older than Julius Caesar who articulated it, depends on people identifying others as their enemy. One group’s “common enemy” designed to bring people together could well be another group with whom they should be joining, rather than fighting.

The term reconciliation assumes there is a division to heal. And humanity is full of division — tribalism, distrust of strangers, patriarchy and hierarchies that elevate some over others, giving power to a few and subjugation to the rest. It happens in nations, but it happens in communities and families as well.

Even churches. Paul begins his first letter to the church in Corinth by referring to the factions arising in that small group.:

My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”  Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?”

How to bring light to that darkness of division? Notice, in the gospel story Jesus reacts to John the baptist being imprisoned by starting his ministry. He doesn’t rally the folks to free John or to resist the Romans. He says, “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light. . . Repent for the kingdom of heaven — or the reign of God — is near.” Now, John was a charismatic leader and he was imprisoned and then executed. That’s darkness enough to dash the hopes of his followers.

So how does Jesus counter that? He says the darkness is over; the light has come. He calls followers, telling them he will send them to “fish for people,” to cast the net of love and draw people in, to gather them together, rather than divide them.

In this passage, Jesus preaches and teaches, telling “the good news of the kingdom at hand,” the gospel writer tells us, and “healing every disease and sickness among people.” Elsewhere the gospels tell us that he said love your enemies and do not return evil for evil. He urged people to seek the common good, to look out for the least — the poorest and neediest among them.

Not many gospel writers tell of the scoffers who probably said such an approach was naive and would never work, the cynics who pointed out that the powers that be would never stand for Jesus’ call for justice and kindness, that they’d probably kill him first.

Hmm. Well, they did kill him. He just didn’t stay dead. And that’s the most revolutionary thing of all. How do you defeat a person or a group of people with death threats if they no longer fear death? I believe that’s the basis of the concept that Jesus died for all of us. He died to show us that if we don’t fear death, it has no power over us.

So we get to Paul’s second letter, which is the scripture basis for this year’s Christian Unity theme.  Paul wrote,

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”

And when I read that passage and many others I am reminded that Jesus told his followers more than once in many ways, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Or as Paul says, and Pope Francis reminds us, “Christ’s love compels us.” Compels us to treat each other with love, to seek the common good of all, to forget ourselves and our petty concerns for possessions or power, especially power over others.

Reconciliation is a way to acknowledge that love, by healing the divisions and tearing down the walls.

[The sermon was followed by a Liturgy for Prayer for Christian Unity ]

Liturgy for Prayer for Christian U

[Adapted from materials provided by the World Council of Churches ]

Introductory Words

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this year many Christians and churches will be commemorating the anniversary of the Reformation. St. Paul reminds us that God has reconciled us through Jesus Christ and that the love of Christ compels us to be ministers of reconciliation. Let us worship and praise God together in the unity of the Holy Spirit!

Invitation to confession

In the course of history there have been many renewal movements in the Church, which is always in need of deeper conversion to her head, Jesus Christ. Sometimes these movements have led to unintended divisions. This fact contradicts what Jesus asks the Father in John 17:23: “That they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” Let us confess our sins and pray for forgiveness and healing for the wounds which have resulted from our divisions. As we name these sins we will see how they become a wall which divides us.

Prayer

Let us pray: God and Father in heaven, we come to you in Jesus’ name. We experience renewal through your Holy Spirit, and yet we still construct walls that divide us, walls which hinder community and unity. We bring before you now the stones with which we erect our walls and pray for your forgiveness and healing.

All: Amen.

(As each sin is named the corresponding stone is brought forward to build the wall. Following a moment of silence, the stone bearer makes the plea for forgiveness ans the congregation responds “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”) 

L One stone in our wall is “lack of love.”

(The stone with the key term “lack of love” is placed.)

R1 Gracious God, the love of Christ compels us to ask forgiveness for whenever we have failed to love. We humbly pray:

All Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

L One stone in our wall is “hate and contempt.”

(The stone with the key term “hate and contempt” is placed.)

R2 Gracious God, the love of Christ compels us to ask forgiveness for our hate and contempt for one another. We humbly pray:

All Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

L One stone in our wall is “false accusation.”

(The stone with the key term “false accusation” is placed.)

R3 Gracious God, the love of Christ compels us to ask forgiveness for denouncing and falsely accusing one another. We humbly pray:

All Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

L One stone in our wall is “discrimination.”

(The stone with the key term “discrimination” is placed.)

R4 Gracious God, the love of Christ compels us to ask forgiveness for all forms of prejudice and discrimination against one another. We humbly pray:

All Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

Sung response: “Lord, Have Mercy Upon Us,” #750 The New Century Hymnal

L One stone in our wall is “persecution.”

(The stone with the key term “persecution” is placed.)

R5 Gracious God, the love of Christ compels us to ask forgiveness for persecuting and torturing one another. We humbly pray:

All Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

L One stone in our wall is “broken communion.”

(The stone with the key term “broken communion is placed.)

R6 Gracious God, the love of Christ compels us to ask forgiveness for perpetuating broken communion among our churches. We humbly pray:

All Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

L One stone in our wall is “intolerance.”

(The stone with the key term “intolerance” is placed.)

R7 Gracious God, the love of Christ compels us to ask forgiveness for banishing our brothers and sisters from our common homeland in the past and for acts of religious intolerance today . We humbly pray:

All Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

L One stone in our wall is “religious wars .”

(The stone with the key term “ religious wars” is placed.)

R8 Gracious God, the love of Christ compels us to ask forgiveness for all wars that we have waged against one another in your name. We humbly pray:

All Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

Sung response: “Lord, have mercy upon us” #750 

L One stone in our wall is “division.”

(The stone with the key term “ division” is placed.)

R9 Gracious God, the love of Christ compels us to ask forgiveness for living our Christian lives divided from one another and astray from our common calling for the healing of all creation. We humbly pray:

All Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

L One stone in our wall is “abuse of power.”

(The stone with the key term “ abuse of power” is placed.)

R10 Gracious God, the love of Christ compels us to ask forgiveness for our abuse of power. We humbly pray:

All Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

L One stone in our wall is “isolation .”

(The stone with the key term “ isolation” is placed.)

R11 Gracious God, the love of Christ compels us to ask forgiveness for the times when we have isolated ourselves from our Christian sisters and brothers and from the communities in which we live. We humbly pray:

All Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

L One stone in our wall is “pride .”

(The stone with the key term “ pride” is placed.)

R12 Gracious God, the love of Christ compels us to ask forgiveness for our pride. We humbly pray:

All Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

Sung response: “Lord, have mercy upon us” #750

L1:Let us pray: Lord, our God, look upon this wall that we have built, which separates us from you and from one another. Forgive us our sins. Heal us. Help us to overcome all walls of division and make us one in you.  All: Amen.

Prayers of Intercession

L2:  Let us pray for intercession and reconciliation. Almighty God, you sent your Son Jesus Christ to reconcile the world to yourself. We praise you for those whom you sent in the power of the Spirit to preach the Gospel to all nations. We thank you that in all parts of the earth a community of love has been gathered together by their prayers and labours, and that in every place your servants call upon your name. May your Spirit awaken in every community a hunger and thirst for unity in you. Let us pray to the Lord.

All: Lord, hear our prayer.

L1: Gracious God, we pray for our churches. Fill them with all truth and peace. Where faith is corrupted, purify it; where people go astray, redirect them; where they fail to proclaim your Gospel, reform them; where they witness to what is right, strengthen them; where they are in need, provide for them; and where they are divided, reunite them. Let us pray to the Lord.

All: Lord, hear our prayer. 

L2: Creator God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus Christ, your Son. Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred that infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love. And even in our weaknesses, work to accomplish your purposes on earth, so that every people and nation may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne. Let us pray to the Lord.

All: Lord, hear our prayer. 

L1: Holy Spirit, Giver of Life, we are created to become whole in you and to share this life on earth with our brothers and sisters. Awaken in each of us your compassion and love. Give us strength and courage to work for justice in our neighborhoods, to create peace within our families, to comfort the sick and the dying, and to share all we have with those who are in need. For the transformation of every human heart, Let us pray to the Lord.

All: Lord, hear our prayer. 

Amen.

Declaration of Reconciliation

L1: We have confessed our sins and prayed for reconciliation. I declare in the name of Jesus that this wall be torn down and that we work to remove divisions and seek reconciliation in whatever we do.

Volunteers will take the stones from the communion table and lay on the floor in the shape of a cross while we sing Hymn # 575 “O For a World”