Monday, February 13, 2017

Reconciliation between the Oppressor and the Oppressed

A Matter of Life and Death

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago in a faraway land of Cleveland, Ohio when I was the rector of the Church of the Epiphany in Euclid, Ohio, there was a young man who left his Ohio home to go to work in West Virginia. There were problems at home. In many ways he was a troubled youth. He came to church on occasion though. When he did, I could tell by the way he looked at me at the altar rail that he was in pain. When he left, I wrote him a note. In it I said that no matter what happened, remember this one thing, “I believe in you. More importantly, God believes in you. I know you will find your way.” 
Years passed. When I found myself at St. Mark’s Church, in Saint Albans, West Virginia, there he was one Sunday. He was all grown up with a family of his own now. At the coffee hour he came up to me and said;
“Remember this?”
With that, he opened his well worn wallet and there was a tattered, water stained crumpled up note that he very carefully unfolded. It was falling apart at the folds. It was my handwriting, but honestly, I had forgotten that I had written that note. He told me that whenever he was discouraged, and there were many times that happened, he would open up that note and he remembered what I had said, and he then called God to heart and prayed. 

You never know what small gesture of kindness may touch another human being’s heart. But each of you, whether you know it or not is making a difference. You may never know it. But your expressions of loving kindness can make all the difference in a human life. Another former parishioner likes to say; “Make America kind again!” Likewise, if you are not so kind, or are a little too quick with hasty words, you can leave a world of hurt behind you.

It really is a matter of life and death; the way we live. You and I both know that. There are a hundred ways for us to live good fruitful and productive lives in a way that glorifies God and is of service to all the men, women and children.  Those we love so much and perfect strangers too. 

There are also hundreds of ways for humankind to destroy God’s creation and God’s creatures; both ourselves and others. It really comes down to the fundamental choices we make each day, the choices whether we wish to add abundance to human life or to take away from it.

Every Sunday we pray the Collect of the Day. As the service begins, it is time for collective prayer. We take a moment to gather ourselves, and pray in summary what God is teaching the Church through the Scriptures. The very first English Book of Common Prayer was written by Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1549 and it contained these magnificent prayers. They are an anthology of spiritual wisdom that has come down to us from the ages. 

Today’s Collect admits the truth about us; “in our weakness we can do nothing good thing without you.” Isn’t that the truth! So where are we to turn for help but to God? The collect continues; “give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed”. 

The collect of the day expresses the wisdom of today's scripture themes.

The First Lesson from the Book of Deuteronomy says “obey the commandments of the Lord your God…by loving the Lord your God and walking in his ways” and “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live”. To obey God is to choose life. The commandments are God's notes of encouragement to us. 

The Psalmist says; “Happy are they who observe God’s decrees and who seek God with all their hearts!”

My namesake, Paul, had problems with a factious congregation in the seaport town of Corinth. Truth be told each of us has a different part to play in building up the Body of Christ in this or any congregation, in this or any diocese, in this or any denomination. Paul continues; “So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.”

In the midst of conflict Jesus’ provides the following instructions in today’s Gospel “if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift”

Reconciliation! Paul reminds the church in Corinth that there is this business of reconciliation. In his second letter to the Corinthians, he says; “God has given us the task of reconciling people to him.” After all it is in Jesus’s death that the dividing wall between us has been broken down. “All of this is from God who has given us the ministry of reconciliation”. Paul claims that Jesus has made peace by the cross. He paid the price for our sins. Therefore, let us be reconciled to God and to one another.

“There is the way that leads to life and the way that leads to death”. That’s the opening line of the oldest document of the church after the New Testament material. I have often used “The Didache” as it is called with teenagers because that’s when kids often play with danger thinking they are immortal. Folks we can get hurt. Folks, we can live and we can die. The sooner we learn to make the choice to live, the better for us all.

It is a matter of life and death the choices we make as individuals, as churches, as nations and so forth and so on. All we have to do is look around or study history. It is all there plain as day.

You and I are here today because we have chosen life. Whatever sins cling still close, we nonetheless choose life each day. I suspect that we have a long, long way to go to reach perfection. Sometimes you and I can get quite discouraged.

But someone may write a note to us that we will hold precious. We will carry human and Godly kindness, folded up in our hearts wherever we go. In fact God has written a note to you. God knows exactly how you feel. God has been there in the joy of Christmas, in the Temptations of the wilderness, in the heartaches of those who are sick or dying. God knows what it is like to be rejected and finally God knows what it is like to suffer and die!

But I do have good news for you. Wonderful news! You are forgiven. The big sins, those things you're still ashamed of; Forgiven! Even all those everyday bad habits you haven't gotten around to facing. It is all Forgiven. So bear fruit of one who is loved of God and forgiven of all your sins! 

There is the problem of oppression however.
We can make no peace with oppression
If it is true that Jesus came to bring Good News to the poor. ~Luke 4:18
If it is true that "inasmuch as we do it to one of the least of these, we do it to Jesus" ~Matthew 25:31ff
Then it follows that we will be reconciled to all. But we cannot be reconciled to oppression.
We must be peacemakers. 
But we cannot make peace with oppression.

Reconciliation remains necessary between the oppressor and the oppressed. 
It is the ethical mandate of God that the oppressor take responsibility for justice.
If not, it becomes our to duty to see that justice is done. 

It is all written down for us in notes of encouragement, kindness, wisdom and faith. We call those precious notes the Holy Bible. We read substantial part of it every single week. God continues to write notes of forgiveness and love in our hearts every moment we draw breath. This is the way to life for anyone, for any congregation, for any nation, and for the world we live in. 

God demands justice!
It really is a matter of life and death.

In the Name of God, the Most Holy, Undivided, and Everlasting Trinity. Amen.

Fr Paul.

1 comment:

Jenny said...

I really appreciated this message