Wednesday, 01 July 2009 17:04

June 28, 2009 Sermon

II Corinthians 5:16-6:2
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
June 28, 2009
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

Reconciliation.  I got the title for this sermon from the scripture reading.  I read about how Paul is telling people to be reconciled with God.  Jesus tells people to be reconciled with each other.  In fact, we can’t be reconciled with God unless we are reconciled with others.  It’s that whole “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” thing.  Come to think of it, Paul does that in First Corinthians 11 when he says that we ought to leave our gifts at the altar and be reconciled with our brothers and sisters before coming to God.   And here we are in this chapter, looking only at reconciliation with God.  Does Paul assume that we have reconciled with our families?  With our enemies?  With our former friends? With those who have been abused?  Maybe so.  Maybe we need to look explicitly at being reconciled with God.
What is reconciliation?  Is reconciliation the same thing as acquiescence?  Is it smoothing over the rough places, or is it truth-telling and reaching and equitable solution that everyone can live with?  Is it making people comfortable or is it helping people buy in to the vision of something greater?
    The concept of reconciliation is such a noble goal.  It seems like such an easy thing to do, until you actually try to do it.  It means hearing each other, coming together, and repairing a relationship that has been breached.  Nothing that a few magic words couldn’t fix, right?
    Wrong.  It might move us in that direction, but it’s unlikely that mere words said at one time will bring us toward reconciliation.  We might need a bit more than that.  We might need a whole new pattern of behavior.  We might need a whole new strategy of diplomacy.  We might need a change of heart.  But here’s the rub, a real reconciliation can’t effectively happen without there being a reconciliation with God.  I’m not talking about the distortions of God that confuse and that we spend lots of time defining and redefining.  I’m talking about the God who meets you in the dark night of the soul; the one who’s with you in tragedy and triumph; the God who’s as close as your breath, whether we care to admit it or not.  How are you doing with God these days?

    I think about this as I think about the fragility of life.  On Thursday, we heard about the deaths of Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson.  For a guy who came of age in the 70’s, both of them were companions in that process of growing up.  And as they passed on, a part of my youth passed on as well.  Again, we are all reminded how precious our moments are with each other.  Did they get the chance to say everything they needed to say?  Were they reconciled with those who meant the most to them?  Were they reconciled with God?  Who knows.  
    Farrah, we imagine, had the opportunity to reconcile.  She prepared for death.  She knew her prognosis and she publicly brought people into this final chapter so that they could learn from her experience.  But Michael, did he have the chance to reconcile?  Death comes slowly for some and for others like a thief in the night.
    When I was running the marathon last week, I ran part of the way near a woman who had a poster on her jersey saying she was running in memory of her mother and in honor of Kritsie.  After a few miles, I caught up to her and asked about her mother.  She said that she was 83 and died a week ago from pancreatic cancer.  I knowingly nodded and said that it’s a relentless form of disease.  She then said that her 55 year old sister in law Kristie has also been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  She had raised $4000 for pancreatic cancer research and was running in honor of both of them.  Another woman passed me and her shirt said, “If my sister can live with Lupus, I can run 26.2 miles.”  These women inspired me and helped me to put my little aches and pains into perspective.  So what if it’s hot and I’m tired, we can help each other out.  That’s what it’s about.
    Maybe that was part of the way they reconciled—showing that the lives of others can inspire us to achieve something ourselves.  Running a marathon, in addition to being evidence of madness, is also an exercise in overcoming adversity.  And as I realized last week, it was also about recognizing my limits and reconciling myself with the limits of age, limitlessness of my imagination.  
    When I run, I find it is a focused time when I can pray.  I connect with God.  I celebrate the fact that I am alive and that I have the ability to celebrate the body God has given to me, even with all of nits aches and pains.  While I run, I process my hopes and fears.  I bring to mind each of you.  I remember the people on our prayer list.  In the last several miles of last weekend’s marathon, I brought you to mind a lot, remembering that I am not alone, that I ran with many of your thoughts and prayers supporting me.  When I run and connect with God, I try in my feeble way to reconcile with God.  It doesn’t solve all of my problems, but it reminds me that I am not alone.  
    What do you need to reconcile?


     I took my mom to the Pride festival yesterday.  It was an educational experience for her.  She saw many outfits she had never seen before.  She saw booths selling fun jewelry and things that simply shocked her.  I had to explain to her that the Smitten Kitten was not a place to get something for her pet cats in Cleveland.  She met my activist colleagues at the advocacy booths and got a goodie bag full of stuff.  She agreed that it was good for her.  She’s at my brother’s church this morning.  They are probably not talking about the Pride festival.  
    We also spent time in the UBC booth, sharing the good news and greeting people who were happy that we were there.  One person was a bit agitated and said, “Where’s the atheist booth?”  I said it was four down from us, between the pagans and the Methodists.   I told my mom how LGBT folk have had their spirits attacked by well-meaning family members and churchy folk.  They come to me, broken and bruised.  My job is not to tell them it’s all right.  It’s not to reconcile them with their families, much as I want to.  My job is primarily to help them reconcile with God.  It’s about claiming who you are as a child of God.  It’s about remembering that you have been fearfully and wonderfully made.  It’s about celebrating your giftedness—all of it, even your sexuality.  It’s all a gift from God.
    Are you reconciled with God?  Are you and God on the same team?  Remember that God is always looking for you, available to you and seeks reconciliation with you.
    Paul’s words to us from second Corinthians are tough for us to look at.  It says that we are not to approach people from a human point of view, but from God’s point of view.  Dang, it’s so much easier the other way, when we can keep all of our petty and convenient prejudices in place.  Paul says that we are to recognize each person as a child of God—“If anyone is in Christ, we are a new creation; the old has passed away and the new has come.” (5:17)
    One of the booths we stopped at was a recovery booth.  As my mom was talking familiar language with folks in the booth, I looked at the 12 steps again.  It starts with recognizing that we are powerless over alcohol or whatever ails us.  We are then supposed to let God help us take our lives back.  We are to reconcile with God.  Then we are to make a fearless moral inventory—uncovering our deepest pits as well as our greatest successes.  Only after we do all of that, recognize we are powerless, succumb to God’s presence in our lives, rely on God and seeing ourselves for who we are—only then are we able, ready or prepared to reconcile with someone else.  And only then do we try to make amends for the things we did wrong and only if it would not hurt them.  
    So it makes sense that we need to find a way to reconcile with God, before we reconcile with another.  Maybe we need to seek God anew.
    You know, recognizing God in nature, in the diversity of people at the festival, in beauty is a good start.  God wants for all of us to be healthy and fulfilled in our lives.  We ought to pay attention when our advantages result in someone else’s disadvantages, because that upsets the balance of God’s created order.  
    I think about the angry man looking for the atheist tent and I wonder what hurt brought him away from a loving concept of God.  I think our work in large part is to repair the breaches that are out there and find ways for people to reconcile with God.
    Reconciliation assumes that there has been a breach.  And that the breach needs to be crossed.  If the breach is between you and God, repentance and forgiveness is a key portion of it.  If it’s between people, the same principle applies.
How are you and God doing?  Is there some place where you need to connect a bit more?  Are you living the way God would have you live?  Are you celebrating God’s wonderful creation?
    Remember, amidst the business of our lives, we need to pause and pray.  We need to look deep into ourselves.  We need to look at others.  But mostly we need to look to God and see if there is a way together that we can reconcile the breach that is out there.
    So as we enter this sunny Sunday, think about your relationships.  Think about those with whom you need to reconcile.
    And remember that you can reconcile with a person easiest when you have reconciled with God.  I invite you to join God in the important work of reconciliation.
    Hear this good news, building upon Hal’s fine sermon on forgiveness last week.  The apostle Paul says,
    “Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation; for the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.” (2Cor 5:17)
    We can be that new creation.  
    We can be better for ourselves and for the world.
    It starts with a desire to repair the breach, to reconcile.  And we can best reconcile with our brother or sister if we work toward reconciling with God.
    I’m reminded of the song Kate Campbell sings:
    “This is the message that I bring
    A message angels vain would sing
    Oh be ye reconciled, thus says our God and King
    Oh be ye reconciled to God.”