Preached at the Diocese of Virginia’s Reconciliation Commission meeting, 2005
Homily text: 2 Corinthians 5:17-20
So here we are, you and I, on the Eve of Pentecost, gathered, at the end of our retreat where we have been searching for a way to be reconciled—or, failing that, just searching for something that we can say to the diocese about reconciliation. I note that our gathering has some of the same ingredients that the original apostles had: anxiety, uncertainty, grief, fear, maybe some anger, not knowing the resolution to the great issue that confronts us, waiting (if unknowingly) for the Holy Spirit to come and help us out. It seems to me that we have an advantage over the original disciples, in that we know that Jesus lives, like the Holy Spirit, in each and every one of us who believes.
The text that has been chosen for us to reflect on during our worship is Saint Paul’s great teaching on reconciliation. As I have reflected on this passage this week the image that has kept coming to mind is of my friend Gail.
Gail, who will soon be 102 years old, is virtually blind and nearly deaf. I got to know her after she became homebound, so we do not have a shared life: we have nothing, it would seem, in common. I will summarize the differences in our worldviews this way: they clash on every front.
Luckily, Gail and I don’t spend much time dwelling on the things that we do not have in common. Instead, we spend time together: holy time. And in that space we discover the seemingly impossible: we share some things, after all:
- First, we each have a keen sense of humor, which allows us to laugh at our deeply held differences.
- Second, we share a quest for the holy, Gail having found it, while I am a mere wanna-be.
- Finally, we both care about the same things, and we care about each other very much.
Not long after the last General Convention Gail taught me a lesson about reconciliation. She said quite suddenly, “I forgive you for being a lesbian.”
This pronouncement startled me because it was a subject that had never arisen before. Truth be told, it also annoyed me, because I see no need for forgiveness for being who God created me to be. However, in that sacred space that God has formed in us, I managed to ask God what I should say that could be authentic to each of our very different senses of Truth, and what was given to me to say was “Thank you.” After some time I added, “And I forgive you for needing to forgive me.” To which Gail nodded gravely and replied merely, “Thank you.”
My story might seem too simple to apply to the situation that confronts us this weekend—finding a way to be reconciled or, failing that, just searching for something that we can say to the diocese about reconciliation. However, in my experience the simplest things can be the most profound, and possibly the most profound things quite simple.
So let’s give it a shot: Gail and I each set aside what had gotten in the way of being at one with God and, therefore, at one with each another. We set aside those things with which we were not in harmony, set aside those things that are not in the mind of Christ. We chose our unity over the things that divided us. Gail did not set aside her core beliefs, just her judgment of me; I did not set aside my core beliefs, either, just my anger about her judgment.
Somehow (it seems to me) we need to forgive each other for our differences, including our very different views about Truth, and to claim what we have in common. As we have agreed each time that we have met: if we do not have the resurrected Christ in common there is little hope for our efforts.
Saint Paul says that God reconciled us to himself through Christ, not counting our trespasses against us, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation, so that we and others can be reconciled to God.
Speaking strictly to myself now, albeit out loud and in your presence, I wonder: if I cannot be an ambassador of the message of reconciliation, how can I hope to share it with others who have not yet heard the Good News of God’s saving grace? If I cannot be an ambassador of the message of reconciliation, how can I hope to share it with you? How can I share it with anyone who holds a different view of Truth? How, then, will my efforts (as ambassador) close the gaps between God and me; God and humankind; you and me?
So I say to you, “I forgive you.” I do not say it glibly—I have really struggled with the concept of how to apply forgiveness to our situation. In thinking about this I have discovered that I have been reluctant to forgive—as you know, nursing a few grievances, perhaps because forgiveness invariably leads to acceptance—not necessarily agreement, but acceptance—of the differences that made forgiveness necessary.
In our Bible study yesterday we spent time reflecting on the reason that we are to be reconciled: So that we may be one, as God the Father and God the Son are completely one, so that the world may know that God sent Jesus and that he loved us. (Bible study text: John 17:1-26)
God invites us to be part of a new creation, a renewing creation, ever moving toward the heart and mind of God. God invites us to participate in the ministry of reconciliation and to be ambassadors for Christ. We are invited to be one in Christ and one with one another, that the world may know the love of God.
Risen Lord, you made yourself known to us in the breaking of the bread. Make yourself known to us also in moments of reconciliation. Amen.