Oct 25th Sermon – Our ministry of reconciliation.
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October 25 Sermon, Steven Koski, First Presbyterian Church of Bend – powered by Happy Scribe
On November 3rd, we will elect a president and we will elect many others who will serve in public office. This election is taking place in a time of a global pandemic, a time when there is so much heartbreak and hardship and suffering. This election is also taking place at a time when the wounds and divisions in our country are so deep and dangerous. What is the role of the church in the context of this election at a time such as this?
What is the role for us as followers of Jesus, those who are committed to the radical way of love of Jesus in a time such as this.
Pope Francis this week said in such times of harshness and hostility, tenderness is the pathway of choice for the courageous and strong. Pope Francis is calling for a revolution of tenderness. We’re wrapping up our October sermon series, Holy Chaos, Getting Creative in Conflict.
How can we move from from the mindset of us against them? Is it possible to move to us and them? Is it possible to to build bridges and collaborate with those who perhaps are in opposition to us and work together to build a better world? You know, in the days ahead, could tenderness be the bridge that will help us to to cross the great chasm of conflict and chaos that we’re experiencing right now?
November 3rd is perhaps the most consequential election in my lifetime. Vote. Please vote. Encourage others to vote. Vote being led by your conscience. In fact, we Presbyterian’s believe God alone is Lord of the conscience.
Now, I know. Some of you are already thinking, please, please. What does voting have to do with our faith? Please keep politics out of the pulpit. An election is not a popularity contest between two or more people where we where we choose the one we like the most. An election is a contest of ideas that will shape our communities, our nation, even our world. It’s a contest, a debate, a discernment of moral values that will deeply and profoundly impact people’s lives. Voting is an act of moral discernment
deciding the values that will shape public policy and shape our common life together. That’s actually what the word politics means, polis, people, common life together. Voting is an act of moral agency. You know, yes, you’re right, I don’t have a right and it’s not my job to tell you who to vote for. Partisan partisan politics has no place in the pulpit and has no place in the church. But partisan neutrality is not the same as moral neutrality. It’s not my job to tell you who to vote for. I’d be delinquent at my job if I didn’t remind you that that voting is not something separate from your faith. Voting is actually an expression of your faith. It’s an act of love. There are political leaders in all parties who exercise their power in corrupt ways because leadership isn’t intended to be about power. Leadership is intended to be about service.
I think Jesus understood it best where he said in the gospel of Matthew that those who are greatest among you are the ones willing to be become a servant and not just a servant for some but a servant for all. As we consider our vote as people of faith and followers of Jesus,our discernment is not who who’s going to best serve my interests?
Our discernment is who will best shape public policy that will serve the common good; who will best shape public policy that will help us live out our commitment to love our neighbor, to feed the hungry, to care for the sick, to welcome the stranger; who will shape public policy that will help us to care for the least of these; that will help us to care for God’s holy Earth. So, you’re absolutely right, it is not my place to tell you who to vote for, but I want to remind you, as a follower of Jesus
that voting certainly isn’t separate from our faith. It’s an expression of our faith. It’s an act of love. But where our faith is going to be really called upon is not just leading up to November 3rd but in the days following November 3rd. That’s where there’s going to be, in the words of Pope Francis, need for a revolution of tenderness. Because no matter the outcomes of this election, there is going to be a large segment of our nation that will be angry and in despair and looking for ways to express that anger and lash out. And there’s going to be a large segment of our nation who will be triumphant and gleeful and perhaps looking for ways to gloat and to boast. That is a toxic and explosive mixture.
So no matter the outcome on November 3rd, whoever is elected, the wounds of our nation, the divides of our nation, are not going to be healed by itself. Those wounds are very likely to deepen and the conflict is very likely to get worse. Unless,we choose to act otherwise; unless we choose to join and invite others to join a revolution of tenderness where we choose wherever there might be walls of hostility to risk trying to build bridges that might move us towards God’s dream, a beloved community. President Abraham Lincoln in his first inaugural address called forth the better angels of our nature. The better angels of our nature are so needed right now. And before his his second inaugural address, he spoke some words hoping to to to lift and to heal a broken nation’s soul.
President Lincoln said. With malice toward none. With charity towards all. With a firmness in what is right, as God helps us see what is right. With malice toward none. With charity for all. Imagine with me for a moment, imagine after we voted, if we signed a pledge, if we made a vow before we even knew the outcome of the election, if we made a vow: With malice toward none. With charity for all.
Now imagine with me for a moment if we were to sign a pledge and if we were to make a vow. Before the outcome of the election, imagine if we vowed not to hate, disdain, or ridicule those who vote differently than us; that if we vowed before we even know whether we’re upset or pleased with the outcome of the election, if we vowed to look for ways to understand the aspirations and the concerns of those with whom we disagree; if we vowed to actually look for ways to cooperate, build bridges, and work together.
Imagine if we signed a pledge and we vowed to heal and not divide in our words and in our actions. With malice toward none. And charity for all. Now, such a vow doesn’t gloss over our differences, doesn’t pretend the divide and the deep wounds don’t exist. It doesn’t ask us to stop standing up for what we believe to be right and just. It asks us to choose love. It asks us to look for the image of God in the ones with whom we disagree. It is a commitment to look for and see and respect the humanity in those we oppose. It actually asks us in this world with clenched fists and hardened hearts to join a revolution of tenderness; to be Christ ambassadors entrusted with the ministry of Reconciliation.
I love our Bible reading today. Paul was actually speaking to a conflicted people, a conflicted church, and he wrote this second letter to the church at Corinth. And Paul says, God was in Christ reconciling the whole world to God’self and we we have been entrusted with that ministry of reconciliation as Christ’s ambassadors. What Paul is saying here is the spirit of God was present in Jesus and we see the spirit of God moving boldly and clearly in Jesus and the Spirit of God is continuing to move in the world joining that which is separate, healing that which is which is broken, breaking down the walls of hostility so hat bridges can be built to God’s beloved community. Wherever there is judgment and hate sowing seeds of love. And Paul says that that we’ve been given this same job, the same ministry, this Ministry of Reconciliation as Christ’s Ambassadors. Now, to be an ambassador implies that that’s you’re sent on assignment with a mission. We act as representatives of the Kingdom of God sent to live in the kingdoms of this world.
We are sent as ambassadors to represent God’s values: peace, justice, reconciliation, forgiveness, inclusion. Those values often stand in stark contrast with the dominant values of our society, of the kingdoms of our world like greed, xenophobia,revenge and retaliation, self-interest. What Paul is saying here is that the spirit of God is continuing to move in and among us. This might be where we live but it’s not our home.
What Paul is saying is that our home is in God’s heart. And we are sent on assignment to be God’s beating heart in a divided world. As Christ’s ambassadors, we have a job to do: to live and love like Jesus. The spirit of God is continuing to move. We dare to believe and to trust that that Spirit of God cannot be impeded, cannot be blocked, cannot be stopped. It might be held back for a while, but it ultimately cannot be stopped.
And it is the Spirit that joins, heals, restores, reconciles. We are the ambassadors of that movement. The revolutionaries of tenderness. There’s a story of two neighbors. These two neighbors couldn’t stand each other. They haven’t talked to each other for years. Their animosity was over the dumbest thing, as so often our animosity can be: stray cat. You see, a stray cat appeared. They were neighbors, farmers on adjacent farms and one of the neighbors took in the stray cat. But one day, the cat wandered off his porch across the valley that separated the two farms onto the other porch of his neighbor. Well, that neighbor took the cat in and now they both claim that it was their cat. And whenever they got together to talk about it, they argued and shouted. They they saw the worst in each other and they blamed each other. They called each other’s names until they just quit talking to each other.
But what they didn’t quit was this contempt that they held for each other. Well, a traveler was wandering the dusty roads adjacent to those two farms looking for work. One of the farmers saw him and said, So you’re a carpenter, huh? Well, I just might have a job for you. See that house in that field over there. That’s my neighbor’s house, my stupid neighbor. See that ditch between our properties?
He calls it the creek. I mean, he created that ditch. He took his plow and plowed it. He went up on the hill and changed the direction of the spring coming down the hill so that we would be divided. So if he wants us to be divided that much, I’m going to finish the job. Here’s what I want you to do. I want you to build a fence across this field and I want you to build it is as tall as you possibly can because I don’t want to see that face of my neighbor ever again.
Can you do that? And the carpenter said, yeah, well, yeah, I think I can do that. But, you know, it’s going to take a lot of wood. It’s going to take probably a lot more wood than you have here. So tell you what, I’ll get started. But you need to go into town and to get more wood. The farmer said, OK, you get started, I’ll go get the wood. But I want that fence built by sundown.
A couple hours later, the farmer came driving down that rutted road with his old truck full of lumber, and he looked out into the field to see where that fence would be. But there wasn’t a fence. Do you know what that carpenter built? A bridge. A bridge that crossed that creek that separated the two fields, a bridge onto his land. Well, that farmer is about ready to get out of that truck and swear at that carpenter,when he saw his neighbor walking across the bridge with a smile on his face and his hand outstretched. His neighbor said it took a lot of courage to build this bridge. I just assumed you’d be happy if you never heard my voice again.
But here. You invited me over. I’ve been so foolish. Can you forgive me? And that farmer’s heart softened. And he said, well, I knew all along it was your cat. And he turned to the carpenter and said, hey, if you want to stay a while, I got a lot more work you can do. And the carpenter said, you’ll be fine, besides, I have more bridges to build. Friends, here’s a challenge for this week, take a risk, take a risk to build a bridge, to build a bridge where there’s a wall of hostility.
You know, most people say things will never change. Most people say the divides will never be healed. But we are not people of fate. We are people of faith, faith in Jesus, faith in the love Jesus revealed, the love that continues to move and refuses to be defeated. And we are called to be ambassadors for that love. So no matter what the outcome of the election on November 3rd, the days are going to be hard.
But we can do this. We must do this. Revolutionaries of tenderness. With malice toward none. And charity for all. May it be so.