Agents of Reconciliation

Homily for Sunday, November 13, 2016
Twenty Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Malachi 4:1-2a
Luke 21:5-19

christ_on_corcovado_mountainJust to be clear, the church in her lectionary cycle chose today’s readings before Wisconsin and Pennsylvania turned red late Tuesday evening…

Next Sunday is Consecration Sunday, the Sunday on which we are invited to make a pledge of financial support to Trinity Parish for 2017.  In just a moment, I’m going to tell why Ashley and I make it a priority to give generously, but first I want to say something about the election.

Last week in my homily I spoke about how our nation is counting on us to be Christians, to be agents of reconciliation.  I spoke about our nation’s polarization, and how we Christians have it in our DNA to hold together two seeming opposites: how Christmas unites heaven and earth; how the person of Jesus unites human and divine.  I referred to Paul in 2 Corinthians about reconciliation:  “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself… and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us…”  I quoted Bp Gates on paranoia versus metanoia – fear vs love.  And I urged us to focus, not on what divides us, but on how many good people are in this country, on both sides of the political divide, and to see past stereotypes to see more like God sees – that all are God’s beloved children worthy of our respect and even love.

Today, looking back at the election, I suspect many of us in Massachusetts are feeling what Mrs. Clinton said she was feeling.  In her concession speech on Wednesday, she said, “This is painful, and it will be for a long time.”  It’s easy to talk about being a reconciler when all is well, but it’s quite another to talk about reconciliation when we are in pain.

Relationship researchers who study the dynamics of couples speak of “persistent unsolvable problems.”  Every relationship has “solvable problems,” which a couple can settle, say, over a cup of coffee.  Then there are “unsolvable problems” which we can’t readily solve, and which can over time become “persistent unsolvable problems.”  (Those who have been married for some time will know of what I speak!)   Contrary to what we might think, a persistent unsolvable problem need not cause the end of the relationship; indeed, we can come to love our partner not just in spite of the problem but because of it.

Writing on his website, couples counselor Kyle Benson says:

The idea that couples must resolve all their problems is a fairy tale…  The goal should not be to solve every problem.  It should be to work with each other in order to improve the relationship to the extent that you are left with a set of unsolvable problems that both your partner and you can learn to tolerate, and even cherish.  You shouldn’t…  let some disagreements get in the way of a healthy, and otherwise happy relationship.

64055296_39f19929f0_bTo live with a persistent unsolvable problem requires much from both parties.  Living with a persistent unsolvable problem requires listening.  It requires honesty about our feelings and vulnerability in sharing.  It requires sensitivity in how we communicate.  It takes patience and self-confidence, and trust that the partner is not going anywhere.  It takes resilience, generosity, and a willingness to forgive and to be forgiven.  And it requires love – lots of love, tenderness and affection.   Living with a persistent unsolvable problem is difficult, but it can be done!

I wonder if it might help to approach our country’s deep divisions as we would a “persistent unsolvable problem.”   We might think that our country is irrevocably polarized, that our situation is unsolvable and therefore hopeless.  But as a Christian, I am hopeful.  (As Cornell West said, “I cannot be an optimist, but I am a prisoner of hope.”)  I am hopeful that we can find a way to learn to live with others such that, while we may disagree strenuously, yet we can have a healthy civitas in which we can listen and be honest, in which we can practice patience and be sensitivite, in which we can be generous and compassionate, appreciate differences – maybe even love because of differences – and together work for the common good.

We Christians have much to offer our country, for we have it in our DNA to reconcile even when costly, even where there is a “persistent unsolvable problem.”   The ability to reconcile even when costly is in our DNA because the cross is in our DNA.  Jesus is so committed to reconciliation – so committed to breaking down “the dividing wall, that is, the hostility, between us” (Eph 2) – that He went to the cross.  And by virtue His cross and our Baptism into it, His wounds are our wounds.  We have it within us to do as Jesus did, to walk alongside those different from us, to listen, to have patience, to be generous, loving and compassionate, even when it is at great cost to us.  We have the capacity to maintain relationship – even to love – where there is a “persistent unsolvable problem.”

Which is not to say that we are not to stand up against hatred and bigotry, racism and misogyny, all of which we have seen in this coarse campaign.  Nor are we to be idle while our climate suffers further degradation, about which both the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch – the heads of the Church, both East and West – have spoken forcefully against.   But as we do, may we remember that evil will never be overcome with evil, but that we are called to “overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21).

I hope and pray that, in the coming weeks and months, we remember that we are Christians.  We are disciples of Him who has made us “one new humanity” (Eph 2:24); reconciliation is in our DNA.  We can make a positive difference in our civitas.  And I hope we will remember that God loves this world – this very world – and has enough hope and belief in us that – as the book of Revelation tells us – someday He will make His home here, to “dwell with [us]; [we] will be his peoples, and God himself will be with [us],” and “will wipe every tear from [our] eyes.”  May we remember.

Speaking from my own experience, one of the best ways to be open to this grace of hope is through generous giving.   As I give generously to God, so do I tend to respond generously elsewhere in my life, including in my interactions with those “other” than I.  And giving generously helps to release me from fear.  Let me explain.

Many of you know the story of how Ashley and I came to be 10% givers, how one Lent we gave away 50% of everything that came into the house one and discovered how freeing it was.  (OMG, it felt great!)  Since deciding to give ten percent of our income to God, Ashley and I have never been afraid about not having enough money.  I know it makes no sense, that to give money makes us feel as though we have more of it, but it’s true.  And living in this world without fear – or at least with a lot less fear – makes it possible to better love, and to better see the possibility of a fruitful and meaningful relationship even where there is a “persistent unsolvable problem.”

This week, as we prepare for Consecration Sunday, I invite you to pray about what you might give to God in 2017. If ten percent of your income seems unrealistic, maybe start with five, and then work your way up, one or two percent per year, until you come to ten.  Or you could do as Ashley and I did, and jump right in with ten percent.  We’ve never regretted it, nor do we ever regret the sacrifices we make in order that we can be generous. Giving generously, we discovered how good it feels to give.

Not in recent memory has this country so needed us to be Christians.  And generous giving will help to release us from fear.  From fear about not having enough; from fear for our country’s future; from fear of those who are different from us.  Being released from fear enables us to better love, so that we might more fully live as He did – encountering and engaging the “other,” listening  and loving – and through His loving and through His offering, reconciling this world to Himself.

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