Embodying God’s Reconciling Love

Sermon preached on 06 September 2020 – St. Barnabas’ Famouth, MA
available on youtube here

May I speak in the name of God who is Love. 

At first glance, our Gospel for today seems to be a framework for conflict resolution. But if we expand beyond the lectionary to include what comes before, I think we get some helpful context about what Jesus is saying to the church in this passage. Immediately preceding the verses about harm and faults, Jesus shares an example of God’s love. He says God‘s love is like a shepherd who having 100 sheep was so distraught at losing one of them that he left the 99 to go, find, and rescue the one lost sheep. 

In Jesus‘s description of the church, he is instructing us to embody this love of God in our relationships with one another. He is saying, I want you to long for one another so much that when harm happens, we don’t just cut one another off or cast one another aside but instead we work to reconcile the relationship. 

The way that I see it, the church embodies this love on three levels – ourselves, with one another, and in the wider community.

In terms of reconciliation with self, I figured that because this is my first Sunday here it’s an appropriate time to share a little bit of my story. Not my whole story, we have three years for that, but to tell you how the church has been a place of reconciliation for me. 

I grew up in the Lutheran church and I absolutely loved it. I loved making the popsicle stick crosses, I love singing the hymns, and I loved most of all, communion – walking down the aisle on Sunday, putting my little hands out getting a wafer and a small cup of wine. I stayed really active in the church in high school and even at the beginning of college until he became more involved in a conservative branch of the church – where it seems like my sadness and my struggles were often viewed as sins that I can get it to fix – At some point, I was tired of hearing how bad I was, so I left the church.

I only returned two years later with my employer Kristen invited me to the baptism of her son at Saint David’s Episcopal Church. Right away, I felt at home immediately – the liturgy reminded me of growing up – especially Eucharist and while I didn’t find a place to make popsicle stick crosses at 22, I found an adult small group that had dinner together regularly. And we talked about our real lives, challenges with depression, marital problems and recovery, this was a place where people could bring their whole selves. And it was there around those tables that I learned at the church was called to embody the truth of God’s love and longing for each one of us, no matter what, and in that please, I knew I was reconciled to God.

This sort of love is not just between me and God it also between me and you between each one of us. 

That’s what our gospel for today focuses on, what reconciliation looks like between two people. Jesus’ instructions are clear, be direct when harm is done to you – don’t be passive aggressive, or go gossip behind the person’s back. Instead go straight to the person and share the harm that has been done. Now this is not to make someone feel bad or to lord it over them. Rather it’s to tell one another how we’ve hurt each other in the hopes that we can change and grow to be more like God. 

If someone tells me how I  hurt them, the idea is that I listen deeply to their pain and out of my longing for them, my love for them, I am willing to change so that we can maintain relationship with one another. And likewise when others know how they have hurt me that they are willing change to change to restore relationship. 

Jesus is very clear that reconciliation requires change, he says that if someone doesn’t listen to you over and over again if they are unwilling to stop doing harm, the relationship you have with them must take on a different form. And that is because the church is called to embody God’s reconciling love, a process of ongoing change, that we might more closely resemble the body of Christ.

Lastly, the church is called to participate in the reconciliation of the wider community – to recognize that God‘s longing and love extends far beyond our walls. 

To recognize that if God is distraught over the one sheep, imagine the level of pain God feels when thousands of immigrant children are lost on the border, ripped from their families. 

That if God is saddened over the loss of one sheep, imagine the depths of God’s sadness for the hundreds of thousands of lives lost to COVID, most of those lives in poor communities, Black communities, Indigenous communities, and communities of color. 

And if God is heartbroken over the loss of one sheep, imagine God’s heartbreak over the death of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Gardner, George Floyd, and so many other senseless deaths because of racist violence. 

The church is called to name the harm that is being done in the wider community. Because only when we speak the truth, can we go about the work of building systems that heal and of restoring relationships. This work is more than politics or equity and diversity or even about doing the right things it’s about embodying the longing that God has each One of God’s children.

This is the work of the church to be a place where relationships are restored with God, with one another, and in the wider community.

 It is not easy work, the good news is that we are not doing it alone. The very foundations of the church and other reading today, is that we need one another to do this work. And like it is promised in our gospel, when two or three of us join in this work of reconciliation together, Jesus is with us. Emboldening us, sustaining us, and guiding us on the way. 

So make it God gave us the grace to hear where the spirit is leading and the courage to follow.

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