Posts Tagged ‘restoration’

Peace, peace, peace

April 27, 2019

Easter 2 – 2019

John 20:19-31

Marian Free

In the name of the Prince of Peace, who bestows on us that peace that the world cannot give. Amen.

Yesterday I was listening to Saturday Extra on the ABC. Even though it was off topic, Geraldine Doogue could not help sharing something that she felt was the most extraordinary piece of news. Apparently, South Korea has built new hiking tracks which take walkers up the hills and to the edge of the de-militarized zone. These tracks are to be called ‘Peace tracks’. That said, hikers will need to be accompanied by several armed soldiers and they themselves will be equipped with bullet proof vests and army issue helmets! For most, if not all of us, the equipment would be suggestive of anything but peace.

Last year we marked then100th Anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles which exacted such a toll on Germany that is could be said that the cost of peace was the Second World War. The 2nd of September, 1945 is the date on which WWII officially ended, but that date does not accurately reflect the end of various conflicts that continued throughout Europe for decades as a result of the hostilities. ISIS has been defeated in Syria – in the sense that it no longer has control over any territory but the recent acts of terror in Sri Lanka are clear evidence that ISIS is far from being a spent force.

All this begs the question: What is peace? Is it the defeat of the known enemy? Is it the reclamation of lost territory? Is it the complete cessation of hostilities or simply the end of hostilities between the major players? Does peace require the humiliation of the vanquished or the payment of reparation? In most cases peace does not mean the settling of differences, nor does it mean reconciliation. At best, the end of war signals resentment and distrust – I remember returned soldiers who absolutely refused to buy anything Japanese such was the depth of feeling of those who had suffered at their hands. On the other hand, within decades, if not years, the past is forgotten as economic interests forge new relationships with those who once were the enemy.

Peace on the world stage is a very different beast from the inner peace that faith offers. We speak of “being at peace with ourselves and with the world”. By which we mean being content with who and what we are and with the situation in which we find ourselves.

Three times in today’s gospel Jesus says to the disciples and to Thomas: “Peace be with you.” Frank L. Crouch suggests that each time Jesus uses the words they have a slightly different meaning. My interpretation is different from his, but it is helpful to speculate on what Jesus might mean by repeating the phrase.

It is hard to imagine the scene. The disciples fled in fear when Jesus was arrested and now, even though they have heard reports that Jesus has risen, they are in hiding for fear that they will be arrested and killed as known associates of Jesus. They are still in Jerusalem and have locked the doors to give them some sense of security. I imagine them huddled together, going over the events of the last three years and in particular the events of the last week. What did it all mean? What should they do next? How could they safely leave Jerusalem? Who could they trust?

Suddenly, despite the locked doors, Jesus appears in their midst. Instead of recriminations he offers them peace. “Peace be with you.” There is no need to berate yourselves for what you did and did not do. The past is the past. There is no need to be anxious or afraid, I am with you. In the midst of their confusion and fear, Jesus offers peace. Now that they know that Jesus is not holding their cowardice against them, the disciples do not need to dwell on the past. Now that they are confident that Jesus is alive, they can have confidence that, whatever the future holds, God will bring them safely through. In other words, they can be at peace with themselves and at peace with the world.

A second time Jesus says: “Peace be with you.” This time the peace that Jesus offers is less comforting and more challenging. Having reassured the disciples that they still have their place among his followers, Jesus tells them that he is commissioning them to carry on his work. The disciples’ relationship with Jesus has been restored, but the story does not end there. The peace that Jesus offers now provides reassurance. Jesus’ confidence in them extends to his confidence that he can send them to continue his mission. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Jesus cannot promise the disciples that the road ahead will be smooth, but he gives them peace – the knowledge that they can and will manage whatever difficulties confront them.

Finally, Jesus says: “Peace be with you” when he appears to the disciples a second time – for the benefit of Thomas. Peace is offered not just to Thomas but to all the disciples. Perhaps this time Jesus is addressing tension within the group – after all Thomas was not able to believe that the others had seen Jesus. Perhaps this third time, Jesus is gently chiding the disciples and reminding them of the prayer that he had uttered in their presence before he died: “that they may all one. As you Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us that the world may believe” (17:21).

Restoration, challenge, command – the peace that Jesus offers is all these things. When we feel that we have let Jesus down, he will come to us and let us know that all is right. When we are unsure what to do next, Jesus will nudge us in the right direction. When our relationships with each other are stretched Jesus will remind us of the command to love one another.

Jesus offers the peace that the world cannot give – a peace that quietens our nerves and reminds us that God does not abandon us though we might abandon God and a peace that gives us courage to step out in faith in response to God’s call. In return Jesus asks us to be at peace with one another so that the world seeing our unity with one another, may see in us the unity between Jesus and God and so come to believe.

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Exposed for all to see

August 29, 2015

Pentecost 14 – 2015

Mark 7:1-8, 14-23

Marian Free

 

Lord our God, our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier, we ask you to cleanse us from all hypocrisy, to unite us to our fellow men and women by the bonds of peace and love, and to confirm us in holiness now and forever. Amen.

Last week we looked – in a rather light-hearted way – at a number of the reasons people give for not inviting others to church. As I reflected on some of those reasons, it occurred to me that not one of us mentioned that the church was perceived as hypocritical. In the latter half of the last century if not before, the accusation of hypocrisy was often leveled at the church and used to justify non-attendance. If the subject of church attendance was raised, we were as likely as not to be told: “I don’t go to church, the church is full of hypocrites”. Those who made the accusation felt that the lives of churchgoers did not match the values and morals that they proclaimed to uphold. To be fair, this statement was made in an age in which the church had set itself up as the moral guardian of society at large and not only did many people feel burdened by the sometimes harsh demands placed on them, but on more than one occasion the church or its members had spectacularly fallen from grace. Issues such as fraud, adultery and underage sex all made front-page headlines and demonstrated that even members of the church were unable to achieve the high standards that they set for others.

The reputation of the church was seriously eroded long before the more recent revelations of the prevalence of child sex abuse in the church and its agencies.

It has been a long time since I have heard the hypocrisy of the church used as a reason for someone not to come to worship or as a justification for abandoning the faith. The reason for this is simple. Over the last decade or so the human frailty of the church has been laid bare for all to see. In the light of catastrophic failures such as child sex abuse it has become impossible for the church to continue to claim the high moral ground and difficult for us to impose on others standards of behaviour that we ourselves cannot consistently achieve. Collectively, we have been forced to concede that we cannot always live out what we preach.

I don’t know about you, but I find this new situation strangely liberating. It means is that we no longer have to pretend. Instead of trying to present a perfect face to the world, we can now be honest about our brokenness and frailty. Instead of standing apart from (dare I say above) society as a whole, we can admit our common humanity. Instead of constantly striving to be what we are not, we can finally relax and let people see us as we really are – imperfect, struggling human beings, set apart only by virtue of our belief in the God revealed by Jesus Christ.

While the exterior of the church may be tarnished and our failures laid bare for all to see, we have been set free from the unnecessary burden of pretence. Now that there is no longer anything left to hide, now that it is impossible to pretend that we are something that we are not, we can concentrate on our true vocation – being in a relationship with the God who accepts us as we are, frees us from guilt and fear and challenges us to strive for wholeness and peace – for ourselves and for others.

Our gospel this morning warns us against giving priority to rules in the belief that somehow we can achieve a degree of godliness simply by our own efforts. It is a reminder that it is what we try to be, not what we pretend to be that really matters. Authentic living, the gospel suggests, means that we should not elevate our public image at the expense of an honest and authentic engagement with and identification with the world at large.

These are lessons that for today’s church have been hard-won but, thanks to the failures of the past, it is much clearer now that the church (the Christian faith) is less about codes of behaviour and more about love, less about being good and more about being with God, less about judgement and more about forgiveness, less about guilt and more about acceptance, less about anxiety and more about confidence, less about exclusion and more about inclusion and most importantly that it is less about putting on a face and more about being real.

We come to church, not because we believe that we are better than everyone else, but because we know that we are not. We come to church as we are – broken and lost – knowing that we are assured of a welcome from the God who forgives the sinner, seeks the lost, embraces the prodigal, lifts the fallen and who longs to heal, forgive and restore a humanity that has lost its way.

This is what we (the church) have to offer the world – not a false image of perfection, but an assurance that God who loved us enough to die for us, is waiting with outstretched arms until each of us finds our way home.

 

As Rowan Williams said in his enthronement sermon: “The one great purpose of the Church’s existence is to share that bread of life, to hold open in its words and actions a place where we can be with Jesus and to be channels for his free, unanxious, utterly demanding, grown-up love. The Church exists to pass on the promise of Jesus – You can live in the presence of God without fear; you can receive from God’s fullness and set others free from fear and guilt.”

 

Reconciled to God and to one another

April 13, 2013

Easter 3. 2013

John 21:1-19

Marian Free

In the name of God, who in Jesus, redeems us and sets us free from all our sins. Amen.

One of the most extraordinary things associated with the end of apartheid in South Africa was the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Instead of seeking retribution and/or reparation for the events of the past, the new government committed itself to a process of listening to the stories, the pain and the hurt of the past and trying to bring about healing rather than creating further division. Perhaps the most courageous aspect of this process was the commitment to those who had carried out atrocities that they would not be prosecuted if they came forward and told the truth.

If you have the stomach for a harrowing experience, I suggest that you watch the movie, Red Dust. In it a former South African police officer, Dirk Hendriks, wants to confess to the torture and beating of Alex Mpondo – a member of Parliament. Alex is anxious about testifying. It means reliving the horror and dealing with the death of his friend Steve. When the trial starts, Hendriks accuses him of denouncing Steve, which causes his own community to abandon him. Alex is sure he did not betray his friend, but his memory is not sufficiently clear nor can he produce evidence to prove his version of events

Hendrik’s former boss, Piet Muller, wants to ensure that only a sanitised account is made known so that he is not implicated in the events. He has a vested interest in discrediting Alex.

So we watch as Alex finds the courage to testify and to re-live the experience of his own torture and the agony of having to watch his friend’s horrendous suffering and death. We are indignant when we discover that Alex’s version of events cannot be supported by other evidence and when his fellow ANC members turn against him. We are relieved when his account is proven to be true. We witness the grief and relief of Steve’s mother as her son’s remains are recovered and she acknowledges that he is indeed dead.

The story doesn’t end there. When Muller realises that his part in Alex’s torture and Steve’s death has been exposed, he makes the decision to protect himself by confessing. In order for this to work, Alex has to allow the process to proceed. Alex is furious. He can see that Muller is only protecting himself. He cannot bear the thought that this man will walk free despite the atrocities he has committed. Gradually, Alex works through his anger, his need for retribution and reparation and he comes to the decision that he must let go of the past no matter how unpalatable that decision may be. He comes to the understanding that withholding his cooperation will solve nothing so he allows the process to continue.

Of course, I don’t know how well the process has worked overall, but from a Christian perspective it seems to me that it is a more positive (if extraordinarily painful) way to deal with conflict resolution especially on a personal, neighbourhood or national level. If the perpetrators of violent acts can acknowledge what they have done and if the victims can find the strength to surrender their need to have their suffering validated by the punishment of the other it just might be possible to find a way to escape the cycle of retribution and violence that keeps some conflicts going.

Our sense of justice is finely honed, but storing up bitterness, anger and hatred does no one any good. Vengeance does not lead to reconciliation or to the restoration of relationships. That is not to say that the perpetrators of abuse should not be held accountable or that crimes and misdeeds should simply be overlooked. Unacceptable behaviour remains unacceptable and must be named as such and it must not be allowed to continue. On the other hand, no matter how insincere a person’s “confession” might be, any admission of wrong doing means that their behaviour is exposed and they can no longer pretend to be what they are not. The past is laid open for others to judge.

The scale is different, but accountability and restoration feature in today’s gospel.

Despite having said that he will follow Jesus to death, Peter has denied Jesus not once but three times. Confronted with Jesus’ arrest, Peter has revealed that he was not as courageous as he had thought he would be. Even though he followed Jesus’ progress through the court system, Peter did not want to be identified as one of Jesus’ followers. Having promised complete and total loyalty, he lacked the courage to stand up and be counted. He watched Jesus being unjustly condemned but did nothing to intervene

You would think, wouldn’t you, that such behaviour would be hard to forgive. You would understand if Jesus, having undergone the excruciating agony of crucifixion, might want to extract some sort of reparation from those who abandoned him. He would be justified in thinking that Peter should accept the consequences of his denial. In fact, it would not be surprising to us if Jesus had given Peter the cold shoulder and frozen him out of any further involvement in the movement.

Jesus however, acts in a way that is contrary to all our expectations. He does not confront Peter (or any of the other disciples for that matter) and accuse him (them) of cowardice, desertion and betrayal. He doesn’t demand recompense from Peter for his treachery, his abandoning him in his hour of need. He doesn’t make Peter prove his loyalty and demonstrate his commitment before they can be friends again. Instead he does what by human standards is almost unthinkable. Not only does he overlook what Peter has done, but he gives to Peter the preeminent role in the community. “Feed my lambs, shepherd my sheep.” Peter is commissioned to take over where Jesus left off. Peter, the deserter is to become Peter the leader

That does not mean that Peter is not held accountable for what he has done. His crime may not be named, but Jesus’ threefold request and Peter’s obvious discomfort are evidence that Peter is being asked to accept responsibility for his weakness and for the fact that he turned his back on his leader and his friend. Without having to make recompense, without being isolated, excluded and punished, Peter is restored to his place in the community, his place in Jesus’ affection and given new responsibility. History shows that Jesus’ confidence is not misplaced.

And this, brothers and sisters is the extraordinary thing about the God in whom we believe. We abandon and betray God, but God does not abandon us. We nail God to a cross and still God continues to trust in us. It is this, I hope – God’s love and trust in us, not the threat of punishment or the fear of the fires of hell – that makes us respond, that encourages us to behave in ways that deserve such confidence. Even at our worst, God sees the good in us. Let us do all that we can to live up to God’s faith in us.


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