Thursday, September 29, 2011

"Walking the Walk" Message, September 25, 2011, Rev. Martha Daniels

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
The word of our God came to me: What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? As I live, says God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die.
Yet you say, “The way of God is unfair.” Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, “The way of God is unfair.” O house of Israel, are my ways unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?
Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the Holy One. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says our God. Turn, then, and live.

Matthew 21:23-32
When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the realm of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.
Let us pray. Holy one, you who hold all authority, bless us with a fresh anointing of your spirit. Open our hearts and minds to your truth, to your love; give us courage and strength to act with love and understanding, with your wisdom and authority, not ours. In all things we ask that your will be done, your truth and love be made known, in spite of our human weaknesses and failings. In your many names we pray, amen.

There’s an old saying—Actions speak louder than words. A more modern version says, Don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk. Or you can say, Talk is cheap.

They all point to the same thing. We can say all we want about something—what we believe, how people should live, what is the best thing to do—but when it comes down to it, do we actually DO what we said?

If I say I am ecologically minded and want to conserve energy and protect the earth, but throw trash on the ground, don’t reuse bags, leave all my lights on all the time, drive a big car with poor gas mileage and cut down all the trees on my property, will you believe that I really want to save the earth? Probably not!

If I talk about the importance of exercise, and going to the gym, and eating a healthy diet, but drive everywhere, eat fast food three times a day and don’t own a bicycle, would you think I really believe that a good diet and plenty of exercise are good things? I don’t think so!

I would not be walking the walk.

What about those religious leaders who confront Jesus? They have been given places of authority—people look up to them as educated and wise people who can offer advice and guidance on holy living. They are supposed to have the answers. And yet when Jesus asks them a question, they are more concerned about the reaction of other people than they are about the truth of the answer.

It’s a simple question. Where does John the Baptist’s authority come from? And yet those religious leaders don’t have an answer.  They have responses that they come up with, but they don’t use either of them because they don’t want anyone upset with them, neither the crowds nor Jesus. So they come up with this non-answer.

In Scottish courts, there are three verdicts available to a judge or jury: guilty, not guilty, and not proven. The last is unique, and generally means that court thinks the person is guilty but that the evidence was not strong enough. In other words, “not guilty but don’t do it again.”

This is where the religious leaders are coming down—we don’t want to say, we can’t say, we don’t know, we’re afraid—and so they turn the question back to Jesus. It’s a non-answer.

And that is how they are acting, too—unsure, not really wanting to commit one way or another until they see how the political wind blows, unwilling to take a stand or speak the truth as they truly see it.

Those two sons in Jesus’ parable didn’t act exactly like the religious leaders, but very close to it. The one said he would do what his father asked—not wanting to rock the boat, not wanting to look defiant, not wanting a conflict with his father. But he didn’t do it. He talked the talk but  didn’t walk the walk.

The second son, on the other hand, said he would not do it but then did do as his father asked. He didn’t talk the talk—but he did walk the walk.

Actions speak louder than words. His words said no, but his actions said yes—and that was what mattered.

I have known people who felt organized religion was a waste of time, and would never be found in a church—and yet they are caring, generous, loving people, truly sharing the love of Christ for the world. They don’t talk the talk either, but they do walk the walk. And truth be told, I am more comfortable with them than people who claim to be Christian and yet are judgemental, bigoted and unloving—talking the talk but not walking the walk.

Why are people so often afraid to walk that walk?

One word—the “C” word—change.

Human beings, or most of us, are afraid of change, are uncomfortable with change. In my church administration classes, one of the biggest debates was over introducing change into the congregation—new worship music, a new pastor, a new Bible translation, or heaven forbid, moving the pews. Some people argued for all the new changes at once, so people would only have to adjust once, and others were for changing one thing at a time, so people would have something they were used to. Should a new pastor make a lot of new changes when she first arrived or give it a year? A new broom sweeps clean, but would it be too overwhelming?


If those religoous authorities had answered either way to Jesus—that John was sent from God, or that he was acting on his own, human authority—change would have resulted. Either they would have had to admit they were wrong and that John was of God, and that therefore they should have been baptised by him; or they would have had to say they didn’t think John was of God and then have to face the wrath of the people who thought John was from God—those people who paid the religious leaders and supported them through the Temple tax. They didn’t want either one.  They were happy with things the way they were and didn’t want the changes. They were comfortable—they were satisfied with their lives exactly the way they were.

C.S. Lewis said, “Prostitutes are in no danger of finding their present life so satisfactory that they cannot turn to God. The proud, the avaricious, the self-righteous, are in that danger." 

People who are comfortable, cosy, happy—they see no reason to change anything. But the ones who are a rough place, who are oppressed, ill, lonely—they see a real need for change, not only in their own lives, perhaps, but in the world.

And so they speak truth and they try to bring about change—whether it is leaving an unhealthy relationship or working for justice for immigrants or finding a new job.
Change can be frightening—it means new ways of doing things that might or might not work out—and most people are afraid of risk, of things not working out. Sometimes people cannot imagine that things could ever be different, and so they resist attempts at change. The partner in an abusive relationship; the person who is a member of an oppressed group; the person with an addiction… It’s not that they are invested in their situation—not that they enjoy the abuse or the oppression. Quite simply, they cannot imagine their lives being any different—they cannot conceive of another way of living. It’s not because of ignorance or mental illness or lack of intelligence or integrity—it is simply part of their situation. Change itself is frightening, and even though their situation is awful, the effort and the transition required to get out of it seem even worse—hard as that seems to us who look in from the outside.

The courage to change. Why do you think Jesus asks people if they want to be cured before he heals them? It’s not a perfunctory question; it’s not about informed consent. He’s asking if they want to live their lives differently—not as “the blind beggar” or “the lame man” but as whole and healthy human beings, able to work and support themselves and rejoin their families—to change the way they live.

The good news is that when Jesus heals them, when that change happens, they have the courage, the support, the love of Jesus to go with them and see them through that change. When someone leaves an abusive relationship, it can be very difficult for a while—the abusive partner wants to reconcile, promising in their turn to change, or the person has to find a nee job, a new home, has to protect him or herself from the abusive partner, re-establish credit maybe, or get an education. For someone leaving an addiction, there are the physical issues of the body adjusting to not having that substance anymore; the psychological issues of working out the whys and hows of addictions; the financial issues, probably, begun when funds went to the substance rather than to other things. It isn’t easy. But every step on that journey, each moment of change, is a step of healing, towards wholeness and health, with Jesus walking alongside you.

Change isn’t easy or simple or even straightforward—three steps forward and two back, four forward and one back—but eventually we do win through, one step at a time, one day at a time.

We can change—we need to change. Especially when we have not been living what we believe. How can we say we believe something is true if we don’t live that truth out?

Live your truth—walk that walk.

In the many names of the one living true God, amen.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"You Want some Cheese With That Whine?" Pentecost 14, September 18, 2011; Rev. Martha Daniels

Jonah 3:10-4:11
When God saw what the people of Nineveh did, how they turned from their evil ways, God had a change of heart about the calamity that God had said God would bring upon them; and did not do it.
But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to God and said, “O God! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O God, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And God said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city. The Holy One, our God, appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And Jonah said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” Then God said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labour and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

Matthew 20:1-16
Jesus said, “For the realm of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Sermon “Want Some Cheese With That Whine?”

Will you pray with me? God of justice and love, open our hearts to all your people. Give us grace to see others as you do, worthy of your blessing and healing; equally your children with us. May we see with your eyes, the eyes of love and comfort and caring. In the name of your child Jesus the Christ, amen.

As many of you know, I grew up with four sisters, and we usually got along pretty well—still do. But there were sometimes difficulties, of course—with five siblings, it would have been a miracle otherwise! One issue, hard as it may be to believe for those of you who grew up in the 80s and 90s, was ear piercing. In the late 60s and early 70s, “nice girls” didn’t often get their ears pierced. So I remember that my older sisters had to wait until they were in university to get their ears pierced. By the time my sister and I were asking to have our ears pierced (and this was before any other kind of piercing was mainstream!), it was considered OK, if a bit wild, for teenage girls to have their ears pierced, So I had mine pierced when I was 14. My mom, who believed that the doctor should do such things, figured she might as well take my younger sister in at the same time to get hers done--she was 11. Well, there was a bit of family ruckus, as you can imagine. My older sisters thought it unfair that we younger ones got to have our ears pierced earlier than they had; on the other hand, I thought it was unfair that my younger sister got to have them done at the same time I did.

It’s one of the most common whines of childhood, isn’t it? “That’s not fair!” And I don’t know about you, but my mother’s response often was, “Life is not fair.”

But life is about more than fairness—it’s also about justice. And there’s a difference between what is fair and what is just. It might make sense to think the two belong together but they simply don’t. Sometimes there is fairness in justice and sometimes there is not. There’s a saying the Canadian Mental Health Association uses that I like: “To treat every one the same you must treat some people differently.” In order for everyone to get the level of care they need, some people get more attention—because they need it—than others. In the end, everyone has been given the care they most need—which is justice—even though some have gotten more care than others—which is not “fair.”

It’s somehow a human trait, though, to see only what we have received—or not—and make that the measure of fairness. We feel we deserve whatever grace has been given us but we are often—if not usually—unhappy to see it given to others. As a scholar put it, "It is simply a fact that people regularly understand and appreciate God's strange calculus of grace as applied to themselves but fear and resent seeing it applied to others." Those workers in the vineyard resented the latecomers earning as much as they did and Jonah resented the Ninevites their repentance.

Jonah was, in fact, that whining kid we all carry in some part of ourselves, tucked back in some corner of our minds or hearts. Now, this section of the book of Jonah may be surprising to you—it’s not what we think of when we think of Jonah. We’re coming in at the end of Jonah’s story in this reading. We have all heard the fist part of the story, I think—God calls Jonah to go to Nineveh to preach repentance to them, and he refuses. Jonah goes in the exact opposite direction, in fact, heading to Tarshish, and God sends a storm, which threatens to sink the boat, so the sailors, at Jonah’s suggestion, throw him overboard. He’s swallowed by a “leviathan,” generally understood to be a whale, which dumps him, after three days, on the shore near Nineveh. So Jonah gives in and goes to Nineveh, preaching repentance. And, as he had predicted, the Ninevites listen and repent.

This annoys—angers, actually—Jonah. And this is where the part of the story we read today comes in. He’s angry because—get this—the people listened to him and repented, and so they will not be destroyed.

Does this make any sense to you? Why in the world would it make Jonah angry to know some people repented, especially since he was the one telling them to do so?

Well, here’s a bit more information. Nineveh was understood to be a cesspool of evil, the worst possible place to be—wicked and dastardly, everything awful you can think of. Jonah is disgusted by the people of Nineveh, and feels they are too evil to ever repent and be saved from destruction. He doesn’t want to go there—we are not told why. Maybe he felt they were too corrupt, too set in the ways of wickedness, that they would never repent, that he would be wasting his time going there. Or maybe he had more faith—he knew that they would repent and change their ways—and then he would be responsible for them, he would have to accept them. He would have to overlook, or accept, their past, and be cordial to them and share fellowship with them---he would have to see them as equals. And he did not want to do that. And so Jonah loved the plant that God sent more than he loved the Ninevites; and he was angry unto death that they had actually repented, were wearing sackcloth and ashes, and were mourning their sins. Jonah had been successful and yet he regretted it. He did not want them to repent and be saved—did not want them to have the same reward that he had. Jonah resented the grace they were given.

Sounds like those workers in the vineyard that Jesus tells us about in the reading from Matthew, doesn’t it? The ones who had worked all day got the same pay as the ones who only worked an hour or two. The Ninevites, who had just repented, got the same reward as Jonah, who had been faithful to God all his life.  And so Jonah was stamping his foot, crying, “That’s not fair!”

But God is not about what is fair. God is about justice. God’s justice gives grace to all, to everyone, whether we humans think the recipients deserve it or not.

And my friends, this should be reassuring to us, not a source of frustration or resentment. Because if God gives grace to others—whose faults we can clearly see, even if we think God can’t see those faults, or chooses to ignore them—then surely God will give grace to us. We know our own faults, even if we don’t like to admit them. If God gives grace to all people, then we are included in that all.

It’s tough to realise people who have hurt us or others, people we think of as irredeemable, being loved by God just as much as God loves us. People who tell us we are less than, people who reject us, people who hurt the ones we love—and yet, God loves them, gives them grace as much as God gives us grace.

If we can learn to see this, too, as a gift, then we will be much closer to God’s realm, to what should be. Every one of God’s children gets what she or he needs—not what she or he deserves—including us. That, my friends, is grace. That is God’s gracious love for each of us.

In all God’s many names, amen.

Monday, September 5, 2011

"A Different Kind of Triangle" MCC WIndsor, September 4, 2011 (Pentecost 12), Rev. Martha Daniels

"Reconciliation" Duke Divinity School

Matthew 18:15-20
Jesus said, “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by our God in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

Will you pray with me? Holy Three in One, teach us how to be your beloved community of faith; give us wisdom to understand each other; to accept each person’s unique gifts and graces which you have given. Show us the way to speak the truth in love—not to wound or shame but to support and guide; help us to show love without anger or vindictiveness. Remind us of your presence wherever we may be, whoever we are with, for wherever we are, you are there with us. In your many names we pray, amen.

One of the most important concepts I learned in my pastoral counselling class was triangulation—that classic communication and relationship style in which one person doesn’t express their issues to the person they are angry with but a third person—thus creating a triangle. I’m sure many of you are familiar with this idea!  Friend A is upset with Friend B, but instead of talking to Friend B, they complain to you…. Many organizations, whether churches or businesses have a policy in place to deal with this and prevent the issues it creates. It’s called a face-to-face policy. If one person is upset with another, they are supposed to first go directly to that other person to discuss the issue—face to face. Not to their cubicle neighbour, not to their sister or hairdresser or best friend—that puts the other person in middle, especially if that third person also knows the person who is the cause of annoyance.  If the issue isn’t resolved, then they go to their supervisor or boss or human resources manager. This makes sure—ideally, anyway—that the issue is resolved and not left to hang. It means the community—the workplace, the organization, the church—can work more smoothly, without hidden resentments or anger or frustration.

I’m sure some of you have been in this position. When I served as an interne in seminary, some of members of the congregation were unhappy with the new pastor. Rather than take their concerns to her, or to the lay leader (like our Vice Moderator), they came to me. It was flattering, I have to admit, and I had my own issues with her, which made me want to join right in with their complaints. I am relieved to be able to say that I did not give in to that impulse, and declined to discuss the pastor with them—suggesting they talk with the lay leader if they were upset with the pastor. Yes, I then was accused of covering up for my boss…. Monkey in the middle isn’t just a child’s game, is it?

This is the kind of situation Jesus is talking about—and he offers a way around it. Open dealing, one on one, rather than a whispering campaign or rumours or innuendo—plain talking, face to face. If the person doesn’t want to talk with you alone—or at all—try again with some friends or other church members. If that doesn’t work either, then bring in the congregation. And if the community can’t bring about reconciliation, then you will know you have done all that you can.

Notice that this progression also protects the other person—the one who upset you—you in the generic sense. If you go to them directly and privately and ask them about it, you give them an opportunity to apologize before anyone else knows about it—or has a chance to comment on it. You defuse the situation. And who knows, perhaps the issue was unintended—they didn’t realise you would be offended by the remark, or they knew it was stupid as soon as they said it but didn’t know how to approach you to say so, or whatever the scenario might be.  Remember Jesus said, “wherever two or more of you are gathered in my name.” So begin with prayer—even if it’s just you praying to yourself—and God will be present in that conversation.

But if that person denies doing or saying anything, or says you took it the wrong way—then you bring in others, just a couple people. Again, God will be present in that conversation. With only a couple of people there, the other person will have to face the fact that is not misinterpretation or over-sensitivity, but that it is a real issue. At the same time, it’s not being dealt with in a public way—they can still save face and make reparations.

A continued denial means, though, that the issue has to be brought to the attention of the community—whatever that community might be, in this case, the church. If the conflict is not dealt with, if it remains underground, it will fester and worsen, like a hidden infection, and reappear later in more malevolent ways.

Let’s face it, churches, and the people in them, do not like open conflict. The truth is that we are human beings and given a group of a large enough size-say, two people—there are bound to be differences of opinion and things about each person that annoy the other or others.  So in churches, it is common that people who have conflicts with another person will seek to simply avoid that person, or won’t talk to that person about the issue. After all, it’s church, and we are “supposed” to get along with each other, love each and accept each other.

But there is another truth, and that is that conflict is not necessarily a negative thing. This is difficult for many people, including me—we want to be liked, we want to be seen as “nice,” as friendly, and so on. But conflict, in and of itself, is not really bad or evil—it simply is a way of dealing with a problem. What can be negative is the way the conflict is expressed and dealt with. War, for example—or whispering campaigns, or manipulating others to get what we want or manoeuvring the person we oppose out of the group—whether that’s a work situation, a family, a group of friends, a social club or a church.

There is a distinction to be made between conflict and differences, and too often they are confused. In a face to face conversation, we can learn what the other person is thinking, and whether we have a difference—I think one way, you think another, it won’t affect whatever we are trying to do together—and a conflict—it will affect what we are doing. How two people interpret a passage from the Bible doesn’t prevent them from teaching Bible study together, even if they have very different understandings of the passage—that’s a difference. On the other hand, if one of them believes the Bible is the inerrant, perfect, literal word of God and the other thinks it’s a collection of folktales—that’s a conflict.

And that’s why we begin with the face to face. Of course, how this face to face is done matters too. Remember, this is the first stage—done with love and hope, with the knowledge that we too are human and may have misunderstood, or that this is not really a conflict but a difference, mindful of God’s presence.  We have to remember our basic psychological understanding, and make our “I-statements” and so on…not confrontation and anger. That’s a sign of not only psychological maturity but spiritual maturity as well, to recognise that we all make mistakes, we are all imperfect people, even—even!—if we are Christian and in a church setting.

I am willing to bet that most issues that divide churches and other organizations could have been resolved without all the pain or departures and alienations if this model had been truly followed. Not all of them, of course—nor am I saying that the splits or departures would not have happened. But they would have happened in a more positive, fruitful way—which is the best way to begin an endeavour—in hope, not in anger.

Think of how much better it would be to change all relationships this way. Isn’t it interesting that weddings and commitment ceremonies are celebrated with hope and joy and celebration, with gifts and parties and special ceremonies---but the changing of relationships are not? There’s no divorce service or recognition of the end of a relationship. Oh, there are official forms to be filled out and a judge to see, in the case of divorce and many authorities that recognise commitment ceremonies or domestic partnerships, there are also forms to fill out. But there is no gathering of friends and family, no presiding clergy to recognise the changing of the relationship. I say changing, because no relationship is ever really over—in addition to children, property, shared friends and so on, which ensure continued contact on some level, there is the fact that these people shared a life—as friends, as partners, as co-workers, and therefore affected each other in some way.

But there is no real recognition of changes in relationships in society. Individual couples may put together a ceremony, and even bring in their clergy member and family to share the event—but that is rare. Generally, there is simply packing, some words—angry or consoling, hurt or supportive—and everyone moves on.  Perhaps it is because so few relationships change in a way that is not hurtful to one or both people; or perhaps it’s because it takes a while to come to a place where we recognise that the relationship could not have continued as it was.

The closest we come, I think, is the “farewell” when a co-worker leaves. In the US military—and perhaps the Canadian military too—there is the tradition of the “Hail and Farewell,” at which newcomers since the last Hail and Farewell are greeted and welcomed into the group, often with a gift symbolic of the unit—perhaps a unit coin or a nameplate with the unit crest on it. Those leaving are given a farewell—often a roast by their colleagues, with a variety of gifts—a plaque commemorating their accomplishments, joke gifts referring to events during their time with the unit, or maybe something they will find useful in their next posting. Civilian companies usually at least get together for lunch and maybe a couple of gifts for the departing co-worker. These offer a time to remember the good times, let go of issues, and move on. In pop psychology terms, it offers “closure.”

This is what we are asked to do in this process Jesus is telling us to follow. We are to deal with each other face to face, honestly but without hostility, and to recognise that God is present at every conversation, in every group. In doing so, we can truly name and accept differences and find ways to work through true conflicts to healing and reconciliation.

And finally, Jesus is realistic in his understanding of human nature. There are some people who do not want, are not capable, of coming to this reconciliation, this healing. For those people, there is nothing more to be done. But if we have done the work of reaching out, speaking face to face in love, seeking understanding and reconciliation, then we have done what is needful, and Jesus says, “There is only so much to be done. You have done what you can; let go.” And I would say, too, that this is perhaps a cycle. Sometimes it happens that someone leaves a group or relationship angrily, with no intention of reconciliation, no desire for healing and the group has to let them go in that way—but later, the person changes—for whatever reason—and does desire reconciliation and healing. The door of the group should always be open to that return, to that hope of the prodigal coming back for healing and understanding.

I know some of you already practise this in your life; if you don’t I would invite you to try this for a week. Just try it—face to face, no hostility, one on one—then a small group, and only then authority. For those who do so already, think about how and why you follow this practise—and then do so more fully.

God is present in all our interactions. I would suggest that the crucial point in this process is the knowledge that God is there, and invoking the divine presence through prayer—your own or the group together—to remind yourself and the other person of that presence.

It’s not a magic formula—it does not always bring healing and reconciliation. But it is the best hope for both.

In the name of God in community, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, amen.

We believe in the God who made every man and woman in God's image. We believe in the Christ who died to reconcile every human being to God, and to restore our common humanity. We believe in the Holy Spirit that has always hovered over creation, and ignites love's fire in our hearts. We believe in the community of faith that worships God, follows Jesus, and lives by the Spirit. And we believe in the time when all things will be made new, and all things will be brought together under Christ. Amen.