Rev. Margaret's sermon from the 7th of September 2014
Every time we switch on our televisions or open our newspapers we are confronted with images of conflict – conflicts between nations, between factions within nations, in the workplace, in the home, rivalry between siblings and physical, mental or emotional abuse of wife by husband or of husband by wife. Yet is it really any worse than it’s ever been?
Today the media ensures that we have up to the minute news from anywhere and everywhere in our global village. But today’s news is tomorrow’s chip paper, or at least it used to be in days gone by! And that’s how it is – once the sensationalism of whatever it is – the shocking scenes of devastation wrought by the hostilities in Gaza, and in Syria and Iraq, the plane shot down over the Ukraine, the abuse scandal in Rotherham – it quickly disappears from the news, even though the lives of the people affected have been changed forever.
But, returning to my question is it really any worse than it’s ever been? I would have to say I’m not so sure. In the Bible there are countless occasions when people have been wronged – Cain murdering Abel, Jacob stealing Esau’s birthright, David lusting after Bathsheba and then sending her husband to his death, to mention just a few.
The theme of today’s readings is reconciliation and it is, without doubt, something that the world is in great need of. Where envy, jealousy, selfishness, greed, desire for power, anger and hate exist, people are going to continue to cause suffering for others. It’s at the root of all our troubles and more attempts at negotiation are so much needed.
Desmond Tutu in his book No Future without Forgiveness (2000) talks about how the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up in South Africa when apartheid was abolished. He uses the ‘haunting’ words over the entrance to the museum at Dachau – Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. He continues that those who were negotiating our future in South Africa were aware that unless our past was acknowledged and dealt with adequately it could blight our future. The notion of national amnesia was rejected … because it would have meant denying their experience; a vital part of their identity … The Truth and Reconciliation Commission empowered those who were cruelly silenced for so long to tell their stories, allowed them to remember, so that publicly their individuality and inalienable humanity would be acknowledged.” The effect was therapeutic. We found that many who came to the Commission attested afterwards to the fact that they found relief, and experienced healing, just through the process of telling their story. The acceptance, the acknowledgement that they had indeed suffered was cathartic for them.
In today’s Gospel Jesus is clear about what each of us has to do as regards reconciliation. We cannot ignore our responsibility to sort out our differences with one another. If we have an unresolved issue with someone then we are required to resolve it before we come to the altar, before we receive communion. It’s not easy. Personal conflicts can be very painful, especially if the other person refuses to accept apologies and attempts at reconciliation, if their own stubbornness and attitudes stand in the way of brokering peace. Undoubtedly further mediation and help from other agencies may need to be brought in. But what is clear is that if, as Christians, we cannot resolve our differences and be reconciled one with another, we are failing in our responsibility as Jesus’ followers and are failing to set the example we need to set for the wider community and for the world.