Today is the beginning of Reconciliation Week in Australia. Initiated in 1996 with particular reference to reconciliation between white Australia and Aboriginal Australia, it now furthers a broad sense of reconciliation wherever there is discord or disharmony within the Australian community. Surely that can only be a good thing.
We in the Christian Church are very familiar with reconciliation because it is a fundamental concept in the relationship between ourselves - humanity - and God - the divine. In one sense, reconciliation is a very important human experience, because relationships, links between people and bonds that hold us together can break down. In fact I would suggest that they are always breaking down and we are discovering new ways to be together.
But for the follower of Jesus, our reconciliation with each other finds its roots and groundedness in the coming together of God and humanity. And is illustrated in the way the teaching, life and death of Jesus all pointed toward a oneness or a wholeness that we can experience when we are united with the Divine.
Dying to Live
The Apostle Paul wrestles with the role Jesus of Nazareth played in this divine drama of reconciliation:
It is the love of Christ that is the source of all our actions. We can look at it like this: if one man died for all humanity then all have died and Christs purpose in dying is that all people should not live for themselves, but for the one who died and rose for them.
Not an easy concept to understand. But there is this notion that the person of Jesus is the model or the pioneer of how one persons life and death can be the catalyst for many to experience this new life of union with God. He goes on to say:
This means that we no longer judge people based on outward appearances For if someone is in Christ they have become a new person. The past is finished and gone, everything now is fresh and new. All this is Gods doing, for God has reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ and has made us agents of reconciliation.
First, I think it is important to say that being reconciled, being united with God is an inside job. As I mentioned last week, there are no rituals, rites, ceremonies, activities or even sacraments that can achieve this union with the Holy. It is, as one commentator explained, an act of absolute acceptance. Does a child ask for life, or is it a free unearned gift that they embrace? Of course it is! But when I say it is an inside job, I mean that change occurs within us and then is projected out into the world. May I quote an unlikely theologian named Malcolm Fraser, who said:
Reconciliation requires changes of heart and spirit, as well as social and economic change. It requires symbolic as well as practical action.
I think that means that it begins as an inside job and works outward. So then the rituals, rites, ceremonies, activities or even sacraments associated with the practice of faith become real in their support of the inner change that has occurred.
The Practice of Reconciliation
I know I have mentioned it before but I think that one of the most poignant directives in the New Testament comes from Matthews Gospel in the fifth chapter:
if you are offering your gift at the altar and remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar and go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
That passage ticks so many of the boxes. First, the need for harmony in the healthy community. Then the fact that you dont have to wait for someone to be reconciled with you. You can initiate the process. The recognition that the most important aspect of faith or religion is our relationships. It is not rituals; it is not our gifts; it is not our past, or our history. It is our capacity to encourage love and friendship with each other.
To be realistic here, you may desire reconciliation with someone, but they may throw it back in your face. I learned early in my life that while I may be willing to forgive someone, that doesnt mean that they will forgive me. It may fall on deaf ears. But the truth in this Matthew passage is that you had the courage to have a go and try the best you could.
So the practice of reconciliation is essential. What did the Apostle Paul say? for God has reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ and has made us agents of reconciliation.
Agents of Reconciliation in the Modern World
I have got this far in the sermon and have not really defined what reconciliation is. Well, I think most would agree that it is the restoration of friendly relations, of reuniting, reunion, bringing back together those who have been separated. And as the apostle Paul suggests, we are agents of that and I think it is practised in concentric circles.
Sorry Day falls on the eve of Reconciliation Week, giving us the chance to ask whether we are making progress in the wider challenge of reconciling Indigenous and other Australians.
Reconciliation is a human and global project. Yes, we can show it within our community, but from Pauls words, and certainly from the teaching of Jesus, it is for all humanity to demonstrate not just personally or communally, but internationally. Thats the kind of church I want to belong to.