Two weeks after the RCA “Special Council,” I’ve come to realize that the experience has taken up residence in my life. The mental and emotional aftermath—reading, reacting, responding, reporting, reflecting—has been ongoing, and implications for the church, when they come, sometimes catch me by surprise.
Case in point: I wasn’t thinking about the Special Council during worship on Sunday morning. Our guest preacher was an old friend, Dick Otterness, an RCA missionary among the Roma people in Hungary. So that’s what I expected to hear about, and in fact, it was the context for the sermon. But as most preachers tell me, people hear a sermon through the “ears” of what’s going on in their lives. It didn’t take long. Two Scripture texts and the opening paragraph in, and I was right back at the Special Council. By the end, I knew I had heard a timely word for the Reformed Church in America that day.
Dick has given me permission to filter out the Hungary-related stories; here’s what remains, and what I pray for as we seek a way forward at General Synod and beyond.
No Longer Strangers
Excerpts from a sermon by Rev. Richard Otterness, May 1st, 2016
Micah 6:1-8, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Justice. Kindness. Humility before God.
Can you imagine how the world would look if these were the hallmark of our societies? Can you imagine how different the church would look if congregations across the land modeled these? Justice? Kindness? And humility before God?
Can you imagine if, despite all our differences—or more appropriately, in the midst of all these differences—we lived from day to day, reconciled with God and reconciled with each other?
The biblical testimony is that God’s desire is that we be reconciled, one to another, and each of us to God. We don’t have the privilege of opting out or settling for the status quo. The biblical story charts a trajectory of movement from what Croatian theologian Miroslav Volf calls, “exclusion to embrace.”
Well, that’s quite a journey, isn’t it?! “Exclusion to embrace.”
Not exclusion to tolerance. The gospel commitment is from exclusion to inclusion. And not just inclusion, but compassionate inclusion; merciful and kind inclusion; gracious and expansive inclusion.
All of which begins not with policies and programs, but with relationships. Our goal is healing and reconciliation between estranged people. It is to move from exclusion to embrace. From being strangers to friends, in the strongest sense of the word “friendship.” It is about telling stories, confessing deep wounds, and anger, or whatever one has been feeling. It is risky. It requires a certain willingness to be vulnerable, perhaps. And it requires the difficult challenge of somehow looking for the image of God in the eyes of strangers, or of perceived enemies or others whom you simply do not like.
This is not a short term commitment. Often it is a long journey, with many barriers and detours along the way. Reconciliation is a process—a movement—that requires three things between people: Respect, empathy, and inclusion.
No matter who we are. No matter where we live and work. In Christ we have been reconciled with God.
And we are called to be agents of reconciliation with others. This is not an option. It is a mandate. It is a privilege. It is an obligation for we who claim to be children of God and followers of Jesus Christ. It is a lifetime quest.
It starts with our relationships with others we know. And with the strangers in our midst.
And this commitment from us is something the world dearly needs.