Sunday, May 30, 2021
“Better Together” Sermon Series
Scripture: Genesis 45:1-6 & Matthew 5:21-24
Rev. Troy Hauser Brydon

Forgiveness and reconciliation are two of the hardest actions we humans ever take, but they are also at the heart of the gospel. There is not a single one of us who has not had times where we’ve hurt someone else and needed to take the opportunity to fix those hurts. There is not a single one of us who has not been on the other side of this, either, where we’ve been hurt and had to do the hard work of learning how to forgive.

Ernest Hemingway has a short story called “The Capital of the World” about the difficulty between fathers and sons. In the story, there was a falling out between a father living in Spain and his teenage son named Paco. You see, Paco wanted to become a matador, so he ran away from his father’s control to the capital of Spain, Madrid. His father grows desperate to reconcile with his son, so he follows him to Madrid and takes out a short ad in the newspaper. It reads, “Dear Paco, meet me in front of the Madrid newspaper office tomorrow at noon. All is forgiven. I love you.” The next day at noon, the father came to the newspaper office. He had to fight through a crowd of people, for 800 Pacos all showed up looking for forgiveness.[1]

The world is hungry for forgiveness. There is not a single human to exist who does not know the hunger that is at the root of trying to fix a broken relationship. We all have them. We have difficult people in our lives who are just so much work to deal with that we struggle to love them. Perhaps sometimes we are even those difficult people to others.

Being Better Together means that we must learn how to do the hard work of forgiveness and reconciliation. We’re on our fourth week in this series, and I think this might just be the hardest concept to live out. The first week was all about living with differences under the Big Tent of Christ. That’s not so difficult. There’s lots of room under the tent, so we can just avoid those who rub us the wrong way. The second week focused on listening before speaking. Again, if the tent is large enough, there’s a decent chance we never actually have to be confronted with someone who challenges us. Last week was all about mutual forbearance. We’re getting a little bit closer to hard work here, but I still think it’s not impossibly hard for us to put up with each other without doing the hard work that forgiveness and reconciliation requires. That’s the topic of this week. It’s one thing to be willing to tolerate a person; it’s another thing to do the hard work of reconciling.

Throughout this series we’ve relied on the Scriptures and our own Presbyterian heritage to help guide us. Today is no different. Let’s start with the story in Genesis. The story of Joseph and his family is one of the richest in all of Scripture, so if you are not familiar with it, I’d encourage you to read Genesis 37-50 this week. For now, let me give you a quick summary. Jacob had twelve sons. Jacob loved and favored his son Joseph over all of his brothers. (Parents, this is not the best way to foster harmony among your children, so take note!) Jacob gives Joseph a fancy coat and he gets the best jobs. For this favoritism, Joseph’s brothers plot to get rid of him.

One day Joseph goes into the wilderness where his brothers are shepherding. His brothers catch him and throw him in a cistern and leave him to die. They create evidence of his death, making his fancy coat look like he’s been eaten by a wild animal. One of the brothers feels some remorse over this, and upon seeing a caravan of traders, he convinces his brothers to do a lesser evil. They pull Joseph from the cistern and sell him to the traders. The brothers go home and tell Jacob that his favorite son is dead.

Years pass, and there is a famine where Jacob’s family lives, yet God has put Joseph in the place of overseeing the bounties of Egypt. Not knowing this is Joseph, his family comes begging food. This brings us to the situation where Joseph opts to change the narrative. Instead of doing what would have felt fair, that is, instead of sticking it to his brothers who faked his death and sent him to a foreign country, Joseph instead goes for something new. He does the hard work of forgiveness and reconciliation. He lets go of the past hurt. He sees how God’s hand is often at work making beautiful things out of the messes we’ve made. He opts for reconciliation. “God sent me before you to preserve life,” Joseph tells them. It’s a huge move on his part. Ultimately, it impacts the entire story of a nation. What Joseph does is not easy, but it is vital to any act that declares that we are “better together.”

Our Presbyterian heritage also gives direction for how we do this hard work of reconciliation together. We expect our work to be done in groups. Inevitably, where there is more than one person, then there will be a multitude of opinions and convictions. Yet, we put groups of people into rooms together to discern what God’s will is. We have 23 people on our Session for good reason. We believe that God has called these 23 people together with their individual consciences to seek what is best for the church. That sometimes means disagreement. Sometimes – not often – but sometimes that means that there are strong differing opinions about things. The same goes for committees. In the group we find a place where all the opinions come together for a common purpose. In the group we have the chance to make our way towards what we believe God’s will is. I cannot begin to tell how you how often I’ve been grateful for the groups of people who work together for ministry in this church. This past year, more than ever, it has been vital to work together to reconcile our opinions to come to our decisions. It’s hard work to together, but it’s worth it.

One of the gifts of finally finishing school is that I’ve had time to read. I can tell I’ve missed reading books I choose to read – rather than being told by others to read – because I’ve been reading at a clip of about a book a week. Thank God for the library, right? Recently I started reading Bob Goff’s book called Everybody, Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People. (I got the sermon title for today straight from that book.) His book is a series of short reflections on what Goff believes the gospel is. Goff writes, “Jesus told his friends if they wanted to be like him, they needed to love their neighbors and they needed to love difficult people. This sounds so familiar that I’m tempted to agree with Jesus and move on, but Jesus doesn’t want us merely to agree with him. In fact, I can’t think of a single time he gathered his friends around him and said, ‘Guys I just want you to agree with me.’ He wants us to do what he said, and he said he wants us to love everybody, always.

“Jesus said to love our enemies. I thought I’d get off easy because I don’t have any real enemies. I mean, I’m not mad at North Korea or Russia or China. And I don’t think they’re mad at me.… I think Jesus meant something different when he said enemies. He meant that we should love the people we don’t understand. The ones we disagree with period and the ones who are flat wrong about more than a couple of things. I have plenty of those people in my life and my bet is you do too. In fact, I might be one of those people sometimes.”[2]

Goff goes on to describe Christians as those who are “becoming love.” I think that’s such a beautiful image. Could you imagine if we engaged with each and every person in a manner that revealed that we are becoming love? How would that impact how we treated the barista, the grocery store clerk, our siblings, or our children’s teachers? Goff continues, “We don’t decide [who’s in] and who’s out, and we don’t need to waste any more time engaging in the kinds of arguments some people get sucked into. People who are becoming love don’t swing at every pitch. We start by meeting people just three minutes at a time. Don’t waste a minute of it arguing with people who are wrong. Quietly delight in the confidence that comes from having found the truth in your own life. God never promised we’d have all the answers. what God offers to us is a box of crayons and the opportunity to let love draw bigger circles around the people we meet than they thought were possible.”[3]

Jesus says something similar in our text pulled from his Sermon on the Mount. It’s like he takes the box of crayons that God has given and keeps widening the circle. Jesus says, and I’m paraphrasing here, “You used to think that it was ok to hurt those who hurt you, but I’m here to tell you that’s not God’s way. Do you want to know what to do with those who hurt you? Love them anyway. Make space for reconciliation between you two. If you’re going to become love, then you’re going to need to learn this harder, better way of loving everybody, always. There are no exceptions to this. You can’t just love some people and not love others. You can’t just love some people some of the time. No, you must learn how to love everybody, always.” Now, I acknowledge that’s a huge paraphrase, but I believe that’s the heart of the gospel. We are to love everybody, always.

That means we Christians are in the constant process of drawing our circles wider. Each time we do we start bringing people into our circles whom Jesus already loves and whom we are learning to love. That means people who look different than you do. People who vote differently than you do. People who act differently than you. That circle keeps getting wider and wider, and it will start including people who speak different languages, people who have different convictions about the economy, people who might never find themselves in the church. On and on that circle widens. Finally, it starts encompassing those we consider enemies, those we’d rather bomb than talk to, those with whom we have no common ground. That, my friends, is the power of the gospel. That circle keeps growing because Jesus’ love is endless, and our love is learning to love like his love.

Being better together means learning to love like Jesus. It means learning how to do the hard work of forgiveness and reconciliation. It means learning how to love everybody, always.

[1] https://thepastorsworkshop.com/sermon-illustrations-on-reconciliation/

[2] Bob Goff. Everybody Always, 6.

[3] Goff, 113.