Preacher: The Rev. Kate Wesch
Lesson: 2 Corinthians 5:16–21
The other day, it was sunny and gorgeous so Doyt and I were walking outside talking about church as we often do when Doyt said, “Geez, you walk really fast.” I mean I’m about seven inches shorter than he is so that’s saying something. And I do, as a full-time working mother of two little kids; the pace of my life is fast. I walk fast. I drive fast. I move quickly from the moment I get out of bed in the morning until I collapse at the end of the day. That’s just the way it is, right?
So, it struck me when I came across this proverb from Rwanda the other day. “To go fast, walk alone. To go far, walk together.”
No wonder I feel so cranky and frustrated sometimes, out there going a million miles an hour wondering why no one is helping me, wondering why I’m all alone. It’s because I’m going too darn fast. I’ve set my life at a pace in which I’m a train blowing full steam ahead – yelling “get on and hold on for dear life”. It’s why I’m impatient with my family by the end of the day because I’m going too fast, walking alone.
The proverb is right. To go far, we must walk together—because relationship is primary. Speed isn’t primary, winning isn’t primary. Going the most distance or doing the most things isn’t primary. Relationship is primary. And when we honor that, then, we can go the distance.
This wise proverb ties into the theme that I want to talk about today: reconciliation. Paul uses the word “reconcile” FIVE times in the few short lines we heard from his letter to the Corinthians.
- God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation,
- in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself . . . and entrusting the message of reconciliation
- we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
“Reconciliation” comes from the Latin “re-concilare” which has a relational sense meaning to bring together again, to connect otherwise disconnected people or ideas. And when it comes down to it, this work of reconciliation – isn’t a noun at all – it’s a verb. It’s something you DO.
When you first think about reconciliation, you might think about process, programs, strategies, or outcomes—and those things may indeed play a part, but those approaches reflect the “go fast,” mentality.
The real work of reconciling is: on-going, messy, authentic, inefficient, unprofessional, slow, loving participation in one another’s lives. This kind of relational work doesn’t fit well onto my Google calendar or into a spreadsheet. It’s about the heavy lifting of genuine relationship and that’s what it takes to mend things that are broken. It takes two willing parties. Forgiveness can be one-sided, but reconciliation requires the hard work of both sides. It is intentional and slow. But as we now know, “to go far, we have to walk together.”
To go far, we must walk together because relationship is primary.
So, how did Jesus reconcile the world to God? It happened through the incarnation, through Jesus in his very person living among us as one of us. It happened when Jesus broke bread with friends, when he drew in the dirt to teach, when he used his own spit to heal a blind man, when he loved his enemies, and taught his friends. You see, Jesus owns our human story. He gathers human-ness to himself to restructure humanity itself, to live it, to redeem it, and ultimately to reconcile it, to reconcile the world to God.
Jesus is the embodiment of reconciliation. Jesus is the incarnation of God in flesh and when humanity tried to kill him it didn’t work. Because LOVE WON. Reconciliation won.
Some years ago, I was working on a project when I got sideways with a friend. Feelings were hurt on both sides, egos damaged, pride hurt, and we quit speaking. It was awkward and uncomfortable.
I was talking to a mutual friend about it at the time when he said; you’ve got to make that right. You can’t just ignore it. That’s not what I wanted to hear. It would have been easier to ignore, but he was right. So I prayed about it. I asked God to help me discern the right way to make things right with my friend. I decided to write her a letter, a long hand written letter, telling her my side of the story, naming the hurt I had experienced, apologizing, and granting her forgiveness. Then, I extended an invitation to meet for coffee if and when she was ready.
I waited. I waited a while, but not too long and then received a long, handwritten letter in reply. Her letter mirrored my own in that it told her story, named the hurt, apologized, and granted me forgiveness. And in the end, it proposed a coffee date, which did happen.
Today, that friendship is utterly transformed. Through reconciliation, we were able to renew that friendship and move to a new place. Forgiveness can be one-sided and I was prepared to do that no matter what, but reconciliation—that takes two willing parties. I took the risk and invited her into that vulnerable place with me when I put the stamp on that letter and sent it—acknowledging that I might just hang out there alone, waiting in forgiveness land without reaching resolution.
But that didn’t happen. She met me there and we walked the final steps together. That coffee date was awkward and uncomfortable. Some hard things had to be said and listened to as we each told our stories, but in the end, we hugged. We reconciled.
Desmond Tutu and his daughter, Mpho have written a book together about reconciliation in which they outline this four-fold path of forgiveness. Emily will be teaching a workshop on this very process after Easter if you are interested.
- Telling the story
- Naming the hurt
- Granting forgiveness
- And renewing or releasing the relationship.
This releasing part is key. My story ended in transforming the relationship and moving it to a new and better place, but that’s one of two possible outcomes when you engage this kind of messy relationship work.
I heard the story the other day of a woman’s long ago divorce. It wasn’t pretty. There was infidelity. Children were involved. Lawyers had been hired and for more than a year, the fighting dragged on and on. Until one day, things changed. They thought beyond themselves and their personal pain. They were BOTH willing to take the risk of going to a vulnerable place and considered their broader community. So, they fired their lawyers and went into mediation. The end result was still divorce. But it was also reconciliation, and in the end they released their relationship.
“To go fast, walk alone. To go far, walk together.” This proverb really sums it up well no matter the outcome – whether the relationship ends up being renewed or released. But before we get to this end point, we typically want this process to go fast and to get resolved. We don’t like dwelling in the muckiness or the hurt and want to skip to the happy ending. Or sometimes we have a grievance story that we just can’t let go of no matter what. And we want to hold on to our pain and never let it go. But those are all roadblocks on the way to reconciliation.
The mostly clear path to reconciliation requires four things.
- The willingness to take risk
- And two willing parties.
There might be a broken relationship crying out for forgiveness in your own life. What is it? Who is it? You can forgive all by yourself. Do you need to forgive a parent, a sibling, a child, a spouse, a friend?
And once you have started walking that road to forgiveness, what would it require for you to take that next step into vulnerability? What would that invitation into reconciliation look like? You might end up hanging out there all alone in forgiveness land and that’s okay. But that person might surprise you by meeting you there.
Remember, the real work of reconciling is: on-going, messy, authentic, inefficient, unprofessional, slow, loving participation in one another’s lives. But we do it because we want to go far. It is intentional, sometimes painful or ugly, but that’s what it takes to mend OR RELEASE things that are broken in a healthy way.
“To go fast, go ahead and walk alone. But to go far, we must always walk together.” From now until Easter, I invite you to pray about it. Consider reconciliation. Think about the parts of your life where you might be walking too fast, all alone. Who are you leaving behind and how might you walk together?