The picture is a peculiar style of Japanese art, called kintsugi. In kintsugi, broken pottery is mended with glue and gold dust. Kintsugi invites us to own our flaws and our struggles and our mends. Instead of hiding them or being ashamed of them, we respect our limitations, honor our struggles, find the beauty in them. That, my friends, is gospel. God never expected us to get it right the first time.
Brea Congregational United Church of Christ
July 22, 2018
Courage for Reconciliation
2Cor. 5:16-20 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
Courage. It comes from the Latin word cor, heart. It takes courage to follow Jesus, if we’re paying attention, because we will do it badly, and we need forgiveness and reconciliation. We are all in process. Reconciliation is heart work: it takes courage. You can analyze it if you like, but the only way I know how to really reconcile is with my heart wide open.
Courage. For me, courage often means getting out of my head, out of analysis mode, and into my heart,. Admitting when I’m hurt, or scared, or confused about something. And sometimes just admitting how much I care, and how vulnerable that makes me. It takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable. It takes heart.
My father died almost three years ago. My dad was a character. He had two typical modes of relating: holding forth, and being preoccupied. And my dad loved me. He believed in me. What a precious gift.
Dad was a physicist. He measured the braking speeds of BART trains. He designed scanners for cargo containers. He loved a stimulating discussion. And he was always right. He would say with a grin, “Everyone is entitled to my opinion.” Then the rest of the family would groan. I am my father’s daughter, in ways that are helpful and ways that are not. I have learned to add, at the end of a pronouncement, “but I could be wrong.”
I remember more than once dad would be lounging in his upholstered recliner in the family room, trying to ignore the chaos four kids were making, till he couldn’t take it any more. Then he’d yell, and we’d stop doing whatever was annoying him, for a while. His yelling startled me, but I never feared my dad. I knew he loved me, and I also knew that he didn’t hold grudges against me. I did wonder why he had to wait till he was angry to say something. When I had my own kid, I learned how hard it was to do that differently.
Outside my family, I learned, people did things differently. I remember when I was living with my college roommates Christy and Dove. Dove and I were having an engaging discussion about politics or something. We were astonished when Christy broke out in tears, “Oh please stop fighting,” she said as she ran to her room and hid. Fighting? We were just having fun. I have since learned that different people, cultures, families, communicate differently.
Underneath his rough exterior, my father’s heart was tender and faithful. When I was losing him to dementia, I tried asking him about things he loved, to cheer him, but instead he would sob. He could no longer be safe up in his head, keeping his tender heart under wraps.
I am not waiting to do my sobbing. I do it many times when I quiet my busy mind and listen to my own heart. I do it preparing sermons, and reading the news. I do it when I stop trying to analyze or fix, and just let go and let God.
As a young adult I worked as a chemist, and I was nurtured in my faith by Methodists. I took many roles at the church, I studied the bible and loved it, and I got to preach! I also had a kind of stereotypical born again experience. (That’s not required around here.) God became real to me. Jesus took me on his knee, and told me he loved me, and told me that my character flaws, which had grieved me many times, could be used for good, for gospel.
After several years of waffling, I finally “answered the call.” I knew my people skills were not there yet. But I remembered my friend Sam. Back when he was my lab partner in grad school, Sam told me he wasn’t sure he was up to the career to which he felt called, but he loved it so much he was going to try with all his heart. So I did.
I became a transitional minister because that’s the ministry I could do when my husband’s job wasn’t portable, but it has been a fit. I love new things. I enjoy change. I love meeting new people, and hearing their stories, even if I can’t always remember their names. And I can say goodbye. I can say hard things, set hard limits, so the next pastor maybe will have an easier time with certain things. Every church has certain things. And I don’t need everybody to like me.
I get it that my presence is hard on people who don’t want change. I do ask you to change things; it’s part of my job. And here’s the thing. No matter what I do or don’t do, my very presence is change, because I cannot be your beloved former pastor. For some people, that hurts. And there is no way to do it differently.
On top of that, I am my father’s daughter. I have opinions. I can be blunt, and loud. I want you to know that you can always challenge me, or ask me to do something different, or just say no. I want you to practice talking about hard things with me. If I happen to be holding forth at the time, youmay have to be blunt. I can change modes, but I might need a reminder. You don’t have to be good at telling me what you don’t like. You don’t have to be nice. Just be real. Ask me to listen, you have something to say. I can take it. And we can work it out together. That’s gospel. Truth and reconciliation. That’s gospel. Reconciliation matters to me. A lot.
Here is one thing that really hurts me about transitional ministry. Knowing that someone (there’s usually someone) is feeling annoyed and disconnected from their transitional pastor and has to sit and listen to me every week, or duck out and miss all their friends. When they could come and hash it out with me, and hopefully find peace, and enjoy their church. I believe in do-overs. Second chances. Reconciliation. That’s gospel. It doesn’t happen every time, but it’s worth the risk.
The sacred runs in and through each of us, and we are all are flawed. When we open our hearts we will get hurt and disappointed sometimes, and I surely hope you bring your heart to church. I want this to be safe space to talk through our expectations and disappointments, our celebrations and our hurts.
Being real takes heart, courage. Reconciliation is not the peace that passes over misunderstanding, but the peace that passes understanding, that comes by working through differences with open hearts, learning, and building connection. In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.
I’m back doing compassionate communication practice groups this week. I need the practice as much as anyone. Compassionate communication helps me connect my head to my heart. It helps me let go of the baggage that gets in the way of reconciliation, and it helps me express hard things from the heart, in a way that connects.
The cover picture on your bulletin is a peculiar style of Japanese art, called kintsugi. In kintsugi, broken pottery is mended with glue and gold dust. Kintsugi invites us to own our flaws and our struggles and our mends. Instead of hiding them or being ashamed of them, we respect our limitations, honor our struggles, find the beauty in them. That, my friends, is gospel. God never expected us to get it right the first time. May we have the courage to name the brokenness in each of us and between us, and be willing to mend it, with the help of God. Amen.