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The Peace of Christ (2): Reconciliation among Unequals

. 6 min read

The
Peace of Christ (2)
2014/08/10
Christ Church, Mountain Top
Call
to Worship, Psalm 139
Children,
Genesis 37 (Joseph and his brothers)
Message,
Matthew 5.38-48 (love enemies)
Last
week, as we introduced our theme, we talked about Jesus greeting the disciples
who abandoned him with the words, “Peace be with you.” We discussed the
“ministry of reconciliation” that is given to Jesus-followers, something that
goes against the grain of “settling scores”, “keeping a record of wrongs” and
“don’t get mad, get even”. We said that, in order to retain our innocence, we
must not only abhor violence. We must also abandon our identity as victim. And
the path to innocence is love. “Love your enemies.”
      Reconciliation is difficult work, and it is
gospel work. “Hear the good news: Christ died for us while we were still
sinners.” It is difficult enough when we are reconciling as equals – colleagues
in the workplace, neighbors on the street, classmates at school, siblings in a
family. But it is even more difficult when we are not equal. Biblically, we are
all equal as God’s children – created in the image of God, bought with the
precious blood of Christ. In social practice, however, the dynamics of power
structure much of our interaction: management-labor, parent-child,
teacher-student. And, when the dynamics of power are mixed with violence in
word or action, the harm is huge.
      That’s our focus this week –
reconciliation of unequals, when power or violence are part of the picture.
Next week we’ll conclude by examining reconciliation within ourselves.

We
have examples in today’s Scriptures, but it is only the tip of the iceberg for
both Scripture and life. Joseph has been too willing to take advantage of his
special position, only inflaming the jealousy of his brothers. His brothers are
too willing to solve the problem with force. Ten against one. And Joseph
becomes a slave and later an imprisoned criminal, someone with no power at all.
When the tables turn, when Joseph rules Egypt and his brothers come for food
during the famine, what will he do with his new power?
      Jesus tells his disciples to “go the
second mile”. It is not a saying about perseverance, hard work, or excellence.
It is a creative response to power – to the privilege of a soldier in the Roman
occupational forces to demand that a Jewish civilian carry their load from one
milepost to the next. Going a second mile actually takes the power away from
the soldier, from the occupation, because the disciple of Jesus is no longer
under any compulsion, just the compulsion to love.
      Jesus says, “Turn the other cheek”. It is
not John Wayne’s version – now that I’ve turned my cheek I’ll beat you up. It
is a refusal to play the power game, to expose the exercise of power as the
violence it is.
Abuse?
      Turn the other cheek? Love your enemy?
Reconcile?
      Too many women, too many children abused,
thinking it is their fault
      Jesus’ advice is actually a creative form
of resistance
      Abused girl, flush toilet when dad in the
shower
Questions
to ask with persons who may be abused:
·        
Are you safe?
·        
Are you comfortable to be yourself?
·        
Do you want your children to learn that this is
an acceptable/appropriate way for adults to behave?
Whether
the abuse is physical or emotional, you do not have to live under it. And, you
have the support of this pastor and this church in creating a plan for your
freedom. “The peace of Christ be with you.”
You
are loved!
Psalm
139:17-18: How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of
them! I try to count them– they are more than the sand; I come to the end– I
am still with you.
If
there is anyone who thinks obsessively of you and me – with love and delight,
not being a control freak – it’s our God.
Escaping
an abusive situation is typically full of guilt. “If I try harder, things will
be better”. Or, “I made my own bed”. And, as Christian people considering the
possibility of divorce in an abusive context we have the extra guilt of “but
the Bible says …”
      Jesus does condemn divorce, and when he
does so he is talking about an ancient practice that actually abused women –
making it easy for a man, who had all the economic power, to divorce a woman
who did not please him and leave her to fend for herself in poverty. Jesus, in
condemning divorce, was not encouraging persons who are being abused to remain
in an abusive situation if they had any option. He was encouraging men to love
their wives and remain faithful to them.
      And, what of the submission and headship
language in the Bible? Well, it is in the book. While there are some
translation issues that are worth exploring, it is equally plain – even in the
context of headship and submission language – that the leadership of a man in a
home is to be exercised through loving service and that submission is to be
mutual.
      “Love your wives just as Christ loved the
church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5.25). “Submit to one another
out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5.21). “Love your wives and never treat
them harshly” (Colossians 3.19). “Show consideration for your wives … so that
nothing may hinder your prayers” (1 Peter 3.7).
      Aside from paying attention to the context
of submission and headship language, we must remember the amazing equality
statements in the Scripture, little time bombs that only matured in later
movements such as abolition, civil rights, women’s rights. “There is no longer
Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and
female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3.28). A marriage of
unequals can become abusive. A marriage of equals is a beautiful gift.
We
opened today’s message by introducing the theme of reconciliation among those
who are not equal. Then, we explored one example of an unequal relationship –
an abusive marriage – and some biblical perspective that supports a person
pursuing freedom from abuse.
      There are other kinds of abusive
relationships. Far too many children are abused. And far too many persons are
abused in their schools and workplaces in a variety of ways – hazing, harassment,
bullying. We all bear the scars of people who were convinced that we were
legitimate objects of scorn. And we are not. We are loved. It is the most
important thing about who we are as human beings: We are God’s beloved. “Such
knowledge is too wonderful for me” (Psalm 139.6).
      The Bible includes some amazing
reconciliation stories between unequals. Joseph enslaved by his brothers. And,
at the other end of the Bible, another slave story. Onesimus runs away from his
master, a Christian man named Philemon. He meets the apostle Paul and becomes a
Christian. After a period of working with Paul, Paul sends him back, letter in
hand to Philemon: “I would appeal to you on the basis of love … no longer as a
slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother” (Philemon 9, 16). Aside from
the great theology – that in Christ we are equals and slavery makes no sense –
the letter to Philemon is a beautiful personal appeal to reconcile unequals,
unequals whose hearts are profoundly transformed by Jesus.
Even
in the place of deepest pain, we are called to “love your enemies”, to practice
reconciliation and forgiveness, to extend the peace of Christ. Extending the
peace of Christ is not the same thing as subjecting ourselves to additional
abuse. Jesus’ peace comes with the desire and power for transformation. We are
not asked to put ourselves at risk for greater pain from persons who are not
ready to change.
      So, why practice this unilateral gift of
forgiveness? It is effective in our hearts even if the other person has no idea
we are forgiving them or no desire for us to do so. And, forgiveness is
actually a necessary part of letting go. One of the main Greek words for
forgiveness (avfi,hmi) (aphiemi) means “to let go”.
And, as long as we refuse to let our pain go, we remain bound to the other
person in the cycle as perpetrator or victim.
      Tug-of-War, a power game.
      Go the second mile. Turn the other cheek.
Flush the toilet. Opt out of the power game. Forgive.

      As the path to innocence in relationships
is love, a love that begins in the love of God in Christ Jesus, so the path to
freedom in unequal relationships is forgiveness … letting go.