Growing Closer to God by Reconciling with Others

February 24, 2019

Rev. Dr. David Clark

Senior Minister

Genesis 45:3-11, 15 

Today we continue our sermon series, How to Grow Closer to God. We’ve talked about a number of spiritual practices you can build into your life and today we are going to talk about the importance of reconciliation with others. It’s very difficult to feel close to God with a toxic pool of grudges and bitterness and resentment sloshing around in your soul. That toxicity stunts your spiritual growth and keeps you from realizing your fullest spiritual potential and sense of overall well being. How can all that negativity inside not affect your relationship with God?

If you want to grow closer to God you need to do something to cleanse your spirit of that toxicity. That is, you can say all kinds of prayers, light all kinds of candles, sing spiritual songs, learn everything there is about the Bible, but if you still carry this stuff inside, you won’t get as close to God as you’d like.

My auto mechanic says every once in a while your car needs a system flush. Just as impurities build up and viscosity breaks down in our fluids over time in our cars, so too with our spirits. Since you brought your chassis into the spiritual garage today, as your spiritual mechanic let me tell you, you might be overdue.

Our Jewish brothers and sisters have an annual celebration, their holiest day of the year called Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It’s a day of repenting to God for your sins, forgiving those who have hurt you and asking forgiveness from those you’ve hurt. I love the intentionality of that; to build it in as a practice moves it from something that you know you ought to do to something that you actually practice at a specific time. Maybe for you today can be the day to get it right with God. Forgive someone in your heart and make plans to further reconcile a broken relationship.

Again the idea is that as spiritual beings, we need to be in the right relationship vertically with God and horizontally with your neighbor. For us, think of the symbolism of the cross.

That’s why Jesus didn’t just talk about spirituality as an abstract concept. He talked about relationships. He said that if you are in worship about to make your offering and remember that someone has something against you, get up and go. Leave worship and go try to make peace. You know it was important because he said you need to take care of it before you make your offering. Making your offering was considered a sign of your deepest desire to be at peace with God. You’ve got to find ways to work toward reconciliation.

Although forgiveness isn’t the same as reconciliation. Reconciliation comes from re-,  or going back,  and conciliation means bring together, to harmonize. But forgiveness is a component of reconciliation. Get in touch with God’s forgiveness of you. This gives you a proper humble spirit. Jesus told a great parable about some ingrate who had been forgiven a great sum of money, more than could be ever be worked off and immediately after being forgiven he seized a dude by the throat just because the dude owed him a few bucks. Remember: you have already been forgiven a great deal. You could never repay all that God has provided you. Forgiveness for every wrong, but also all the blessings. Unless you are prepared to invent oxygen, manufacture sunlight. God says there is no debt. Now pay that forgiveness forward to the best of your ability.

Getting forgiven is easier than expected. It’s already happened. God forgives the first time. How do you forgive yourself? Get in agreement with God you meant to be redeemed. Better for it. Get up. Be an example, shine. Not cringing with shame and regret. This helps you to be the bigger person and take the high road instead of retaliating.

I know in my life I think about the times I’ve been given second chances. When people have forgiven me. When that really happens and you really accept it, it changes you. You think, “When I’ve been forgiven so much, how can I ever be judgmental against another.” I try to be the least judgmental person anyone will ever encounter. There’s been too much shaming in the name of religion, not enough grace, and our practice at Bay Shore is to reverse that.

Forgive means don’t retaliate. The first step toward forgiveness isn’t about making yourself feel a certain way or to stopping being angry. The first step is to decide you are not going to punish and retaliate. You are not going to respond with an eye for an eye. You are going to decide hurting them isn’t going to make you better.

There is so much meanness today. When did they stop teaching, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all?” The other day I sat in a coffee shop and couldn’t help but overhear this group getting all dramatic about their encounters with people who weren’t there. They’d say something like, “But she didn’t respond to my Facebook post so when I saw her I said, X.” I’m not even going to repeat it. But it was mean. Really mean. I thought her friends might have said, “Shame on you.” But they didn’t. They only encouraged her and supported each other in their own tales of meanness. I looked around for cameras shooting some Real Housewives show. I have to admit some of their putdowns were really funny and cutting. I found myself thinking, “Ooo, I wish I would have said that to Tom Loeck when he. . .” You get the picture. It’s easy to get caught up in it.

Scripture teaches us a better path. Not to get caught up in one-upping each other with tales of meanness. But rather to set our minds on whatever is helpful and true and the things that build each other up instead of tear each other down. As a person of faith, one of the most counter-cultural things you can do is refuse to participate in the culture of meanness.

So what am I saying? Do you have to be somebody’s doormat, give them a blank check to abuse you? No, not at all. Boundaries are a good thing. Jesus said love your neighbor as yourself. Loving yourself means having boundaries where others don’t get to mistreat you. If you choose to make some sacrifice on your part for the sake of a relationship make sure that it is of your own choosing for a greater good, volunteered by you but not required.

Second. Keep looking forward for blessings instead of the past for evidence. Joseph in story sees a bigger opportunity. You may remember his brothers were jealous of him and hated his brashness so they sold him into slavery and told their family he died in an attack. Joseph lived a hard life in slavery went through a lot but eventually rose to a position of great power in Egypt. Second to the Pharaoh. A famine hits the land and the brothers come to Egypt to try to get some food and they come to Joseph. He sees some good that can come out of it. He sees God’s hand in it. You meant it for evil, but God means to bring good out of it. He reconciles with his brothers. And a family is restored and saved because he was more interested in believing in what God could do with forgiveness than he was in retaliating for the past.

When we put our hearts and minds to the positive things God can do through reconciliation, we are rewarded beyond measure. Jesus said where your heart is, there shall be your treasure too.

Third. Make the first move. Maybe there is a broken relationship that you’d like to repair. But it takes two. Express your desire for a positive outcome. “I know things have not been going well between us, but I would really like to work on making things better.” If they choose to walk through the door you open, great. Do the hard work of focusing on the present and not rehashing the old hurts.

Fourth. A good thing to keep in mind is learning to trust that the other person was doing the best they could with the resources they had–even if it just meant they were reacting out of horrible patterns they learned to protect themselves. So many times we make up stories in our own minds about what someone really meant by something they said or something they did. But that’s just assumptions we make, stories we tell ourselves. But they may have nothing at all to do with what they were intending. The slammed door, missed email, forgotten thank you note may have been because of carelessness, not an attack on your being. Turn off your meaning maker. You can say, “When X happened, did you intend to be hurtful?”

Fifth. Reconciliation takes two and the other person may not accept your offer to work on reconciliation. And that’s just a hard reality that you have to accept and can’t do anything about. You are not going to be able to fix everything. It’s not about everyone liking you. That’s impossible, even for Jesus (he was crucified after all). He told his followers that they are supposed to do their best and if they are rejected to shake the dust of that place from their sandals and move on. Let things lie. You can keep the door open to reconciliation and if they want to walk through it that’s great. If not. Cue the Taylor Swift song and “shake it off. Shake it off.”

Learn the art of making a sincere apology. The non-apology apology has become an art form. Instead of saying, “I’m sorry I did that.” People vaguely say, “I’m sorry if anyone felt hurt by my actions.” It’s like our mom’s telling us to apologize and we give off a flip, “Oops, sorry.” A good apology takes responsibility, acknowledges the consequences your actions had on the other person. It tries to make amends and provides a path to restore trust. Here is how I will do better from now on.

Just show up for each other. A movie The Straight Story captures it. There had been a rift between two senior citizen brothers. One learns that his distant brother Lyle suffered a stroke and may not recover. He is determined to make things right with his brother while he still can, but his brother lives in Wisconsin, while Alvin is stuck in Iowa with no car and no driver’s license. Then he hits on the idea of making the trip on his old lawnmower, thus beginning a picturesque and at times deeply spiritual odyssey. He finally gets to his brother knocks on his brother’s door and it’s tense. They stand on the porch without saying much until the brother who lives in Wisconsin sees the lawnmower, which by now is totally beat up. He asks, “You drove all the way here on that?”

“Yup.”

And they kind of smile. Not a lot of words. No processing feelings. Just showing up. Making the move. It’s a beautiful thing when it happens. Give it a shot.