A comprehended god is no god.

A comprehended god is no god.

A wise saying by saintly John Chrysostom

Friday, September 28, 2012


The texts for this sermon were taken from Ecclesiastes 3:1-11, Psalm 51, and Matthew 6:9-15

On the 14th of May 1940, the Germans bombed the city of Rotterdam to support their troops fighting in the city. Due to faulty communications, the Germans brought to rubble much of the city center. Because of the bombing of Rotterdam, the British authorized an attack on German targets east of the Rhine. The Royal Air Force aimed for civilian industrial targets which aided the German war effort. Due to the inadequate British bomb-sights the strikes rained terror on German villages and towns.

During that summer and autumn, the German Air Force began to attack British military and economic targets. This “Battle for Britain” took a terrible turn when several off-course German bombers accidentally bombed residential areas of London. The next night, the British bombed Berlin for the first time. Due to their poor aiming ability, these attacks were seen as indiscriminate bombings by the Germans. The German Air Force had been prohibited from bombing civilian areas but now all bets were off.

On the evening of November 14th, about 6:30, in the city of Coventry, the sirens began to scream. The Germans bombed in straight lines from east to west, and then they started from south to north. The city center and Coventry Cathedral were hit numerous times and fires blazed out of control. 554 people died that night. Someone observed, “It was a terrible scene. The shops were burning, all the windows had gone, lamp-posts were leaning down, cars were burned out, it was chaos.” Shock was followed by anger. Many wanted revenge, but not everyone.

The next morning, Richard Howard walked through the ruined Cathedral.  He had led worship here. He looked into the nave and felt he would weep. Though the altar was a pile of rubble, the wall behind it still stood. He bent over, picked up a piece of wood and wrote these words on the smoke-blackened wall - 'Father Forgive'.

He found the charred remains of two roof beams that had fallen to the floor in the shape of a cross. He carefully raised them above the altar of rubble for the Sunday service. Reconciliation is not easy. Reconciliation can be painful. Reconciliation is rooted in “change”. Reconciliation is relational.

The theology of reconciliation can be compared to that charred Coventry cross. It runs both vertically and horizontally. The vertical beam represents our reconciliation with God and the horizontal represents reconciliation between individuals and community.+ 

In the Gospel reading we hear Jesus’ teaching on prayer. Jesus points out that forgiveness and, thus, reconciliation begins as God’s action towards us. We pray that God will forgive, in Greek ἀφίημι,  {af-ee'-ay-mee} … that is, we pray God will send away, somehow disregard, not even discuss our debts, and we promise to do the same – with the same generosity.

The Dictionary of Christian Ethics says that “The Latin and Greek words for reconciliation have the root-meaning “change” and refer to a change of attitude from hostility to amity, of God toward humanity, of humanity toward God, and of individuals toward each other.” Central to Jesus’ teaching about divine forgiveness is that our reconciliation with God has something to do with those who have offended us or whom we have offended. When we have been harmed or when we have hurt another, it may seem impossible for us or others to get over it. The process cannot be rushed. It cannot be forced.

A good place to learn about forgiveness and reconciliation is found in Psalm 51. The introductory text attributes this psalm to David just after Nathan the prophet uncovered his adultery with Bathsheba. I’m not sure if he is sorrier for the wrong he’s done or for getting caught, even so, David is sorry and the process of reconciliation can begin.

Begin with God. Ask for help. Admit your fault and take responsibility for your part.  Our God is a God of steadfast love and mercy - willing to blot out our transgressions and wash us whiter than snow. Being willing to accept responsibility can be difficult. Roots of bitterness can run deep. We sometimes need help to pluck them out. Listen to David’s payer, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.”

Here are three thoughts on Psalm 51. One, willingness is an important element of Reconciliation. David is willing to make things right. Second, David prays for the help of the Spirit of God.  This is the same Spirit that we invoke at “the peace” during every Eucharistic gathering, remembering  that after the resurrection, Jesus greeted his friends, those that rejected and abandoned him, and said, “Peace be with you,” then breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Third, Psalm 51 is only a good start. It lacks one thing. David knows he must make things right with God. He knows that “a broken and contrite heart, God, will not despise.” David has the vertical aspect of reconciliation between the human and Divine, but where is the horizontal aspect?

Reconciliation also requires a restoration between individuals and community. David has not made things right with Bathsheba. Worse yet, he had her husband killed. David has not even mentioned the dead man’s family. Though God is always willing to forgive - others may need time. Sometimes it is even inappropriate to directly ask someone who has been gravely wronged for forgiveness. 

Reconciliation requires willingness. It requires concerted prayer for the other, for the community, in the power of the Spirit. Humbly, do what you can and trust in God, planting seeds of reconciliation. Remember that the impossible is God’s playground.