Sunday, 3 September 2006

SERMON 1 - How to make friends out of enemies: Towards a ministry of reconciliation

12 Sunday after Trinity
3 September 2006, Eureka Congregation, ELCSA-COD, Elsies River
Text: 2 Cor. 5.16-20

Hans S A Engdahl

How to make friends out of enemies:
Towards a ministry of reconciliation

It is now well over 16 years since Nelson Mandela was released from prison. If you are 20 years old you may just remember your mum or dad telling about this remarkable event in Paarl not far from here.
It is now well over 12 years since the first democratic election. If you are in the confirmation class or similar age you will hardly remember this remarkable event either.
It was a critical time in South Africa’s history and indeed for the whole world. In a way the major question was: In a country where enmity and hatred had become systematised and part of the apartheid society, would it at all be possible to overcome this hatred? Those who had suffered would they be able to live with those who had caused all the suffering?
In short, would the new situation make it possible to make friends out of enemies?
I don’t say this without a reason. The fact is, and that should be known to all of us, young and old, that the first democratically elected president here advocated the use of this possibility. With his Christian conviction he thought every person could be redeemed and thus be changed from having been an enemy to a friend. I have heard from Nelson Mandela directly when he visited Uppsala, Sweden in March 1990. Having tea with some of us after the divine service in Uppsala cathedral he said the following about the Boers or Afrikaners:
They are not evil. They made a terrible mistake when they brought in the system of apartheid. A few of them protested against it the whole time. When they have changed from those evil apartheid ways they will be very important to our country and will play a big role in co-operation with us (in the ANC).
The question now 16 years later is: has this come true?
Adrian Vlok who was a minister in the apartheid government in the 1980s, was responsible for much suffering, harassment, torture and death among those who openly opposed apartheid. He gave orders to his people to put poisonous powder in the clothes of Rev Frank Chikane in one of his suitcases when he was travelling to Namibia. Chikane was Gen. Secr. of the South African Council of Churches, SACC. Chikane now is the Director General in President Mbeki’s office. Last week, 20 or so years after having put poison in Chikane’s suitcase, minister Vlok pays a visit to Chikane to ask for forgiveness. He even asks Chikane to take off his shoes, so that he can wash his feet. It was meant to be a sign/symbol of servant hood, also being an imitation of Christ’s washing of the disciples’ feet just at the Last Supper, just before his crucifixion.
Already in 1990, however, at a big, Christian, ecumenical conference in Rustenburg (now North-Western Province) another Afrikaner, a professor in theology, Dr Willie Jonker, made a public confession on his own behalf but also on behalf of his Dutch Reformed Church and his people, the Afrikaners.
He said:
I confess before you and before the Lord… responsibility for the political, social, economical and structural wrongs that have been done to many of you, and the results of which you and our whole country are still suffering from…

Mandela was inspired by his Christian conviction, Vlok returned to Chikane because he felt compelled to ask for forgiveness and as a Christian he simply had to do it. Willie Jonker did the same already in 1990.
What is the meaning and significance of these actions? What conclusions do we draw? How should we as Christians and as a church react in matters like these?

Maybe there is no simple answer to these questions but what we must do is to lay a foundation from which we might act. We simply have to find out from our Christian faith. Now the expression “to make friends out of enemies” is one of the meanings of the word “reconciliation” (Greek from katalásso, exchange, give an exchange; change from enmity to friendship, profit made on exchange, tèn logon tès katalagès, ministry of reconciliation).
This word could also mean ‘restore friendship’, ‘accept something that is undesirable’.
You cannot live one day without being confronted with the need for reconciliation. Your prayers at the altar could backfire unless you have sorted out this or that with your neighbour:
So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled with your brother and then come and offer your gift.
(Matt. 5.23)

Talking about reconciliation is touching the heart of God. We, as human beings, are God’s offspring. Therefore we as humans cannot do without constantly searching for restoration of friendships, reconciliation which does not come easy in a world filled with hatred, envy, greed and other kinds of selfishness.
The core-verse in our text is the remarkable sentence: God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself. (v. 19a)
Could you possibly find a more concentrated short-form of what it is all about? Here in a nutshell is said what is done and how it is done, i.e. when it comes to the salvation of humankind, yes the whole world.
Let us highlight the following three aspects God, the Father, Christ and the world.
1. God, the Father
With Muslims and Jews we have this in common that God is supreme, almighty and everything’s creator. The very greatness of God makes it impossible to say much about him. He is beyond our comprehension, completely. He is different.
However, it is true that he was in Christ and that is a statement saying something very definite about God, that something which then hardly could be in contradiction of any other characteristics of God.
Even if we still know very little about God, that which we know cannot possibly be in contradiction of his nature as a whole.
Here it is enough to concentrate on one thing. That is that God took the initiative to the reconciling action. He even involved himself in this action, therefore God was in Christ.
He did not send his son on a rescue mission not knowing the world’s conditions sitting back in his comfy chair. It was not that the son only when here among us discovered that his own sacrifice was needed to save a thoroughly evil world and to ensure that he satisfied and avoided unnecessary anger from God the Father.
No, this is not so.
God is a zealous God who knows into the smallest detail the condition and status of the world. He was concerned about our wellbeing, saw that we couldn’t or wouldn’t sort out things by ourselves and therefore involved himself into our world.
He did not just send away his son. He was with him at every step, in every single encounter. The God and Father of all, who had taken the initiative to a creation bearing some resemblance to himself (the humans), also took the initiative towards reconciliation. We who had become strangers could again reckon ourselves children of God.

2. Jesus the Christ
Much of what Jesus says reflect this incredible greatness of God, certainly his total power and control, but, equally much God’s care and concern for anything living, especially humans, women and men.
Much of what Jesus Christ does inevitably reflects this same God, his greatness and his ability to change, for to God nothing is impossible.
In all this God was in Christ. (Christ’s suffering)

3. The world
The shattering news that many established churches don’t want to hear about is that God aimed at the world. His concern is the world, not the church. A church that is more interested in itself than in the world outside is already in decline. A church that is more interested in keeping those souls already there than in the world and the crying souls outside is already a dying church.
God’s interest is in the world, not the church. The church is all important but only to the extent that it is there for the world rather than for itself. Of course the church council has to work hard to raise funds for the pastor’s salary, for the upkeep and restoration of the church building etc, but the council should never worry about finances or anything else that constitute the church in the first place. If the church is a body that gives itself to and for the world then there will always be enough resources, funds etc for the own existence and subsistence.
It is the world that has to be reconciled to God, not the church.
However God is so gracious that he in a way includes the church in his action. As the body of Christ we become part of his outreach to the world.
To be the church, therefore, is to be out there as a constant instrument of justice and peace in the world. If the church does not want to take part in this reconciliatory action in the world, God will choose other means.
Ultimately, God’s action, through us, means that we also become engaged in a ministry if reconciliation amongst ourselves, as human beings, as groups, as people, as nations, yes as a total world…

Reconciliation is an immensely personal business.
That’s also what makes it so difficult. You talk peace and you work for peace in society, but there is no peace in your home, in your family, in your marriage. How can you be trustworthy if things are like that?
We have to start with ourselves, because, as bishop Buthelezi said (Swaziland 1987), strangely enough our worst enemies sometimes seem to be those nearest to us.
But in an open society I constantly meet new people whom I get to know and they will today come from any group even those who earlier belonged to a different group beyond my reach.
Breaking through the wall of indifference and strangeness to those on the other side may not be so difficult after all, once the breakthrough is there. That breakthrough will definitely mean a lot of enthusiasm and joy at getting a new brother or a new sister, it will mean a honey moon of new acquaintances and relationships and the real test of reconciliation may only come thereafter. Only when you are close enough to share a situation in a total sense will difficulties and misunderstandings arise. Only then will the tools of reconciliation come to their proper use. Only then will the ministry of reconciliation be possible. Keeping up the walls of silence and estrangement is the easiest way out. You are strangers and so remain. There is nothing much more to say. Certainly God expects something more of his people in this wonderful nation in the making and in this world as such.

Four different categories
Looking at the situation as a whole one might say that reconciliation is part of four different categories all needed in a free and fair society. These are restitution, justice, reconciliation and healing.
Restitution must not be overlooked. It is for example doing something about the forced removals from District Six in the 1960s. Things have to be put back in place, or at least compensated for. Secondly, justice presupposes this kind of restitution, in other words, justice must be seen to be done. Thirdly, reconciliation presupposes justice and restitution. If you go back to where you lived before being forced out, and there find another family belonging to another community (group) and also being quite prosperous, yes outright rich, while you have suffered and struggled all along, you cannot immediately reconcile with that family, saying all is well. No, you have to claim justice and justice to be seen done. Only then will there be an opportunity to reconcile.
Fourthly, healing presupposes reconciliation. It is no doubt that Jesus could only heal those who somehow or other trusted him for what he said and did.
It was this matter of trust and this giving over to him in faith that also was a restoration of relationships between God and the human being.
God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.
In this same act, the healing of the deaf with an impediment in his speech (Mark. 7.32) this God-given reconciliation was a presupposition.

Whither the Lutherans?
Things are changing even rather dramatically in the life of the churches these days. Notwithstanding the number of new churches mushrooming in our cities, the old mainline churches are also challenged into major changes. The majority of them, unless they were all inclusive from the beginning like the Anglicans and the Roman Catholics, are now socalled uniting churches. The meaning of ‘uniting’ is that they are in the process of uniting those different branches that once, in line with apartheid, were formed within each (population) group.
So you have the Uniting Reformed Church, the Uniting Presbyterian Church, now already finally united into one church two years ago.
On Friday I had a meeting with the vice rector of the University of the Western Cape. He told me that in his church, the Presbyterian church in Stellenbosch, they were facing big changes. The worship service is already adjusted to a multilingual situation. And lately, due to a conflict in a sister congregation, no less than 70 congregants from a township outside Stellenbosch will be joining the Stellenbosch congregation on a permanent basis.
Certainly this congregation will have to practise a ministry of reconciliation on all levels in order to find and develop a true Christian fellowship.
So the question comes unashamedly to us: Whither the Lutherans?
In which way are we challenged by the new life emerging in this South Africa? Should we wait for the others, those alienated brothers and sisters, indefinitely? What is God’s calling to us, in this congregation? In which way could we now, not tomorrow, become a uniting church? If the other Lutheran brothers and sisters are not available in a uniting, inclusive church, what would the other options be?
It could possibly not be a continued existence in isolation.
There may be other ecumenical options. There could be a way by which we redefine ourselves once and for all doing away with our apartheid past. There could also be a way of complete renewal through mission.
I hope there will be opportunities later this spring to discuss these matters. There will also be two more opportunities to preach on reconciliation and its consequences. The first Sunday in October, 1 October, I will, DV, preach on the theme “We are all coloureds” and on the first Sunday in November,
5 November, I will, DV, preach on the theme “Mission to the whites”.
You may get my sermons as print out or if you give me your e-mail address, you can get it online.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen

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