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Sermon illustrations

Reconciliation

Contact Theory: A Roadmap for Reconciliation

Contact Theory proposes that if diverse groups spend extended time together, their intergroup conflict and the negative effects of racism and ethnocentrism will gradually decrease and possibly even disappear altogether. A theoretical way to explain what many of my students, clients and colleagues had experienced over the years as they engaged with one another in extended positive contact was exactly what I had been looking for! Contact Theory was the key that unlocked the conceptual door of the Reconciliation Roadmap.

Taken from Roadmap to Reconciliation 2.0: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness and Justice by Brenda Salter McNeil (c) 2020 by Brenda Salter McNeil. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

“Chancing One’s Arm”

In her book Family Ministry, Diana Garland relates the following account by R.L. Honeycutt on the origin of the Irish expression “Chancing one’s arm”:

On display in St. Patrick’s cathedral in Dublin hangs an ancient door with a rough hewn, rectangular opening hacked in the center. The story of this “door of reconciliation” and the related Irish expression of “chancing one’s arm” are remarkable and instructive.

In 1492, two prominent Irish families, the Ormond’s and Kildare’s, were in the midst of a bitter feud. Besieged by Gerald Fitzgerald, Earl of Kildare, Sir James Butler, Earl of Ormond, and his followers took refuge in the chapter house of St. Patrick’s cathedral, bolting themselves in.

As the siege wore on, the Earl of Kildare concluded the feuding was foolish. Here were two families worshiping the same God, in the same church, living in the same country, trying to kill each other. So he called out to Sir James and, as an inscription in St. Patrick’s says today, “undertoake on his honour that he should receive no villanie.”

Afraid of “some further treachery,” Ormond did not respond. So Kildare seized his spear, cut a hole in the door, and thrust his hand through. It was grasped by another hand inside the church. The door was opened and the two men embraced, thus ending the family feud. From Kildare’s noble gesture came the expression “chancing one’s arm.”

Submitted by Chris Stroup, Taken from Diana Garland, Family Ministry (InterVarsity Press, 1999), p.358.

Christ’s Ministry of Reconciliation

Paul described his work as a ‘ministry of reconciliation’ and his gospel as a ‘message of reconciliation’. He also made it quite clear where this reconciliation comes from. God is its author, he says, and Christ is the one through whom he brings it about. ‘All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ.’… But what does this ‘reconciliation’ mean?

The answer is that it indicates either an action by which two parties in conflict are brought together, or the state in which their oneness is enjoyed and expressed. Paul says that this reconciliation is something that we have received through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We have not achieved it by our own efforts; we have received it from him as a gift. Sin caused a separation between us and God; the cross, the crucifixion of Christ, has brought us back together.

Sin made us enemies; the cross has brought peace. Sin created a gulf between us and God; the cross has bridged it. Sin broke the relationship; the cross has restored it. To put the same truth across in different words, as Paul does in this letter to the Romans, ‘The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.’

Taken from Basic Christianity The IVP Signature Collection  by John Stott. Copyright (c) 2019 by John Stott, pp.112-113. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

“Dear Paco,”

Ernest Hemingway grasped some of the difficulty that characterizes relationships between fathers and sons in his short story, The Capital of the World. The story revolves around a father and his teenage son Paco, set in Spain. Paco was an extremely common name in the Spain of that time.

With desires to become a matador and to escape his father’s control, Paco runs away to the capital (from which the title is derived) of Spain, Madrid.  His father, desperate to reconcile with his son, follows him to Madrid and puts an ad in a local newspaper with a simple phrase:

“Dear Paco, meet me in front of the Madrid newspaper office tomorrow at noon. All is forgiven. I love you.”

Hemingway then writes, “the next day at noon in front of the newspaper office there were 800 “Pacos” all seeking forgiveness.”

The world is full of people in need of forgiveness and reconciliation. The model for such forgiveness is most profoundly found in Jesus Christ.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Forgive

“What happens here may be expressed by the quite simple and yet unfathomable word, ‘forgive.’ What occurs when I forgive another person?  It does not mean . . .  that I can ‘forget’ what he did to me.  It just can’t do that.  No, when I forgive another, I myself step into the breach and say to myself, ‘The same thing that made the other person mean, hateful, and guilty toward me is in my heart as well.  Ultimately we are two of a kind.’

If I tell my neighbor, ‘I forgive you,’ and I say it from the bottom of my heart, then, in a manner of speaking, I take over the burden of his guilt and place it on my own heart just as though it were mine. . . .  I say, ‘Yes, what you did to me was very wrong; it was even shocking.  But I know from looking at myself how fickle and wicked the human heart is.  Therefore I could do exactly what you did.  It’s coiled up in me too.  So I’ll suffer through it with you.  I’ll put myself in your place.  I’ll share your burden.’  When I forgive another person, I share the burden of his guilt.  I become his brother and his sister, a burden-bearer at his side.” 

Helmut Thielicke.  I Believe:  The Christian’s Creed, trans. by John W. Doberstein and H. George Anderson.  Phil.:  Fortress Press, 1968, p. 116).   

Healing A Wound in the Body

In a letter of Justin Martyr, written in the second century, there is a remarkable passage. He writes to a friend and explains to him how essential it is that this man, who had sinned, should come back to the community, should be reintegrated into the fellowship both of God and of the Body of Christ, because, he says, by your sin you have wounded the Body of Christ with a wound which no one can heal except you; and if you do not come back, this Body remains wounded.

There was an acute sense of the oneness and the wholeness of the total Body, including God, including Christ, the Word of God incarnate. It was an act, therefore, not only of personal salvation, but with regard to God and to every other person, to come back and to be reintegrated, and also to give back integrity to the wounded Body. It was something that was an act of faith and an act of devotion, of loyalty, of fidelity to God and to others, and not only an act by which a person who had found himself in a wrong situation placed himself in the right one.

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, Coming Closer To Christ, Confession and Forgiveness, SPCK, 2009.

Hope for Rwanda

In his book Hope for Rwanda, Father Andre Sibomana notes how hard it was in the aftermath of genocide to bring Hutu and Tutsi together to talk about, even less agree on, the history of Rwanda. But then he tells of an incident in which he mobilized the people of his parish for the communal work of reconstruction. He recalls how they had to build everything from scratch: gardens, houses, pit latrines. During a break from the work, Sibomana was amazed to see Hutu and Tutsi workers drinking banana beer from the same cup.

Sibomana’s experience reminds us that a church interrupted by God’s new creation doesn’t assume an otherworldly posture.

Rather, it finds itself deeply engaged in everyday, mundane realities. Without a thick and material account of church, we may tend to view reconciliation as a spiritual event or a shallow sentiment that involves merely hugs and handshakes. But we see a different reality on the ground. Reconciliation is about killers and their victims’ family members taking a break from their common work to drink banana beer from the same cup.

Taken from Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice Copyright (c) 2008 by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Incarnation Essential to Reconciliation

In their thoughtful book on reconciliation, Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice share how Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement showed up in the lives of the working poor, which ultimately enabled them to do the work of reconciliation:

In connection with reconciliation, incarnation means learning to be there in broken places and developing the patience and discipline necessary to stay long enough to see the needs. That is why every time we think about incarnation, we think about Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement she founded.

Her testimony of how it all started is very telling: We were just sitting there talking when lines of people began to form saying, “we need bread.” We could not say, “Go, be thou filled.” If there were six small loaves and a few fishes, we had to divide them. There was always bread.

We were just sitting there talking and people moved in on us. Let those who can take it, take it. Some moved out and that made room for more. And somehow the walls expanded. We were just sitting there talking and someone said, “let’s all go live on a farm.” It was as casual as all that, I often think. It just came about. It just happened.

Taken from Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice Copyright (c) 2008 by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Journey of Reconciliation is Grounded in the Practice of Lament

The first language of the church in a deeply broken world is not strategy, but prayer. The journey of reconciliation is grounded in a call to see and encounter the rupture of this world so truthfully that we are literally slowed down. We are called to a space where any explanation or action is too easy, too fast, too shallow—a space where the right response can only be a desperate cry directed to God.

We are called to learn the anguished cry of lament. Lament is the cry of Martin Luther King Jr. from his kitchen table in Montgomery after hearing yet another death threat: “Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right. . . . But Lord, I must confess that I’m weak now, I’m faltering. I’m losing my courage. Now, I am afraid. . . . I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.”

… Lament is not despair. It is not whining. It is not a cry into a void. Lament is a cry directed to God. It is the cry of those who see the truth of the world’s deep wounds and the cost of seeking peace. It is the prayer of those who are deeply disturbed by the way things are. We are enjoined to learn to see and feel what the psalmists see and feel and to join our prayers with theirs. The journey of reconciliation is grounded in the practice of lament.

Taken from Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice Copyright (c) 2008 by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

A Killer Embraced Like a Brother

In their excellent book on reconciliation, Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice share the true story of Billy Neal Moore, who would both find Jesus in prison and ultimately find his victim’s parents to be his greatest advocate:

When Billy Neal Moore was in jail, awaiting the trial in which he would be sentenced to death, a minister shared with him the good news that Jesus loved him and wanted to forgive his sins. Moore learned that no one is beyond redemption. From prison, he wrote to his victim’s family and asked their forgiveness.

Astoundingly, they immediately wrote back to say that they also were Christians and that they forgave him. Then the family decided to petition the Georgia parole board to commute Moore’s death sentence. In 1991, Moore was paroled from prison, transformed by the grace of God and his victim’s family members. “When I was released, they embraced me like a brother,” Moore said of Stapleton’s family. He has been preaching the gospel of forgiveness to schoolchildren and church groups ever since.

Taken from Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice Copyright (c) 2008 by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Key to Understanding Anger

In his book The Mystery of Christ, a series of fictionalized pastoral counseling sessions (based on actual events), the Episcopal priest Robert Farrar Capon shares a number of helpful ways of understanding the nature of God’s salvation, including this section on the nature of anger:

The key to understanding anger is that it always arises out of an offended sense of justice. You can’t get truly angry at someone unless you can convince yourself he has willfully deprived you of something that was reasonably and rightfully due you. If a friend unwittingly backs over your old, stone-deaf dog because it was asleep under the right rear wheel of his car, you may be sad and hurt over the dog, but you cant seriously be angry at your friend.

(You might, of course, work up a case for being angry at God for making a world in which such things can happen; but that’s only because you went hunting for an injustice on somebody’s part to provide yourself with a provable villain whose unfairness would allow you to convert your hurt into anger.) But if the guest comes tearing needlessly up your driveway at forty miles an hour and kills the dog, you don’t have to hunt for the injustice in heaven: you’ve got it right in the driver’s seat of an overpowered sports car.

Therefore, the first thing you can do to defuse your anger at someone close to you is to take an honest look at the balance sheet of injustices between the two of you. If you do that, you’ll probably find that the unjust behavior that made you angry with your friend was itself the product of his anger at you — of his sense that something he had assumed was due him from you was withheld, or that something he didn’t deserve was dumped on him.

“Yes. But how does that get you to forgiveness?”

‘Actually it doesn’t. As a matter of fact, we haven’t gotten anywhere near forgiveness yet. Were only at the level of trying to see that there are usually two sides to these things, and then of understanding that maybe even forgiveness is too lordly and one-sided an exercise, given the general untidiness of the situation.

…The object of forgiveness is the restoration of relationship. And the device by which it works is the death and resurrection of the forgiver —his dropping dead to his own right to justice so that at least he himself can rise to the possibility of a restored relationship. If he doesn’t do that, his only alternative is to kill his unjust former friend and, as a result, the relationship. But if you can manage to say, “I’m as wrong in my way as he is in his,’ then maybe you can call a truce instead of having to declare World War III.”

Robert Farrar Capon, The Mystery of Christ & Why We Don’t Get It, Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1993.

The Line Runs Through

In any polarized situation, the overriding human tendency is to draw a line with oneself and one’s allies on the good side and the opposing party on the wicked side, with very little attempt made by either side to understand the other. As these positions harden it becomes almost impossible to achieve the insight necessary for a breakthrough.

For some years now I have kept a file that I call “The Line Runs Through.” This title is from Vaclav Havel, former President of the Czech Republic and one of the very few profound public thinkers of our time. You will remember that Havel was one of those who resisted the Communists and was put in prison for his activities.

When he came to power after the Velvet Revolution, Havel was conspicuously forgiving toward his former enemies and other collaborators. Some blamed him for this. But he maintained his position. In the Central European regimes of the seventies and eighties, Havel said, “The line {between good and evil] did not run clearly between ‘them’ and ‘us/ but through each person.

Fleming Rutledge, Not Ashamed of the Gospel: Sermons from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Eerdmans Publishing, 2007.

Living In Peace and Forgiveness with our Neighbors

Sometimes, the Christian faith can be confounding to the outside world. Enemies can become friends, even to the point of caring for and protecting each other. In this short story from the small African country of Burundi, one leader, a university professor, brings two tribes together in a practical way. 

Our friend Emmanuel Ndikumana is a Hutu married to a Tutsi in Burundi. As a leader at the university in Bujumbura, he constantly finds himself caught between the Burundi military, dominated by Tutsi, and the predominantly Hutu rebel groups who are fighting the government. But he knows that small things make a difference in the everyday lives of people, so he has formed groups of Hutu and Tutsi students who travel together.

When they come to a military checkpoint, the Tutsi students talk with the soldiers. When they come to a rebel roadblock, Hutu student leaders do the talking while the rest of the students carry on with their own conversations. This way, they are able to confuse both the military and rebel fighters. The Christian vision of hope never disconnects the question of whether we can reconcile the nations from whether we can live in peace and forgiveness with those nearest to us—in our homes, at work, in worship and even on the road.

Taken from Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice Copyright (c) 2008 by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Nelson Mandela and a Presidency of Reconciliation

What does true forgiveness and reconciliation look like? The world was given such an image the day Nelson Mandela was sworn in as President of South Africa. What was so significant was not just that a person of color was becoming the head of a state with years of segregation and mistreatment of its black citizens, but it was also Mandela’s gracious inclusion of his former adversaries that was so inspiring.

When Mandela arrived, he was accompanied by his eldest daughter, as well as the South African security forces. But that was not all. The police and the correctional services (the same people in charge of his 27 years in prison) walked alongside his car, saluted him and escorted him to his inauguration. It was a powerful moment for many reasons, but most of all provided a reminder that just a few years ago, Mandela had been considered by the South African state as a public enemy, a terrorist to be arrested and exiled to a remote prison.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

The Old Bell Keeps Swinging

Corrie ten Boom told of not being able to forget a wrong that had been done to her. She had forgiven the person, but she kept rehashing the incident and so couldn’t sleep. Finally Corrie cried out to God for help in putting the problem to rest.

“His help came in the form of a kindly Lutheran pastor,” Corrie wrote, “to whom I confessed my failure after two sleepless weeks.” “Up in the church tower,” he said, nodding out the window, “is a bell which is rung by pulling on a rope. But you know what?

After the sexton lets go of the rope, the bell keeps on swinging. First ding, then dong. Slower and slower until there’s a final dong and it stops. I believe the same thing is true of forgiveness. When we forgive, we take our hand off the rope. But if we’ve been tugging at our grievances for a long time, we mustn’t be surprised if the old angry thoughts keep coming for a while.

They’re just the ding-dongs of the old bell slowing down.” “And so it proved to be. There were a few more midnight reverberations, a couple of dings when the subject came up in my conversations, but the force — which was my willingness in the matter — had gone out of them. They came less and less often and at the last stopped altogether: we can trust God not only above our emotions, but also above our thoughts.”

Submitted by Chris Stroup, Source Material from Corrie ten Boom

Living In Peace and Forgiveness with our Neighbors

Sometimes, the Christian faith can be confounding to the outside world. Enemies can become friends, even to the point of caring for and protecting each other. In this short story from the small African country of Burundi, one leader, a university professor, brings two tribes together in a practical way. 

Our friend Emmanuel Ndikumana is a Hutu married to a Tutsi in Burundi. As a leader at the university in Bujumbura, he constantly finds himself caught between the Burundi military, dominated by Tutsi, and the predominantly Hutu rebel groups who are fighting the government. But he knows that small things make a difference in the everyday lives of people, so he has formed groups of Hutu and Tutsi students who travel together.

When they come to a military checkpoint, the Tutsi students talk with the soldiers. When they come to a rebel roadblock, Hutu student leaders do the talking while the rest of the students carry on with their own conversations. This way, they are able to confuse both the military and rebel fighters. The Christian vision of hope never disconnects the question of whether we can reconcile the nations from whether we can live in peace and forgiveness with those nearest to us—in our homes, at work, in worship and even on the road.

Taken from Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice Copyright (c) 2008 by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

One Potential Pitfall in Reconciliation Movements

Reconciliation. Let’s be honest. Reconciliation has become a trendy topic of conversation . . . which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. People are talking about it and that’s good. There are gatherings, teachings, sermons, classes and entire conferences around the subject of reconciliation.

But, if we’re not careful, it is quite possible and tempting to be more in love with the idea of reconciliation than to actually engage in the actual work of reconciliation—the arduous, painful and messy marathon work of reconciliation. That’s the pivotal question we must ask: Are we more in love with the idea of following Jesus than actually following Jesus—including to and through some difficult areas?

Taken from Roadmap to Reconciliation 2.0: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness and Justice by Brenda Salter McNeil (c) 2020 by Brenda Salter McNeil. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Practicing Corporate Repentance

In his insightful work, Beyond Racial Gridlock, George Yancey provides a multi-faceted picture of both the brokenness of American race-relations, as well as a response couched in the gospel. In this excerpt, Yancey describes his wife’s decisions to practice corporate repentance, which leads to a beautiful encounter of respect and reconciliation.

My wife, Sherelyn, is a white woman who has developed an attitude of corporate repentance. The attitude has served her well as she has developed interracial friendships and has participated in racial healing. For example, we were attending a Native American festival, and she went to the food stand to get something to eat. Behind the booth was a Native American man who was a war veteran.

After striking up a conversation, she told him of a time she attended a Nez Perce powwow where she saw a warrior dance in honor of the United States flag. The sight brought tears to her eyes because she knows enough of Indian history to know how much damage has been done under the banner of the Stars and Stripes. Yet the Nez Perce nation and that veteran at the festival had risked their lives for the country that had mistreated them. They had not even been thanked for such service. The heart of this American Indian was clearly touched. He told her, “Well, someone has thanked us now.”

Taken from Beyond Racial Gridlock: Embracing Mutual Responsibility by George Yancey Copyright (c) 2006 by George Yancey. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Racial Reconciliation Not Needed?

In a recent Barna survey, only 56 percent of evangelicals agree that people of color are often placed at a social disadvantage, lower than the national average of 67 percent. At the same time, 95 percent of evangelicals think the church plays a critical role in racial reconciliation—higher than the national average of 73 percent. Taken together, these findings reveal that those who believe they are most equipped to help with reconciliation actually don’t think it is needed as much as otrher Americans do.

Taken from The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege by Ken Wytsma Copyright (c) 2017 by Ken Wytsma Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Reconciling Love of the Father

In her book Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home, Jen Pollock Michel reflects on the nature of home in a transient age. In this short excerpt, Michel reflects on the Biblical doctrine of reconciliation and its connection to home.

Adoption, as an important doctrine of the New Testament, speaks to the reconciling love of the Father. It also reminds us of the reality of sin and the necessity of grace. For though we might have once been God’s children by virtue of birth, we are now only children by virtue of adoption.

We cannot presume upon our welcome home; it has been offered at great cost to the Father. “Conscience amid modernity has become so seared that we imagine we are welcomed by God precisely while we are doing what God condemns,” writes Oden, in summary of Reinhold Niebuhr’s thought.

One great heresy of home is that there is any other way to enter but through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. To come home is, at the very least, to admit the reasons for having left and to acknowledge the leaving as offense.

Taken from Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home Jen Pollock Michel. Copyright (c) 2019 by Jen Pollock Michel. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Reconciliation in Prison

On a trip to South Africa, I met a remarkable woman named Joanna. She is of mixed race, part black and part white, a category known there as “Coloured.” As a student she agitated for change in apartheid and then saw the miracle that no one had predicted, the peaceful dismantling of that evil system. Afterward, for many hours she sat with her husband and watched live broadcasts of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings. Instead of simply exulting in her newfound freedoms, Joanna next decided to tackle the most violent prison in South Africa, a prison where Nelson Mandela had spent several years.

Tattoo-covered gang members controlled the prison, strictly enforcing a rule that required new members to earn their admittance to the gang by assaulting undesirable prisoners. Prison authorities looked the other way, letting these “animals” beat and even kill each other. Alone, this attractive young woman started going each day into the bowels of that prison. She brought a simple message of forgiveness and reconciliation, trying to put into practice on a smaller scale what Mandela and Bishop Tutu were trying to effect in the nation as a whole. She organized small groups, taught trust games, got the prisoners to open up about the details of their horrific childhoods.

The year before she began her visits, the prison had recorded 279 acts of violence; the next year there were two. Joanna’s results were so impressive that the BBC sent a camera crew from London to produce two one-hour documentaries on her. I met Joanna and her husband, who has since joined her in the prison work, at a restaurant on the waterfront of Cape Town. Ever the journalist, I pressed her for specifics on what had happened to transform that prison. Her fork stopped on the way to her mouth, she looked up and said, almost without thinking, “Well, of course, Philip, God was already present in the prison. I just had to make him visible.”

Philip Yancey, Finding God in Unexpected Places: Revised and Updated, WaterBrook Press, 2008.

Small Acts of Beauty

In their excellent book on reconciliation, Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice share a story about how small acts of beauty, done well, can lead to reconciliation:

A friend told us of visiting a very large religious community with a long history of activism and service. For generations St. Benedict’s monastery had built hospitals and sent teachers into public schools. In its early history on the American frontier, it had literally saved the lives of weary travelers with its hospitality. Walking with one of the sisters in the community’s beautifully cared for cemetery, our friend asked what the elderly sister loved most about her community.

“We do death well,” she said. “You should see a funeral here. It’s really a beautiful culmination of a life lived in worship of God.” Over time a community like this monastery can transform a place through its service and work, creating space for human life to flourish. But such a community is sustained through small acts of beauty like doing death well. These acts point to a deeper vision that is easily lost in the urgencies of a broken world. They are themselves seeds in this broken world that are just as prophetic as our work for justice and peace.

Taken from Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice Copyright (c) 2008 by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Tell Them About the Dream Martin!

Most of us in the United States know the famous “I have a Dream” speech Martin Luther King Jr. gave at the Lincoln Memorial as part of the 1963 March on Washington. On a sweltering, humid day in the nation’s capital, some 250,000 people came to hear King speak on the cause of civil rights and the fight for equality and justice for African Americans. What most of us don’t know is that that the “dream” part of the speech almost never happened, in fact, should not have happened. It was not a part of the prepared remarks for that day, but inspiration came in the form of a gospel singer named Mahalia Jackson.

As King inched towards the climax of his speech, he seemed to hesitate, perhaps unsure of whether his prepared remarks were as inspiring as he had hoped. At that moment, the great civil rights leader heard a voice behind him. “Tell them about the dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream!” Mahalia Jackson shouted. At that point, Clarence Jones, one of Dr. King’s advisors leaned over to the person next to him and said, “These people out there, they don’t know it, but they’re about ready to go to church.”

The rest, as we now know, is history. Dr. King had been testing out this “dream” section of his speech at previous events, and when he took Mahalia Jackson’s advice, he put into words the longings of a generation to experience equality and justice for all. He described the power of the gospel to create reconciliation where there had previously been hostility and tension.

I love this little insight into one of the most important moments in American history, not because it lessens King’s impact and genius, but rather, enlarges it. It also speaks to the genius and boldness of Mahalia Jackson, willing, in one of the biggest moments of her life and Dr. King’s, to speak up with a great idea. How wonderful for King not to scoff or ignore her, but to  listen, pause and realize that she was right, that now it was time to tell them about the dream.

Stuart Strachan Jr. source material https://www.vox.com/2016/1/18/10785882/martin-luther-king-dream-mahalia-jackson and other articles

The Unmaking of the Ungodly

In this excerpt from a sermon preached at Trinity Church, Boston, the Episcopalian Priest Fleming Rutledge describes the amazing  work of Will Campbell:

The last time I was here, your rector Sam Lloyd and I talked lot about the incomparable Southern activist, folklorist, and theologian Will Campbell. Will’s extraordinary New Testament radicality enabled him to maintain relationships with black victims of the KKK and at the same time with the KKK murderers. Literally. Brothers and sisters, that’s not “inclusion.” That’s the resurrection of the dead. Indeed that is exactly what Paul says toward the end of Romans 11:

For if [God’s temporary judgment upon unbelievers] means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?… So do not become proud, but stand in awe.

All his life, Will Campbell has said, over and over, that it is God’s intention, not just to “accept” the ungodly, but to unmake the ungodly, that is you and me, in a way that we could never do ourselves, by giving life to the dead and calling into existence the things that do not exist (Romans 4:17). What are these things that do not exist? (Romans 4:17). What are these things that do not exist? They are people who are righteous as he is righteous. That is the promised future of God.

…At the 1998 trial of KKK Grand Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers, Will Campbell went back and forth between Bowers and the family of a man he killed, civil rights activist Vernon Dahmer. When asked by reporters how he could do this, ’Will growled, “Because I’m a God-damned Christian.”

Fleming Rutledge, Not Ashamed of the Gospel: Sermons from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Eerdmans Publishing, 2007.

What Exactly Is Racial Reconciliation?

What exactly is racial reconciliation? If you asked ten different people, it’s likely you’d get ten different answers! At a gathering I attended of national multiethnic leaders—pastors, professors, diversity practitioners and leaders of multicultural ministries and denominations—the answer to this question proved quite confusing. For some, reconciliation meant bringing together a multiethnic group of people who are from similar socioeconomic and educational backgrounds.

For others, it meant the pursuit of racial and ethnic diversity but did not include the participation of women in leadership. Still others operated from a model of social empowerment, and for them reconciliation meant that Christians are called to address the discrimination and racism faced by black and Hispanic people in our society. During the two-day gathering of this elite group, some of whom had written books on the topic of diversity, leaders shared their most poignant beliefs regarding racial reconciliation and best practices for building it. What was most interesting to me, however, was the lack of agreement among the leaders gathered about the term reconciliation.

There was no single definition or understanding of what reconciliation actually entails. Do you see the problem? While many of us care about reconciliation and feel called to pursue it as part of our discipleship, there is no clear understanding of what it means to do so! Even among the leading diversity voices of the day there are vastly different beliefs about what it means to pursue reconciliation. Sure, most of us believe that reconciliation means the ending of hostility in order to bring people together, but we still differ, sometimes wildly, in how we believe God calls us to address and engage it.

Taken from Roadmap to Reconciliation 2.0: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness and Justice by Brenda Salter McNeil (c) 2020 by Brenda Salter McNeil. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

See also Illustrations on ConflictForgivenessPeace, RighteousnessSelf-Control, TeamworkUnity

Still Looking for inspiration?

Consider checking out our quotes page on Reconciliation. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!

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