1 Tim 2:1-7
St Barbara’s 9.11.14
For numbers of you here, you have lived through wars that have directly affected your lives. For some of you, you have fought in wars. The nearest I’ve experienced to living in a war environment was living in Soweto, in apartheid South Africa. For three years, I lived in a city where armed gangs wielding machetes and rifles, were escorted down residential roads by government troops to carry out wanton and indiscriminate killing of people, children, the elderly, women. On my street, there were at least two or three funerals every week of people who had been murdered in these attacks or who had “slipped in the showers” of police detention camps.
As the country began to move slowly towards democracy and the end of apartheid, two vocabularies began to emerge – something I may have mentioned before. The white community talked of reconciliation; the black community, hurt and grieving, talked of justice. For them, reconciliation was a dirty word. There was a fear that it meant the brushing of wrongs under the carpet, the refusal to acknowledge the sins that had been perpetrated, a failure to hold wrong-doers to account.
Well, the word reconciliation lies at the heart of the Bible reading we heard earlier this morning, and as I’ve discovered over the last six months since moving to Coventry, at the heart of what the cathedral and the city stands for.
So, 100 years on from the outbreak of the first world war, how do we make sense of this theme today.
Well, firstly, as our reading makes clear, prayer is key to peace and reconciliation. Paul tells Timothy, this young Christian leader he is writing to, to pray for everyone. I urge you, he says, “that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone.” That includes one’s enemies. Hard though it may be, undeserving though we may think them, praying for those who wish us ill and harm, or with whom we seem at loggerheads, is a key part of Christian faith. We may find prayer comes easier for those we love, and it is important that we do so, but praying for those we don’t love is important too. Sometimes, prayer may feel the only recourse we have left, but it can often be the only way that the hearts of others, and indeed our own hearts, can be changed.
Paul tells Timothy in particular to pray for “kings and those in authority”. How the countries of our world need wise and just leaders, leaders who value peace and human life. The outbreak of World War One, and the beginning of many wars both before and since, point to how poor leadership and poor decisions by those in authority can lead to untold and unnecessary tragedy. Look at the situation in the Ukraine today – how much do those in authority in Russia and the Ukraine, and in the West as well, need our prayers, if war is to be averted, and peaceful means of resolving conflicts are to be found. I find that Paul’s words to Timothy are a challenge to me, and maybe to some of you too, to pray more regularly for the leaders of our world.
Prayer is key to peace and reconciliation.
Paul also reminds Timothy that peace and reconciliation is modelled for us in the life of Christ. If we want to know what peace and reconciliation look like, we look to him, the one who reconciles us to God.
Christ became like us, he became human, that he might truly identify with us and understand us. A key part of reconciliation is the understanding of the other, the effort to step inside the other’s shoes, to see things from their perspective, even if one continues to profoundly disagree with it.
I shared with one of the evening home groups this week how much I had been impressed by the process of reconciliation that had taken place in the Church of England in recent months over the issue of women bishops. Going back a year or so, and it was not something that the Church had exactly covered itself in glory over. The disagreements between those for and against seemed pretty entrenched and intractable. However 18 months after the decision to reject women bishops had been taken amidst much hurt and acrimony, the same group of people voted in favour, with even those few voting against speaking of how much happier they were with the decision.
What had changed in those 18 months? A process had taken place, partly led by our own cathedral, in helping people listen to each other. Groups were formed of people of widely differing views. Before each person could speak, they had to say what the previous speaker had said, and make sure they had fully understood the other person, before they could put forward their own point of view. It forced people to step into the other’s shoes, to properly understand, rather than to simply rush into the articulation of their own views. The result: trust was built; people saw beyond the agenda to the person; and whilst they did not always reach agreement they began to find ways to live with one another’s differences. It transformed the debate.
Another key aspect of reconciliation is truth-telling. I mentioned how reconciliation had become a dirty word for the black community in South Africa. The word was redeemed by the work of Desmond Tutu’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Over the course of many months, perpetrators of violence and atrocities were given the opportunity to come before their victims, or families, and own up to what they had done. If they did so, the slate was wiped clean, they were forgiven. If they refused to acknowledge their wrongs, then the weight of the law was applied and they were punished. Such an approach was shaped by Christ’s own work of reconciliation. We are reconciled with God as we acknowledge before him our failings and our need of him.
In our own personal relationships, as in world events, learning to place ourselves in the other’s shoes, to truly seek to understand, and being willing to tell the truth and where necessary, seek forgiveness ourselves, are key to living in peace with one another.
And as we live in a world of uncertainty, in a world where wars continue to proliferate, there is one final truth for us to hold on to. Paul reminds Timothy that in Christ, we can be reconciled with God.
In the light of the atrocities and tragedies of war, and the hurt and pain caused by personal conflict, we know how much we all need God’s forgiveness. It is through Christ’s death for us on the cross, that such forgiveness, that such reconciliation is made possible. We need not look to the future afraid, but knowing that Christ goes before us, opening the door to eternal life.
As we remember those who have died before us, as we look ahead to our own future, we can look to Christ, the one who reconciles us to God.