Parents often tell their little children, “Use your words.” Instead of making motions or grunting sounds, they say, “Use your words.” Words are crucial to communication. Words can develop or break relationships. Words are what we use to make things known.
We live in a world divided: this group against that group, this faction looking down on another one, my side against your side. We see hatred. We see discord. We see suspicion. Sadly, such worldly things are seen in congregations. The result is that people often write one another off, they exclude, they dismiss, they “other.”
It should not be so among us who follow Jesus. We are called to be ambassadors of reconciliation. We are called to treasure unity. We are called to be peacemakers.
To do so, we must “use our words.” At the heart of reconciliation as at the heart of the Gospel, are words. Words like “forgiveness, apology, grace, mercy, humility, love, kindness, understanding, truth.” Words like “Jesus.” Words about Jesus. Words that invite people to change their minds (repentance). Words that release (forgiveness).
Hannah Arendt, in her book The Human Condition, considered distinctions between labor, work, and action. Labor is activity directed at sustaining life (gardening). Work is activity that leaves behind a product (make a chair). Action is activity that (way over simplified) connects and distinguishes us from one another and builds or destroys relationships (speech, hitting).
A key point in her work is that labor is undone by consumption (I eat the corn), work is undone by destruction (I cut up the chair), but that action can never be undone (you cannot un-say an insult, you cannot un-hit a friend); it can only be forgiven.
We do much acting against one another. People do much acting against us. We do much acting against God. There is only one solution: forgiveness.
The key to restored relationships, between one another and with God, is forgiveness. This is what powers and effects reconciliation. We need to be quick to forgive one another as God has forgiven us. We need to be eager to share the forgiveness that God provides in Jesus: the incarnate Word of forgiving reconciliation.
If we are going to experience a less divided, less hate-filled, discordant, and suspicious world around us, we need to dare to “use our words,” We Christians have words of reconciliation. Our words are forgiveness, apology, grace, mercy, humility, love, kindness, understanding, truth. Our word is Jesus.
In 2024, as the people of God, let’s engage in daring conversations of reconciliation. Who are you separated from? A child who has forsaken the way of Jesus? A person of another ethnic background? A stranger who looks a lot different from you? A fellow citizen who has different political opinions? A neighbor who follows a different god? An advocate of an unbiblical view of sexuality? A pastor who prefers a different style of worship?
Instead of turning our backs to or writing off someone for whom Christ died, let’s dare to engage with our words. Let’s dare to engage with words from the Word, the Bible. Let’s dare to engage with words from the Word made flesh, Jesus. Let’s dare to engage with words of reconciliation.
Certainly, division will always exist in the world. Jesus said so. But even as He came into the world as the word of reconciliation, He now sends us out to share the same. Divided world indeed. But by using our words, may it be less so.
The 2024 Theological Conference, Love Talks: Daring Conversations Towards Reconciliation, takes place on Saturday, February 3, at Our Savior, Lansing. Walk-ins are welcome. Speaker playlists will be available after the conference at michiganidstrict.org/resources.
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