Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Lord has entrusted to us the message of reconciliation

End of year message, 2006

(The Lord has entrusted to us the message of reconciliation )

Introduction

The great temple of the Lord in Jerusalem has a very interesting layout. Right at the heart of the temple is the holy of holies where the ark of the Lord resides. Separated from the rest of the temple by a curtain. Radiating out we then have the holy place, the outer court, then the court of the gentiles which again is separated from the outer court.

The whole architecture of the temple speaks of walls, restrictions, exclusion. The temple continuously reinforce the fact that there is an insurmountable barrier between a holy God and sinful man. The heavy oppressive curtain, barring the way into the holy of holies for twenty centuries prevent free and unrestricted access to God. Only the high priest, after proper sacrifices could enter the holy of holies and that once a year.

Tradition has it that the high priest when he enters the holy of holies, has bells attached to his robe and has a rope tied to himself – so that if he offended God in any way – a very real possibility when sinful man is in the presence of a holy God – then when the bells stopped ringing for a long time, it can be assumed the priest had been struck dead and his fellow priest can then pull his corpse out with the rope.

Ps 51 this is the cry the cry of king David who in his affair with Bathsheba has broken all of the ten commandments . It is also the cry of sinful man and woman across the ages :

1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.

4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are proved right when you speak
and justified when you judge.

5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

Man is sinful. God is holy. There is an unbridgeable barrier between God and man. God is righteous. He must judged sin. Punish sin. Pour his wrath out upon sin.

Is 56.3 captures our despair well:

Further : the eunuchs say, “ I’m a dried up tree with no children and no future.

The foreigners who commit themselves to the LORD say, “ The LORD will never let me be part of his people”.

This too, was the despair In NT times, of the shepherds who watch over the flock by night, a despised group of people who because of their lowly occupation is ritually unclean. “ The LORD will never let me be part of his people”.

Right in the midst of this guilt, sin, fear, longing and anxiety we have this glorious verse:

2 Cor 5.19 God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them

No more dividing walls, barriers and curtains – the most holy God has forgiven the sins of man and counted not their aggressions against them. The holy God has reconciled with sinful man.

This is the heart of the Christmas message.

Notice the shepherds were the first to receive the message of the birth of the saviour. Lets read Is 56 again :

4 For this is what the LORD says:
"To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me
and hold fast to my covenant-

5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls
a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that will not be cut off.

6 And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD
to serve him,
to love the name of the LORD,
and to worship him,
all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it
and who hold fast to my covenant-

7 these I will bring to my holy mountain
and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations."

God became a man, he who knew no sin was made sin, so that through his atoning death on the cross, we may be reconciled to God, be a new creation experiencing the pardon, peace and power that such reconciliation brings

Post Christmas message …..

2 Cor 5.19 God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them and has entrusted to us the message of reconciliation.

How do we flesh out this reconciliation that we have received as a gift from God

People groups to people groups

Race relations between the Malays and the non Malays, especially the Chinese in our country is fragile, delicate and potentially explosive. The recent UMNO AGM brought out all these tensions in the open.

Malay rights cannot be challenged, otherwise the Malays will run amok and the May 13 (1969) riots will happen all over again.”

"The non-Malays are challenging us, it is time to raise our voices and defend the race and Islam.''

"We are willing to risk lives and bathe in blood to defend our race and religion. Don't play with fire. If they mess with our rights, we will mess with theirs.''

A Perlis’ delegate remarks ‘ Datok Hishammuddin, You have unsheathed the keris, waved it, kissed it, when are you going to use it?’

Les, we think these are the words of a few extremist elements, the UMNO greeted these divisive and seditious words with applause and rousing cheers.

Different Religion

S Shamala is a non-Muslim whose young children were converted to Islam without her consent by her estranged husband, and she reportedly fled Malaysia with her kids in tow after being caught in court limbo. Lina Joy’s other half has been forced to go into hiding together with her. The parents of Susie Teoh, who converted when she was a minor, were denied access to their daughter. There are more Malaysians who have suffered harrowing ordeals but whose stories have not hogged national headlines.

Why should it become a matter of state as to this person’s religion and burial?" asks Tunku A’amash Tunku Adnan, a founding member of the Article 11 coalition movement. He is referring to the controversy surrounding the late Rayappan Anthony. Mais refused documented proof of his renunciation of Islam and reconversion to Christianity. They wanted to seize his body to bury him according to Islamic rites.


Rich and poor –

Kampong demolition opens villagers’ eyes

“On 20th November, the Selangor state government brutally demolished 65 urban pioneer houses in Kampung Berembang in Jalan Ampang. Men, women and teenagers locked arms to form a human barricade and terrified children screamed at the menacing bulldozers and the hundreds of advancing uniformed (personnel) the Kampung Berembang Committee argued and pleaded for the demolition to be deferred pending a court decision due in April 2007 and for negotiations to be held instead. But after a tough seven hour standoff, the entire village of wooden and brick houses was razed to the ground. By evening as the enforcement officials were finishing off the last few houses, crying children and babies, terror etched all over their little faces, huddled in makeshift tents as the rains lashed down

The demolition of Kg Berembang was an expose of the shameless collusion between government and private developer. Basically the government through its agents, the MPAJ and the police, did the dirty work for the developers who stayed away and only had to send in his blldzers( and later lunch for the enforcement team)

Probably for the first time in their lives, the Kampong Berembang villagers saw with their own eyes the government and its agencies siding openly with a private developer ……..the villagers recognise that the oppressor could be of any race, as could be the oppressed”. (Aliran:Vol.26 No 10)

How do we preach a message of reconciliation in such circumstances? How can we be ambassadors of reconciliation in such an atmosphere of anger, bitterness, distrust. When people’s hearts are burning with vengeance?

Persons to persons

Newspaper in Kentucky featured an enormous photograph on its front page. A black man and a white woman are sitting in her pastor’s study at her church. The man’s face is serene as he looks away from the camera and far beyond it, as if toward infinity. The woman’s line of vision crosses his, but her eyes bore into the viewer, as if searching the faces of strangers for a little human understanding. Her face is worried and her face puffy from crying. The man has just forgiven the woman for falsely accusing him of rape, an accusation that cost him eleven years of his life in a North Carolina prison.

Enemy –neighbour

( Jews and Palestinians)

Injustice, violence, human rights abuse by the Palestinians and the Jews

How do you live with your neighbour who is also your enemy?

Other-neighbour

Play badminton with them, live next door to them. Maybe attend the odd weddings, open house

We have civil conversations with one another, polite, sane and reasonable

But they are the Other

When push comes to shove, sentiments are expressed which shocked us

When push comes to shove, we express sentiments that can shock them.

But always it is we and they, us and them.

Reaching toward Reconciliation

Jacob and Esau an e.g. of divine and human reconciliation

“Jacob’s whole life has been nothing but one big fight after another, beginning already in the womb when he and Esau fought it out for the status of firstborn. That is the narrative pattern Jacob’s life will follow. He contends with his father, his father-in-law, his brother and his wives”.

He contends with God in a wrestling match just before he met up with his brother again. God blessed him, reconciled Jacob to himself by saying, “ Your name will no longer be Jacob (deceiver). From now on you will be called Israel (God fights) because you have fought with God and with men and have won. (Gen 32.28)

The next morning he looked up and what did he see but Esau coming with his 400 men. The brother whom he had cheated and who had sworn to kill him.

Jacob and Esau – embraced and then went separate ways. Jacob promised to meet up with Esau at Seir but never did. Instead he went on to Succoth and finally settled at Schechem (Gen 33.14)

Not a very satisfactory reconciliation. But in life, many things do not work out satisfactorily either. A couple divorced. Subsequently both remarried and became Christians. It is enough that they have tried to reconcile as best as they could under such difficult circumstances. But we cannot expect them to become bosom best friends.

Sometimes people who wronged us, continue to be unrepentant. What do we do then?

Martin Luther King

Richard Lischer had this to say about Martin Luther King’s collected sermons:

“In these sermons King tells the truth about the sins of racism, idolatry, militarism and violence. As Desmond Tutu puts it, he is not afraid to look the beast in the eye. Yet he does so in a way that is remarkably generous towards his enemies. Where it is possible to ‘explain’ racism as a symptom of fear of some other psychological or cultural disorder, he does so. He often takes time to understand and articulate the White Southerner’s anxiety in the face of change. He makes his judgements on racism and war against the backdrop of God’s profound love for the world, a theological awareness which lends to his sermons a brooding sense of pathos. In re-reading them one is reminded that the emotions most characteristic of a the prophet is not anger but sorrow. He tells the truth but rarely in bitterness of spirit and never with contempt for the Other. His truth-telling is pervaded by a sense of tragedy…although embroiled in many local conflicts, King never took his eye of cosmos and the universal fact of reconciliation. The victory he promises will be big enough to include victims and victimisers, the segregated and the segregators, in the beloved community. King fought as hard as anyone in America for new laws, but his sermons palpably yearn for the new thing that rises just beyond the law’s guarantees. And for King that new thing was the peculiarly American expression of God’s reconciliation of the world through Jesus Christ. ( p 160, f)

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

South Africa ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’

Desmond Tutu in the midst of social and political turmoil continues to preach his favourite text : Eph 2.14 ‘For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Foreword to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report

“It is something of a pity that, by and large, the white community failed to take advantage of the Truth and Reconciliation process. They were badly let down by their leadership. Many of them carry a burden of a guilt which would have been assuaged had they actively embraced the opportunities offered by the Commission; those who do not consciously acknowledge any sense of guilt are in a sense worse off than those who do.


Apart from the hurt that it causes to those who suffered, the denial by so many white South Africans even that they benefited from apartheid is a crippling, self-inflicted blow to their capacity to enjoy and appropriate the fruits of change. But mercifully there have been glorious exceptions.

All of us South Africans must know that reconciliation is a long haul and depends not on a commission for its achievement but on all of us making our contribution. It is a national project after all is said and done. We have been privileged to help to heal a wounded people, though we ourselves have been, in Henri Nouwen's profound and felicitous phrase, ‘wounded healers’.

When we look around us at some of the conflict areas of the world, it becomes increasingly clear that there is not much of a future for them without forgiveness, without reconciliation. God has blessed us richly so that we might be a blessing to others. Quite improbably, we as South Africans have become a beacon of hope to others locked in deadly conflict that peace, that a just resolution, is possible. If it could happen in South Africa , then it can certainly happen anywhere else. Such is the exquisite divine sense of humour.”

From a Reservoir of Forgiveness

E.g. of Jesus (Lischer, The End of Words p 148)

He healed some people before they asked for help. He forgave others before they repented. Sometimes, his kindness, evoked repentance and faith, sometimes it did not ( 10 lepers healed, but only one a Samaritan returned to thank him). He himself died forgiving his unrepentant torturers. His death at the hands of his enemies is the event by which God continues to make peace with the whole world. If reconciliation is not free, it is not of God.

What tangible, concrete, realistic signs and gestures of reconciliation can we as a Christian community give to our country, our community, our church, our family?

  • Be realistic – look the beast in the eye. This is Malaysia – neither paradise nor is it hell.
  • Tell the truth about ourselves, about the Other
  • Confess our sins
  • Offer signs and meaningful gestures of reconciliation
  • Best we could do may lie in us just wanting to reach out toward reconciliation. Which in the end must mark all that we say, and do as a person, as a church, as a community.

2 comments:

The Hedonese said...

Hi Tony! THis is a great year end message... "I have a dream" nvr sound so relevant and close to home nowadays.

That's the Malaysian Dilemma, isn't it? A friend of mine suggested some ways for racial reconciliation here:

http://theagora.blogspot.com/2007/02/malaysian-dilemma.html

Tzipora said...

I would like to comment on your remark on Lina Joy and Susie Teoh. It would seem that they are actually caught in the same situation. Both want to embrace the religions of their own choosing but face opposition from parents, family and in the case of Lina Joy, the state. I all for freedom of religion and I am of the opinion that people like Lina Joy and Susie Teoh must be given the right to choose their own religion. However, in the case of Susie Teoh, most rights activists see the victims as Susie's parents. What about Susie's right to choose her own religion? Maybe some will argue that while she was a minor, her parents were prevented from seeing her. That is a violation of her parents' rights, yes. But consider this: According to some who claim to be eyewitnesses, Susie Teoh was produced in court (she was already 18 at that time and no longer a minor) and asked about her choice of religion. She was crying because there was a lot pressure for her to renounce Islam especially from her parents but to the astonishment of many, she said, "I remain in my religion (meaning Islam) as Nur Aini." If she had made that choice as a person above 18 years of age, I don't see why she shouldn't be allowed to embrace Islam and if her parents or anybody else try to interfere or coerce her, it would amount to violation of her rights. Similarly, if Lina Joy's parents or anyone else try to stop her from embracing and practising Christianity, they are violating her rights.