12 Pentecost Yr A
Some of you have heard this story before. That's the way of very important stories. Just about every other year since I was in junior high, the Monson family has gathered together to renew our bonds and tell our stories. I heard over and over the story of my ancestors coming to America. I know the story well. My family lived in a valley on the inland point of the Nordfjord, in a place called Stryn. Once upon a time in the Nesdahl valley there was a great avalanche that collapsed the sod hut in which the family lived. Marta died in that avalanche, and later, Jacob, my great great grandfather, decided to come to America. He came and settled in Adams, North Dakota. He married Anna, and they had 11 children, Nelbert, my grandfather was the oldest. Nelbert married Inga, and eventually they settled near Glenwood, Minnesota. Nelbert and Inga had five children, including my father, Juel. One of those children died in an accident as a teenager, and Inga died when my father was a small child. Nelbert married again, and he and Lucille had three daughters together, and Nelbert was killed in a farm accident. Lucille married Guy, and together they had one daughter. This all resulted in many children that I call cousins. When I was 23 years old, I went on an European adventure, part of that adventure was to visit my Norwegian relatives. I arrived in Stryn, Norway, after having taken a ship across the North Sea from England, a steamer up the shoreline of Norway, and a bus inland along the Nordfjord, to Stryn. I arrived on a very rainy day, without exact directions or even contact phone numbers. Unsure of what to do next, after getting off the bus, I went into the business that was right there, it was like a AAA, some sort of travel store. I must have looked like something the cat dragged in, and I asked the young woman across the counter for help, in English of course, as far as I had gotten with my Norwegian was “tussen tak.” She answered me, in beautiful English of course, and I told her my story. She just happened to be neighbors to the relatives I was looking for, so we got in her car and went straight to the family farm. She ended up being my interpreter for the time I spent with my uncle and aunt. My uncle took me on an excursion through the countryside, and in the best English he could muster, he told me the very same story I had heard over and over at each of our family reunions for all those years. The point of all this is that this story, of course there are many more details I’ve skipped over in this telling, contitutues us as a family, it tells us who we are. Over the years it has been added to as we have learned more about our grandfather Nelbert, and as all these cousins have had families of our own. It is a story of heartache, of survival, and of tragedy, and it is our story. And yet it is not unlike many stories of Scandinavian immigrants. The story of the Exodus that we have been hearing, and that we will continue to hear is like my story. It is a story that contitutes Israel as a people, and it is a story that remembers who they are. Today’s portion of the story almost reads like a recipe, and yet it is a call to remembrance and to reconciliation. It says this is who we are and what we do together, and who we worship. It calls Israel to remember. It too is a story of survival, of tragedy, of heartache, and of hope. It says, if we can hang together, we can make it. In the gospel of Matthew today our family story tells us about how we are to be Christians together. The writer of this gospel couldn’t have known that a church would be founded around his rabbi, Jesus, so we can’t say that these are instructions for the church. But what we do have is some very practical advice on forgiveness and reconciliation. You see, as Christians we believe Christ is reconciling the whole world and each of us in it to God and to one another. In the teachings in our prayer book, on page 855, it says that the mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. Reconciliation is all about making whole what is broken. Reconciliation is about being transformed by God’s amazing and abundant love. When Christians take conflict as an opportunity to practice reconciliation, what they do can stand as a visible sign for the whole world of what we believe Christ is doing in the world. An outward and visible sign of a grace that we believe is happening in a broader and more mysterious way in the world. And that is the definition of sacrament, handling conflict well can be sacramental, the way we handle conflict can be a sign to the world that Christ is in fact working in our world. Conflict is a reality in our lives and in our church and in our families. In fact, when we meet someone who is really difficult, inside and outside our families, we can rejoice and be glad in that day, because we get to love them, and in the process we get a sense of how much God loves each and every one of us. When folks look at you and see that you handle conflict in this sacramental way, they’ll see that you mean what you say. But we are witnesses to the rhetoric of revenge and division often on our nightly news and in our newspapers. The news reports about folks whose loved one has been terribly hurt or died at the hands of a monster. The family member calls for revenge, for more blood. Reconciliation, unity with Christ, and forgiveness are not at all what any one of them wants to hear. But maybe it is what is called for. We are at a place in our politics that calls for reconciliation. The divisiveness of our political parties, the hatefulness in our language when we address one another, the lack of civility in our public conversation result only in a breakdown of public discourse. If we were to approach one another like Matthew exhorts us to listen to one another, if we can point to ways in which our own behavior has contributed negatively to the situation, if we listen to each other with the goal of reconciliation, real conversation can take place. And we are at a place in the greater church that calls for reconciliation, a place where the family story must be remembered and told again, to remind us who we are and who we are related to. What we really have to do is stand as a visible sign for the whole world of what we believe Christ is doing in the world. We need to be that outward and visible sign of grace that we believe is happening in a broader and more mysterious way in the world. As we enact forgiveness and reconciliation we are the agents of new life and resurrection that God calls us to be. We become the carriers of grace and God’s abundant and amazing love. We remember who and whose we are, we tell the story of God’s activity in the life’s of God’s people, we tell the story of God who loves us so much that God came and continues to come into this world, we tell the story of how that love suffered and died, and rose again. Hope is made real and Love wins.