The garden party
The original ‘garden party’ had every promise of being one for the ages, literally. But the guests, both those on the official list and those uninvited, started messing up the arrangements and took matters into their own hands. They really did crash the party! Down through the ages human beings have struggled with the consequences of those bad choices.
Many people agree that King David authored great literature when he penned Psalm 51. Now, he didn’t write with “best seller” in mind. The man was pouring out his guilty heart in response to piercing conviction of his selfish sin. From his humiliation we learn that improvement or even mending of relationships must be based on our relationship with God. Bathsheba became his target for exterior expression of something gone badly wrong inside of the King. There are spiritual breaches that cause our alienation from God and each other. We may apply some cosmetics to the exterior appearance, but these limited repairs will fade and crack.
Much of the problem with a Western world view is that it negates the “excluded middle” – the realm from which spiritual beings, angels and demons operate. This unseen world affects our seen world. We may have watched numerous episodes of “Touched by an Angel” without thinking the issue through as reality. On the other hand, those of us who take God’s promises seriously constantly experience how we are shielded and guarded from dangers seen and unseen. When our guardian angels spring into action we also expect the opposition of demons to intensify.
It’s easy to reconcile with those we like, but the challenge, of course, is to reconcile with people we can’t stand, with those who are our avowed enemies, those who oppose us and what we stand for.
In 1993 Shimon Perez, Yassir Arafat and I happened to be in Oslo at the same time. It was exciting when they waved to us and smiled as they passed us along the street. On many other occasions they have come together to represent their respective peoples to sign papers of seemingly good intent to stop fighting. Those were emotional times and the atmosphere was charged with positive feelings that peace was in the air. That always illusive goal seems farther from accomplishment than ever, given the turbulent times of these past weeks.
Reconciliation has to do with allowing oneself to be humbled without entertaining ulterior motives of retaliation or how such an act may work to one’s advantage. It has to do with righting wrongs, which on this scale is a task only God can perform. The outcome of God’s intervention is no illusion. When we allow God to become the essence of the reconciliatory work, it goes far beyond forcing ourselves to reconcile. Yet, our involvement in the process is crucial.
I recently spent four days at an international conference on reconciliation. The organizers, Reconciliation Networks of the World (RNOW), based the conference on life stories. The conviction was that God will work through our sharing of our stories of reconciliation. The stories invariably stress the painful aspects leading up to reconciliation itself and often beyond to the tough task of working it out, and touches our lives and invites us all to be vulnerable to each other. Many of us came from backgrounds, as well as personal situations, where our groups or members of our groups have broken fellowship or abused each other in the past. Letting “bygones be bygones” is too easy a cop-out, and it certainly is no satisfactory solution. Taking responsibility for past wounds and repenting for them allows God to heal, reconcile and bring into being a new creation.
In January, The Salvation Army in the Western Territory will celebrate Culture Awareness and Reconciliation Week. At your local corps or center you will find a devotional booklet for each day of that week to help you participate. As long as we live on earth, there will be tension and broken relationships. God, however, has not given up on restoring the circumstances around the original garden party. By working out reconciliation through our lives, where God has placed us, we will have started on our way there. Come to the garden party!