Yesterday after eating snacks and before going to the sermonette workshop, I had a brief conversation with a friend of mine that involved, as it often has recently, questions of conversion, which would make sense as she is working towards baptism. As it happens, we talked about the video her family had loaned me last week which involved scattered and new believers, and we shared our perspective on what it means to be a second or third generation believer without the same sort of dramatic conversion experience that our parents or grandparents had. During the course of our conversation she recommended I listen to a series of sermons that she had found worthwhile from one of our church’s ministers on the ministry of reconciliation, a subject of considerable personal interest . After I got home I listened to the first part of what is at least a six part message, and found my resulting sleep more than a little bit troubled after having listened to it. Much of my concern related to context, which is not surprising since the message itself was largely about context and my mind tends to muse about the subject of context and its difficulties often.
Let us take, for example, the context of the friend who recommended this to me. I don’t happen to know that context. I don’t know what areas in her life where she considers reconciliation with God and with others to be most important. She is a thoughtful young woman, someone whose seriousness about spiritual matters as long as I have known her has been a quality I respect greatly, and someone who has a lot to offer from her own experiences and thought processes. Reconciliation is a relational matter, though, and it is not something I feel comfortable either guessing or asking her about. I have no idea, for example, if her thoughts about burying feelings of hostility or enmity and getting along with people would involve me at all. Clearly, the fact that this message resonated with her so strongly suggests she had a context in mind with it, a practical concern about how to approach the Passover sacrifice of Jesus Christ that reconciles us to God in her own life, but the content of that context is unknown to me.
I can speak with far more confidence about the context I listened to the message in, and to be sure that context did involve the person who recommended the message to me, and a lot more besides. I thought about my own pride, my difficulty in giving apologies to those who (like this young woman) I have wronged, the rarity of receiving apologies from those who have wronged or hurt me, the frustrated hopes and longings and expectations I have had with people, and those that others have had with me. I have seen my own lifelong wrestling with God over questions of divine providence and over my struggle to believe that God has my best interests at heart. I thought about the many people with whom I have been estranged for years at a time because neither they nor I could pick up the phone or type a message of apology, and so because of the awkwardness between us we barely spoke or even acknowledged the existence of each other. Having lived a life filled with conflict, I know that a fair portion of the blame for that has rested with me. To be sure, there are a lot of hard-hearted people around, but my life would not be as filled with unpleasant conflicts and awkward silences if I was not a particularly difficult person for others to deal with. A large share of the ugliness and unpleasantness and awkwardness of my life is my own responsibility.
I can also speak with a fair degree of confidence on the context of this series of messages. As these messages were given in early 2011, from a gentleman who did his best to reconcile two fighting parties with each other, one of which I was a particularly and unpleasantly ferocious online combatant for, I know the occasion of this particular series of sermons well. Indeed, the period of conflict that inspired that series of messages also inspired this blog. Speaking at least from my observation, at least, the conduct of this minister was far less blameworthy than my own conduct in the conflict. He sought to make peace, and I waged bitter war. Whatever my own reasons or justifications for having been so fierce–and I certainly had and have them–I cannot look back on my own conduct during the time just before this message was given with any sort of ease of mind or stillness of heart. The people I was arguing with were wrong about many things, but it was certainly wrong of me to go on about it as I did, and this message’s context reminded me of my own share in the unhappiness of those times.
I suppose it is fitting that I would think so much about context in relation to this message, because this message was largely about context. I do not know how practical the turn of the speaker is in later messages, at least until I listen to them. I did promise the person who recommended the message that I would listen to them as soon as possible, but rather than race through them I think it necessary to muse and reflect upon them, as the speaker took the conflicts and hostility of a particular time and gave a message that applied eternal truths about the darkness of our hearts and the corruption of our natures that leads us into conflict with God and with other people. The speaker spent a bit of time discussing some of the factors that lead us into conflict with other people, such as our pride, our desire for emotional healing from others through seeing them receive justice or receiving their apologies, our unmet expectations that others will meet our own longings and needs, our desire to enjoy pleasure and avoid that which is unpleasant, and so on. These tendencies I can certainly recognize within myself, and as a major element of many of my conflicts with other people. At its core, though, this sermon message put our struggles and conflicts with other people in the context of our own bent and warped natures through sin that lead us first to be in conflict with God because we want to be in control of our lives and resent the restrictions that God places in our conduct through His law. To that I can only say, like the rest of humanity, that this is a serious personal struggle.
I do not know whether I will feel it necessary to comment at such length about every message the way I did about this one. I do not know if some of them will be parts of a larger whole that it will be necessary to take two or three at a time before there is a substantial enough unity for me to address in this fashion. Nor do I know if these thoughts will be of interest to the speaker of the message, the young lady who recommended it to me, or anyone else. In this case, more so even than most of the occasions that lead me to write, I write for my own benefit, to sort out my tangled thoughts and conflicted emotions about a subject that I consider of great personal importance but not an area where I feel myself to be particularly competent. Perhaps with time, a general mellowing of my own prickly fierceness, and a bit more spiritual maturity I will do a better job at being reconciled with God and with others, without wasting so much of my time in vain waiting for others to apologize to me or in my own awkwardness about apologizing to others when I am wrong. Hope springs eternal, I suppose, even in a wilderness such as my own existence.
 See, for example: