Pastoral Letter for Lent from Anglican Bishop James Wong |16 February 2021
‘The central message of the Church has been, is and will always be reconciliation’
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” – Jesus the Christ
“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” Apostle Paul
Genesis Chapters 32-33
My dear brothers and sisters,
Lenten greetings to you in Jesus’ precious name as we enter this blessed season of deeper dialogue with God through prayer and daily reading of the Word of God; of appreciation for his mercy especially for people whose lives are under attack.
Every year, as the Church enters the holy season of Lent, the Bishop writes a letter so as to assist the faithful members to have a blessed and fruitful season. The letter often communicates some areas of spiritual or moral theology that is close to the heart of the Bishop concerning an issue that he wants to emphasise in the life of the Church. This year the letter will be a journey with the sons of Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Esau focussing on Esau’s loss of his birthright to Jacob, the conflict that ensued between their descendant nations and the reconciliation between the two brothers. The reading of Genesis chapter 32 will be of a great help in our pilgrimage. The central message of the Church has been, is and will always be reconciliation. Reconciliation among humans and between humankind and God.
The kingdom of God in our world can be witnessed in the church, the place where God’s love and grace should be most obvious.
The Church in the world is to be an embassy for the Kingdom of God where Christ reigns as King and Lord; and its community are the ambassadors.
The Church, therefore, is shaped and defined by the King and his kingdom. Its values and philosophy derive from King Jesus. We take our cues from him.
And nothing will be more precious to us than Jesus’ work of forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace.
THE STEPS TOWARDS RECONCILIATION
Have you ever been hurt by someone and wanted to hurt him/her back? Seek revenge? Retaliate? Even had murderous thoughts?
Esau, the Old Testament character, had those feelings. And many would agree and support Esau’s desire to take revenge on his brother.
The story of Esau and Jacob reads like a juicy novel. The brothers were born to Isaac. When Isaac was near death, he wanted to give to Esau, the elder of the two brothers, his blessing. Usually, the blessing is given to the firstborn son. In this case, that was Esau. Yet, as the story unfolds, at the scheming of his mother Rebekah, Jacob, the younger son, tricked and deceived his father Isaac, so that the blessing was given to Jacob, whose name by the way means “he deceives”.
Imagine the shock and horror that Esau felt when he learned of the deception.
From the story of Jacob and Esau we can learn about reconciliation.
Biblical reconciliation is the process of two previously alienated parties coming to peace with each other. Because God has reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ, we can reconcile with each other, no longer counting our offenses against one another.
The absence of reconciliation robs the church and society of the power of unity and national unity.
The steps to reconciliation from the story of Esau and Jacob are as follows:
I. RECONCILIATION IS INSPIRED BY GOD (GEN. 32:1-2)
“Jacob went on his way, and God's angels met him” (Gen.32:1).
What did the angels say to Jacob? Would you have liked to have been privy to that conversation? Whatever was said motivated Jacob to admit his wrongdoings, and to settle his argument with Esau.
I believe that God works in our lives in the same way. When we seek to enter in His presence, he reveals to us those relationships that are broken and he prompts us to make them right.
Is there a possibility that we no longer pray as we know God will reveal to us our need to make reconciliation? Could it be the reason why we are never silent before God? We are fearful that we will hear God revealing to us the people with whom we need to set things right?
Here is the message: Don't seek God unless you want to make things right with others.
II. RECONCILIATION WITH ONE ANOTHER COMES BEFORE RECONCILIATION WITH GOD
Those angels showed up for a reason. That reason, I believe, was to inform Jacob that before things can be right with God, they have to be right with his brother.
If you want reconciliation with God you have to be reconciled with one another. Here's the principle: You can't live in harmony with your Heavenly Father until you are living in harmony with your human brothers and sisters. Broken ties with one another not only severs relationships with one another; it also severs the relationship with God.
Didn't Jesus say the same thing? “So, if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:23-24). Notice carefully what Jesus is saying. He is talking about coming to worship. And, if you are offering a gift – of money, of praise – and you remember somebody has ill will or hard feelings against you, go to that person and make it right, make amends, seek reconciliation.
Here's the question: Could it be because you have not reconciled with your brother or your sister that your worship is meaningless, your work is ineffective, your prayers are unanswered?
II. RECONCILIATION MUST BE INTENTIONAL (GEN. 32:3-5) Jacob knew that he had done wrong. Now he knew he had to make it right. He had to take the first step. Here's the principle: Taking the initiative is imperative in reconciliation. Restoring a cracked relationship is like mending a broken arm. If your arm is broken you take initiative to go to a doctor so he can set it, put a cast on it, so that healing can take place. Broken relationships, like broken arms, are never mended accidentally. They require purposeful and intentional action. We may try to deny the pain or ignore the split. We may think that time heals all wounds, but it only moves the pain below the surface, where it will affect future relationships. The relationship is easier to mend when the offender apologises to the offended. But what if the offender does not admit his wrong? What then? The Scriptures inform us that even the offended is to take the initiative in seeking reconciliation. Again, to quote Jesus, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won your brother” (Matthew 18:15). Look at that phrase “between you and him alone”. Too many of us are Bible-believing, but not Bible-practising. This is one of the most overlooked and most avoided verses in the Bible. Too often, too many of us resort to our teens days; when someone has hurt us or offended us we go to everyone else to plead our side of the story, to validate our feelings, to justify our anger, and we don't go to the person who has offended us. That needs to stop. When we go to that person, what do we say? Mathematics teaches us that “the shortest distance between two points is a straight line”. The same principle is true in reconciling relationships. The shortest distance between two hurting persons is a straight line. A straight line like: “I was wrong”, or “I haven't been honest with you” or “Your actions hurt me”, or “I love you too much to allow our relationship to crumble”. I would encourage you to practice these three words: Clarify not confront. Often, we come to these difficult encounters in an accusatory or revenge seek mode. I would suggest that you seek to clarify first and know the truth. Not always, but often the issue at hand is a misunderstanding. Someone said something that was taken out of context or stated incorrectly. So, seek first to understand. Clarify. Know the truth and be reconciled. Here's the question: Could it be that some of our relationships are lived in grinding silence because we are unwilling to take the initiative in beginning the process of reconciliation?
IV. RECONCILIATION MUST BE BATHED IN PRAYER (GEN. 32:9-12) Jacob prayed, albeit for the wrong reasons, but, he nevertheless prayed. He prayed that Esau would spare his life. Here's the principle: Prayer is the salve for wounded parties; it is the lubricant for friction in relationships. The reconciliation process is not a cat walk. It will often be messy. Hearts have been hardened. Feelings have been hurt. Emotions are on edge. Wounds are gaping. The offended when approached by the offender may look for an ulterior motive and may feel that the offender is disingenuous. The offended may be thinking, “Why after all these years do you want to get together now? Why do you want to make things right now?” God needs to soften the hearts, to ease the emotions, to heal the wounds, to bring understanding to the reconciling parties. No greater power is available for that to happen than prayer. Prayer changes us. Don't pray unless you want to change. Here’s the question: How does your heart need to be softened so that healing in your broken relationships can occur?
V. RECONCILIATION DEMANDS HUMILITY: On that morning after all these years, Esau and Jacob met. Jacob, the Scripture says, “. . . bowed to the ground seven times until he approached his brother” (Genesis 33:3). That act is a posture of humility. Jacob humbled himself before his brother. He came with the right spirit and the right attitude. He acknowledged that he had done the wrong. He was the deceiver. He tricked his brother out of his blessing. He was at fault. Here's the principle: Humility puts us in a position for reconciliation to occur. A price has to be paid for reconciliation and that price is commonly called “Swallowing your pride”, “Burying the hatchet”, “Admitting you are wrong”. Every action of reconciliation requires that someone in the hurting relationship, preferably both parties, admit their fault and their desire to repair the damage. Here's the question: What steps do you need to take that would communicate humility to the person you are estranged from? Humility is a common theme throughout Scripture. It needs to be practised. A failure to do so not only allows fractured relationships to continue but it puts us in opposition with God. Remember the scripture: “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).
VI. RECONCILIATION REQUIRES VULNERABILITY: At the face-to-face meeting, “But Esau ran to meet him, hugged him, threw his arms around him, and kissed him. Then they wept” (Genesis 33:4). The two brothers embraced, throwing their arms around each other. That act is a picture of vulnerability. To embrace someone is to expose your heart. To expose your heart is to reveal your part in the damaged relationship. Here, you reveal the hurt and the pain you caused. You admit that you were wrong. Here's the principle: Reconciliation will never happen until the heart is exposed. Now, here is the rub. Whenever you expose your heart you stand the chance of having your heart broken, again. People will let you down, disappoint you, trample your emotions. Crawling into a shell, living in isolation, would be easier. There, safe from the pain and hurt of relationships, you could shut out all of humanity. Could it be that you have been hurt so deeply that you don't want to expose your heart again? Do you want to live that way? Here's the question: Do you want to go through life living in a cocoon, safe from the hurtful arrows of others, but cut off from the relationships that give you love, joy and life?
VII. RECONCILIATION NEARS COMPLETION IN FORGIVENESS (GEN. 33:4): Jacob wanted to find favour in the eyes of Esau. He sought peace. He desired to put the past behind him. He humbled himself before Esau. He opened up his heart. He wanted most of all forgiveness. Esau embraced Jacob. And, as they held each other, I'm sure that Jacob said, “Please forgive me, brother.” Then, Esau spoke those life-changing words, “Brother, I forgive you.” Forgiveness is not optional in reconciling a broken relationship. Here's the principle: Forgiveness involves letting go so you can get on with the rest of your life. It is not probation, but a pardon, an amnesty? Forgiveness means that we do not require any money, words, or actions as compensation. It means that there will be no continuing resentment or bitterness. We hope for the best for the other. Forgiveness is a long healing, not always a momentary one. Here's the question: Don't you think it is time you let go of those past hurts?
VIII. RECONCILIATION IS FINISHED IN RESTITUTION: Jacob wanted to make things right. He had harmed and wronged his brother. He had stolen his birth right and all the inheritance that goes with it. Notice verse eight: “So Esau said, ‘What do you mean by this whole procession I met?' ‘To find favour with you, my lord,' he answered” (Gen. 33:8). The droves were the herds and flocks that Jacob was giving to Esau in restitution for the wrong he had suffered. Here's the principle: Restitution is attempting to restore that which has been damaged or destroyed and seeking justice whenever we have the power to act or to influence those in authority to act. Restitution is much easier when it comes to physical property. If you have taken physical property, you give it back or you pay for it. Restitution is much more difficult when you have said words that have damaged a person's name and character.
Here's the question: In what ways do you need to restore that which you have damaged in the broken relationship? Jacob acknowledged his wrong; he reconciled. Esau forgave. The once broken relationship is mended. Wouldn't it be nice if all broken relationship ended that way? It can and it is possible.
In this story we catch a glimpse of God. Notice carefully what Jacob says to Esau: “For indeed, I have seen your face, [and it is] like seeing God's face, since you have accepted me” (Gen. 33:10). If you want to know what the face of God looks like, go to the brother or sister you have offended, ask for their forgiveness, then, hear them say, “You are forgiven.” When forgiveness is extended to the brother or sister who has wounded us, we reflect God’s image. And, aren't we as believers in Jesus Christ to be like God? Think about it. We have broken our relationship with God, time and time again. We have sinned and we are sinning. We hurt God greatly with our disobedience and our rebellion. God does not have to forgive us. In fact, he could just as easily hold a grudge and punish us to hell for eternity. Instead, like Esau, God comes to us through his Son Jesus Christ, embracing us, calling us his children, and saying, “I forgive you. I don't hold your sins against you. I want to walk with you and be your friend.” As God has forgiven you, you are to forgive those who have hurt you. As God has reconciled with you, you are to reconcile with others. It’s an invitation to us all. What will we do with it? Will Lent 2021 make a difference in our lives and in our beautiful Seychelles? Blessed and peaceful Lent 2021 and stay safe.
Together for His glory,
The Most Rev James R. Wong Yin Song
Your Bishop and fellow pilgrim