August 10, 2013

The Rev. Patricia M. Grace: Agents of reconciliation

DALTON — Wag more. Bark less. You’ve seen this slogan on bumper stickers and posters, and it’s been shared, liked and commented on countless times on Facebook. It’s actually a marketing tag line for a company that sells dog food, dog clothing and other canine-related products. But it’s also a good way to live your life.

Jesus said the same thing but in somewhat different words: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-28, 31, 36)

Most of us find the first slogan cute and amusing. Most of us find Jesus’ words inspiring, but not to be taken too seriously. The way of our world is increasingly based in conflict.  Neighbors do not sort out the occasional broken window, irritating party noise or other recurring misunderstandings of common life with a sit down and cup of coffee in the living room, as many of our forebears would have done. Nope. First, we tell all our other neighbors all about the problem. Then there may be hateful phone calls or emails, followed by threatening letters, perhaps, and ultimately, visits from the local men in blue or briefcase-toting attorneys. Strangers do not do any better … and more and more, we are acting like alienated strangers with each other.

Jesus suggests that Christians try to act differently than the mainstream culture of the time. Love your enemies, he tells us, and do not vilify them over the back fence or on the Internet or in the court of public opinion. Do good to those who hate you, he says. Road rage and other acts of revenge are not the way of those who would follow him. Pray for those who abuse you.

Say what? Yeah, that’s the really difficult directive to follow. But it’s one that will bear good fruit rather than a basket full of rotten apples.

In my life I’ve found it’s hard to keep a good hate-on going, hard to wish ill of someone, hard to keep antagonism alive and well toward someone, if I occasionally visit with Jesus about them in prayer.

Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Wag more and bark less. Because beyond just refraining from retribution, vitriol and vengeance, Jesus asks us to do something more. He asks us to be agents of reconciliation as he was. He urges us to be proactive about seeking pathways of peace and understanding. He showed us the way in his own life, as he brought, again and again, people from the margins of life into the circle of a caring community, as he forgave his own murderers from the cross … and as he has turned his own cheek, again and again, to us — forgiving us, all of us, who are all sinners in his sight.

Wag more. Bark less. Be merciful as God, our Father, is merciful.

Try living by that slogan for a while — share it, like it, comment on it in all aspects of your daily life. Your reward will be great, Jesus promises — in this world, and the next.

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