Jesus Says "Go!"
by Myrna Sheie
From our first breath to our last, relationships surround us. First, a family. Then neighbors and friends, teachers and schoolmates. Boyfriends, girlfriends, and spouses. Co-workers and bosses. Pastors and church members. Joan Chittister writes in The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully, “At its core, life is not about things, it is about relationships…. [They] show us the face of God on Earth.”
Each day, our lives touch dozens of others and leave countless marks for good or ill. Theologian Elton Trueblood wrote in The Incendiary Fellowship, “Close contact with redeemed people makes us both weep and shout for joy, and do both at the same time.” We may be blessed or wounded by our encounters with others, for our lives are shaped by those who love us and by those who don’t, by those who forgive us and those who don’t.
Over the years, conflict leads to hurtful words, tearsin the night, and, sometimes, relationships that remain painful. Conflict, however, may also lead to restored relationships, either through our actions or those of others.
How we live, and what we choose to do and say matters and makes a difference in the lives of others. As leadership consultant John Gardner wrote in On Leadership, “It is a curious fact that from infancy on we accumulate an extensive knowledge of the effect others have on us, but we are far into adulthood before we begin to comprehend the impact we have on others.”
A TRUE STORY
The story that follows was published in 1985 in a book of devotions for youth written by youth, but it is timeless and ageless.
Our youth group sat in a circle, feet bare, trying not to laugh. “I want you to wash the feet of the people here who you need to forgive or be forgiven by,” our pastor had just said.
Teresa went first. She washed everyone’s feet. No one really liked her, and I had led the group in teasing her. When she got to me, I realized she had every right to hate me and not wash my feet. But she washed them very carefully. She was forgiving me!
When it was my turn to wash, I washed Teresa’s feet. No one else’s. I wanted to show her I’d understood. She smiled. I’d never tease her again. (“Teresa,” FaithPrints: Youth Devotions for Every Day of the Year; Augsburg Publishing House)
Just as I recognize myself in this moving story, I suspect you do, too: Some of us are Teresa; some are the storyteller. We understand the story, feel it, and welcome the simple story of two young women who— without a word—confess, forgive, and reconcile.
Healing in this story is possible because both young women show courage. Teresa makes herself vulnerable to those who have taunted her. The storyteller understands Teresa’s message of forgiveness, accepts it, and then reciprocates by washing only Teresa’s feet. Teresa smiles and the storyteller stops teasing. We respond with hope and joy, welcoming the power of Teresa’s story to inspire us.
JESUS SAYS, “GO!”
In this month’s Bible study session, Jesus outlines steps toward reconciliation in Matthew 18. Although we know that the steps are wise, loving, and unifying, we also know they are not easy for us. For one thing, the world around us encourages the opposite. We hear judgmental characterizations of people on radio, television, and the Internet. Cynical greeting cards seem to be humorous, but are hurtful; for example, “I can’t wait to see you again … so we can talk about other people.” News broadcasts are filled with depressing stories of violence, which are trivialized by commercials that promise easy solutions to life’s problems.
In the midst of this polarized and divisive world, Jesus offers us a straightforward step toward healing: “If another…sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone” (Matthew 18:15). Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 are both more clear and more urgent: “When you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23–24).
Even though Jesus expects us to go, we resist. We feel intimidated and vulnerable. We wait, hoping that tensions will ease and conflicts disappear. At such times—especially when the situation seems hopeless—we can only trust that God will be with us. In the midst of our anxiety, Jesus breathes hope into us with his words, “Peace be with you.” And then he sends us out with his clear priority: Address the conflict with the other person.
As we go, his promise to be present gives us strength. Even in the most difficult situations, we remember that the Holy Spirit will work through us as surely as the Spirit worked through Teresa and the storyteller.
GOD’S STURDY PRESENCE
God has been present in the relationships of my life: sticky and not-so-sticky, loving and not-so-loving, gentle and fraught. Early in my working life, a painful rift with a colleague created tension for both of us. I suggested that we meet. The conversation was difficult as we confronted the rift, but it led to a fragile reconciliation that enabled us to continue our shared work. Although our relationship never regained its former ease, gradual healing followed.
At another time, our family had a difficult time. Late one night, I wrote the following prayer-conversation in my journal:
I long for a sense of hope, a sense that someone is pulling with us.
God, I know you’re there. Please be with all of us. Bring us hope. Bring us peace. Bring us YOU.
I know. The answer is in the request. You have already brought hope and peace. You are already here. Thank you.
God was with us as we found our way. Prayer oriented us, friends and professionals helped us, and deep conversation and shared problem solving healed us.
INSIGHTS FROM GOD’S PEOPLE
In seeking to follow Jesus’ guidance, we have the opportunity to learn and grow. For me, talking directly with the person involved has been rewarding more often than not. I have sought to acknowledge my part in conflicts, seek—and then receive—forgiveness, accept my own faults and those of others, and then go on. God’s people—saints and sinners all—have provided insights for my journey and for yours. Those that follow are some that have been helpful to me.
Look again. Gerhard Frost, Lutheran poet, pastor, and teacher wrote:
If you would live creatively,
look again at what God
has placed before you
but you have never fully seen:
a place, a situation, an idea,
a person, a face—especially the face
of one you love or hate,
of one you take for granted or ignore,
or one prejudged and now avoided.
There never was a human face
that wasn’t worth another look.
(Seasons of a Lifetime; Augsburg Publishing House)
Listen. The stories other people tell open not only my mind, but my eyes and heart as well. When I listen deeply with the intention to really hear another person, I show respect for the person and his or her experience. In one of his prayer-poems, Ted Loder wrote:
Help my unbelief
that I may have courage
to dare to love the enemies
I have the integrity to make;
to care for little
else save my brothers and sisters of the human family:
to take time to be truly with them,
take time to see,
take time to speak,
take time to learn with them
before time takes us;
and to fear failure and death less
than the faithlessness
of not embracing love’s risks.
(Guerrillas of Grace: Prayers for the Battle; Innisfree Press, Inc., 1984)
Talk to God in prayer. When we pray, we reflect both our personalities and the realities of our lives. In the midst of challenging and difficult relationships, we know that God will hear our prayers and be present with us. Our prayers join those of others, including even those with whom we struggle, and may take the form of lament. Diane Jacobson, biblical scholar and teacher, provides insights that guide us as we pray (“Lament as True Prayer,” The Lutheran magazine, July 2005):
- To lament is to be faithful. The lament, more than any other form of prayer, speaks directly to God of the reality of suffering.
- We come to God not by denying the truth of our experience in the world but by embracing it fully.
- When our theology is rooted in the cross, we call things what they are. And we find God and God’s truth hidden in places we least expect. The power of the lament is this: We come to God boldly, directly, defenses stripped away, with nothing standing between us and the Almighty.
- God meets us there.
Write it down! My journal, which is marked by long silences and occasional entries, helps me find focus and direction. The entries are mostly prayer conversations with God, reminding me of what I’ve learned, the promises I’ve made, God’s sturdy presence in my life, and my continuing journey.
Follow Jesus. When Jesus says, “Go,” we have a choice to make. When we choose to follow our own instincts and take a different path, we wander on our own. We discover little peace in the midst of conflict when we complain, gossip, manipulate, turn others against the person, or isolate ourselves. Jesus is clear: in difficult situations, our priority is to tend to the relationship. As he says in Matthew 5, “First be reconciled to your brother or sister…” Jesus tells us to get our priorities straight and confront the conflict directly. As we do, Jesus promises to be with us.
Use your gifts. Sometimes we lose sight of the gifts God has given us. I am grateful for my family and friends for loving me and reminding me of whom I am and the gifts I bring to them and to the world. I am thankful for my pastors (past and present) and congregation for nourishing my faith and for reminding me of the calling embodied in the service of baptism, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
In a sermon at the 2011 Women of the ELCA triennial convention in Spokane, Wash., Bishop Jessica Crist of the Montana Synod quoted a message from her mother, Christine, the first director of the ELCA’s Commission for Women. Her words remind us of the important role God has given us as brothers and sisters in the church:
- Keep on doing what you’re doing. It matters.
- Keep on being who you are. It matters.
- If you see something that needs to be said, say it. It matters.
Go with God’s blessing. “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Numbers 6:23–26).
Myrna Sheie, a former teacher, served on the staff of the Saint Paul Area Synod (1988–1998) and the ELCA Office of the Presiding Bishop (1998–2011). She and her husband, Steve, are retired, live in Portland, Ore., and enjoy spending time with their twin grandsons.