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Sunday message: From bitterness to reconciling

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Remembrance Day – November 11, 2018

Scripture readings: Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17; Psalm 146; Mark 12:38-44

Gwynne Dyer, a Canadian journalist, war historian and academic has written several books on conflicts. From one of his books, “The Mess they made: The Middle East affair after Iraq,” he recounts an incident during the Afghan war: An American soldier is driving a Humvee and notices his Iraqi passenger, sitting in the front, has fallen asleep. “Are you ready to do this, partner?” but the Iraqi soldier still slumbers. Finally, they approach the target house of their assignment, and the Iraqi is wide awake. He sits up and says, “I know this house, the owner is Sunni scum.”

“Well, Intel wants us to capture the guy alive,” says the American.

“That will not be possible,” the Iraqi protests. “I am sworn to revenge.”

“Why,” asks the American. “What did he ever do to you?”

“A member of his family killed a member of mine,” he replies.

“What? When did that happen?” asks the shocked American.

The Iraqi officer replied “In 1387.”

Hatred lingers on, bitterness festers and people find it hard to find ways to reconcile. Have you ever felt bitter about your predicament? How about someone you know that might have a bitter taste about the cards life has dealt them?

On this day in 1918, at 11 am – the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – the First World War came to an end. Much of the war had been fought in dug-out trenches across Belgium and France.

What a bitter war this First World War was! Each war, for that matter. How does the human race, how do we, overcome bitterness? I would venture to say that only God overturns this in us.

On this 100th anniversary of that day when the First World War came to an end, the biggest question that arises, is one of: “Can the human race, can we, not learn?”

Rewind from the year 1918 by almost another two centuries. As I was reading up about the city of Salzburg, in Austria, during our visit there recently, I picked something up from Wikipedia. On October 31, 1731, the 214th anniversary of the 95 Theses of Luther, an Archbishop, by the first name of Leopold, signed an Edict of Expulsion. He directed all Protestants to recant their non-Catholic beliefs. 21,475 citizens refused to recant their beliefs and were expelled from Salzburg. Most of them accepted an offer by King Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia, travelling the length and breadth of Germany to their new homes in East Prussia. The rest settled in other Protestant states in Europe and the British colonies in America. What a bitter act from an Archbishop, all in the name of a “correct form of Christianity…”

Many such situations arise from misunderstandings, perceptions, or even from the inability to forgive.

Dr. Gregory Popcak, founder of Pastoral Solutions to assist Catholics find faith-filled solutions to personal problems suggests five steps for healing the hurt that won’t go:

  1. Forgive – surrender the desire for revenge
  2. Develop a Plan – of practical steps to follow
  3. Stop dwelling and retelling
  4. Seek grace – confess your weakness and be open to strength from God’s healing love
  5. Seek professional help – if bitterness persists this pain can sometimes lead to personal blindness and helplessness

As we turn to our Scripture readings. There is a lot to be learned from our Scripture readings, firstly from the book of Ruth that we read from this morning. The story of Ruth requires a quick review. Naomi and her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, find themselves widowed and childless. When Naomi hears that the famine in Judah is over, she decides to move from Moab to Judah. She starts surrendering her bitterness. She develops a plan. She encourages her daughters-in-law to stay in their homeland of Moab and start anew. Orpah is finally persuaded, but Ruth is not. Ruth is given those memorable lines, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried.” With that, Naomi relents.

When they get to Judah, to the town of Bethlehem, Naomi once again recognises the bitterness of their situation. She says, “I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.” In the face of this emptiness, she does however not remain stuck. Ruth sets out to keep the two of them alive by gleaning in the fields behind the reapers. In the course of her gleaning, a wealthy farmer named Boaz notices her and deals kindly with her. In a certain sense, the stuckness gives way to progress and reconciling happens.

In the end these two, Ruth and Boaz, become the parents of Obed, father of Jesse, father of David, the famous Old Testament king, who is part of a long lineage that goes right up to Jesus’ lineage. Jesus would be the Messiah, the One to ultimately reconcile humanity to God and to one another.

The Scripture reading from Mark about another widow is set in the context of a judgment on material greed and preoccupation with self, which can cause strife in itself. There are those, like certain scribes of Jesus’ day, who demand respect, they even devour widows’ houses, then say long prayers for appearance. Today, we dress by the dictates of fashion, buy private boxes at stadiums, let the market devour widows’pensions, causing the ire of these widows. Jesus says, “They will have the greater condemnation.” The widow could have been bitter, but instead she gives and holds no grudges. She gives out of her emptiness.

Jesus has already shown the light of truth on our world. He teaches us the true meaning of fullness and emptiness. Then, Psalm 146, our psalm for today, gives words to our values.

We have a God: … who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

Those who are shaped by God to empty themselves, empty themselves either from bitterness, or an urge to revenge, and to live according to God’s values, can open vistas to peace into a wartorn world. They set bitterness aside and have their eye set on reconciling.


Copyright 2018 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church

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