Invitation to Confession at the Church of Sweden's Synod Opening

Based on Acts 5:32-36
September 23, 2008

The counsel of Gamaliel is frequently invoked when part of a community wants to try something new: “wait and see what happens. If it is of God it will prosper, if not, it will fail.” I am sure that someone raised it 50 years ago when this Church sought to ordain women. Other proponents probably reminded the community of women’s leadership in the early church. Opponents undoubtedly raised concerns about what they saw as unprecedented and revolutionary innovation. Both sides believed themselves faithful.

The challenge for those of us who live in the “not yet” is to exercise discernment, in all fear and trembling, make a decision, and proceed. We search for the mind of Christ, and we may believe we have found it, but we are often confronted by fellow believers who proclaim they, too, have found the mind of Christ and it’s led them to an opposite conclusion. It can be a crucifying encounter.

That painful reality brings the same responses Jesus made – questioning his road, wondering whether God was with him, and having to enter that shadow world of suffering filled with uncertainty. We proclaim that Jesus walked that road in all humility and with ultimate courage in the face of doubt and uncertainty. How can we hold up any other path?

We are to meet our opponents with humility, in Gamaliel’s understanding that we might not be as right as we think we are, and that the other may hold some modicum of truth as well. That’s rarely an easy response, for when faced with doubts, most of us tend to become doctrinaire and dogmatic. We loudly proclaim our correctness while we are still wrestling internally. At some level we recognize that there is a likely cost to that wrestling – like Jacob and what he received from the angel: we too are apt to receive both blessing and wound.

Like Jesus, our goal should be to meet our opponents as he did, without rancor, and ultimately able to offer blessing: “forgive them.” We don’t get to destroy our opponents, for they, too, show us the image of God. If we drive them away, kill or destroy them, we diminish the whole body of which we are part.

These encounters confront us all the time. Our spouse has a different opinion about how to raise the children. Our government makes a decision with which we profoundly disagree. The parish council elects to support one mission effort and not another.

How are we going to meet the one who thwarts us the next time? How will we receive our opponent? We are certainly shaped by encounters we’ve had in the past, including the ones we’re not so proud of. But we don’t have to be shaped permanently by them; they need not deform us if we confess, turn around, and try to meet the next one differently, in a way more like Jesus did.