Mar. 14, 2010
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Renewal of Relationship
Reconciliation is a word that has, lately, taken on some unfortunate cultural baggage: right now, the reconciliation that is in the news is some fancy or not-so-fancy (I don’t know!) parlimentary procedure: the process that the US congress is doing to try to get a health insurance reform bill through, in spite of the fact that they can’t come to any agreement as to what the bill should be.
If this time together is going to be of any use to us at all, we are going to have to completely shut that usage of the word out of our heads, and think, not what reconciliation means on Capitol Hill, but what it means in the Bible AND on the Central Illinois plains.
Reconciliation, according to Biblical uses, means a renewal of relationship - to bring together, to reunite persons who have been estranged. It has the flavor of settling accounts - we talk about reconciling our checkbooks, which means to make the necessary corrections and additions and substractions so that we agreed with the bank and we can start off the new month on and even, agreed upon solid ground.
That word - reconciliation is at the heart of our scripture lesson today. It occurs, in various forms, 5 times, six if you count a paraphrase. God has reconciled us to himself. We have ministry of reconciliation. In Christ God was reconciling, and entrusting us with the work of reconciliation. Be reconciled - since God has named you an ambassador of reconciliation.
First and foremost - reconciliation is something that God has caused to happen between God’s self and ourselves. It’s a complete reversal of the estrangement we cause by ignoring God, or defying God, or going against God’s love for us or others - what theologians call sin. That stuff makes our lives shallow and ugly and mean and hateful, both to ourselves and to God. It’s not that God hates us. But that when we are full of Hate, we can’t relate to the One who is Love. There is an unbridgable distance between God and us.
Then God reaches across that great divide and draws us close through Jesus Christ. In Christ, we can see ourselves and see God, together as we are meant to be. And that changes everything in ways that are profound - and profoundly difficult to explain. It opens up new possibilites for friendship. It breaks down dividing walls between people. It connects us with the good and beautiful and true in the universe. It’s grace. They don’t call it amazing for nothin’, folks!
Paul - who is a great little explainer - is at a loss for words. So he writes this: If anyone is in Christ (and words fail him. There is no “that person is” or “surely God makes that person” or . . . anything . . . He just explodes: ) NEW CREATION!
Paul’s real genius - the idea that underlies so much of his greatest work - is that he understands and makes clear an inherent tension within human beings - even faithful Christian human beings: Within each of us lie two contradictory inclinations:
(Author Sarah Miles puts it this way in an interview I read on beliefnet this week:)
People profoundly want to be made new, and people profoundly want to be clothed in Christ, to be born again. They want to be reconciled new creations!
And they profoundly want to cling to everything old—about the world, and about themselves.
Part of us is desiring more God, has glimpsed more, had an experience of more that it’s trying to recreate. And that’s the job of people who run churches—to try to listen to that desire, and feed it.
We have the impulse to experience this new creation and the impulse to stifle it. And the church needs to be the place where we come to get the courage to tell “the secret” of the deep and transforming love God has for us and all people.
Reconciliation is something we experience. And something we are expected to help others experience. Paul’s pretty clear about that. So is Jesus. And followers of Jesus need to be reminded of that every once in a while. What a blessing that the Corinthian and the Philothian churches have Paul to remind us: Being Christian is about sharing with others the grace of God as we know it in Jesus Christ.
How we who have experienced renewed relationship with God become ambassadors, messangers, participants in renewing relationships in our extended families, our communities, among our neighbors, our co workers, the folks that live down the street?
I’m not talking about evangelizing here. Not about bringing others in or telling them about our experience. But about listening to them and prayerfully discerning how God is moving toward reconciliation in their lives. IN our community’s life. In the world - which is now our neighborhood. And becoming part of that.
And it’s sort of urgent. Paul says, “As we work together, we urge you not to accept the grace of God in vain. Don’t be reconciled and then fail to offer reconcilation to others. For God says, “at an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation.”
We don’t want to get to the end of our lives and realize that we have missed our opportunities to reconcile, to be agents of reconciliation for God in the world.
This was brought home to me this week in an essay I read by Steve Martin, the comedian/actor Steve Martin. And I want to share it with you. Because it speaks of the beauty and urgency of reconciliation in a sort of different voice:
The Death of My Father
By Steve Martin
In his death, my father, Glenn Vernon Martin, did something he could not do in life. He brought our family together.
After he died, at the age of eighty- three, many of his friends told me how much they loved him--how generous he was, how outgoing, how funny, how caring. I was surprised at these descriptions. I remember him as angry. There was little said to me, that I recall, that was not criticism.
Martin does recount a few pleasant memories of his father. There are maybe five, all told. His father had wanted a career in show business, but had given that up early on, and settled on real estate. And he took no pleasure in his son’s success as a writer, comedian/ actor. His lack of support is almost comic. After the son won an Emmy at age 23, his dad said, “Well, I hope now you’ll go back to college and get a degree in something you can fall back on.” He wrote bad reviews of his son’s performance and had it published in the realtor’s newsletter Stuff like that.
The younger Martin had a friend whose parents both died young, and he advised Steve that if he had anything to work out with his parents that he do so, since they wouldn’t be around forever. So he started taking them out to lunch once a week. But his father was so domineering and critical of Steve’s mother that he finally figured out he’d have to take each of them separately. That became their routine for many years.
And as he grew older and had health problems, his demeanor became, if anything, even more belligerent. Until finally, he was under hospice care, and the cantankerous man began to soften just a bit. Then one day in May, 1997, we all found ourselves gathered at my parents' home, in Orange County, California. I walked into the house they had lived in for thirty-five years, and my weeping sister said, "He's saying goodbye to everyone." I walked into the bedroom where he lay, his mind alert but his body failing.
He said, almost buoyantly, "I'm ready now." I understood that his intensifying rage of the last few years had been against death, and now his resistance was abating. I stood at the end of the bed, and we looked into each other's eyes for a long, unbroken time. At last he said, "You did everything I wanted to do."
I said, "I did it because of you." It was the truth. Looking back, I'm sure that we both had different interpretations of what I meant.
I sat on the edge of the bed. Another silence fell over us. Then he said, "I wish I could cry, I wish I could cry."
At first, I took this as a comment on his plight but am forever thankful that I pushed on. "What do you want to cry about?" I finally said.
"For all the love I received and couldn't return."
He had kept this secret, his desire to love his family, from me and from my mother his whole life. It was as though an early misstep had kept us forever out of stride. Now, two days from his death, our pace was aligning, and we were able to speak.
To be in stride - to draw alongside and move into the future together - to be able to speak and to hear the other - this is reconciliation.
In Jesus, God has drawn alongside us. And now he is trusting us to draw alongside others, entrusting to us the reconciling message, that God may renew relationships in and through us.
In the next few minutes, hold the scripture in your heart: If anyone is in Christ - NEW CREATION! Ask God to show you where you might participate in God’s work of reconciliation.