OUR MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION
A sermon by Rev. Richard Miller, Minister Trinity United Church, Montreal, Quebec. November 10, 2002. 2 Corinthians 5:14-21.
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.
- 2 Corinthians 5:17-18
When we read the Bible we may sometimes feel that it is an ancient book from another place and time and cultural setting, and that it really doesn't have much to say to our own situation. Yet there are times when the Bible is very modern when it depicts situations which feel quite familiar to us and when it addresses issues that are not very different from the ones we face on a regular basis.
The letters of Paul to the church at Corinth are a good example. Corinth was a cosmopolitan city in Greece, with considerable ethnic and cultural diversity. When there is such diversity, people sometimes come into conflict with each other over the differences they have. (Mind you, when that diversity is not present, people also come into conflict, but that is a somewhat different matter.) So as we read Paul's letters to the Corinthians, we learn something of their differences with one another in the church, and also that they had some differences with the apostle Paul himself.
We too live in a time and place where many people have differences with one another. Some speak different languages. Others find they have considerable cultural diversity with their neighbours often even within their families. People hold differing values. And sometimes what one people considers to be fair and right, another people considers to be discriminatory and unjust. If we did not learn anything else, surely we learned that on the eleventh of September, last year.
The question is: how shall we resolve these differences. How can we get past them to build community for everyone. Isnt that part of what wars have been fought for to get past the impasse? I believe so.
As Christians we have a particular viewpoint about these things. In today's reading from 2 Corinthians, St. Paul presents his position about human differences. Recognizing how easy it is for people to allow their diversity and their differences to come between them, Paul urges his readers to be centred in Christ. He says that Christ died for all "that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them" (5:15). And then follows the tightly structured thoughts which we find in verses 16-21. Paul begins by saying:
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view: even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. (5:16)
Then comes the core of the argument:
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. (5:17-19)
And this is followed by some direct implications:
So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (5:20-21)
What a marvellous composition this paragraph is. Full of exciting and inspiring ideas with each of them so interrelated that we can scarcely stop reading and focus on one of them because they keep drawing us forward. Even the next chapter flows quite seamlessly out of this one.
Let me try to summarize and apply these thoughts: in writing to people who had a great deal of diversity and differences, Paul speaks of reconciliation. Let us be clear that he is not merely talking about being polite to one another or being politically correct so that we say and do the right things. And he is not talking about pretending that the differences among people do not exist. Rather Paul is calling on the Christian people at Corinth to be reconciled to one another because they are reconciled to God in Jesus Christ: "If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new."
So then it would seem that there are three dimensions of reconciliation. The first is the gracious act of God in Jesus Christ. God "has reconciled us to himself through Christ....For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God." Paul uses the word and the concept of reconciliation to describe the work of God which in other places is called salvation, justification, sanctification, redemption, etc. This is to say that God has overcome the difference and the distance that had come about between the Creator and the creatures. God has reconciled us to himself.
The second dimension is the one of being reconciled to one another. Because of what God has done in Christ, we are made into new creatures. Put another way, if God is able to reconcile us to himself, surely it is possible for us to be reconciled to each other. This does not mean for us to deny our differences or to ignore them or to pretend that they are not there. I think rather that the diversity that we have in Montreal means that we are greatly engifted by God. That we have the opportunity to bring together and to share the many different gifts that God has given us. To be reconciled to each other means for us to receive and to understand our differences and diversity, and to put all these things to work to God's greater glory.
And finally, we are to be instruments of the reconciliation of the world. Paul said that "in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself." The church does not exist just to be an elite group: rather we exist for the whole world. St. Paul described the ministry of Christians and of the church as being "ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us." To put it another way, when we as a people of God come together with all our diversity and become reconciled to one another because we are reconciled to God, then our very existence and the quality of our life together in Christian community is a profound and convincing witness, and is a very effective ways for us to be ambassadors for Christ. And then as we reach out and share this reconciliation with the wider community, we are ambassadors in still other ways.
Dear friends, on this Remembrance Day Sunday as we remember the sacrifices made by others, let us remember the sacrifice that God made for all us. And let us be thankful for the many different ways that we have been engifted by God, and for the diversity that we may enjoy because of these different gifts. Then let us live together in community both in the church and in the world in a reconciled way so that we all benefit from this diversity, from the many gifts that God has given us. Amen.