We Are Called to Reconcile!

2 Corinthians 5:11-5:21 June 19, 2016

You can listen to Sunday’s sermon here. It may not be the best recording as we were outside and it was windy. Did I say windy? I meant to say WINDY.  For reals.

Also, as a hand out and accompaniment to the sermon, I made this. Called to a Ministry of Reconciliation Please use it.

(The Common English Bible translation)

Narrator: So we try to persuade people, since we know what it means to fear the Lord. We are well known by God, and I hope that in your heart we are well known by you as well. We aren’t trying to commend ourselves to you again. Instead, we are giving you an opportunity to be proud of us so that you could answer those who take pride in superficial appearance, and not in what is in the heart.

Men: If we are crazy, it’s for God’s sake.

Women: If we are rational, it’s for your sake.

ALL:  The love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: one died for the sake of all; therefore, all died. Narrator: He died for the sake of all so that those who are alive should live not for themselves but for the one who died for them and was raised.

Men: So then, from this point on we won’t recognize people by human standards.

Women: Even though we used to know Christ by human standards, that isn’t how we know him now.

ALL: So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!

Narrator: All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation.

ALL: In other words, God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them. He has trusted us with this message of reconciliation.

Narrator: So we are ambassadors who represent Christ. God is negotiating with you through us. We beg you as Christ’s representatives, “Be reconciled to God!” God caused the one who didn’t know sin to be sin for our sake so that through him we could become the righteousness of God.

Narrator: Stay tuned for the continuing saga that is our story and God’s story.

Thanks be to God.

We pray the prayer for the stranger each and every week, Sunday after Sunday. Then we practice that prayer in worship, each and every week. Do you know why?

No, it is not to make introverts run and hide. It is not designed for your comfort. It is a practice of recognizing Christ in each one of us. Because if we cannot make eye contact with someone we don’t know and we refuse to leave our seat or extend a hand because it makes us feel uncomfortable, then just imagine how easy it is to continue this pattern in our daily lives.

To walk by someone and assume the worst. Or avert your eyes.

To remain estranged from someone because of your pride, assuming they must make the first move.

To only reach out to those who won’t reject us.

To only keep to ourselves, our families, people who look like us. People we know.

If we can’t do it here in worship, a safe place, then where will we?

In Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, he writes about how we are to view each other: So then, from this point on we won’t recognize people by human standards. And just in case you are confused by what that means, he clears it up soon: So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!

We are to see each other as Christ and not by human standards.

Not by how we look or how smart we are.

Not by our reputation at school or around town.

Not by the grades we get or don’t get in school

Not by how hard we work, the list of our awards and accomplishments.

Not by our skin color or gender.

Not by which bathroom we use.

Not by where we were born.

These are human standards and Christ’s body changed and changes all of that. Christ’s love in us changes all that. Christ’s presence in us changes all that.

Because now it is not just one Jesus in the flesh, but it is recognizing the presence of Jesus all around us. In the stranger. In the enemy, in you and in me.

While I was at camp this last week with Owen, Ben, Addie, Andrew and Morgan, I was heartened to see that the “Jesus is coming to visit” skit still lives on. The phone rings and the person who answers lets us know that it is Jesus calling and that Jesus is coming to visit. What transpires next is frenzied cleaning and worry about not expecting Jesus and what will he think of the cleanliness of the house!? Then a knock on a door and it’s a person looking for a lost pet or someone in need of something. 3 times this happens and all 3 times the person being asked to help is too distracted by expecting their version of Jesus to show up that they simply cannot be bothered.  The skit ends with the phone ringing and Jesus explaining that he was there 3 times.

We miss seeing Jesus all the time don’t we? We can’t see Jesus so much of the time because we save him for Sundays or for seemingly obvious actions in the world – a heroic act, or a precious child, a miraculous healing. Or perhaps we’re waiting for Jesus to look like us. Paul has been trying to break that open in this letter, these past weeks, preparing us to see Christ in each other, in the stranger, as he’s written to us about forgiveness, consolation, brokenness and faith. It is like Paul is trying to equip us for the work of reconciling. It’s like he is giving us tools to help us see Jesus in each other, in the stranger.

And just as it was then it is now. We want to separate ourselves by human categories. I am right and you are wrong. We are constantly othering people. I am the insider. You are the outsider. You are the other.

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton wrote a letter to us, the ELCA, in response to the violence in Orlando last week where she urges us to regard one another as US. I read it to you, in part:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them.” Genesis 1:27

We are killing ourselves. We believe that all people are created in God’s image. All of humanity bears a family resemblance. Those murdered in Orlando were not abstract “others,” they are us. But somehow, in the mind of a deeply disturbed gunman, the LGBTQ community was severed from our common humanity. This separation led to the death of 49 and the wounding of 54 of us.

We live in an increasingly divided and polarized society. Too often we sort ourselves into like-minded groups and sort others out. It is a short distance from division to demonization.

There is another way. In Christ God has reconciled the world to God’s self. Jesus lived among us sharing our humanity. Jesus died for us to restore our humanity. God invites us into this reconciling work. This must be our witness as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The perpetrator of this hate crime did not come out of nowhere. He was shaped by our culture of division, which itself has been misshapen by the manipulation of our fears. That is not who we are. St. Paul wrote, “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 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. So we are ambassadors for Christ” (II Corinthians 5:17-20).

Our work begins now. We need to examine ourselves, individually and as a church, to acknowledge the ways we have divided and have been divided. We must stand with people who have been “othered”. We must speak peace and reconciliation into the cacophony of hatred and division. We must live the truth that all people are created in God’s image.

You can read her letter in its entirety right here.

There is some speculation that Omar Mateen struggled with his own sexuality and frequented the club where he killed so many people. And whether this is true or not, what I can say is this: This othering of people, especially the LGBTQ population, leads to demonization even within oneself. And self hatred makes it nearly impossible to then turn and love anybody else.

This is the group that has been othered so much in the church – Lesbian, gay, Bisexual, transgendered, queer. And we, River of Hope, are known for our love of them. They are us. We are them. We are us. It is who we are called to be, it is where we are called to stand – with those who have been separated and excluded.

There is another group of others we are forgetting about: the Syrian refugees. My friend, Brooke, a mother of 4, started an organization to help refugees on the ground in Greece. She tells stories of people she meets – people who are living in conditions we could barley tolerate for a weekend much less an unending amount of time. She shares stories of families split apart, never knowing if they will see each other again. She talks about young couples expecting babies, living on the hard ground. She ends her stories by saying this:

The families are not allowed to leave the island. Each one is wearing an arm band to identify their status and identity. Food is running out and the camp administration don’t know where the next meals will be coming from. The children under 2 simply aren’t being fed at all.

Let that all sink in a bit. This is real and it is happening. Do something. Please do something.

This is happening. Your kids will read about this crisis in the textbooks like we read about the Holocaust. And they will wonder like we wondered where everyone is and how we could just let this happen. This is it. We are living it right now.

You can check out Nurture Project International right here: http://nurtureprojectinternational.org

Here is their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/NurtureProjectInternational/

Paul tells us today that we have been entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation. To be part of bridging the gap where separation has occurred. To be the change where stagnation lives. Bishop Eaton tells us it is our identity, it is who we are, to engage in this ministry of reconciliation. Brooke, a young mother with 4 children of her own, on the ground with refugees, urges us to live into this identity. To bring reconciliation. To imagine – what if it was us.

It is us. We are Orlando. We are Syrian refugees. And we are in Christ which means we are entrusted to do something. We will toss and turn at night with our thoughts. We will pray. We will worship and give praise to God. And then what will we do? What will our prayers lead us to do? How will this worship shape us to act? What will our identity lead us to live into?

Answering violence with violence is not the answer. We’ve been entrusted to lives of faith in Christ which then calls us to the ministry of reconciliation. God has called us to it through Christ. Is a terrifying calling. It is what brings about new life.

Thanks be to God.