Preach // 29/11/15 // Reconciliation // Available to listen here or to watch above.
2 Corinthians 5:11-21
11 Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 13 If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come, The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Wow, what a great series this has been so far. So good to really get into the message of the cross. The central part of our faith and just to be reminded again all that Christ has done for us, it’s just amazing isn’t it? I heard someone say recently that in the church often we don’t need teaching we need reminding. And this has been a great reminder so far…
So let’s do a quick sum up so far, Tom talked about us being far from God, how our sins pull us away from him. Fiona, our Archdeacon gave us an impassioned talk of rescue and redemption, how we all need rescuing! Will has talked to us on atonement, and victory, these are just amazing amazing truths of the gospel. And today we are looking at reconciliation. How we can be reconciled to God, to have a real and personal relationship with him. THIS IS SUCH AMAZING TRUTH!!!
Scene setting //
So I always like to start with a bit of scene setting so we know where we are (but will keep it brief!). 2 Corinthians is one of Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth. This is a church he had visited previously and so he is writing to them as a friend, as a leader and really as a Pastor. Sort of a Pastor once removed if you like. That’s what Paul’s letters are generally, they are letters from a Pastor to churches he has set up. So sometimes it’s tricky to work out exactly what he’s saying because we are only seeing one side of it, his response to something going on in their congregation. And it’s no different here. Throughout the letter he refers to a situation in which it seems people are questioning his authority as an apostle. The beginning 11-13 he is defending his personal integrity. So he sort of gives a bit of a defence of his ministry and he refers to the situation as needing reconciliation with him as an ambassador of Christ, if they are at odds with him, they are odds with Jesus.
In v’s 14-17 he explains how Christ’s death undergirds his ministry.
And then in 18-21 And he goes on to talk about the ministry of reconciliation, in which he (and we) have a part to play in enabling people to be reconciled to God.
I actually read in a commentary this passage referred to as ‘one of the most theologically charged’ passages of any of Paul’s letters in terms of salvation and Christ’s role in that. And it really does declare, shout out almost, an absolute truth of Christ as Saviour and sacrifice.
Prepping the talk //
I’ve got to be honest This is probably the hardest preach I have planned. I mean this passage just talks about such an amazing fundamental truth of God, I just do not know what I can say to help you to grasp that. As a preacher I think that my role is to explain scripture to attempts to bring it to life and to enable you to see how it is relevant in your life. I hope that whenever I talk that it is actually God talking and not me. I pray that every time I speak he will reveal himself to those who are listening.
But today I just know that my words cannot even begin to encompass this subject of reconciliation. That we are reconciled to God that we can have a relationship with God, a friendship, we can have a conversation with God, we can come before him with our innermost worries and with the things that we wouldn’t tell anyone else the things that we sometimes can’t even admit to myself. And because of Jesus because he died on the cross purely because of that act we get to have that relationship with God. I mean that is unfathomable. Isn’t it? How can we even begin to understand that?
I mean God made this world, this universe even, that is so vast that we cannot see the ends of it even through the most powerful telescopes. Or from the opposite extreme, looking at a square of your garden with a magnifying glass and just seeing the beauty and the detail and see the ants working away and other tiny creatures too. God created in such beauty and detail. And not only that but creation is like an amazing machine – it all works together, the sun provides light, it goes up-and-down, through it we have times we have seasons. We have the tides and the sea, even things that we might think are disastrous – earthquakes, volcanoes, but they are all part of this amazing created machine and it’s been here from millions and millions of years just going, just working. So God, created that because he wants to know me wants to have a relationship with me, and with you, and every one of you.
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.
That is the God who wants to know us – well anyone who tells me they completely understand that? I think you’re lying! Because how can we possibly understand the awesomeness of that and I say awesome in true sense of the word – how can we understand the awesomeness of the fact that God is so powerful that he can create this amazing thing that goes on and on, over millions of years and will continue to go on, He actually wants to know us and love us.
And that’s what it all boils down to… that the living God loves us and wants to know us, wants to be in relationship with us, He wants to be reconciled to us. That’s what it’s all about. When Jesus stretched out his arms on the cross and died in agony alone, in that act, he reconciled us, humanity to God.
He did that so that every single person on this planet who has ever lived, is living or who will live the chance to become a friend of God – I mean wow right? And it makes me wonder what God is thinking, what he’s feeling, perhaps, when a single one of us turned away from him when any one of us rejects him, when one person refuses to be reconciled / doesn’t want to be reconciled. I truly think his heartbreaks for every single one of us.
And so you can see why I have felt this week completely unworthy of giving this talk today. What can I possibly say? Most of you here already know the Lord I know that but then I ask myself if I know this truth for myself, if I know what Jesus did for me, if I know that I have a relationship that Him, that I am reconciled to the living God why am I not out there telling every single person who breathes and moves?! why am I not spending every waking moment on reaching out to Him, longing to be in his presence, why am I not all consumed unable to do anything that worship him?
Because I sometimes wonder if I cheapen what God has done for me, by my lack of zeal for him.
Don’t get me wrong I’m not condemning myself or anybody else of course. God calls each of us with a different call, with a different plan but it’s just the power of the truth of the heart of the gospel that should surely overwhelm us all. Shouldn’t it?
So I had no idea where to start so I started looking at stories of reconciliation.
Some of you will remember seeing on the news stories of the horrific genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s. A genocide against the Tutsi tribe, incited and instigated by those in power who ruthlessly incited people against each other. Tribe fought against tribe, neighbour against neighbour. Entire families were wiped out. Thousands of people were maimed, raped, injured and murdered.
In fact during a 100-day period from April to July of 1994, an estimated 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed, making up as much as 70% of the Tutsi tribe and 20% of Rwanda’s total population.
I’ve been reading a book called ‘As we forgive – stories of reconciliation’ from Rwanda which is just a staggering read. From the vastness of the killing and hate to the stories of forgiveness and reconciliation, it has just blown my mind, although is not an easy read by any stretch of the imagination.
After the genocide some 120,000 people were detained and accused of bearing criminal responsibility for their participation in the killings. And how can you begin to deal with that many criminal cases in such a short space of time? Rwanda did 3 things:
They had the
International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda,
The national court system
and the Gacaca (gachacha) courts.
The Gacaca trials served to promote reconciliation by providing a means for victims to learn the truth about the death of their family members and relatives. They also gave perpetrators the opportunity to confess their crimes, show remorse and ask for forgiveness in front of their community. Similar to the Truth and reconcilation commission in South Africa following Apartheid.
These stories of people going through this are just so overwhelming too. That people who have suffered such horror can even begin to think about forgiving or being reconciled has to be a miracle in itself. It’s just beyond comprehension, just like the fact that we can be reconciled to our Heavenly Father. These people here, those who have suffered so much are encouraged to be reconciled and forgive so that they can move on, so that their lives can be different, can be transformed from the pain and misery, not to forget, but to be able to live a life fully. In 2014 photographer Pietr Hugo went to Rwanda, 20 years after the atrocity to photograph some of these reconciliations. His photographs are amazing portraits of reconciliation in process. Even some 20 years on.
At the photo shoots, Hugo said, ‘the relationships between the victims and the perpetrators varied widely. Some pairs showed up and sat easily together, chatting about village gossip. Others arrived willing to be photographed but unable to go much further. “There’s clearly different degrees of forgiveness,” Hugo said. “In the photographs, the distance or closeness you see is pretty accurate.’
Reconciliation is not always an easy process.
So what is reconciliation all about anyway?
To be reconciled to someone means to make a change in the relationship between people, to go from being enemies if you like to being able to have a conversation…
As humans need to be reconciled to God. We are supposed to be in relationship with him, not adversaries, not on such bad terms that we ignore him.
When he created humanity, in the garden of Eden, it was because he wanted to know us, to be with us. In genesis God was there with them in the garden, talking to them, being with them.
Now we are not going to get too deep into the fall right now, but that is what happened, something got in the way of their relationship, they, Adam and Eve wrecked that relationship, so special, and were parted from God. Sent out of the garden. Since then, man has needed to be reconciled to God, the relationship needed to be perfectly healed. Throughout the Old Testament you can read of how God desperately sought to be reconciled to his people, that growing population on earth, he so longed to be with.
And yet they failed again and again, turned from him, sought easier ways to live, worshipped idols, didn’t listen.
Until God said enough is enough.
And we’ve been learning throughout this series how God made the ultimate sacrifice and sent his son to die in order that we might be able to come to know him again.
In Verse 14 -15 – ‘one died for all’. Paul declares it, we are convinced of it he says. And Paul is a pretty good example of this:
Paul had the most amazing experience, you can read about it in Acts Ch. 9. In which he turned from a life of great authority, he had people under his command, he was well thought of and very well educated a rabbi, Pharisee, who had ‘great zeal’ for his Jewish faith – ie: he was VERY passionate about it! He would have been so well respected, had a good life, nice home etc. But something happened that made him turn from that to a complete reversal, where he once hated Christians, he became one! Where he was once the persecutor, he became the persecuted, eventually dying for his faith. Now you don’t just make a decision like that one day do you? Something has to happen to change you, not just change your mind, but to actually change you. So that you are ‘a new creation’ as the passage tells us.
For Paul he says that ‘Christ’s love compels us’. He is compelled, he can’t not do something, it’s all or nothing, all consuming. Not because he has to, but because he truly knows for himself, the love of God.
He has been reconciled to the Father, having been far off, having been a persecutor of Christ and his followers. I mean you’d think if anyone was beyond that redemption it would be him right? A murderer deliberately targeting followers of Jesus. And yet Jesus comes to him, invites him to know God, invites him to be reconciled to God.
So you see, a relationship with God is for everyone. If we choose it.
// because as I said it’s not always easy…
I also saw a story this week of 2 US Army VETS, after the Vietnam war, standing before the memorial to their fallen comrades. Both had been kept prisoner of war and seen terrible things, suffered terrible things. One asks of the other, ‘have you forgiven them for what they did?’ ‘No I shall never forgive them’ says the other ‘then they surely still have you trapped in that prison’ replies the first.
Because bitterness, hurt, anger, all these things keep us wrapped up in a world that was not intended for us. God intended for us that beautiful garden, being with him, idyllic, paradise, and yet we do not have that, well not yet anyway, one day. But we do have the choice to life this life differently.
Ministry of Reconciliation
But the other thing we learn from this passage and from stories form Rwanda and others is that we have a ministry of reconciliation too. We have a job to do.
If we are reconciled to God we then are called to the ministry of reconciliation – to share a message of restored relationships to others. v 20 says We are Christ’s ambassadors…
You know I tend to like to leave you with a challenge when I’m preaching and this is it! I said earlier on how I find this passage so challenging. Listen, God has given us a job to do, so are we actually doing it? Paul said
‘Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others.’
And that they are compelled by Christ….
What are we compelled to do? Are we really embracing the truth of the gospel? What does it mean to us? How are we sharing that message of reconciliation. Of restored relationships? that Jesus offers us?
Because sometimes I wonder if we have lost sight of it. Of how amazing it is. Do we get bogged down in life and the brightness of the light becomes dimmed?
or perhaps the time we came to know Christ first of all, becomes a distant memory. Or perhaps something has got in the way, maybe you need your own reconciliation to God before you can take on the sharing of it?
It is interesting that in this last week both the queen and the Pope have referred to this passage.
“St. Paul reminds us that all Christians, as ambassadors for Christ, are entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation. Spreading God’s word and the onerous but rewarding task of peace-making and conflict resolution are important parts of that ministry. So too is the Church of England’s particular vocation to work in partnership with those of other faiths and none, to serve the common good in this land.”
The Pope, this week in Kenya: Saying he was visiting Kenya and Uganda as a minister of the gospel, the Pope emphasised that he was bringing a ‘message of reconciliation, forgiveness and peace’. He called for mutual understanding across all religions and for believers “to support each other as members of our one human family”.
And in our time of troubles perhaps it is a fitting subject. I once read that every generation thinks theirs is worse than the one before, that theirs is facing bigger terrors and upsets than the one before, but I don’t know about you, right now, I worry about our world. Continuing news reports of atrocities and wars, terrorist attacks and bombings. People incited to hate each other, the media trying to pit us against those in absolute dire need. If ever there was a time to think about reconciliation it is perhaps now. For ourselves, for our communities, for our countries and for the world.
Let’s not be dragged down by life, let’s not give up, let’s not keep the message of such amazing truth to ourselves! Let us be compelled to share what we know!