Lent #3 2004
One of the ladies in the church dropped me a note several years ago. I'm not sure she remembers, but I still have it in her own handwriting in case she has forgotten. She told me about three boys who were bragging about their dads. One boy's dad owned a big farm. Another boy's dad ran a very large business. The third little boy (whose father was a preacher) said his dad owned Hell. When other boys said they had never heard of anyone owning Hell the boy explained, "My dad does-because I heard my mom tell grandma the deacons came over last night and gave it to him.
Not every church is like ours- full of peace and tranquility. But people can change, even old war horses. In 1963, George C. Wallace, governor of Alabama, literally stood in the door of the University of Alabama, preventing Vivian Malone Jones, a black woman, from enrolling as a student. Thirty-three years later, Wallace awarded Jones for the first Lurleen B Wallace Award of Courage (the award, named in honor of Wallace's wife, recognizes women who have made outstanding contributions to the state of Alabama). Wallace publicly apologized to Jones for the 1963 controversy; Jones, in turn, forgave Wallace. These two former enemies were reconciled at last. People can change!
Regrettably, stories of reconciliation are buried in the avalanche of stories about conflict, strife, and war. Much of our world is driven by bitterness, jealousy, or hostility. The witnesses are legion: wars over cultural and religious issues, terrorist activities motivated by envy and fear, and racial prejudice justifying genocide.
Then there are the more polite forms of hostility. Gossip and backstabbing, passive aggressive revenge, and divorce (you're no longer good enough, I'm going to find a better life- there may not be a more painful form of alienation).
And then there is the root of all strife- a sense of alienation from God. Sin not only separates us from God, it condemns us. And somehow we know it.
Sin describes our attempts to downgrade or demote God. Each of us has told God, with our own unique style, "I'm going to find a way to make my life better without you." Then we find out that living in the world God created, having shoved God away, leaves us a little disoriented.
Good news- God did not leave us alone.
Read II Corinthians 5:17-21.
Paul says three things here about reconciliation. He says: it is God's project, it is very expensive, and it must be consented to.
First: reconciliation is God's doing. The main part of the Good News is to announce, "God has undertaken a great project to bring peace to the world." If we can not say, "God has made peace" we have no good news. Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism- none of them claim to have good news: sinners are alienated from God, and can not rectify that problem. But the Good News is that God has done something. Reconciliation is not something we achieve, it is something we receive.
Christianity is utterly and completely unique at this point. All other religions may have major differences from each other that make them unique, but they are alike in this one basic point: salvation depends on human solutions.
Buddhism sees the problem of sin as frustrated desire. The solution is to eliminate desire. In orthodox Buddhism, there is no god to help, but if you try hard enough, you make make it. Hinduism sees the problem of sin as coming from the fact that we are ignorant of our divine inner nature. The solution is to strive for enlightenment. Islam understands sin in a similar way to Judeo/Christianity. Their solution is to work at accumulating more good deeds than bad deeds. Since you can never know until judgement if you have been successful, it pays to be very diligent...extra credit for dying in jihad.
In orthodox Judaism, salvation/sin is not the issue because Jews can presume right standing before God based on their race. Barring some horrible act of apostasy, "they are saved by race."
Christianity says, "If there is going to be reconciliation for the society of the damned- God must do it. We are helpless." And that is what God did in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Back to Isaiah 53:6 it says," We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." Paul explained this concept to the Roman church saying, "when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son" (5:10).
Read Colossians 1:19-23a.
All the New Testament writers speak with one voice in saying that God has taken the initiative to break the cloud of alienation. In Jesus, God has moved to bring peace to each of you.
The second thing Paul says here is that this "God project" is very expensive. And God paid the whole price. Man has sinned and God has suffered. This, too, separates Christianity from every other faith. The first sentence in Bruce Shelley's large text on Christian history is, "Christianity is the only major religion to have as its central event the humiliation of its God." Can you think of one other religion that would dare to suggest that God suffers for man's sin?
We do get small tastes of the cost of spiritual reconciliation. Whenever, on a human plane, reconciliation is morally real, it is costly. When friends become bitter enemies- for reconciliation to occur someone has to pay the price in humility. In cases of marital infidelity, for reconciliation to occur someone has to pay the price in humility. In cases of marital infidelity for reconciliation, one side must swallow the pain of betrayal and the other side must accept the pain of in-depth emotional confession. Sometimes they may live together without real reconciliation. But to really come together, a pain of one kind must be dissolved inside of one soul and the humiliation of exposure of moral fault made by the other.
The cost of reconciliation of sinners to God is beyond the ability of our limited minds to calculate. The physical and emotional ordeal of crucifixion as immense as it was, was only part of the cost. There was a hidden spiritual side- where Jesus accepted the shame of our sin. That shame, we may never understand.
Reconciliation was costly. Jesus was the sin-offering. Jesus said, "this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." It cost Jesus His life.
And finally Paul tells us- reconciliation must be consented to, submitted to, the rebel who once resented God for not being the servant of his selfish ego- surrenders and exercises faith in the value of Jesus' death. By this act of faith the new believer is changed from an enemy of God, to a member of God's family. This confidence in Jesus allows you to cross the bridge that God has built.
As Paul comes to the climax of this passage the thrust of what he wants to say is: consent to this awesome offer. God has acted in Jesus the Messiah to remove the barriers. Before it can be personally real to the individual, it must be submitted to.
Reconciliation that is one sided is not reconciliation at all. I have known of a number of marriage partners who are/were ready and willing to reconcile to their mate. But their open arms do not make a whole marriage- and that marriage will not be whole until both mates returns body and soul.
The sinner may be able to see the open arms of Jesus, but not until you walk into those arms by repentance and gratitude are you reconciled. God has a warm and welcome place for you in His family. He and all of His offspring are saying this morning, "we implore you on Christ's behalf: be reconciled to God."