6/19/16 – 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 – Reconciliation
Posted on June 20, 2016 | Posted by Pastor Daniel
Pastor Daniel’s Sermon for June 19, 2016
Text: 2 Corinthians 5:11-21
Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences.
We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
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. 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, 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.
Doesn’t it feel like conflict has become more prevalent and yet also more hidden in our world? We rip each other apart on Facebook, and then shake hands in the grocery store. We smile together for a picture, and then support policies and politicians which demonize one another. It’s like we feel more and more divided in this world, but less and less willing to admit it. We’ve become a society of conflict avoiders.
Which, to be honest, really plays to my strengths. I know a lot of you might say you like to avoid conflict, but I’m probably better at it. I mean, I don’t want to brag, but only someone with my mother’s genes could so adeptly avoid conflict of all sorts. I don’t just postpone responding to emails, I sometimes delay even opening them. I check caller id. I use the chat feature online instead of making the complaining call to the phone company. I can navigate almost any dinner conversation. It’s been joked that I have a high tolerance for imperfection, but the truth is, I just have a very low tolerance for hurting someone’s feelings or feeling awkward myself.
And this isn’t just because I’m a coward, though if I believed in spirit animals, mine would be the lion from the Wizard of Oz. No, the thing is I also can’t stand the feeling of conflict. The feeling of division. The feeling of an argument. It tears me up inside. You know that feeling you get when you’re fighting with someone you love and inside all you want is for it to be over. You don’t even care if you’re right. You don’t even need to win or have anything resolved. You just want the awkwardness and argument to end. The division on the outside becomes a tearing on the inside.
Of course, avoiding the conflict, or glossing over it – that doesn’t really work, does it. The division is still there. And that’s the real problem. Division between people, whether it’s out in the open or not.
As we’ve said before in this series on 2 Corinthians, there was division between Paul and the Christians living in Corinth. They saw Paul as a fraud. He saw them as faithless. Both looked at the other with suspicion. And that suspicion created a gap, division between them.
And so Paul – who’s braver than I – sends a harsh letter before this one. He engages in the conflict. And that starts tearing him up, so he rushes toward Corinth, hoping to hear from the messenger how his letter was received. And now, in this letter, what Paul wants more than anything else is for that tearing feeling inside him to stop. He wants healing for this division, not just to avoid it or gloss over it. He wants reconciliation. We all do. We all want reconciliation for the division rampant in our world and in our lives.
I think the mass killing in Orlando one week ago and its aftermath have shown us just how divided we are. Hundreds had gathered last Saturday night at the Pulse nightclub. So many were there, quite frankly, because they felt they have nowhere else to be. This was their safe place. Too often, they were met with suspicious eyes in our world. There is this divide between so many gay and lesbian people and the rest of society. And, in the absence of reconciliation across that divide, they sought a place they could feel safe and be themselves. Almost a sanctuary of sorts.
Then a man broke that sanctuary, and so many other divides in our country were revealed. Between Muslims and other Americans. Between Muslims and other Muslims. Between those who can’t handle the mass of guns in our country and those who can’t handle added restrictions on them. Everyone is pointing at everyone else. Pointing their fingers in blame and suspicion. Pointing lead to 50 deaths in Orlando and it has continued since. We are so divided.
We point fingers at immigrants and refugees. We point fingers at conservatives and liberals. We point fingers at the poor for dragging us down and at the rich for not pulling us up. We point fingers at millennials for taking this country for granted and at baby-boomers for getting us into this mess.
We point fingers at the uncle who we can’t hardly talk to at the Thanksgiving table, and the parents who we blame for everything in our lives, and the boss who doesn’t see our potential, and the employees who don’t understand our vision. We point fingers at the spouse who doesn’t do enough chores or doesn’t understand why we’re too tired to vacuum. We point fingers at home, after pointing them all day at work. We point at the other because they are different, and we don’t trust those who are different.
And with all this pointing, we become more and more fractured. Separated from one another. And sometimes the separation, the division boils over until 50 people die and then somehow the finger-pointing gets even worse.
So, we long for reconciliation. Not for avoidance. Not for glossing it over. Not for finding sanctuary among our own tribe. No we long for a healing of the division. A closing of the gap. But how? How do we find reconciliation? Is it even possible?
Throughout this letter, Paul keeps hinting at reconciliation. Sometimes it comes across in an almost patronizing way, like he’s telling them they can easily be reconciled if they just realize that he’s right and they’re wrong. Thanks for the advice, Paul, I’ll try that one at the next family political discussion. I’m sure it will work out great.
But just when you think Paul isn’t doing anything more than egging them on, writing from a heart too torn-up to speak with any objectivity, just then we hear this whole new truth that might really shake things up. “For the love of Christ urges us on,” Paul writes, “because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.” Whoa!
See, Paul does not just believe that Christ died because he was offensive to those in power. Paul does not just believe that in Christ’s death we have forgiveness of our sins. Paul does not even just believe that in Christ’s death God took on death for us. But Paul also believes that in Christ’s death, we all die. In Christ’s death, there is some part of us that dies. In some letters he calls that part the old Adam. Using last week’s reading, he might have called it the earthly, secular part of us. The part removed from God. But whatever you want to call it, in Christ’s death, some part of us dies.
It’s a bit of a stretch for us, because we don’t feel dead. We don’t feel like something in us has died. Even if it is something that probably needs to. Some piece of us that is selfish, greedy, fearful, and full of hate. Some piece that is cowardly, faithless, and despairing. But, Paul insists that in Christ’s death, we die. And in Christ’s rising, there is new life.
“Everything old has passed away,” you can hear Paul shouting through the ink on the parchment. “See, everything has become new!”
And that, it turns out, makes all the difference. Because that enables a new perspective. A new perspective on one another, an alternative to the suspicion that seems the norm in our world. As Paul puts it: “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view.” Since everything is made new in the death and resurrection of Christ, we no longer look at one another with old suspicious eyes, and we no longer see untrustworthy others across that divide. Rather, we are granted new eyes, and new identities. Identities based in this new life in Christ.
Now, I know that all sounds pretty abstract. But think about it. Think about how this could really change things. At root, at our base, we are no longer gay or straight, young or old. We are those who died and have risen. We are no longer black, white, or brown. We are not conservative, liberal, or moderate. We are the beloved of God. We are not immigrant or native, rich or poor, powerful or powerless, winner or loser, giver or taker. We, you, I – we are new. We have died in Christ and we are raised in Christ.
And that truth leads to some pretty good news, and also to a calling. The good news is this: reconciliation is now possible. See, the division that runs rampant in our world survives because we are convinced that the gap between us is too wide, too deep, too impenetrable to ever overcome. We’re just too different. Or so we suppose.
But what if we aren’t? What if there is some deeper identity, some deeper truth beyond the old divisions? What if everything old has passed away and everything has become new? What if we need not look at each other from a human perspective, but can see in one another the death and the life of Christ?
Well, then reconciliation could be possible. I know it won’t happen all the time, not this side of eternity at least. I know there are wounds that won’t heal in this life. But with a new perspective at least we don’t have to be enemies. We could see that the divide is not so great. We could see some common humanity, some common divinity in one another and the walls could crumble. And then reconciliation – not just glossing it over or avoiding the conflict, but reconciliation could be possible.
And that is good news! Because we sure need some reconciliation right about now, don’t we? And with that good news there is a calling – the ministry of reconciliation, as Paul puts it. It’s not enough that reconciliation is possible. It’s not enough that we could look with new eyes. We also need to do it. We need to trust the new life given to us in Christ enough to be vulnerable, to put down the barriers, to reach across the divide that we helped create. We need to eat with the one we had blamed for what ails us, pray for the one we had thought was outside God’s grace, and befriend one from another generation.
As Paul did so many years ago, so too now can we thank God for those who were separated from us. It can be done. It must be done. We are ministers of reconciliation, ministers of God’s work of reconciliation. We have been called to that work, that work that we had always hoped might be possible. Everything old has passed away. Everything has become new. Amen.