Devotional at Grace and Peace Congregational Meeting

Devotional at Grace and Peace Congregational Meeting

January 25, 2012

          From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore 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.(2 Corinthians 5:16-21 ESV)

Of all passages, this one, perhaps more than any encapsulates the heart of the Gospel and the Christian life. It is about reconciliation—Grace and Peace.

Reconciliation entails the coming together of two parties in order to make right what went wrong in the relationship. Who did the wrong? Sometimes one party; sometimes both. Now I want you to take a moment and think about a relationship with a friend or a family member where things went really sour. Maybe you said the wrong thing, and you haven’t talked to that person since. Maybe they did the wrong thing, and you’re still angry. Do you recall that anger, that disappointment, that frustration?

Our relationship with God was threatened, but not because God said the wrong thing, or did the wrong thing. We said the wrong thing, did the wrong thing, failed to say and do the right thing. And we’re still saying the wrong things, doing the wrong things, failing to say and do the right things. And we’re all suffering for it. We did not ask for life, or for love, but we received them as gifts! All God asked was that we love both God and neighbor, and even these commands were a gift, because they are what make us human. In our decisions to neglect and even hate God and our neighbor, we ended up hating ourselves, and became inhumane. We are both the victims and the oppressors of our own twisted humanity.

This passage indicates that we naturally live for ourselves. You can call it selfishness, but I like Luther’s way of talking about it, in Latin. Sin, Luther says, is INCURVATUS IN SE, which means to be curved in upon the self. The rupture in our relationship with God occurs when we decide that we are independent, autonomous individuals who are quite capable of living life on our own, thank you very much. So by sin all of life is curved in upon us so that we are the center of our universe holding up our own little world like little Atlases. And it’s getting very heavy, because it’s too much for us to bear.

Now the bleakness of this situation may seem all too real to some of you, and all too depressing to others of you. Why ponder such sad things? But I want to get in touch with the reality of the pain of our world, lest we become too comfortable with things as they are, because the sick thing about this rupture in our relationship with God is that there are plenty of ways we can distract ourselves from this rupture. Some persons withdraw and seek refuge in endless amusements and entertainments. Some choose alcohol and drugs, or pornography. Some find refuge in a sport or club or hobby, or career; others in fighting battles in society or even in church. Such things become idolatry!
But as Christians, we have received not a new distraction, but a piece of Great GOOD NEWS. It completely changes the bleakness of the picture. We must live no longer for ourselves. Why? Because he died for all. Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, as the supreme act of love, did not deal with us according to our sin, but dealt with himself according to our sin, exhausting all judgment and wrath on himself rather than letting it fall on us. The death of Christ was God’s work and revelation that God loves us so much that nothing will separate us from Him in Christ.
God did this while we were his enemies. God is Emmanuel, and that’s why He chose the cross. Because that’s who he is. And he did this for ALL, in Christ: “We are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.” The language of death in Paul gets a little tricky, but what he means here is that we have all died in the sense that we are united to Christ who died for our place.

Because of God’s reconciliation, we regard no one from a human point of view. That means both ourselves and others. We cannot regard ourselves from a human point of view. We cannot regard ourselves as the center of our universe. We are not God, but neither are we scum. I am no longer my own worst enemy, because I am not my own judge.

We do not regard others from a human point of view either. Because no one is God’s enemy, no one can be my enemy either. They may hate me, but I cannot hate them, because God does not hate them. So all I should do is show love. What does that look like? It looks like Jesus.

God has reconciled us to himself through Christ. In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting our trespasses against us.

I want to be clear about this: when someone does something wrong to us, that’s a trespass. And when they do it, who does it count against? It counts against THEM! Right? That’s life, that’s fair. But it’s only fair according to our standards. In Christ, God does not count the trespasses of those who have trespassed against him. We hear this from Jesus on the cross when he says “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” They don’t KNOW any better – they think they’re operating under fair and righteous principles, but quite the contrary. An eye for an eye is not fair, as it turns out, because God reconciles not just us, not just his friends, but the whole world of his enemies.

And as Christians, as a reconciled people who are convinced that this is true for us and for the whole world, we have been given a ministry. God is making his appeal through us to tell the world: “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.” In other words, stop putting yourself and others to death with your words and your actions because you resent all that’s wrong with the world! God has made things right, and no one has to be tortured to placate this demonic darkness.

God has already declared peace. The war is over, but our world is still fighting. And so, as members of Grace and Peace Presbyterian Church, we have to make a choice. Are we going to join the world in its war with itself, or are we going to declare the end of the war and the beginning of peace in Jesus Christ?

Let us live up to our name in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Let us be ministers of reconciliation. Amen.

 

 

seminal thoughts from a sermon by Rev. C. T. Nelson