Sermon 4 Lent, Yr C
March 17, 2007 Leave a comment
4 Lent Yr C, 18/03/2007
2 Cor 5:16-21
Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“The ministry of reconciliation”
Reconciliation. In today’s second lesson, the apostle Paul, in one of his most eloquent and beautiful passages, highlights the saving work of God in Christ and its consequences for us. Reconciliation is a gift from God through Christ’s suffering and death on the cross. It means, quite literally, to change enemies into friends. It also means going further than that by making us members of God’s family. This is certainly the heart of the Gospel message; a message of God saving love and grace; God’s forgiveness in Christ through his sacrificial, atoning death on the cross; and new life, a new creation through his resurrection.
For the apostle Paul, it is quite clear that it is God’s initiative, God’s work in Jesus Christ that we are reconciled with God. This truth Paul most likely based on his Damascus road encounter with Jesus. Indeed, through that encounter, Paul was changed from an enemy of Christ and his disciples into a friend, apostle and family member of Christ’s body, the Church. Now, in this rather painful second letter to the Corinthians, Paul addresses an issue in the congregation. It seems that some of the Corinthians were judging Paul and his ministry as well as one another on the basis of common human standards like their pedigrees, their type of work, their intelligence, their wealth, their accomplishments. Paul says at one time, that is before his encounter with Jesus, we judged one another and even Jesus himself on the basis of such human standards. Now all of that has changed, we no longer judge each other or Christ on the basis of such standards. Now, says Paul, all who are baptized into Christ are a new creation in him, the old has passed away, the new has arrived—thanks to God’s saving, reconciling work in Christ through his death and resurrection.
In response to this action of God in Christ of reconciling the world to himself; Paul goes on to say that Christ has given us the ministry of reconciliation, and even gives us a rather honoured job description—saying, “we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” How does this take shape in real life for us?
The Rev. Dr. Lois Wilson, a one-time Canadian President of the World Council of Churches, on her visit to Lutheran congregations in Tanzania among the Masai tribe tells how these Christians practice Christ’s love through reconciliation.
Deeply embedded in their tribal culture was the conviction that if one person angered God by taking the life of another, it was the responsibility of the whole community to join in the reconciliation ritual between the families of the victim and the wrongdoer. It was also important to effect reconciliation between the whole community and God. One elder from each of the two families performed the ritual. Each punctured a small hole in his thigh, then each licked the blood from the thigh of the other. A young female baby and a young male baby were exchanged by their mothers and suckled as if they were their own. The babies were never returned to their “natural families.” Since the ritual made them brother and sister, they were not allowed to marry each other. Then the murderer’s family gave forty-nine cows to the victim’s family. The name of the victim was pronounced for the last time, and then prayers for reconciliation, health, fertility, and peace were offered.
Then Rev. Dr. Wilson adds: “I think that people who bring this strong tradition into Christian living have much to teach us about the difficult art of reconciliation.”1
I like the practice here in this act of reconciliation of regarding the two babies as brother and sister—indeed, that is what we all are as members of God’s family having been reconciled in Christ.
Another story of reconciliation. This time, one that involved me. Several years ago, in one of the congregations I was serving, during a choir practice for Easter Sunday, we were singing the hymns for that day. The choir director (I’ll call him Bill, not his real name) and I had a bit of a falling out over hymn #797 “This Is The Three-fold Truth” in the Hymnal Supplement 1991, which I had chosen. Bill protested adamantly and said that he didn’t want to sing this new hymn. I adamantly insisted that we would sing it.
Next evening, prior to the Maundy Thursday service, I walked up to Bill and said: “I forgive you. I hope you forgive me too.” He smiled and said: “Yes, I do,” and we shook hands.
I had decided to compromise somewhat by arranging for a duet (I’ll call them John and Andrew, not their real names) to sing the hymn instead of the choir and congregation. John and Andrew willingly consented and practiced the hymn after the Maundy Thursday service. While they were in the midst of their rehearsal, choir director Bill and a few other congregants were making preparations in the chancel for Good Friday.
After greeting everyone in the narthex, I walked back into the church. John and Andrew had just finished their practice. They told me it went very well. Bill was up the ladder hanging the black shroud over the cross. He was humming the tune to hymn #797!
I listened and recognized the tune, a great smile burst out on my face and I laughed with gratitude inside of myself. However, I have the feeling that the One who laughed last over this was the Lord himself. He, of course, laughs best, whenever we are reconciled.
Something of the holiness of that night filled Bill and me—both of us departed in peace, reconciled with each other.
We are ambassadors for Christ. According to Paul, Jesus’ title as Messiah is a royal title. Thus, Jesus our King of kings has given us a very privileged and important work to do as his ambassadors.
We are ambassadors of reconciliation when we establish creative rather than destructive relationships between nature and human nature, between the goodness of God’s creation and the mess we have made of it…We are ambassadors when we refuse to trash other persons…people whose politics or theology we abhor….Ambassadors of reconciliation…working in local politics, working for fairer tax laws, working for better health care for the poor and for everyone.2 This is our ministry, although not always easy, we can trust that our cross-bearing Saviour is with us, as we follow him. Amen.
1 Lois Wilson, Turning the World Upside Down: a memoir (Toronto: Doubleday Canada Ltd., 1989), pp. 211-212.
2 Robert McAfee Brown, Reclaiming the Bible (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), p. 44.