Toorak Uniting Church

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Reconciliation

2 Corinthians 5: 14 – 21
Rev. Dr Christopher Page
25 May 2014

Introduction:
Today is the beginning of Reconciliation Week in Australia. Initiated in 1996 with particular reference to reconciliation between white Australia and Aboriginal Australia, it now furthers a broad sense of reconciliation wherever there is discord or disharmony within the Australian community. Surely that can only be a good thing.

We in the Christian Church are very familiar with reconciliation because it is a fundamental concept in the relationship between ourselves - humanity - and God - the divine. In one sense, reconciliation is a very important human experience, because relationships, links between people and bonds that hold us together can break down. In fact I would suggest that they are always breaking down and we are discovering new ways to be together.

But for the follower of Jesus, our reconciliation with each other finds its roots and groundedness in the coming together of God and humanity. And is illustrated in the way the teaching, life and death of Jesus all pointed toward a oneness or a wholeness that we can experience when we are united with the Divine.

Dying to Live
The Apostle Paul wrestles with the role Jesus of Nazareth played in this divine drama of reconciliation:

It is the love of Christ that is the source of all our actions. We can look at it like this: if one man died for all humanity then all have died and Christ’s purpose in dying is that all people should not live for themselves, but for the one who died and rose for them.

Not an easy concept to understand. But there is this notion that the person of Jesus is the model or the pioneer of how one person’s life and death can be the catalyst for many to experience this new life of union with God. He goes on to say:

This means that we no longer judge people based on outward appearances… For if someone is in Christ they have become a new person. The past is finished and gone, everything now is fresh and new. All this is God’s doing, for God has reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ and has made us agents of reconciliation.

First, I think it is important to say that being reconciled, being united with God is an inside job. As I mentioned last week, there are no rituals, rites, ceremonies, activities or even sacraments that can achieve this union with the Holy. It is, as one commentator explained, an act of absolute acceptance. Does a child ask for life, or is it a free unearned gift that they embrace? Of course it is! But when I say it is an inside job, I mean that change occurs within us and then is projected out into the world. May I quote an unlikely theologian named Malcolm Fraser, who said:

Reconciliation requires changes of heart and spirit, as well as social and economic change. It requires symbolic as well as practical action.

I think that means that it begins as an inside job and works outward. So then the rituals, rites, ceremonies, activities or even sacraments associated with the practice of faith become real in their support of the inner change that has occurred.

The Practice of Reconciliation
I know I have mentioned it before but I think that one of the most poignant directives in the New Testament comes from Matthew’s Gospel in the fifth chapter:

…if you are offering your gift at the altar and remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar and go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

That passage ticks so many of the boxes. First, the need for harmony in the healthy community. Then the fact that you don’t have to wait for someone to be reconciled with you. You can initiate the process. The recognition that the most important aspect of faith or religion is our relationships. It is not rituals; it is not our gifts; it is not our past, or our history. It is our capacity to encourage love and friendship with each other.

To be realistic here, you may desire reconciliation with someone, but they may throw it back in your face. I learned early in my life that while I may be willing to forgive someone, that doesn’t mean that they will forgive me. It may fall on deaf ears. But the truth in this Matthew passage is that you had the courage to have a go and try the best you could.

So the practice of reconciliation is essential. What did the Apostle Paul say? …for God has reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ and has made us agents of reconciliation.

Agents of Reconciliation in the Modern World
I have got this far in the sermon and have not really defined what reconciliation is. Well, I think most would agree that it is the restoration of friendly relations, of reuniting, reunion, bringing back together those who have been separated. And as the apostle Paul suggests, we are agents of that and I think it is practised in concentric circles.

  1. First, among our closest relationships, among friends and family, and that is often the most difficult and complex area. I can only speak from personal experience here and suggest that sometimes relationships cannot be repaired or reconciled and so we must settle for the best we can.

  2. Next, our relationships within the various communities to which we belong. These can be wide and varied but I’ll focus on the one at hand. And that is our need to have whole and healthy relationships within the church community. A cursory reading of Paul’s letters to the churches being established in the ancient world will show clearly that this was one of his major concerns. Disharmony, conflict, disagreement, bitterness, resentment, discord and just plain nastiness were alive and well among those earlier believers. Well, friends, we can be pleased to say that the problems he raised two thousand years ago remain with us today. But that’s not surprising, because we are human and we take a long time to learn the truths of better relationships. And again, I do not for one moment expect a kind of smiley perfectionism. That would be dull, boring and dishonest.

    So what we need, I suggest, are two things. First, we need a commitment by those who model the way of reconciliation that we find in Paul’s letter to the Church in Corinth. And this is where the rubber hits the road. It must be seen in the leadership of this church and all churches. Ministers, Church Councillors, Elders and others are agents of reconciliation. We promote the restoration of broken and damaged relationships where we find them. It may mean giving up my dislike of someone in the congregation. Or my gossipy comment about someone I have difficulty with.

    I am often asked how we can attract more people to our church. The simple answer is I have few ideas. But I can tell you very clearly how you can make sure people don’t come to our church, and that is to perpetuate a culture of negativity and criticism. That is a surefire way of making sure newcomers are not welcome.

  3. Finally, I want to mention the third aspect of being an agent of reconciliation and I have to return to a quote by Malcolm Fraser. He is speaking about the Sorry Day celebrations and says:
    …Sorry Day falls on the eve of Reconciliation Week, giving us the chance to ask whether we are making progress in the wider challenge of reconciling Indigenous and other Australians.

Reconciliation is a human and global project. Yes, we can show it within our community, but from Paul’s words, and certainly from the teaching of Jesus, it is for all humanity to demonstrate not just personally or communally, but internationally. That’s the kind of church I want to belong to.



© Rev. Dr Christopher Page, 2014


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