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Grace and Reconciliation

For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.”  Romans 5:10 NRSV

Last summer I challenged myself to preach on the Epistles.  I like a challenge, and the letters of Paul and others definitely are rich with teachings and encouragement, as well as calls to accountability.  They also are often full of confusing contradictions (seemingly) and contain what I call the “round-about” passages.  These are the passages that seem to repeat the same words over and over again.  Maybe that’s part of the reason I tend to go toward the gospels and some of the Hebrew scripture passages.

Nevertheless, this coming Sunday, I chose Romans 5:1-11 (I still like to challenge myself!).  Paul’s letter to the church in Rome is rich with assurances and reminders of God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ.  We all need to hear that kind of encouragement.  What struck me the most in this passage were the words “grace” and “reconciliation.”

God’s grace is often hard to comprehend.  When we try to explain it to someone who really doesn’t understand grace, we might hear them respond with “grace isn’t fair.”  Well, I suppose from our “worldly” perspective, it isn’t!  But God’s grace is an inclusive one, and it’s open to everyone, including us.

A friend of mind used to argue with me about the fairness of grace.  She would say that a criminal and murderer who confesses on their death bed is just manipulating God’s grace. How could they spend their lives being so sinful and then be welcomed into heaven?  She would be so frustrated when I would say that it’s possible, but ultimately it’s between God and the person.  We can’t make that judgement; only God can, and God knows what is in the person’s heart.

Verse 10 above reminds us that initially, human beings were separated from God – “enemies” because of our sinfulness.  It is through Jesus Christ that we find that grace of God and are reconciled with God.  Jesus has set things right with God through his life, death, and resurrection.  Reconciliation is an “aaahhh” moment when all those negative feelings, worries, and even anguish are relieved.

John 3:16 reminds us that “God so loved the world.”  God didn’t just love the churches, the early followers of Jesus, the disciples, or a few select folks; God loved the WORLD!  The world – all of humanity was reconciled in Jesus, the Christ.  It’s a joyful thing!  Paul says we can boast, but he doesn’t mean  being arrogant.  Rather, he is talking about that excitement that comes from knowing that we are living in God’s grace.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that we will be without suffering and pain in our lives.  Instead, we have been given the gift of God’s love and companionship that helps us to get through life’s challenges.  We have a strength in Christ that fortifies us and gives us a foundation on which to build so we can keep on keeping on.  By the grace of God, we are reconciled and given life anew over and over again.  Thanks be to God!

How have you experienced God’s grace?

How have you found reconciliation with God that leads to reconciliation with someone else?

God’s Household

As God’s household, you are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.  The whole building is joined together in him, and it grows up into a temple that is dedicated to the Lord.  Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit.”  Ephesians 2:20-22 (CEB)

This passage is such a wonderful reminder of who is in charge of the church – God’s household.  We so often let ourselves become carried away with what WE think should be done or HOW it should be done, that we often forget to stop and ask GOD what to do.  It seems to me that churches who become divided or in trouble have forgotten to ask God for guidance and then really listen and discern what that guidance may be.

Years ago, I heard a story about a church that was deeply divided.  People drew sides, and there were many bitter words exchanged, arguments, and devastating consequences.  Some people left the church, and others were determined to “stick it out” until they got what they wanted.  Eventually, though, the church ended up closing because the congregation could never come back together; too much damage had taken place in their relationships.  What was the issue that caused all this?  It was about the color of new carpeting that was going to be installed in the sanctuary.

Why do we do we let such things become issues?  When one of the churches I serve had to pick the color for the carpeting in our newly built fellowship hall, I was a little apprehensive.  We stopped to pray first, and we began the process of narrowing down what we thought would work the best.  I would jokingly throw in a suggestion of shocking pink or bright yellow, and we all laughed.  In the end, we had narrowed the colors down to three, and everyone ended up picking the same final one.  We were all amazed, but then we DID pray for guidance and took that seriously.  Our fellowship hall looks great; we were good stewards of our money and choices including good quality but at a decent price.

As the Church of Jesus Christ in the world, we are called to set an example for others.  If we fight, argue, and have constant dissension, others not connected with the church will notice.  If we work through it and find ways to work cooperatively, resolving differences, others will also notice.  The church (congregation) is the training ground for living our faith actively in the world.  We are joined together in Christ to glorify God in all that we do, and we are empowered by the Spirit to carry that work out wherever we are.

Of course we will have times of tension, strife, and disagreement, but we can set an example of how to live faithfully in the world (but not of it) by reacting differently and treating each other differently than people watching us might.  It’s really a matter of claiming Christ as the cornerstone of our lives together and individually.  All that we do we do to God’s glory.  We learn about and from Jesus’ teachings, and we trust the Holy Spirit to lead us and help us figure out what to do in all circumstances.

When have you experienced challenges in your life – your church?

How was it resolved?

What could have been done better?

What worked well?

In what ways was the church affected?

What did you learn from the experience?

Jesus, a King?

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”  Colossians 1:19-20 (NRSV)

Jesus, a king?  The word king brings up all kinds of images that we would probably not associate with Jesus of Nazareth.  Kings in Jesus’ day and often throughout history haven’t had a very good reputation.  What we often think of (not always, of course) is of a monarch who is powerful, sometimes brutal, doing whatever he can to stay in power (the same could be said of queens, I’m sure).  While there are kings who have ruled with compassion and were kind to their citizenry, there are many who lived lives in fear of being attacked, overthrown, or somehow losing their power.

That doesn’t describe Jesus at all.  Someone asked at our Bible study on this passage (Colossians 1:9-20) why we have Christ the King Sunday anyway because Jesus as a king just doesn’t seem to fit with his manner of living and way of interacting with the people.  As I have done a little research on this, I have concluded that Christ the King Sunday is a designation of the end of the Church liturgical year – a sort of “marker” or “segue” into the new year beginning with Advent. 

The entire liturgical calendar year begins with the first Sunday of Advent which is a time of preparation for Christ’s return or arrival and follows the life of Christ throughout the year.  So, we have Advent (preparation), Christmas (birth), Epiphany (visit of the Magi and reminder of the Light of God coming to us through Jesus’ birth), Jesus’ baptism and initiation of his ministry, calling the disciples, being Transfigured before them, Ash Wednesday leading into Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost (traditional birth of the church), and then a long period of studying Jesus’ ministry and what it means to be a follower.

So, Christ the King Sunday comes as the culmination of all that.  Yet, according to the Colossians passage, there is much more to it that just being a bridge for the Church’s calendar year.  This is about Jesus, the incarnation of God.  This is about God entering the world that God had created and becoming human as a way of identifying with us, interacting with us, learning about what it was like to be human, and ultimately dying, being raised from the dead, and returning to heaven.

Colossians 1:15 says that Jesus was the IMAGE of the invisible God, the firstborn of creation.  Jesus brought us God-in-the-flesh and was part of the Triune God before all time.  Verse 18 reminds us that Jesus is the head of the Church, and we, as the Church, are his body.  Jesus took on the fullness of God (v. 19) and reconciled humanity to God’s self, and continues to guide and lead the Church even now and will in the future.  Jesus is past, present, and future – always and forever the ideal “king” who reigns in peace and love and grace. 

We are given the gift of this inheritance and along with it, the responsibility to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world.  As the Body of Christ, we carry on his work in the world.  Last week I saw a post on my Facebook page where Jesus and a young man of today’s world were sitting on a bench in a park.  The young man said to Jesus something like, “There are so many bad things happening in the world today:  wars, violence, sickness, and awful things.  Why aren’t you doing something about them?”  Jesus answered, “It’s funny.  I was about to ask you the same question.”  We have a responsibility to grow in faith and work toward justice in our world.  We don’t need to be crusaders and perpetuate violence (whether physical or verbal), but we do need to dig in and work toward ways of building communication, offering compassion, forgiving those who have wronged us, and finding ways to reconcile and make new in the name of Jesus, the Christ.

It’s a challenge offered to us every day of our lives as those who seek to be faithful disciples of Christ.  Especially as we move into Advent, may we build up the Body of Christ and keep our minds and hearts focused on where God in Christ is leading us.  We have such tremendous opportunities!  May we jump at the chance to make a difference for God in this world, starting wherever we have been planted. 

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