Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Reconciliation is the Ministry of the Church (Dialogue Column 1.4.10)

The word “reconcile” can be defined as “to bring into harmony” or “to settle differences” or “to make compatible.” In his second letter to the first century Christians in the Greek city of Corinth, Paul the apostle explained that through Christ humanity is reconciled (brought into harmony, made compatible or has settled its differences) with God. In turn, followers of Jesus have been entrusted with the “ministry of reconciliation.”  He writes:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has be-come 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.

Throughout its history, the Church has been a means for God to reconcile humans alienated from God through their own selfish and destructive actions. Of course, often Christians have seen themselves not as tools to be used by God in this activity of grace but rather as the gatekeepers to God’s grace. Thus, the Church has abused a power never granted to it by God in the first place. This misunderstanding of its own role has left a swath of physi-cal, emotional and spiritual violence to stand alongside and often overshadow the works of healing, justice and rec-onciliation done by the Church.

In our time and place, Christians in America have engaged in many actions (and inactions) that have left many alienated from God. It is a sad irony that the community of believers charged with helping people to be recon-ciled to God is so often the cause of that alienation in the first place. The Church and the people who make it up are experienced as judgmental, exclusive, partisan and hypocritical. Whether it is silence in the face of sexual abuse, rampant pursuit of material wealth, hostility towards the advances in science and learning, condemnation of gay and lesbian people, serving as the proxy of politicians or a host of other sins, both churches in particular and the Church in general are seen as at best out of step and at worst criminally corrupt. As if human sinfulness is not enough in itself to lead people away from God’s love, the Church has driven many people away from God who otherwise would have been open to God.

The sad state of American Christendom in the face of hurting and alienated humanity breaks my heart. It is ultimately why I finally gave in and became a minister. It is also why I chose to accept First Christian Church’s call to be its minister. I felt like I could no longer sit on the sidelines complaining how awful the Church was; I had to see if I could do my part to help a church—just one church!—live up to its supposed beliefs. I felt like I could do that kind of work at this church, because there were people here who felt the same way. In my four years here, there have been times I’ve been disappointed, just as there have been times I have disappointed others. Yet, I am proud of the many times FCC St. Joseph has lived out its calling to be a tool for God to use in reconciling people to their Creator.

In the last few weeks, I learned of two cases worth sharing where FCC St. Joseph participated in the ministry of reconciliation. First, a family member of a faithful FCC member was in town for the holidays and came one Sun-day. He had rarely been to a church service since he was a teenager, having long ago thrown off the restrictive and harsh religion of his childhood. He shared later that when it came time for communion he was looking for an “out.” Perhaps he couldn’t partake of communion because he was not a member (nope—anyone can), because he didn’t believe certain tenets of the faith (nope-anyone can), because he didn’t agree with most Christians on certain social issues (nope—anyone can), etc. etc. He joked that the bread and cup was even delivered to his seat! He had finally found a church where he could in good conscience take communion, and I’m delighted to say that he did so—his first time in 40 years!

Second, I learned of a woman who attended our Christmas Eve service. Throughout her life, she had experi-enced only the judgment of the Church. As a lesbian, she had only known Christians as condemning and hostile. Despite having sworn she would never attend a church service, she came on Christmas Eve with friends and felt wel-come and loved. It was the first Christmas Eve service she had ever attended in her life.
These are only two examples of people in need of reconciliation with the Church and with God. How many more are out there? This is the work we are called to do as First Christian Church of St. Joseph, MO.

Grace and Peace,

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