Saturday, April 2, 2022

Spiritual Reconciliation

Jesus established the premise of unconditional, universal reconciliation when he prayed for the forgiveness of those who were torturing him to death on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” 

Christ sends us then to extend God's reconciliation to each individual in our lives, and to work for that wherever we can.

In the reading this morning from the letter of Paul to the Corinthians say, "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself. Not imputing their trespasses unto them and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation." (2 Corinthians 5:19 KJV) So our job is reconciling the world, but not just alone. It's all of our job as the followers of Christ. We're all working on that task. Reconciling the world, continuing His work that he was doing on the cross. Let's say John 3:16 together. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." And verse 17, "For God did not send his only Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved."

Transcript of sermon preached at Briensburg UMC on March 27, 2022 [Audio]

The Christ is bringing everyone and everything into harmony. Some may think that our differences are because of our diversity, which we celebrate. Or some may think because of our sin, which we do not celebrate. Or perhaps some combination of both. The work of Christ, hence our work as His disciples is to cultivate spiritual friendships that transcend all our differences and bring us into one accord, as exemplified on the day of Pentecost by the diverse gathering, where the Holy Spirit was poured out on everyone present, even though they were from all different kinds of cultures and languages and different places and views.

Paul notes that God did not impute their trespasses unto them. That means He wasn't counting or holding anything against them. The same as when Jesus prayed, "Father forgive them, they know not what they do." The same as the first Christian martyr, Saint Stephen said, when he said, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." And as Jesus famously told one person, "Neither do I come condemn thee." Abraham, we recall, was counted as righteous. His righteousness was imputed to him the same way that Paul refers to, saying in this passage that their sin was not imputed to them. It wasn't counted against him, for Abraham. Neither was his sin accounted against him. Because his faith was counted as righteousness. That's that whole idea of imputation, that He doesn't look at necessarily what we have done or not done, or deserve or don't deserve, but what He counts about us, that He favors us with. He counts this as if we believe, He counts that as righteousness, we inherit that same righteousness of Abraham when we believe in God.

And going to Paul's letter to the Romans, we recall that he said, "Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead."

And just think what a little tiny mustard seed of faith, as Jesus would say, that that is inviting us too. And to offer to others, just that if we believe on him that ways, if we believe that confidence, that little tiny bit of confidence. We believe that overarches any kind of differences that anybody may have, or differences not only of an opinion or of knowledge or of culture or anything else. If we have that little tiny bit of faith, it will grow. And that is counted as our righteousness and unites us and reconciles us.

And then we've been entrusted with that message, as Paul called it in this letter to the Ephesians, the fellowship of the mystery. Jesus didn't call it this way, but he spoke of it this way and we named it this, the Great Commission, in Matthew 28:19. And on the evening of the resurrection, Jesus empowered us by the Holy Spirit. Said, whosoever sins you remit, are remitted unto them. And whosoever sins you retain, are retained.

All who have been forgiven are sent to extend that same forgiveness in the name of Jesus, to everyone that we can get that message through to, by word or by deed. Or sometimes just by prayer and thought. We're taught, and we reaffirm in the Lord's Prayer, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive others, their trespasses against us." And immediately after giving the Lord's Prayer in Matthew, Jesus said, "For if you do not forgive each other their sins, neither will your Father in Heaven forgive you your sins." And he told a parable later on that bore that out to emphasize that among all of his other teachings, on this central subject of forgiveness. A parable of the unforgiving servant who was forgiven, but then refused to extend that same forgiveness to someone else. And so his forgiveness was revoked.

The world needs reconciliation now

 The Lord said unto Joshua, This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you.      (Joshua 5:9a KJV)

The world needs reconciliation now. As much, if not more than ever. There may be other times when it needed it just as much, but I don't think more. We need reconciliation between individuals and in between nations and between groups. We all need this reconciliation.

And the Lord said unto Joshua in the first reading today, "This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you." This day. And that comes up a lot in the Scripture, because the idea of all of the promises of God are not just for the future, but for the present. We're called into this present moment. Like the psalmist who brings us and we sing that song, sometimes this is the day that the Lord hath made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.

John Wesley on a particular day at a particular time, records that, "An assurance was given to me, an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins." The day, the hour, the moment, someone receives that sense of assurance and love and acceptance, a whole new world of peace and reconciliation is opened to them. So why would we withhold that opportunity from anyone, when we have everything in our power, and as our command from Almighty God given by Jesus Christ, to love others as Christ has loved us.

It's not about their consenting to our religious words and beliefs that we express, submitting to our views and understandings. But it's about their being able to feel God's love for them through us, and through the way that we treat them. William Cowper wrote in his hymn, 

E'er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die:

Rolled away. Reconciliation rolls away our differences and frees us from discord as completely as the stone was rolled away from the tomb of Jesus. In Matthew 28:2, it says “And, behold, there was a great earthquake: and the angel of the Lord came, descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.”

Every burden that separates us from each other and from God is rolled away by the reconciling work of Jesus. The proverbial reproach of Egypt is lifted. The scorn, the shame, the disgrace. Any failures that they may have experienced in continuing their relationship with God, their wandering in the desert for 40 years, which had been attributed to their lack of faith in God to provide His promise of the promised land.

In one short verse, the Psalmist wove three theological threads celebrating the joy of our salvation

Blessed [are they] whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. (Psalm 32:1 KJV)

And then as we think of the psalm that was read at beginning of the service today. And we find that in one short verse, the psalmist wrote three theological threads celebrating the joy of our salvation. "Blessed are they whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered." There's a little bit of a nuance between the words transgression and sin in the Bible. Transgression leans more about rebellion where sin more towards the error.

Forgiveness also has a bit of a nuance. In the old Testament, the image leans more often towards sin being lifted or carried away or born away, as in Jesus bore our sins to Calvary. C. H. Gabriel wrote in his hymn that, "I stand amazed in the presence." One verse, he said,

He took my sins and my sorrows,
He made them His very own;
He bore the burden to Calv’ry,
And suffered, and died alone.

In the new Testament, the emphasis tends more toward our sins being taken away, or us being released from them. Like the breaking of chains, as Wesley put in one of his hymns, and our cleansing and relief and freedom. As Charlotte Elliot wrote in her hymn, 

Just as I am, thou wilt receive,
wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve,
Because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God I come! I come!

 And then there's the idea that Peter set forth in his letter when he said, "And above all things have fervent love for one another, for love will cover a multitude of sins." And so if we can't quite grasp the idea of them being completely gone, perhaps we can grasp the idea of them being covered, concealed and clothed. Love reconciles people, like paint covers a variety of flaws. William Bradbury wrote in his hymn, 

When [Christ] shall come with trumpet sound,
O may I then in him be found!
Dressed in his righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne!

God’s love far outweighs even the worst sins of humanity

And he [the Prodigal] arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.       (Luke 15:20 KJV)

God's love far outweighs even the very worst sins of humanity. In the Gospel reading today, it says that the prodigal rose and came to his father. But when he was a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. The son came prepared to confess all his sins, but the father just went right past all that and said, "Grab a ring and a robe, restore this son of mine to his former position." The prodigal's extravagantly wasteful living was completely overshadowed by the parent's extravagant forgiveness and his love and acceptance. And the Bible invites us to fully and freely accept for ourselves, and to extend to others and offer to everyone else. God's love is mercy and His grace is, as C. Austin Miles put it in his hymn, 

God’s love, His mercy and His grace,
Combine to raise a fallen race;
His hand is ready, ere we call,
Held out with forgiveness for all.

We join Christ in his eternal work to replace injustice, suffering and war, with justice, peace and healing at every level of humanity, through the reconciling power of unconditional love for everyone.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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