Jesus Christ calls us to be a joyful community that celebrates God's love, transforms lives, and is a force for justice in the world.

Reconciled to be Reconcilers

St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church – The Rev. Bart Smith
The 5th Sunday after Pentecost (June 19, 2016)
2 Corinthians 5:14-21 – “Reconciled to be Reconcilers”

For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become 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, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

God bridged the widest chasm in the cosmos by becoming human in Jesus. The great, existential dividing wall between humanity and divinity was torn down, somehow mysteriously, in his death, according to Paul.

This was God’s gracious initiative, not ours. Elsewhere, Paul carried the good news of erased division to some pretty radical conclusions. He wrote in Galatians (3:28), “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In the face one of the fiercest divisions in the ancient world, between Jew and Gentile, he dared to claim they were both God’s redeemed people, saying to the church in Rome (15:7), “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”

In other words, God went to great lengths to reconcile the world to herself, even to the point of a cross. What we learn there is that we are forgiven, freed, and made whole in Christ, reconciled. But it doesn’t stop there. We now have a job to do: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation… So we are ambassadors for Christ.” We are ambassadors of reconciliation. We are reconciled in order to be reconcilers.

So what does it look like, practically speaking, to live as reconcilers in this time and place? Well, lots of different ways.

But the more pressing question this week is, in light of Orlando, how are we to be reconcilers? What role does the Body of Christ, and this particular congregation, have to play in the midst of the destructive division between straight people and the LGBTQ community?

Make no mistake about it; the massacre at the Pulse Orlando Nightclub was a hate crime. It was partially an act of terrorism, definitely another act of gun violence, but it was certainly an act of homophobia. It was a heinous and deliberate attack against a long-targeted group. While all the details of the investigation aren’t yet available, it is possible that this was the reaction of a deeply disturbed person with internalized self-hatred.

These murders didn’t occur in a vacuum, but in a climate of anti-LGBTQ attitudes and beliefs, a climate to which many leaders–especially religious and political–have contributed. And while those louder, more public voices bear a lion’s share of responsibility for this climate, many an average American cannot wash his hands clean of guilt either. Every hateful remark, every tasteless joke feeds that climate. Each time someone is silent when courageous words are called for, each time hateful rhetoric goes unchecked, the division widens.

Hasan Minhaj from The Daily Show said it well at the Radio and Television Correspondents Association Dinner when he said to a room full of Members of Congress: “What we saw in Orlando was one of the ugliest cocktails of the problems that we still see in America, a cocktail of homophobia, xenophobia, lack of access to mental health care, and sheer lack of political will… the sad reality is that we are all complicit in what happened.”

While the victory last summer for marriage equality was a step in the right direction, there is still so much work to be done, clearly. We have known for a while that the LGBTQ the community still faces discrimination in housing and employment; that young people are still bullied by their peers; that state legislatures scapegoat transgender individuals, ignoring the real problems their governments face; that fundamentalist Christians still spew nonsense and hate-filled rhetoric on the airwaves and internet, and from pulpits. But now we know, tragically, that this community also endures horrendous violence. That even clubs and bars, a rare safe space, aren’t truly safe.

Yet today the Spirit dangles these words from 2 Corinthians right in front of us: “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” We, the church, we who have peace with God, are reconciled to be reconcilers, even and especially in the midst of this particular crisis of justice.

To be a reconciler looks like…

  • The Lt. Gov. of Utah apologizing for his past attitudes: “I grew up in a small town and went to a small rural high school,” he told the crowd. “There were some kids in my class that were different. Sometimes I wasn’t kind to them. I didn’t know it at the time, but I know now that they were gay. I will forever regret not treating them with the kindness, dignity and respect —the love— that they deserved. For that, I sincerely and humbly apologize.”
  • An entire plane full of passengers greeting a grandmother of one of the victims. The flight attendants passed out slips of paper for people to make makeshift cards. They wrote paragraphs. Each passenger spoke to her on their way off the plane.
  • People of faith and others in Sacramento speaking out against the bigoted pastor who celebrated the Orlando massacre. I read online that his own sister-in-law spoke out!
  • Jim Wallis from Sojourners magazine relayed the story of “the Orthodox Jewish congregation that went to a gay bar to show solidarity and mourn with the LGBT community— embracing those in the club and offering prayers.”

One angle on the gospel is this: the relationship between God and humanity has been repaired, which leads to the repair of relationships among people. In light of all this, we are called to be a part of that repair with our compassion and love, to be the kind of people who resist divisiveness, especially division based on hatred, ignorance, and fear.

The LGBTQ community itself has a term for this: ally. One blogger said that there are several ways Christians can be allies in this season. Don’t just “tweet out a prayer and resume your normal life,” they wrote. I won’t read the whole list, but here is just a few ways:

  • Donate blood. That’s always a life-giving way to help.
  • Don’t vote for elected officials who promote LGBT discrimination.
  • Check in with loved ones who might have been rocked by this.
  • This is a time to listen to, more than talk at, those same loved ones.
  • Remember that it’s not over yet. There’s still more to be done. Here’s a statistic: “40% of homeless kids are LGBTQIA+ because their families either kick them out or abuse… them. A transgender person – usually a trans woman of color – is murdered every 29 hours.”

I would add that it’s also time for us to:

  • Honestly face our own prejudice, past and present.
  • Stand up to homophobia when it rears its ugly head in everyday situations.
  • Pray. Yes that makes a difference! I heard a lot of “save your prayers and do something useful instead.” People are understandably weary of prayers and moments of silence that ring hollow because those prayers don’t flow into action.
  • Show that we at St. Mark’s are a different breed of Christian. Get the word out that people are loved for who God created them to be, that they are beautiful just as they are. There has to be a counterforce within the faith community to those who are misguided at best and hateful at worst.

As Paul wrote, “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” Let’s be the new creation in the midst of this old, violent, and nasty creation that just won’t go away.

People of God, let’s get to work!

May it be so…