First Lutheran Church + June 17, 2018
Our summer sermon series, “The Ridiculous Journey,”continues today with a look at Jesus as “The Reconciler.” Last week we reflected on the implications of following Jesus as a “Revolutionary,”as God’s “change agent”in the world bringing about the Kingdom of God. We spoke of the cost of discipleship, the challenges of following a “revolutionary,”and by association being a revolutionary, being an active part of ushering in a new day.
Today we will be reflecting on one of the identifying characteristics of this new day, one of the “marks” of the kingdom, “reconciliation.” St. Paul writes in today’s lesson, “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.” (2 Corinthians 5: 17-18)
Paul goes on to remind us that this message of reconciliation has been entrusted to us, that it is our calling, that those who follow “Christ The Reconciler”are called to be peacemakers in this world, to help bridge the gaps caused by division, to help gather all of creation up and into the great love of God. And this is no easy task in a world that seems hopelessly divided, uncompromisingly loyal to assumptions, and quick to define “the other”as “the enemy.”
It seems we are “loyal”to a fault. That might sound strange, after all “loyalty”is a trait that we have been taught to value, even something to which we aspire. Yet in many ways loyalty is actually the opposite of reconciliation; loyalty fragments us and separate us from God, truth, and each other; loyalty stands in the way of reconciliation.
Let me give you an example. Like many of you I am very loyal to certain brands. Brand Loyalty! In particular I love “Apple”products. At home I have Apple Computers, I have two Apple MacBook lap tops, I have more than one iPad, I preach from an Apple iPad, and my phone of choice is the Apple iPhone. It doesn’t bother me that these products often cost more than some other android device, and I am not convinced that there is any truth whatsoever to the reports that say my Apple products have flaws. That’s fake news. I believe the commercials, I believe that people who use other brands are just not as smart, or as cool, as I am. In fact, I tend to think they might not even be “good” people. I am all in on the Apple experience.
Social Scientists speak of this phenomena in terms of Identity and Tribalism. From an article entitled, “The Psychology of Brand Loyalty,” “Humans are a social species, and we’ve learned to engage with one another by forging an identity, sticking to it as stubbornly as possible and participating in tribalism (sticking close to people like ourselves and vilifying or avoiding people unlike us). This is the main reason politics are so divisive, and a contributing factor to the thrill of sports rivalries.” The article then offers an example,“Apple is a notorious example here: It uses imagery of cool, laid-back, colorful people to showcase its brand, and stuffy, unlikable characters to portray its rivals. Instilling a sense of community identity (and in this case, elitism) is the key to making your customers feel that they’re a part of your brand.”
Ok, so my blind loyalty to Apple might not be one of my best life practices. But in truth, it’s relatively harmless, just as are each of your own unique brand preferences or obsessions. Yet as so often is the case, this “brand loyalty” mindset and practice often goes much deeper than our shopping sprees. This week’s featured theologian in our series, the Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Katongole, Associate Professor of Theology and Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame says, “One of the things I do believe and I do know for sure is that God is neither Democrat nor Republican, that is God is neither African nor American, that God is neither an Iraqi or a Palestinian or an Israeli, but God’s vision of creation is much broader than each of these loyalties and how these loyalties claim us for themselves and they tell us ‘You are mine, therefore you cannot belong to anything else or anybody else.’”…“We live in a world full of people, parties, and places that compete to define who we are.”
You see that’s the real problem, when our loyalties instill an unhealthy sense of tribalism within us and seek to make ultimate claims on us, on our identity, on our faith; claims that might be confused as the Kingdom of God; claims that actually separate us from each other and thus the Kingdom of God. Dr. Katongole goes on to say, that each of us is but a fragment, each of our stories are but a fragment, each of our communities are but a fragment of God’s story. We need others, other stories, and other communities to gain a more complete understanding of God. And any loyalty, or claim of loyalty, that cuts us off from the other is thus extremely dangerous. Dr. Kantongole expresses his frustration with such tribalism, “We never listen, we just throw rocks at each other.”
Instead of blind loyalty, and the “pride that goeth before a fall,”the ministry of reconciliation, the work of bringing us deeper into relationship with God, demands a humble stance. We are called to resist the blind oath of any loyalty that seeks to vehemently deny the other, that claims the other is not real, that claims the other has no truth; and even more importantly, be willing to admit that our experience alone is incomplete. For the truth is that God is always beyond our loyalties, beyond our limited experiences, beyond - yet right before us when we accept the invitation to participate in acts of reconciliation, when we are willing to listen to other stories, and seek to understand other experiences.
In today’s Gospel Jesus makes a ridiculous request of his followers, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’” (Matthew 5:43-44) A ridiculous request, yet brilliant. You see if we can begin to stop scapegoating others, if we can interrupt blind loyalties, if we can stop reacting from a place of fear; we might be able to begin to see the goodness in those who differ from us, we might be able to see that fragment of Christ that exists in the other, we might be able to offer them the fragment of Christ that is in us, and in doing so we might be able to inject the kind of hope that leads to peace and justice, the reconciliation of God’s love.
Theologian Rich Nelson, (who put the materials for this series together,)adds, “And maybe, just maybe, if we stop hating others for a little while, it will allow us to come to terms with what we hate about ourselves and learn to forgive, love, accept or reconcile with that person too.”
St. Paul proclaims, “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.” (2 Corinthians 5:20) We have been entrusted not only with the message of reconciliation, but the work of reconciliation made possible through the life, teachings, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ.
Jesus invitation “to follow me”is not just another invitation to a competing loyalty but rather a new way to live apart from the fear of tribalism and the violence of scapegoating the other. To follow Jesus is to take up the invitation to do the work of reconciliation by creating “spaces” where people from diverse and even conflicting backgrounds can gather together to discover God in the sharing of the fragments of our divine experiences. It is to listen and appreciate rather than debate with the sole intent of conversion to your side. It is to cultivate unlikely friendships across political, cultural, and religious spectrums. It is to It is to truly share our fears and our dreams in the safety of a hope that will lead us into a promised land that holds the promise of life for everyone. It is to find a path of engagement that is more civil, and more peaceful than the cultural wars with which we have become accustomed.
My dictionary work this week focused on the word “Reconciliation.” It’s an old French word with Latin roots meaning “to bring together again, regain, to make consistent.” So, it is the work of reconciliation to bring all of creation back to its original design, back into the harmony of – “It was good, very good,”back into the fullness of God’s love. In Jesus, God’s agent of change, this love was made known, and continues to be made know by those “revolutionaries”who have chosen to follow him.
How is God at work in you, in your personal life, in your professional life, in your communal life, creating “spaces” for the work of peace and reconciliation, the opportunity to cultivate unlikely friendships that might play a part in changing the world?
And how might we at “First Lutheran” and “The Table” create “spaces” for the work of peace and reconciliation in our spacious (and thanks to AC increasingly more inhabitable) dwelling place here on the corner of Lemon and Wilshire. What role does the ministry of reconciliation have in our mission “to be the Heart of Christ, feeding our neighbors with grace, mercy, justice, and love?”
Jesus exhorts us, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13: 34-35)
In Christ each of us has been wonderfully and forever reconciled, and through us in “the ministry of reconciliation”the love of God continues to reach out into all the world. How far does that love go? Dr. Kantongole proclaims, “Love goes as far as God’s heart goes.” “On the cross God has the whole world in his heart!” That’s a long, long ways. If God’s love goes that far, and God is the source of all love, then maybe our love can learn to go that far as well. Amen.
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
16 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. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 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. 20 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. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
43 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.