Fourth Sunday of Lent. Preached at All Saints, King City, 27 March, 2022. Readings for this Sunday: Joshua 5.9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Cor 5.16-21, Luke 15.1-3,11b-32
18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. (2 Cor 5:18-19)
Today I want to speak about the ministry of reconciliation and what it means in our lives as church and as followers of Jesus. We hear the word reconciliation every Sunday at the start of our 10:30 liturgy, as we pray for reconciliation with indigenous brothers and sisters. We pray it daily, so it’s important that we understand it and that we sincerely commit ourselves to it.
Reconciliation literally means to make people or parties friendly again. It’s from the Latin words “re” (again) and “conciliare”, meaning to unite. To reconcile therefore means to bring together in harmony those who were once estranged or hostile. As anyone who has been through marriage counselling, or who has tried to bridge some form of estrangement, reconciliation is hard work. It involves honest speech, genuine sorrow for past offences, and new forms of being together.
As an example of how difficult reconciliation may be, let me share a story from a friend of mine, an academic who specializes in contemporary Rwandan literature. You will recall that in 1994, the African country of Rwanda suffered a terrible spasm of genocide in which at least half a million of the minority Tutsi tribe were killed by the majority Hutus (Rwandan genocide – Wikipedia). A civil war followed, and eventually both sides had to learn to live with one another again.
How do you reconcile with a neighbour who has killed and raped your loved ones? That was the problem all over Rwanda, because the killings happened in villages, in churches, and in schools. People often knew their killers. You could take the leaders to the Hague and prosecute them in the International Criminal Court, but millions of people had to find their own ways to overcome hatred.
My professor friend studied a process of reconciliation where those who had participated in the genocide were sent to live with the survivors. They moved in, helped to work the farms and businesses of those they had killed, and helped support the families of their victims. As you can imagine, this was a hugely difficult process for all involved, it required long and difficult conversations, tears, and forgiveness begged and given. The result was that people who had demonised and killed one another were able to break the spell and see one another as fellow humans, all bearing the image of God.
We are made in the image of God as an act of friendship. God wants our friendship. As the American theologian Dallas Willard says, God likes us, that’s why he invested in us and made us to friends. The Genesis story of Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden, whether we choose to understand it literally figuratively, s about humanity choosing to walk apart from God and go it’s own way. The way we chose is called sin, it began with Cain’s murder of Abel and it stretches all the way to Mariupol, the videos and images from which serving to remind us that sin is an objective reality.
The story of our faith, ever since Genesis, is the story of God pursuing our friendship, through the prophets, through his Son, through the cross, and beyond to our present day. Over and over, God reaches to us the hand of friendship, and, if choose to accept that hand in good faith, then we are called to stretch out our other hand to someone else. As Paul says, this is the “ministry of reconciliation” that God calls us to in Christ. As we are loved, so are we to love. It’s that simple.
One of the things that I give thanks for in the life of our Diocese is that we are beginning to take this ministry of reconciliation seriously. Faithworks is reconciliation because it makes us friends with those who have been estranged from society by poverty and neglect. Our educations around race and indigenous relations are reconciliation because they call us to be friends with persons of colour from whom we have been estranged by history, colonialism, and indifference. Our work around creation is reconciliation because it calls us to be friends with those who are most at risk from climate change, and indeed to be friends with the planet God has given us.
All these causes are worthy ones, but let us be wary going forward that we see them only as political or social projects. This Fourth Week of Lent, as the cross comes more clearly into focus, let us remember the great cost God paid to reconcile with us, to put our sin and hostility aside so God could again be friends with us. Let us remember that God’s love and friendship come to us at a price that God paid freely and gladly. And let us remember that, if we accept God’s friendship, we must pay it forward if are to truly live in God’s kingdom.