Reconciled to God

“Reconciled to God”

2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2 (5:20-21) – March 2, 2022

            I am part of a local pastors’ group. We have periodic Zoom calls, and we support each other and encourage each other. This group has been gathering together for almost two years, since shortly after the pandemic shut down happened in March 2020. Some jokester in the group was talking about the difficulties and challenges of this whole long pandemic and COVID experience. He said that this had been the longest, Lent-iest Lent he had ever experienced.

            Isn’t it the truth? Hasn’t this whole long period of time been similar to an especially challenging Lenten journey? A huge, overlong Lent-iest Lenten expedition? Except, here we are again, at the beginning of another Lent, in 2022.

            Except, we have already been through such a challenging time. Months and months of separation, of Zoom calls and meetings, of fear and anxiety and disgruntlement. And for many among us, months of worry and grieving so many losses. Losses of normalcy. Losses of expected events, holidays, weddings, graduations, and other gatherings. On top of which is the loss of many loved ones who may have died of COVID, or of something else. But, the weariness and mourning of so much continuing loss, separation and grief can be overwhelming.

            And now, we add Lent to the mix. Yes, we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, as Paul reminds us in Romans 3. This is a clear truth. We know where we fall short, and we sorely feel our grief and losses. Yet, this is not a time to wallow too much in our sinfulness.

               That is why these words from the Apostle Paul seem especially moving to me on this Ash Wednesday. As Paul says, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

            We are far enough past the beginning of January to look back and see where New Year’s resolutions have failed and promises made to ourselves often lie broken. When Paul quotes from Isaiah 49 in verse 6:2, this is a prophetic wake-up call from the Apostle Paul. We reorient our lives before God in just this way: Be reconciled to God! As Paul shouts (in the imperative verb form!), “Hey, you! Be reconciled!” It’s not just a polite suggestion.

            Digging deeper, our commentator Karoline Lewis says, “Reorienting life before God often necessitates a radical call outside of oneself to be reconciled to others. Being reconciled to God is not just another individualistic resolution or self-improvement step. Instead, it means being messengers of reconciliation, working together in a cooperative grace, and participating in God’s reconciling activity to win back the world.” [1]

            Paul calls himself Christ’s ambassador, official representative, or political emissary. By extension, we are all Christ’s ambassadors; we are all sent with His message of reconciliation to the world. That’s not only to the world, but individually, too. We are ambassadors to our neighbor next door, to the friend down the street, to the relative we call on the phone or those we send a Facebook or Instagram message to.

            Yes, we can see the ambassador part, and the message of reconciliation part, but what do we do with our sin? Paul tells us right here. God reconciles all of us (to Godself!) by making Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the righteous one who knew no sin (!!) to be sin for us. Jesus shouldered all that huge burden of sin so that you and I might become the righteousness of God, as Paul says in verse 21. [2]

            This action of God is a liturgical or symbolic action, as well. Through this reality, God enacts the transfer of sin. God trades Christ’s righteousness for our sinfulness: something of immeasurable worth for something completely worthless. Or, as I learned in a straight-forward anagram decades ago, it’s all God’s grace. God’s riches at Christ’s expense. Praise God!

            I turn to some suggestions from Karoline Lewis. Now that we are embarking upon another Lenten journey, what will you – will I – do for Lent to be meaningful to you?

            Instead of giving up something for Lent this season, instead, why don’t we choose something to embrace? “Not something “to do” but something “to be.” Something that gives you joy, that nurtures you. It’s okay to have joy during Lent. It’s okay to think about how you will take care of yourself during Lent. It’s okay to imagine a Lent that does not have to have as its primary mood that of sacrifice. Your starting point for Lent matters. You can suffer through Lent. Or, you can choose to move through Lent from a place of wonder and gratitude: wondering where God might show up, what God might reveal in this dormant time, this time set aside so as to anticipate life, a time that looks forward to glimpses of new creation [and resurrection].” [3]  

            What a good suggestion! I encourage you to do something that gives you joy in the Lord, and leads you back to that place of wonder, that place of nurture where you can feel God’s presence with you. Suggestions? Walk in nature. Sing in the shower. Listen to soothing music. Read and journal. Play with your children (or grandchildren). Garden. All of these involve God’s creation, and all of these can be stress-relievers. Be creative! Find joy, wonder and gratitude this Lent, and you will find yourself closer to God.

            Amen, and amen.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ash-wednesday/commentary-on-2-corinthians-520b-610-5

[2] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ash-wednesday/commentary-on-2-corinthians-520b-610-10

[3] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/choose-your-lent

Welcome Through Faith

“Welcome Through Faith”

Romans 3:10-12,19-24 (3:22-24) – October 31, 2021

            Do you know someone who is a stickler for the rules? I mean, really picky about following every rule in the book? Dotting every “I” and crossing every “t”? Some people are just made that way. It’s part and parcel of their character.

            The Apostle Paul was used to dealing with people like this. In fact, he WAS a person like this. Someone who was very particular about following all the rules – all the laws in the Mosaic Law Code, in the Hebrew Scriptures. No one kept the Law of Moses like Paul! I mean, Rabbi Saul, before he had the sudden meeting with the risen Lord Jesus on the Damascus Road.

            It’s been years since then, and Paul has been a devoted follower of Jesus Christ ever since. In fact, he’s known as the Apostle, or missionary, to the Gentiles, which is a wonderfully ironic thing for such a former Rabbi and law-abiding Jew of the highest caliber.

            Paul had been all over Asia Minor, and lots of places in Greece, but never to Rome. He had several friends who had moved there, since it was the capital city of the Roman empire. Someone must have asked Paul for a teaching letter, similar to ones he had written before, sent to cities where he had established churches. Which brings us to this letter to the Roman church.

            In this carefully written letter of dense theological language, Paul hits home several important truths: in chapter 3, he describes faith and righteousness. (Also, unrighteousness.) Similar to many churches, the Roman church had two sides, or factions. Jew and non-Jew (or Gentile), or an “us” side and a “them” side.

            My goodness. This sounds really familiar. Have you experienced splitting up into two sides, in some organization you are part of? Or, some group, even some workplace? Where there are two distinct sides, and a divided understanding of how everything worked? That was how it was in the Roman church. The Jewish believers tended to follow the rules, the Law of Moses, as was their culture and habit. The Gentiles…did not.

Rome was a multi-ethnic, multicultural melting pot! Not the place for a strict, rule-following, faithful Jew! Or, is it? The Gentile believers were, by and large, not familiar with these rules about eating, the clothes you wear, the everyday practices of living – from a Jewish perspective. Did that make these Gentile believers somehow lesser, inferior believers?

            Paul started out in the first chapters of Romans by telling ALL the Roman believers that everyone is in deep trouble, in God’s eyes. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from. That does not sound like very good news! (News flash: it isn’t! And, Paul does this on purpose!) “Things were not well with the house churches in Rome, and today’s churches find themselves, once again, in polarizing times.” [1] 

Is it any surprise that Paul “argues against those believers who think that law-obedience is the way toward the full attainment of God’s promised blessings? Up to this point in his letter, Paul has explained that all humanity stands under the righteous judgment of God, irrespective of whether they are a highly moral person or not. Paul now explains that attaining the fullness of new life in Christ is “apart from the law.” [2]

It doesn’t matter where or when we find ourselves in history. Martin Luther had huge problems in the 1500’s with opposing factions, with bloodthirsty people on polar opposite sides of an issue, and both sides called themselves committed Christians, too.

“The reality [Paul] presents is, itself, a profound polarity: the unrighteousness of all humanity (all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God), contrasted with the righteousness of God (the righteousness of God has been manifested via God’s work in Christ).” [3]  

In the first century, in Rome, Paul did not have quite the same in-fighting problem as Luther. But, Paul needed to let everyone know that ALL people had fallen short of God’s glory – God’s righteousness – whether they followed the rules or not.

            That is good news! Good news for ALL the people! Jews and Gentiles, both. Sure, ALL of us are unrighteous, and not fit to come into God’s presence. But, GOD! God through Jesus Christ has bridged that gap. We ALL are now offered relationship with God. Thank GOD!

            Paul reminds all these believers that they are in Christ. Each of them has belief, faith in Christ. He describes and defines faith. Faith is not the things we do, not the good works, the obligations we have got to fulfill to placate a mean, vengeful God. Instead, faith is based on our relationship with God. Faith is a free, loving, intimate relationship with a kind and good God. A loving and just Parent.

            However, this relationship is not just vertical – not just “Jesus and me.” This relationship is also horizontal, with other diverse Christians from all over the world, through faith! “The brothers and sisters in Rome believe, that is they entrust themselves to Christ Jesus’ patterns of life, including the call to welcome one another courageously across the Gentile-Jewish divide.” [4]

Paul’s practical counsel from chapter 15 of Romans is addressed to both factions, both Jews and Gentiles: that means EVERYONE. His counsel? “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Has Christ welcomed you? Then welcome others in Christ’s name!

What would Jesus do? Would He love everyone? Would He welcome everyone? Who would Jesus exclude? No one! We are all invited into a relationship with our Lord Jesus. Plus, we all are offered this simple, profound counsel: “Welcome one another.”


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/reformation-day/commentary-on-romans-319-28-13

[2] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/sunday9ae.html

“Justification by Faith,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.

[3]  https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/reformation-day/commentary-on-romans-319-28-13

[4] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/reformation-day/commentary-on-romans-319-28-8

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Live a New Life

“Live a New Life”

Rom 6-4 nwness of life

Romans 6:1-5 (6:4) – June 21, 2020

I have a friend who should have been on the debate team in high school. On occasion, he loves to discuss and debate points of history, or whether this or that point of politics has merit. He is quite good at expressing himself, and often enjoys a good, rousing discussion.

My friend reminds me of the apostle Paul. Paul talks at great length in his letters about such wonderful doctrines like sin, death, grace, baptism and salvation. He discussed several of them in chapter 5 of his letter to the Romans.

Paul argued and debated a lot with his fellow Christians. We are familiar with that, today, too. Theologians, church leaders and ministers debating back and forth, this way and that.

Different denominations have different “rules and regulations” about living the Christian life. One group tells believers that all true Christian people have to abstain from eating meat on Fridays. Another group tells all believing women that they have to wear skirts and are never permitted to wear pants. A third group says that musical instruments in worship services are evil, and only the human voice is fit to be used to praise the Lord.

Some of these rules and regulations might seem petty, or over the top, but they make sense to the people who follow them. The apostle Paul had to deal with some of these well-meaning but legalistic followers of Christ, too.

Paul used to be one of these super-legalistic followers of the Lord. He says it himself: he was a Hebrew of the Hebrews, as to the law, a Pharisee. A strict follower of God, blameless and righteous according to his observance of the Mosaic Law Code. (according to Philippians 3)

I am sure many believers are familiar with Romans 3:23, and can quote it word for word: “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” Yes, that is in the middle of Paul’s discussion about sin. Then, Paul brings the theological concept of grace into the continuing argument, and adds additional layers to the ideas of sin, grace and forgiveness.

But, what does he say here in Romans, in the follow-up to his discussion of sin and grace in Chapter 5? I love the translation of Eugene Peterson, from the Message. This is his version of what Paul said: “So what do we do now? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving us? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good?”

Oh, Pastor Peterson, you make these complex ideas of sin and grace from the apostle Paul so clear and plain.

Our old house on Transgression Avenue, in the Country of Sin, was a rattletrap of a building. Sin lurked in every part of that house—under the stairs, in the closets, and especially in the bedroom, basement and attic. That was before we met Jesus, and before He became the general contractor on that old sinful house. Jesus didn’t do just a cosmetic paint job. No, He started major work, inside and out. The work on some houses—some people—went more slowly, some more quickly, but sooner or later we moved out of the old neighborhood. That old, sin-filled neighborhood on Transgression Avenue.

Can you see how this analogy of an old house fits in to our new life in Jesus Christ? Sure, our old life—when we were still filled with sin—is like that old sin-filled house. But, after we met Jesus, He became the general contractor. Jesus started to tear down sagging walls, replace the plumbing and electrical systems. Jesus came alongside each of us. Jesus wants us to see that He can help us out with all kinds of components in our spiritual houses—in our lives.

How does Jesus go to work on our sinful selves? With His righteousness, that He freely gives us when we believe in Him. Jesus’ “righteousness, his faithfulness is ours as a gift of divine grace through faith, and this apart from obedience to the law. There is nothing that we can add to what Christ has done for us.[1]

Did you hear? Nothing. We add nothing. It’s all a gift, that Jesus freely gives to us. Some people still think they need to earn brownie-points with God for being good, before they can reach God’s heaven. Some people argued with Paul, saying they opposed his teaching about grace—God’s free gift of grace, because they still wanted to earn brownie-points.

Paul’s comeback? Yes, we have died to sin. Yes, we are buried with Jesus Christ in baptism. And, yes, we have been resurrected with Jesus to new life! Eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Plus, it’s all from Jesus, and nothing from us!

I repeat the wonderful translation of Eugene Peterson, of our Scripture today: If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!”

Praise God, we have a new life. We—each one of us—is a new creation in Christ Jesus. We no longer live in that tumbledown, sin-filled house on Transgression Avenue, in Sin Country. Even though we get pulled back sometimes, and turned around by temptation, we have moved into a new house for good. Jesus laid the sure foundation! A new life in a new, forgiven, redeemed country: Grace Country!

Remember who you are. Remember who you belong to; we have died to sin and now we live a new life in Jesus Christ. Remember! Alleluia, amen!

[1] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/sunday13ae.html   “Buried and Raised with Christ,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

But Now I See

John 9:1-41 (9:25) – March 26, 2017

John 9 word cloud

“But Now I See”

In the first century, when Jesus walked the earth, people commonly believed a number of things that have since been proven mistaken, including something mentioned here in our Gospel passage today. When babies were born with a handicap or impediment—like born with a club foot, born with a cleft palate, or born blind—many, many people thought this was a punishment from God.

The parents were at fault. Sin was the reason the child was born that way!

In the encounter we have today in our Gospel lesson from John, Jesus deals with that kind of thinking. Let’s set the scene. “9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been born blind. His disciples asked him, “Teacher, whose sin caused him to be born blind? Was it his own or his parents’ sin?”

In certain parts of the world today, people still think like that. Sad state of events, but that is the way it is. Some people mistakenly assign the “blame” for a “disability” or “illness.” Let’s see how Jesus responds.

Jesus answered, “His blindness has nothing to do with his sins or his parents’ sins. He is blind so that God’s power might be seen at work in him. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me; night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light for the world.”

Jesus rejects this blaming kind of talk! He “suggests that this man’s blindness offers the opportunity for God’s power to be revealed…. There is, in this case, physical blindness, but it’s not the only kind of blindness.  There are those who can see just fine, but live in spiritual darkness.” [1] More on that, later.

Plus, Jesus goes from talking about blindness, to God’s power, to Jesus being the light for the world. Can you follow Him in the progression of His thought? Actual, physical blindness, leading to God’s power made manifest by our Lord Jesus, who is God’s Light for the world, enlightening everyone. Back to the story.

After he said this, Jesus spat on the ground and made some mud with the spittle; he rubbed the mud on the man’s eyes and told him, “Go and wash your face in the Pool of Siloam.” (This name means “Sent.”) So the man went, washed his face, and came back seeing.

A man, born blind, made to see? This is a miracle, by anyone’s estimation! But, this is not quite a happily-ever-after story. By no means the end of our story.

13 Then they took to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 The day that Jesus made the mud and cured him of his blindness was a Sabbath. 15 The Pharisees, then, asked the man again how he had received his sight. He told them, “He put some mud on my eyes; I washed my face, and now I can see.” Here is a clear statement of facts, as reported by the man who formerly was born blind.

We can tell the Pharisees believed the commonly held theological position of the day: illness and disability were God’s punishment for sin. What is more, people disagreed about whose sin was responsible for this former baby’s (now grown man’s) blindness. Most thought it was the parents. However, some thought that the newborn baby had somehow sinned! (Hard to believe, but true.)

On top of that, the Pharisees had some unkind words for this upstart Rabbi Jesus. Imagine, healing on a Sabbath! Who does He think He is?

16 Some of the Pharisees said, “The man who did this cannot be from God, for he does not obey the Sabbath law.” Others, however, said, “How could a man who is a sinner perform such miracles as these?” And there was a division among them. 17 So the Pharisees asked the man once more, “You say he cured you of your blindness—well, what do you say about him?” “He is a prophet,” the man answered. 18 The Jewish authorities, however, were not willing to believe that he had been blind and could now see, until they called his parents 19 and asked them, “Is this your son? You say that he was born blind; how is it, then, that he can now see?”

The Pharisees could not see past the noses on their faces. All they could see was healing, or work being done on the Sabbath, which was forbidden in their strict interpretation of the Law of Moses. That was huge, in their eyes. Hugely wrong!

Looking for additional people to cast blame on, the Pharisees just did not believe this guy who was formerly blind—so they called his parents!

20 His parents answered, “We know that he is our son, and we know that he was born blind. 21 But we do not know how it is that he is now able to see, nor do we know who cured him of his blindness. Ask him; he is old enough, and he can answer for himself!” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, who had already agreed that anyone who said he believed that Jesus was the Messiah would be expelled from the synagogue. 23 That is why his parents said, “He is old enough; ask him!”

24 A second time they called back the man who had been born blind, and said to him, “Promise before God that you will tell the truth! We know that this man who cured you is a sinner.” 25 “I do not know if he is a sinner or not,” the man replied. “One thing I do know: I was blind, and now I see.”

One of the most familiar and beloved traditional hymns is “Amazing Grace.” This hymn talks about several important things, including salvation. The hymn also talks about blindness, and the change that comes into a person’s life when they receive sight—spiritual sight. “Was blind, but now I see.” What a theological truth. What a profound insight. Jesus wasn’t blinded at all to seeing this man born blind.

It is the Pharisees who have been blind—spiritually blind—and they don’t even know it. “The religious leaders remain spiritually blind, still contending that the work of Jesus is demonic.  In their resistance to [Jesus,] their blindness – their sin – is revealed.” [2]

Is this just some nice bible story, or could it apply to us, today? Similar to the Pharisees, are we so preoccupied with our own holiness and righteousness that we are blinded? I mean, spiritually blinded to seeing signs of God’s work right here in our midst? [3]

“How does Jesus open our eyes to the things of God?  How does he reveal our blind spots so that we can let go of them and give glory to God? The good news is that there is amazing grace available to us.” [4] We can testify, along with this formerly blind man, “One thing I do know: I was blind, and now I see.”

This is something to celebrate! Jesus can open our eyes to those around us. We can be healed of our spiritual blindness and come into the light of God’s presence, and be able to testify to others of God’s light-giving and grace-giving. Praise God! Amen.

[1] http://www.bobcornwall.com/2014/03/who-is-really-blind-lectionary.html

[2] http://www.bobcornwall.com/2014/03/who-is-really-blind-lectionary.html

[3] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/fourth-sunday-in-lent-one-great-hour-of-sharing#preaching

[4] http://www.bobcornwall.com/2014/03/who-is-really-blind-lectionary.html

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)