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

Pierced by Love

“Pierced by Love”

Crucifixion woodcut

Isaiah 53:5 – John 19:37 – March 25, 2016

This service tonight is brought to you—to me—to all of us—by the word “LOVE.” All through Lent we have been following Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, following Him as He expressed that love to all He met, in various ways.

On the first Sunday in Lent, Valentine’s Day, we looked at Jesus as He was tempted in the wilderness. While He was here on earth, Jesus made sure His heart was given to His Heavenly Father, And, He advised us on where our hearts ought to be, too. Loving God.

This giant Valentine heart I’m holding is a conversation heart. Can we think of it as a Valentine from Jesus? On one side, it says “Be mine.” On the other, it says “I’m yours.”

Who—or what—do we give our hearts to?

            We heard Jesus compare Himself to a mother hen. Jesus welcomes us into His embrace, into His community of love and caring. Just as a lost little chick who finally finds the way home into the nest, into his or her mother hen’s warm feathery embrace, so we can find our way into a community of caring, love, nourishing and belonging. I hope our church community extends that caring and loving welcome to everyone. Jesus wants us to know that we are welcome with Him, loved by Him, always.

We followed the thread of covenant love given to King David. Are we sharing God’s covenant love with those who need to hear? Many are hiding in loneliness and desperation thinking that no one loves them. We can introduce them to our Lord Jesus. We can tell them of the love of God that we have received through Christ. With our Lord Jesus we can find acceptance and security, and most importantly, love. The thread of covenant love, traced down to today. God is offering that love to us, today. Can you feel it?

Then, the parable of the Prodigal. Jesus gives hope to all those who make bad choices and run away to a far country.(Including us.) God the heavenly Father—the heavenly Parent—is actively looking for us when we make bad choices. When we come to our senses and return to God for forgiveness, God comes running to meet us, from a long way off. If that isn’t love, what is?

We come to Mary of Bethany, anointing Jesus with a whole bottle of unbelievably expensive perfume. She intended this gift as a token of her extravagant love for Jesus. We know Jesus had given real expressions of His love to her and her family, in the raising of Lazarus.

Can you believe, spending a whole year’s wages on a small bottle of perfume? Astronomically expensive. Do you understand why I called Mary’s expression a gift of extravagant love?

I think Mary understood the warnings Jesus had been giving, about very soon entering Jerusalem. About the path He must travel—to the cross. Passover was coming! The Gospel tells us so. She is not only showing her extravagant love, but preparing Jesus for whatever it is that He will face—very soon.

Now, today, Good Friday, Jesus is facing that ultimate gift of love.

When I was in my twenties, recently graduated from a Christian college, it was this time of year. Holy Week. I had connections to several different churches around Chicago, in different denominations. I took the opportunity to attend a service each day at this time, at each place of worship. Thursday night, Maundy Thursday, I attended a Lutheran church. The night our Lord Jesus instituted the Eucharist. We celebrated the Lord’s Supper that night. Good Friday, I went to church at an evangelical church. The church celebrated communion that night. On Saturday at that time, I was in the habit of occasionally attending a Messianic synagogue. I attended that Saturday, and they celebrated that commemoration of the Passover dinner where Messiah Yeshua instituted the Lord’s Supper. And on Sunday morning, Easter morning, I went to a Presbyterian church, where we celebrated Easter communion.

Four very different services at four diverse places of worship. Four separate occasions where I had the opportunity to partake in the Lord’s Supper. With each renewed reminder of the Words of Institution, where we remembered that on the night in which He was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread and took the cup at supper. Said, “This is My body, this is My blood, broken and shed for all of you.” And St. Paul in 1 Corinthians reminds us when we eat this bread and drink this cup, we remember the death of our Lord until He comes again.

As each service washed over me, my consciousness of my sinfulness and how unworthy I was also washed over me. I love this reading from the prophet, Isaiah chapter 53. This chapter of Isaiah keeps breaking my heart. It broke my heart in my twenties, and still continues to break my heart today. I bow my head in grief as I read about our Lord Jesus, despised and rejected of humanity. A man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Acquainted with grief.

On that Holy Week in my twenties, with the repeated communion services, my sin was repeatedly put before me. Extreme grief and sorrow came over me each time as I repeatedly considered my sins, my transgressions, and these words from the prophet Isaiah.

Jesus was, indeed, pierced for my transgressions. Through His death on the cross, through those wounds He received, I was healed. Healed from all iniquity!

These words of the prophet are not just words on a page. They became vividly real to me some years ago. Just as they are still vividly real, today. Real for me, for you, for everyone. Jesus was pierced for all of our transgressions. Jesus was crushed for all of our iniquities.

“On Thursday—yesterday, Jesus ate with His disciples.  He knew it would be His last meal with them.  When no one washed the disciples’ feet, Jesus did the job.  He even washed the feet of Judas who would turn Him in to the soldiers and Peter who would pretend he did not even know Jesus later that night. That is love!

“On Friday, Jesus endured whipping and being nailed to a cross.  He forgave the soldiers who did the job.  He endured the crowds who mocked him as He died and forgave them.  He watched His mother watch Him die on the cross, and even asked his friend John to take care of her.  That is love!

“By the time he died on Friday, His heart was broken by his enemies, by the crowds, and even by His friends.  But Jesus kept on loving them all.  That is love – God’s love!” (from Worshiping with Children, Palm/Passion Sunday, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2016.)

Yes, our Lord Jesus did die on the cross. He took upon Himself the sins of humanity, willingly. Lovingly. He was pierced, because of love. The best news of all? Jesus did it because He loved us with God’s love. Boundless, abundant, transforming. Jesus loves without limits.

We have been forgiven. Just as the prophet says, through His wounds we are truly healed.  That is indeed something for which we all can thank God.

That is not the end of the story. No! Jesus may have died that Good Friday afternoon, but He did not stay dead. He rose from the dead! Sunday is coming! However, it is not here yet.

Yes, we sorrow with the women and with John, there at the Cross. Yes, we bow our heads in anguish and shame, guilt and grief.

When someone asks us, “How much did Jesus love people?” We can say, “Jesus loved us this much.” (holding up outstretched arms)

 

(Thanks to Carolyn Brown, for her excellent ideas for a Lenten series on Love! I borrowed freely from  Worshiping with Children, Palm/Passion Sunday, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2016.

http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2016/01/year-c-palm-passion-sunday-march-20-2016.html )

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey.  #PursuePEACE – And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!