03/27/2022 ~ Fourth Sunday in Lent ~ Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 ~ FULL VIDEO OF SERVICE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAKL8BRak9c.
“From now on, therefore, we regard no one from what might be called a human point of view, mere human judgment.” — 2 Corinthians 5:16.
I can guarantee this. Like me, some here and some watching remember the 1950s and the 1960s. Those too young to remember have probably or might have studied the era in school. I hope so.
The mix of international relations of that era and even beyond that era were given the name Cold War. The Cold War was not very cold— Korea, Vietnam but also Bay of Pigs, Lebanon and more— hot wars all. We also know all these hot spots were really proxy wars between major powers.
Given what we see today in the Ukraine the cold and the hot seem to have melded yet again, probably also a proxy. I get the feeling the more things change…. Well, for a moment let’s go back to those thrilling days of yesteryear, the 50s and the 60s, as I offer a story from my childhood, a time when we were being told hiding under a desk might help us survive a nuclear attack— yeah, right. (Slight pause.)
As I have already said here, the faith tradition of my youth was Roman Catholicism. And as I have said also, my father was a teacher at a Jesuit High School. My mother entered the convent but left before taking final vows, met my father, married and they had three children.
Given that familial background it should have been no surprise to them (although I think it was) that in me they were rasing a theologian. Indeed, I got into a deep theological discussion with my parents when I was in… the Fourth Grade.
I stated this: the grace of God is not natural, not normal. Further, the grace of God is, itself, a gift from God. And that is not normal, not natural either.
Why? Grace is a free gift, said I, and there is nothing normal, natural about a free gift. Even though I was young I knew that one. So if the grace of God is not normal or natural it is, thereby… supernatural. I think I really emphasize that “super” that way. Natural is what we humans do; supernatural is the work of God.
I apologize. Yes, I was young but I guess I was precocious when it comes to theology. I really wanted to be precocious at baseball but it was not to be. (Slight pause.)
We find these words in the work known as Second Corinthians: “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from what might be called a human point of view, mere human judgment.” (Slight pause.)
This— what I’m about to say— is a standard definition of grace. Grace is a supernatural gift, undeserved help, that God gives us so we can respond… to the call to become children of God.
Free gift? What? How? Indeed, that brings us to Paul’s writing. Something true in the overall message of Paul but especially true in these words from 2 Corinthians is that in God we find restorative love.
As Paul sees it, this reality happens because the Christ has opened up a new way of knowing, opened up a new way to see the world. Further, in the Christ the reconciling love of God is clearly revealed. And then Paul pushes this idea still one step further.
Paul’s claim is that because of the grace of God through Christ we— we— are commissioned to be engaged in a ministry of reconciliation, ambassadors for God in a ministry of reconciliation. A ministry of reconciliation— this is not normal, not what humans do naturally. This is… supernatural. (Slight pause.)
One of my commentaries on this reading says (quote:) “Nothing may be more difficult for Christians in North America than adopting the new way of discernment inherent in the gospel.” Why?
(Quote:) “The seductive voices from the culture condition us to make moral decisions according to a logic of acquisitions and achievements. We even turn the gospel into a self-help message to enable us to acquire and achieve more.” (Unquote.)
That commentary then reminds us of Paul’s thrust. (Quote:) “To be reconciled to God means to be an agent of reconciliation for the world.” (Slight pause.)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor, theologian, an anti-Nazi dissident. He died in a Nazi concentration camp on April 9, 1945, just before the end of WWII.
In a sermon on Second Corinthians Bonhoeffer said this (quote:) “Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more than they are doing now. Christians should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible rights of the strong.” (Slight pause.)
What was Bonhoeffer getting at? What was Paul getting at? I may be wrong but I think they are getting at… the supernatural. (Quote:) “…through Christ, the world was fully reconciled to God, who did not hold our transgressions against us but instead entrusted us with this message of reconciliation”— entrusted us with a message of reconciliation.
If that does not turn the world as we know it upside down, I do not know what does. That is not natural. That is supernatural.
Supernatural is the work of God which is, effectively, what I said back in the Fourth Grade, back in the era we call the Cold War, a war which was too often not cold. Reconciliation is something not ripped from the headlines of WWII with which Bonhoeffer dealt, or the Cold War which was so often hot, or today’s headlines. But reconciliation is our calling. (Slight pause.)
AS to current conditions, I said this earlier: the more things change… so what can we do now about this new cold/hot war? Unless one of us here is the President or the Secretary of State, there is probably not a lot we can do in terms of the large scale.
However, my bet is you’ve heard this phrase before: think globally, act locally. So this is my suggestion.
We humans are empowered by God through grace, entrusted by God to be a part of reconciliation. Yes, not natural— supernatural.
This grace, this work of reconciliation, is a gift is from God and the work of God. Hence, this question is set before us: are we willing to participate in the work of reconciliation but not on that aforementioned global scale?
Are we willing to do the work of reconciliation, locally, among those whom we know, those we see every day, among those around us, and indeed those who may come to us from afar. Are we willing to do that work, here, now? Let us pray that we may be empowered by the grace of God to do this work called reconciliation. Amen.
South Freeport Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, South Freeport, Maine
ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “Two things: Our job is not to judge others but to lift those who are fallen, restore those who are broken, heal those who are hurting. Simply striving to do that is supernatural and will turn the world as we know it upside down. Here’s another way to put it. Theology is not a hammer. Hammers are only good at hitting nails. Our theology needs to be the glue which mends the world and holds it together. Second, think globally or we become isolated from reality. When we act locally it can be the glue which holds our social fabric together.”
BENEDICTION: Let us seek to love as we have been loved by God, welcoming our brothers and sisters. Let us rejoice in God’s goodness and steadfast love. Let us follow where God leads. Let us go on our way with Christ as our companion. And may the steadfast love of God and the peace of Christ, which surpasses understanding, keep our minds and hearts in the companionship and will of the Holy Spirit, this day and forever more. Amen.