May I speak in the name of God, our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Amen.
‘For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.’
In a couple months we, with many others gathered across the world, will celebrate the resurrection of Christ on Easter morning. Days before that we will stop to first remember the death of Christ. In our reading from Colossians we hear that this is the means by which God is pleased to reconcile all things to himself. It is this act of remembrance, that we hold as being of upmost importance in our life and worship as a community; here we participate in God’s reconciliation. It is the central sacrament held by many across the breadth of the Christian church. But, as we hear in Colossians, this reconciliation is not simply a place of remembrance and new life for those who consume the bread and wine, it is meant for ‘all things, whether on earth or in heaven.’
Have you ever been reading a passage of the Bible and a word or verse seemed to jump off the page and you could not shake thinking about it? It does not always happen to me, but as I prepared for this morning I could not stop thinking about the word ‘reconcile’. I have learned to make it habit, that when a word seems to stick in my mind, I look up its definition, regardless of how familiar I am with its meaning. Reconcile, as you would imagine, is fairly straight forward. Most dictionaries agree that reconcile means to ‘restore friendly relations between; settle (a quarrel); make or show to be compatible; make someone accept (a disagreeable or unwelcome thing).’ The original Latin simply speaks of ‘to bring back together.’ No surprises there, so what then does it mean for God to reconcile all things to himself through Jesus?
This has been a central question in the life of the church since its beginning. Known as ‘atonement theory’, this area of study has more answers of what is going on in Jesus’ death and how it is happening, than we could all shake sticks at. The necessity of this question has been birthed in an experience of sin, often described as separation or brokenness, between us and God, within ourselves, and with others and the rest of creation. Where people do not feel that separation ministers have been know to try and convince others that they should feel the brokenness of their lives that is the direct result of their sin. This has been one of the hallmarks of the struggle with modern day apologetics for faith; as people argue with each other to try and convince the other that their understanding is correct and all others must come to bow down to this supreme concept.
On Friday night I found myself down at St Sepulchres church, near St Paul’s cathedral. I was there with one of our youth, as we gathered for a new youth initiative called IGNITE London. There was nail painting, board games, table tennis, snooker, cage football, hot dogs, sweets, pop, lights and loud music. It was designed as an opportunity for Christian youth to invite their friends to a fun night out where there would be a small presentation of the gospel of Jesus. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, and our very own Zeb Breen, with his friend Noah, seemed to be dominating the cage football. As the night went on there was a dance group that performed and then one of their members gave a little talk about their experience of faith in Jesus. Then the main speaker, a fellow named Prince, who used to be a part of a Christian hip-hop group, came forward to talk about confidence, and ultimately, about confidence in God.
He was a very dynamic speaker and the teens seemed to really enjoy his stories and what he was talking about. As he started to talk more explicitly about his faith there was a noticeable decrease of interest in where the talk was going. Prince finished his talk by offering people a chance to respond to what he had said. Whether they wanted to become a Christian or just find out more about Christian belief; there would be a group of leaders at the front of the church who the teens could come forward for prayer or conversation. I can understand, and even appreciate, what Prince and the other leaders were trying to do, but the whole time I could not help but think, ‘What, if anything, does this have to do with the life of these teens today?’
My fear with this narrow version of reconciliation, is that we focus so much on the necessity of the conversion, in this case youth who were not Christians needing to now become Christians, that the importance of the person being converted is reduced down to their ability to then convert others. Just yesterday Meagan and I were walking down Oxford Street, where a man was standing outside of John Lewis with a small PA system proclaiming that, ‘Jesus is Lord, you must confess your sins and ask for forgiveness if you want to go to heaven.’ This is not something I fundamentally disagree with, but it was simply another example of reconciliation that was both individual and disconnected.
In stark contrast, this morning we have heard of the Word made flesh, the image of the invisible God, who made his dwelling among us; the one by whom all things were made. Proverbs tells us that God who created both the heavens and the earth; God who set the very foundations of the earth and the boundaries of the sea, this God is pleased that all things be reconciled to himself, through the blood of Jesus’ cross.
If we think back to the definitions of reconcile that I brought to you at the beginning of the sermon, we heard that reconcile means to ‘restore friendly relations between; settle (a quarrel); make or show to be compatible; make someone accept (a disagreeable or unwelcome thing).’ With oppositions to positions of faith, reconciliation often feels like trying to ‘make someone accept a disagreeable or unwelcome thing.’ Reconciliation is too often about convincing some else that they need the answer to the question they did not even believe was worth asking. It is this type of thinking that has gotten our world in such a pickle, to put it far to mildly. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, create a very different paradigm. The paradigm for Jesus, as we hear in John’s gospel, is one ‘full of grace and truth.’ The very world Jesus was a part of creating, did not recognise him, and his ‘own people did not accept him.’ This did not change Jesus’ life and ministry of reconciliation; all things are still to be reconciled to him.
In the Eucharist we embrace being reconciled to God through Christ, but we do not do it alone. In the eucharist we receive new life, together. From here we go out into the world, not as lone soldiers, but as children of God’s family. We go out not to boast of what we have, or to tell others they have it wrong, we go out so that the life we have received, the reconciliation that has been given to us through Christ, may be shared with everyone and everything we come into contact with.
It may not feel like it now, especially as we read of the terrible actions of one human to the next, as we hear of those who are being ravaged by natural disasters and disease, as we reel from one story to the next wondering if our world can truly be a better place. Reconciliation, the light and life promised in Jesus the word made flesh, seems a far way off, especially if it is for all things in heaven and earth. If we take seriously the words and works of Jesus, it is not a matter of if but a matter of when. And we are all asked to be a part of seeing our world live in reconciliation instead of retribution, love instead of hate, grace and mercy instead of violence.
Jesus came, the word made flesh, and through him we and all things are being reconciled to God. Perhaps, if we made our own words take on flesh, we may not only be the recipients of reconciliation but also the ones who share it.