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Reconciliation: Spiritual Practice (2016-0306)

. 3 min read

2016/03/06 Christ Church,
Mountain Top; Lent 4; Lord’s Table
Call to Worship, Psalm 32
Children, Luke
15.1-3, 11b-32
Message, 2 Corinthians 5.16-21
Conflict conversations:
      You
always …
      You
never …
      You
owe me …
      I
owe you an apology
      Flowers
… “What did you do now?”
Relationships in financial terms
      “Leader-Member
Exchange” (a leadership theory)
      “Transactional
analysis” (psychoanalysis theory)
      Measured
in terms of debt, owe – accounting terms
      We
complain about big business turning us into numbers
            But
we routinely do so with those closest to us
And for all our troubled
relationships, whether with one another or with God, the apostle Paul speaks in
this passage about healing and new creation in accounting terms:
reconciliation, counting. (And, the Greek term for “counting” in the phrase
“not counting their trespasses against them” is also translated “accounting.”) Using
accounting terms to describe the pain and suffering of our relationships is no
even a 20th century thing. It is a human thing, and Paul tackles it
head-on in this passage.

This year in Lent, we are using
the traditional Scripture passages for the year to explore basic themes in the
spiritual life. We’ve looked at the wilderness experience, standing firm, and
repentance. Today we explore reconciliation.
Reconciling the checkbook with
the bank statements is beginning to disappear from our practices. I pay all my
bills online and our family ledger has moved to a spreadsheet that we maintain
separately from the bank’s records. Every month, I check the balance to see if
they agree. If not, I look back through the records to see what I did wrong –
forgot to enter an ATM withdrawal, put a typo in one of my entries. It is
tedious work, and necessary work which I commend to all you young people who
may never learn to write a personal check. When the work is done, my records
are “reconciled to” the bank records, I am protected against accidental
overdraft, and the projections built into my spreadsheet are that much more
accurate.
      Reconciliation,
as an ancient Greek financial term, was a word for “exchange”, particularly
exchanging currencies – dollars for Euros, pesos for Bolivars. Whenever you do
it you are charged a convenience fee, a payoff to the money-changer. Yes, you
are to exchange items of equivalent value, but with the fee it is almost
impossible to get ahead.
      It
is an apt metaphor for our relationship struggles, whether it is the tension in
the relationship between Paul and the Corinthian Christians or the tensions
with coworkers, friends, family members, and even God. All we do is dig a
deeper hole. We owe an apology, but that is not really enough. If someone is
committed to counting sin, counting pain – whether it is the person in debt or
the person to whom the debt is owed – there is little hope for a
reconciliation. No wonder Paul describes love in 1 Corinthians 13 as an action
and choice to “keep no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13.5, NIV) or, in other
translations, “not resentful”.

In one of the traditional
versions of the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “forgive us our debts”. Just about
universally, we recognize that we owe God, big time, and there is no way we can
pay up. Hear the good news:
  • God reconciled us to himself
    through Christ (5.18)
  • In Christ God was reconciling the
    world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them (5.19)

God is taking the initiative.
This doesn’t come from us. We’re not falling on our faces crying out “unworthy,
unworthy”. We’re blissfully ignorant or willfully stubborn. God takes the first
step to reconcile. And this reconciliation is not simply a free gift, God
dispensing entirely with “counting trespasses” just because God is nice. That
kind of reconciliation would not hold up under audit, no, this reconciliation
comes with a price:
  • For our sake he made him to be
    sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God
    (5.21).

We are offered this free gift
because all our debt is charged to Jesus’ account and he pays up, big time. 
  • In the name of Jesus Christ, you
    are forgiven.


Invitations:
  • Be reconciled to God! Don’t hold
    back in ignorance or stubbornness.
  • Be reconciled to one another! If
    we receive the gift of forgiveness, of righteousness, from God, there is no
    good reason to withhold it from someone else. We are given “the ministry of
    reconciliation” and “the message of reconciliation” for just such a purpose. In
    the ministry of reconciliation, there is no room for pride, no room for counting
    their sin and our pain over someone else. Just as God in Christ took the
    initiative with us, it is time for us to take the initiative with others.