2 Corinthians 5:11-21
I think it’s probably fair to say that Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian Church is not one of the best known of all passages of scripture. Until the past few weeks, I don’t think that I’d ever preached on it.
And yet it contains one of my favourite passages in the whole of the Bible. Actually, favourite isn’t quite the right word. It’s more that the passage we heard read today, and in particular the second half of the passage, is one of those lens through which I see, well, the whole of the gospel. One of those places where it feels as if a crucial, central truth of the faith has been captured in a way that one can, if not quite, then almost, grasp hold of.
In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.
In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself.
There is that sense throughout the whole story of the Bible, from the fall in Genesis chapter 3 to the final consummation of the Kingdom of God in the book of Revelation, there is this sense of brokenness. That in the creation poem of Genesis 1 and 2 God walks with humanity and in the coming of the Holy City in Revelation the people will see God once more face to face, but in between – that is, for the whole of human history – there is this rift, this divide, between God and humanity, between the divine and the mortal, between the creator and the creation.
But in Christ, God was reconciling.
The early Church struggled really hard trying to understand just who Jesus was; reconciling the clear evidence of his humanity with the inescapable revelation of his divinity, they wrestled with the words we end up with in the creed and in the traditions of the faith: fully God and fully human. And if you know how that works, exactly what it means, then you are a far more profound theologian than me.
I don’t know how it works. But in this passage I find a way of understanding why it matters.
In Christ, in the person of Jesus, God was reconciling the divine with humanity; bringing back together the two which had been torn apart, reconciling creator and creation.
Now if that were the end of the matter, it would be no more than one incredible moment in history. But if you start looking at this passage at that verse, verse 19, stuck there in the middle of the paragraph, then you can move out from this central truth in two direction – to the verses before, and to the verses that come after.
The words that come before: God reconciled us to himself through Christ. This joining together, this fusing of creator and creation in the person of Jesus is not simply a point at which the two are made one; it is a bridge, a pathway for humanity back into the presence of God. Through Christ – the way, as he named himself – we are able to enter into the presence of God. That is the promise of our faith; that as we enter into Christ, we enter into reconciliation with God.
Keep going back, another verse: if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. If we are in Christ there is a new creation; if, as, to the extent that, we enter into Christ, we are something new, because we are no longer just us, but we are ‘us reconciled with God’. We are no longer just people, but ‘people who stand in the presence of God’.
“But what does it mean, to be in Christ, to enter into Christ?” I hear you ask
Well, I‘m glad you asked that question.
If being in Christ is being in this reconciled relationship with God, God who is wholly good, totally loving, then entering into Christ must surely be a description of that life long process of sanctification; of being changed, slowly but surely, from the inside out, to become more like Jesus, more like God, more like humanity is meant to be: more loving, more generous, more hospitable, more just, more compassionate.
And how much we do that, how much we allow ourselves to change, to be conformed into the image of God, the image in which we were created, is, to a great extent, up to us. That is the life of discipleship, the life of choosing, in all those small moments as well as the big ones, to be the people we ought to be, to live the lives we know we should live.
The pathway is one we walk, guided, strengthened, encouraged by the Spirit of God and the community of faith around us, but that we walk.
The path, the bridge, the way is open; because in Christ God was reconciling the world to Godself; the walk is ours.
But important though that process is, that call, that ethical imperative to live as God’s people, as citizens of God’s Kingdom, it is always, secondary to what God has already done: God was, in Christ, reconciling the world to Godself.
In the words of Catholic theologian James Alison,
I beg you not to forget this tumbling into the luck of finding ourselves secure on the inside of the adventure of creation
But I said we could move from verse 19 in both directions; for the passage goes on:
and God has given us the ministry of reconciliation, entrusting the message of reconciliation to us
Not “entrusting reconciliation to us”. That’s really important and, frankly, quite a relief. Reconciliation isn’t something we do. It is, again in the words of James Alison, that amazing good fortune of finding that something has already been done, that our deepest problem has already been solved.
No, we are not entrusted with reconciliation. But with the message of reconciliation. And so Paul uses the image of Ambassadors; who do not speak for themselves, who are not executives taking action, but representatives of a power, a message, a Kingdom, that is far more than themselves.
We have that ministry, God making God’s appeal through us, to others, to the world: be reconciled to God. Become part of the reality of what God has already done.
For that is the tone of the whole passage: “one died for all, so all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him” – that our calling, our ministry, our evangelism, even, is not about getting people saved from hell and into heaven; Christ has done that. He died for all and all have therefore died. That is the amazing good luck, the unimaginable grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
No, our calling, our ministry of reconciliation is less about the next world than it is about this one: that those who live might no longer live for themselves, as Paul writes, but might live for God.
The reconciliation of the world to God is a done deal. God was in Christ, doing that.
Our ministry of reconciliation is to call others into the life that God has already given them; our calling on ourselves is just the same.
The call of the evangelist is the call we hear as disciples of Jesus.
God has saved you. Live as if you believed it.