Ever have a moment when a passage of scripture just reaches out and grabs you? Many years ago, I had a moment like that with these verses from II Corinthians 5:
"... God has reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given to us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God."
Absolutely hit me like a ton of bricks! What struck me was that Paul was writing these words of encouragement to the CHURCH -- the very people you'd expect are ALREADY reconciled to God -- and he's literally imploring them to PLEASE, be reconciled to God.
Shouldn't Paul be writing this to non-believers? Shouldn't this be an evangelistic sermon directed toward people who don't know the Lord and need to repent of their sin and get right with God?
So you'd think. But instead, Paul is writing this to the people who go to church every Sunday and look just fine from the outside -- the Christians of the world who are already supposed to be reconciled to God.
We've got to have this wrong, somehow! Certainly I recommend going to church every Sunday and looking good from the outside. But clearly, that's not enough. The question is, what's going on in our hearts and minds and spirits? That's where this reconciliation needs to take place.
We keep VERY busy, don't we? We have so much to do. We have to work, and then when we get home, especially if we're parents, we have a whole lot MORE work to do. In fact, in these economic times, many folks are working two or even more jobs. And we watch a lot of TV, because we're certainly entitled to a little relaxation. We can spend aimless hours in front of our computers. NONE of that is especially sinful, if we can keep our balance. But what happens all too often is that our INNER relationship with God -- where we talk to him, spend some time in prayer, read some scripture -- just gets lost in the shuffle.
And that can go on for days, even weeks. Soon, we're feeling too guilty to just pray, because we've been ignoring God for so long. And if we're feeling guilty, we avoid God more than ever. And that's just a mess. Our relationship with God has been crowded out by our busyness, our tiredness, and our preoccupation with other things. And the enemy folds his arms and looks around and says, "Hey, I do good work, don't I?"
When we're feeling distant from God, in need of reconciliation, our problems usually come down to two things that are very much related. You won't be surprised to hear that the first of these two things is sin. For that, Jesus says the same thing he's been saying from the beginning: "Come to me and confess your sin. We'll talk it over, and you'll feel better. Receive my help so that you can begin to be stronger in this area. And receive my grace, because I forgive you, and I want you to rejoice in my love." No judgment; no condemnation. Just grace, and a desire to be reconciled.
And the second thing? Well, often, underneath the sin, the root of the sin ... is a need for healing. Hurt, disillusionment, grief, built-up resentment, unforgiveness toward others, long-simmering anger, can all combine to create a festering wound that yes, causes us to sin. And we need to repent and ask forgiveness. But more than anything else, we need to ask for, and receive, God's healing. When we begin to open ourselves to such healing, we feel joy, we feel relief ... we experience reconciliation with God.
Is this magic? Will healing happen overnight? Maybe. But more often, the things of God are slow in coming. Transformation is a process that happens over time, bit by bit, moment by moment, as we learn honest repentance and open ourselves up to receive healing and grace. Oh, yes, good "church folks" sometimes need this more than anyone!
There's nothing more peaceful, more joyful, than being reconciled to God and receiving his grace. Don't put it off. Today is your day.
Rev. Susan Bennett is pastor of Stockbridge Presbyterian Church. She and her husband live in Stockbridge with two giant Rottweilers and a 15-pound rescue dog who is the boss of everybody.