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Reconciliation : a profound gift

Reconciliation

Many years ago, as a Vicar I met a man who had not spoken to his father for seven years. The quarrel had begun over something small.  But neither would apologise and make the first move.  Both were hurting.  The man’s two young daughters had no contact with their grandparents.

This was my first example of a deep family feud.  Sadly I’ve seen many more since then.  Sometimes they start because of an incident everyone remembers.  More often, people drift into not having any contact with close family.  Indifference leads to neglect which leads to division.  If we do not deliberately tend our relationships, they will fragment.  This is true of marriages and partnerships, of adult children and their parents, of siblings separated by distance, of friendship.

The same truth applies to relationships between communities.  I’ve been part of a group in Parliament looking at how to build a more cohesive society.  We’ve been trying to take the debate about immigration to a much deeper level than the slogans of the referendum campaign a year ago.  One of the most important factors in building a united city or town is having a plan.  Left to themselves, communities grow apart or fragment.  We need to be intentional about building a single society.  The task needs to be owned by central and local government, by civil society and by individuals.  It’s too important for the future to be left to chance.

And what is true between communities is true of nations.  We live in an age where powerful forces seem to be pushing countries further apart. Britain is now redefining its relationship with Europe.  The United Kingdom is under new pressures to fragment.  The global situation is tense.

Today is Good Friday.  This is the day when Christians reflect on reconciliation: working against this power to divide by drawing people and communities back together.  The Christian faith takes very seriously the truth that left to themselves, relationships fragment.

Christians believe that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, offered his life on the cross to make peace. The cross makes possible a new peace between humanity and God so that people can find forgiveness, begin again and know God’s love for themselves.  But the cross also makes possible peace between people so that families and communities and nations can be reconciled and made one.

Reconciliation is a profound gift.  That is why the cross is placed at the centre of Christian life and worship.  Many Christians wear a simple cross or carry one in their pocket.  You will find crosses on display in every church, reminding those who come to pray that peace and reconciliation are the heart of our life together.  Many of our church buildings are built in the shape of a cross when seen from above.

That is why on Good Friday, Christians everywhere will take time to reflect and remember the events of that Friday long ago when Christ was crucified in hymns and prayers and silence, in private and in church services.  Sunday is Easter Day and we will celebrate the profound truth at the heart of our faith that God raised Jesus from the dead so that all can have life in his name.  But first, today, we pause and remember this one, special act of love at the heart of our faith.

Jesus taught his disciples a prayer which has reconciliation at it’s very centre.  He teaches us to pray: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”.  We are reconciled to God.  But we are then called to be reconciled to others by taking the initiative and making the first move.  That can be very hard indeed.

I met the man who had not spoken to his father because he was preparing to be baptised as an adult.  He had recently become a Christian.  Now he was realising what his new faith would mean.  It meant he could not simply go on as before and be estranged.  He had to make the first move.  He did and there was a deep reconciliation in that family across three generations.

Good families, good communities and good international relationships do not happen by accident.  They happen because people invest in them and work at reconciliation.

For Christians, Good Friday is a powerful reminder of what we believe God has done in Jesus Christ for us and for the whole world.  Take time this week to ponder the reality of fragmentation and the wonder that is peace.

+Steven

Bishop Steven is the Bishop of Oxford

@Steven_Croft

Reconciliaton: a sermon at Ecclesall

On Wednesday this week, it was my privilege to institute the Revd. Gary Wilton as Vicar of All Saints, Ecclesall, to the south west of Sheffield.  Like all institutions it was a big occasion for the parish and for Gary who comes to this new ministry from Brussels where he has been the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative to the European Union and a Canon at the Pro-Cathedral.

Gary chose as the New Testament reading the profound passage from 2 Corinthians 5.16-21 which sets reconciliation at the heart of the gospel and at the heart of Christian ministry. This is a slightly edited version of the sermon as preached on Wednesday. Reconciliation

“In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself and….entrusting to us the ministry of reconciliation”

It is very good indeed to be here this evening and to share in this service for which we have waited for a considerable time.  It is good to celebrate a new beginning, a moment of new creation for All Saints, this wonderful church community, and for Gary.  The moment is pregnant with possibility.

It is good to take time to reflect this evening on the wonder of the Christian faith we hold and celebrate.  It is good to reflect on how much that faith is needed in every life, in every church and in every part of God’s world.

“In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself and….entrusting to us the ministry of reconciliation”

We need no reminder this week that our world is full of conflict.  Enmity, hatred and hostility are on the front pages and at the head of the news bulletins.  All of us will have been moved by the civil war in Syria and the terrible consequences for those who have died, for the injured, for the refugees and especially for Syria’s children.  We share a horror at the effects and use of chemical weapons and we condemn them.  All of us will have prayed for peace.  Most of us will have wrestled with the question of whether armed intervention is right or wrong.  If, like myself, you believe it to be wrong in this case, there is some relief at the decision taken by parliament last week.  But there  remains a wrestling with the dreadful dilemma of what the world can do to help the people of Syria and the region at this time.

The conflict in Syria is simply the worst of a number of conflicts around the world– though it is the worst by a considerable margin.  There is hostility and conflict across north Africa and the Middle East; in Iraq and Afghanistan; across many parts of Africa; between north and south Korea.

We look and we wonder.  What is it that drives people to enmity and war?  What is it about the human condition that divides us and makes us hostile to one another?  We see the evidence of division in our history, in the great conflicts of the world but in bitter disputes within our own nation.  Racial and religious tension is part of life in our own nation. Hostility and indifference to others scars many communities.

The anger and sometimes the violence are the symptoms of the deeper problem.  All of us will be aware of families scarred by deep feuds and divisions and hostility often over many years.  We will know of marriages which end in bitterness, whether or not they end in divorce.  We will know of parents estranged from their children, siblings who do not speak, homes where is hatred rather than love.

Even the Church does not escape the quarrels and divisions which are part of the human condition.  We too easily divide into our tribes as we wrestle with the great questions of the day. Most local churches struggle at some point with disagreement and difficulty and such moments are intensely painful but not, I am afraid, unusual.

Everywhere we look, it seems, there is division and hostility, even when we look inside our hearts.  So let’s listen very carefully to Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians:

“In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself and….entrusting to us the ministry of reconciliation”

Ponder that phrase: entrusting to us the ministry of reconciliation.

Paul describes a new vision of humanity and of the world, a way to see things differently. That new vision arises only and directly from the death of Jesus on the cross.  Jesus died for all, he writes in verse 15.

“From now on therefore we regard no-one from a human point of view” (verse 16). Our perspective is changed completely. There is no them and us because Christ died for all.

“If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation, the old has passed away; see everything has become new”.

Because you are in Christ, you have been remade by God and that includes your vision of the world.  The world itself has been remade and is being remade by God in Christ.  That profoundly changes our perspective.

That change of perspective sets the scene for one of the deepest passages in the whole of Paul’s writing about the importance of the gospel for the world.

“All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the message of reconciliation”

Enmity and hatred and hostility are at the heart of the human condition and in our own hearts. As individuals, left to ourselves, we are estranged from God.  God has come to us in Christ.  God has made peace with us through the death of Jesus on the cross.  Reconciliation is God’s gift to us.  Peace is made with our creator deep within our hearts as a person received God’s gift in Jesus, as we repent of our sins and place our faith in Christ.  This is the great mystery at the heart of our faith.

But there is even more.

“All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the message of reconciliation”

Even as we become reconciled to God through Christ, so we are entrusted with the message of reconciliation to others.  Just to make sure we have received that message Paul repeats exactly the same thought in the following verse:

“that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself….and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us”.

Reconciliation is at the heart of the Christian gospel and of the Christian faith. Reconciliation between people and God and reconciliation between different people and different groups of people.  The invitation has gone out from God, because of Christ, for all people to be reconciled to him in and through the cross.  As we are reconciled to God so we are reconciled to one another.  As we are reconciled to God and one another so we become bearers of the message of reconciliation to the world.

There is similar language in Ephesian, words we use in the Eucharist:

“For Christ is our peace; in his flesh he has made both Jews and Gentiles one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is the hostility between us……”

“[his purpose is] to create one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross” (from Ephesians 2.14ff).

In Christ we have been reconciled to God. In Christ there is the place of reconciliation between human kind.  In Christ we have become bearers of the message of reconciliation.

In a few moments time, I will formally institute Gary as Vicar of this parish. He will kneel in prayer to God as I read the license which is the warrant for his ministry.  I will then give the license to him with these solemn words:

“Receive the cure of souls which is both yours and mine in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.

This cure of souls is not the ministry of being nice to those who come to Church. The cure of souls is the ministry of reconciliation to be exercised among the 20,000 people who live in this parish and the half a million people who live in this city.  The cure of souls is the healing of enmity and division between people and God.  The cure of souls is the reconciliation of families and factions and cliques.  The cure of souls is the proclaiming and living the gospel of peace and justice in God’s whole creation.

The cure of souls is formally entrusted to Gary as your Vicar but this ministry of reconciliation is not his alone.  It is entrusted to the whole Church.  Each of us is commissioned to carry that message, to work for peace, to be an agent of God’s love in the world, to bear Christ in our communities.  Each of you is called in this place to create a community of reconciliation in this parish church in which, God willing, many men and women and children will be reconciled to God through Christ.  Each of you is called to create a community of reconciliation which will influence and shape this parish and this city and, God willing, the whole world.

“In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself and….entrusting to us the ministry of reconciliation”

Paul ends this part of his letter with a strong appeal to the Church in Corinth: “So we are ambassadors of Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ be reconciled to God”.

Gary is leaving one ministry of reconciliation in his ministry to the European union: a project whose aim is create a single society and community out of diverse nations. He is beginning today a new ministry of reconciliation, building up the body of Christ in this place  for the sake of God’s mission in the world.

This ministry of reconciliation has never been more needed than it is today.  God needs you to be people of peace in the Church, in the wider community and in the world.

“In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself and….entrusting to us the ministry of reconciliation”

Amen.