Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Acorn 3

In Jesus Christ, God was reconciling the world to (God’s) self.
It is the first line of the Confession that marked the beginning of a new era for the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Well, almost; I revised one word. The theological statement was drafted in the early 1960’s, and its terminology, ironically, is uniformly masculine. Though it lacks the gender inclusive language to which we’ve grown accustomed in the past 40 years, the Confession of 1967 speaks with amazing relevance to our own time primarily because of its inclusivity.
Its Preface states, “God’s reconciling work in Jesus Christ and the mission of reconciliation to which (God) has called his church are the heart of the gospel in any age. Our generation stands in peculiar need of reconciliation in Christ. Accordingly, this Confession of 1967 is built upon that theme.”
Has anything changed in the last forty-four years? It seems to me that Christians across the world are still in desperate need of reconciliation in Christ. I know some things have changed - our sensitivity to gender equality, for one. I wouldn’t consider using this line in a sermon today, “Therefore, the church calls men to be reconciled to God and to one another,” though it is a beautiful, if somewhat dated, summary of the Confession of 1967.
The truth is, though great strides have been made in certain areas, we still struggle against the idea of coming together, working to resolve our differences, and being accepting of “the other,” even in Christian circles. Healing divisions isn’t a theme applicable only to the racial tensions of the 1950’s and 1960’s in America. Divisiveness remains the sin we most need to confess and forsake.
Normally, I avoid talking extensively about sin. It is definitely not my favorite topic. But this passage from the Confession of 1967, modified slightly for gender inclusiveness, seems to speak directly to the heart of the matter of divisions in the church in 2011.
The reconciling act of God in Jesus Christ exposes the evil in human lives as sin in the sight of God. In sin, men and women claim mastery of their own lives, turn against God and their neighbors and become exploiters and despoilers of the world. They lose their humanity in futile striving and are left in rebellion, despair, and isolation. Wise and virtuous human beings through the ages have sought the highest good in devotion to freedom, justice, peace, truth, and beauty. Yet all human virtue, when seen in the light of God’s love in Jesus Christ, is found to be infected by self-interest and hostility. All people, good and bad alike, are in the wrong before God and helpless without God’s forgiveness. Thus all fall under God’s judgment. No one is more subject to that judgment than the man or woman who assumes that he or she is guiltless before God or morally superior to others.
I’ve heard it said that the ground is level before the cross. As we enter the season of Lent, let us pray for God’s redemption of our pettiness, our resentments, our prejudices, our self righteousness, and all the remembered wrongs we’ve held against one another for far too long.