Ministry of Reconciliation

Last night at our men's Bible study group, we read from one of my favorite passages, 2Corinthians 5.17-21.
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given 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. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

New Revised Standard Version

The idea of verse 17 is that God's New Creation isn't a sudden event at the end of history. It is a Project that started in the middle of history at the resurrection of Jesus and continues on with each person who is 'reconciled to God'. But the New Creation Project isn't just about people. As I have stated over and over on this blog, New Creation is about the whole cosmos. Paul wrote in Romans 8 that the created order itself is groaning in severe pain yearning to be renewed (Romans 8.18-28). In everything we do, therefore, we should have that image of renewed creation in front of us. We should have that ultimate goal in mind and find ways of implementing it now.

However, we didn't even talk about that last night. We talked about ministry. Specifically, the 'ministry of reconciliation'. I have to admit I didn't have my 'A-Game on'. I fumbled over words, ideas, concepts. Recently I read a quote from Mr. Rogers (yes, that Mr. Rogers) about communication, 'Simple is better' he said. I know he's right. However, sometimes, some concepts or ideas are hard for me to simplify. I mean, we were asked such (supposedly) simple questions as 'What is the Gospel?', 'What does "reconciliation" mean?', and the one that had me fumbling for the right words, 'What does "ministry" mean?' And I just couldn't communicate it very simply.

I also remember something Bishop Tom Wright said (and this plays against my hopes of simplifying). He made the statement about the length of his book, The Resurrection of the Son of God. He said (and I'm paraphrasing here), 'The reason that book is so long is that in scholarly work, you have to cover everything. If you don't address some text or objection or whatever, you will be written off. "Oh, he didn't address such and such, therefore it can't be worth my time."' I would add that this isn't only true within scholarly work. It happens in every day conversations, too. My 'problem' is trying to put these two ideas together -- keep it simple but cover everything. And last night I didn't do so well.

I also admit that I wasn't the only one muddled. The other men at this study were also stumbling for the right words. Perhaps the coffee was too strong. I'm not sure. I told the facilitator that I would be pondering over this. 'Good,' he told me. 'You need to. You want to be a minister. Seminary is all about figuring that out.'

When I got home, I told my family how it went. The meeting was fine. We had some wonderful discussions. I was just having difficulty putting my thoughts into words. 'That's weird', was my wife's comment. So this blog is about defining the concept of 'ministry of reconciliation'.

According to Webster (1913), 'ministry' means, 'The act of service'. 'Minister' means, 'To act as a servant, attendant, or agent; to attend and serve; to perform service in any office, sacred or secular.'

Therefore, ministry would be 'service'. And a 'minister' would be someone through whom that service is accomplished. So what does that mean, 'to serve'? Again, Webster (1913): 'To work for; to labor in behalf of; to exert one's self continuously or statedly for the benefit of; to do service for; to be in the employment of, as an inferior, domestic, serf, slave, hired assistant, official helper, etc.; specifically, in a religious sense, to obey and worship.'

So, to 'serve' means to 'continuously' 'work for' 'the benefit of' someone else. To be the 'slave' of someone else. Well, this makes perfect sense. We see over and over in the Bible how people like Jesus or Paul were 'servants' or 'slaves' to God. We are even told that before Christ came we were 'slaves to sin'. But now, because of the blood of Jesus, we are 'slaves to God.' So, we are to be in service to God. Therefore, we are ministers -- people who serve.

But what is that 'ministry', that service? How are we to serve? And whom are we to serve? Obviously, we are to act like servants of God, since we are servants of God. And just as obvious, we should not be servants of sin. How can we be? We died to sin when we were baptized. And on the other side of that 'death' we were given 'life' -- not to serve ourselves, but to serve God, the giver of The Life (Romans 6).

But we are not just to serve God. We are to serve creation as well. And by that I mean, yes, of course, the Earth and all of its wonders. But also we are to serve people -- all people; even our enemies. That is why there is some dramatic, subversive teaching about this in the gospels, especially Matthew (you know, the whole 'Sermon on the Mount' thing). What I find fascinating about that passage is the people are servants who go beyond what they are told to do. 'If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile', Jesus said, 'carry it for two'. The message here is to go beyond what you have been asked to do. And in doing that you will be showing the powers that be that you are 'revolting' against them. You will be participating in a non-violent resistance movement against their power and authority. This is seen, not only in what Jesus did but, in that sermon -- go the extra mile, turn to the other cheek, when someone asks for your coat, give them your shirt as well, etc. Each of those statements are to be seen as ways of speaking to power, of working against power, by using non-violence as the key. When we serve our enemies like that, it changes the rules of the game. It shows that we are willing servants. It shows that we are truly the ones with the power. Isn't this just like the life of Christ? Didn't he say, 'No one takes my life. I give it freely?' At any moment, he could have had the whole 'army of heaven' at his disposal to destroy his enemies. But that would make his kingdom just like theirs. But Jesus had a bigger plan than that. If he followed his contemporaries in their way of 'doing kingdom', that is, through violence, then the whole thing was over. And he would have lost. He was actually practicing what he preached! Imagine that! Someone actually did what they told others to do. And in doing that he demonstrated the way of being truly human. And the key to being truly human is being a servant.

We are all called to do likewise. And not only with our 'enemies' but also with our brothers and sisters. As the New Testament puts it, especially with them! In other words, if we are instructed to give generously to our enemies, how much more are we to give to our brothers and sisters? 'Your love for one another', Jesus said, 'will prove to the world that you are my disciples' (John 13.35).

So, we see that to serve is to give of ourselves in all that we do for the benefit of others -- at home, abroad, to friends and foes. By doing that we are truly 'ministers'. We are serving others. That is our 'ministry'.

Rather, that is a part of our ministry. We still have 'reconciliation'. What does this mean? According to Webster, 'reconcile' means 'to bring together, to unite.' Reconciliation, therefore means, 'restoration (to bring back) to harmony'. The idea then is that there are (at least) two parties that were at odds with one another. Perhaps one party was in the right and the other in the wrong. Perhaps one party, even though in the right, somehow 'hurt' the other party. In any case, the two parties that were at one time in harmony with each other are now in conflict.

In the case of the Creator God, YHWH, and creation, well, everything was fine. At first. Then people got it in their heads that they wanted to do things their way (I think the first people actually wrote the famous Sinatra song '(I Did It) My Way'.). And because of this rebellion, this treason, the entire created order was thrown into turmoil.

Now, one of the best parts of last nights discussion came in right at this point. I bring it up now to help explain this a little better. We talked about pottery. When a potter makes a pot, sometimes everything looks great until it goes through the fire. Then, once it comes out of kiln, there will be a crack in the pot. The way to fix this pot is to grind it down and start over. To recreate it. And, so I was told, the pot is better than before.

In case you miss the imagery -- people (actually all of creation but especially people) are the pot and God is the Potter. When people went 'through the fire' of following God or following their own way and came out the other side, they were flawed. They were cracked. And the severity of the crack did not just effect them. It effected the entire created order. Again, Romans 8 states that the whole creation was subjected to God’s curse because of the rebellion of people (Romans 8.20). And just like the potter in our illustration, God has been going about creating ways to fix the problem. And the climax of the first stage of that New Project was the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

I think a key to understanding the depth of the situation is the word 'harmony'. Harmony is such a great word. I love this definition, 'Things intended to form a connected whole. Unity.' Because of the great treason, the great rebellion, and the subsequent curse upon the created order, everything has been broken apart. It has been forced into disunity. But because of the faithfulness of the Potter, the first stage of the New Creation Project has been finished! The Project is to restore that harmony, that unity. It is to rejoin that which was separated and to 'form a connected whole'! That is what we see in the Old Testament prophecies and chapters 21 and 22 of the Book of Revelation -- God joining 'heaven' and 'earth' into one connected whole. Right now, there are little places of interlocking and overlapping, of harmony, where the Grace of God is working, all over the world. And people can be a part of that. That is what is so important about the first part of this post. Every time a person places their trust in Jesus of Nazareth, he or she becomes a part of that harmony! He or she becomes part of the New Creation Project!

But it doesn't stop there. Like Paul and his companions, we are given the 'ministry of reconciliation'. We are to show people by our actions and tell people with our words that God has reconciled them! That 'in Christ, God reconciled the world to himself', that God has forgiven their sins. We are to show them by our actions, our love for them, that they have been brought back into harmony with God. And not just people. We are to show and tell that all of creation is reconciled to God. That is why how we live is so important. Are our actions moving creation to that ultimate goal? Are our words full of that great message, 'Be reconciled to God'? My prayer is that we keep that in mind when we speak to people and we conduct our lives. We must be angled mirrors so that we can reflect God's love and grace back into creation.

So, what does 'ministry of reconciliation' mean? To me it means, 'To work through actions and words as a servant in restoring the harmony between God and creation to form one connected whole.'

And may it start with me.

Peace be with you.

+ OD

Go to Part 2 -->


Sam said…
Great timing for me in finding your blog. I lead (if anyone can actually lead)a weekly Bible Study and I was trying to open a dialogue about the book of James. I don't know whether Satan was attacking me or I wasn't focused, but I'm not sure my words or my thoughts ever met each other.

Great topic on Reconciliation.

BTW, my screen name is Irish-Dane from CPS.
Odysseus said…
Thanks Sam! You might want to add Odyssey to your RSS feed as I update it pretty regularly. In fact, I am working on a follow up to this post.

Concerning James: A great letter. I have mentioned it from time to time on here. If you have some questions I may be able to answer them. Just drop me a line.

Peace to you.

+ OD
Ted Gossard said…
OD, Many good thoughts here. I have picked up before and now seem to be picking up from you some sort of universalism in the sense of all being saved in the end? Maybe that's not what you mean by God having reconciled to himself in Christ all creation, including all of us humans. I know there are Christians (I think of Origen and a certain Calvin College professor here) who entertain something like this as possibility.

Thanks for sharing this. I agree with Mr. Rogers, by the way on simplicity. Jesus seems to have done it that way.
[...] of Reconciliatin — Part 2 A couple of posts ago, I discussed the idea of the meaning of the ministry of reconciliation. And the conclusion was that [...]
[...] I have decided to start a new series (and, no, I haven’t forgotten the Ministry of Reconciliation series).  This series will look at the Articles of Religion in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP).  [...]
[...] of Reconciliation — Part 3 In Part 1 we looked at various passages of Scripture and discovered our working definition of reconciliation [...]
cwgo said…
Yah! great set of articles on reconcilation. Good break down of Torah(His instructions) to us and telling the how, who what when and were of what we should do. If you can please check out leave a comment on articles.
[...] <– Go to Part 3 or Go to Part 1 –> [...]

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