Monday, March 20, 2017

Ambassadors of Reconciliation - Duty Calls

Years ago, after beholding the wrath of a nation in conflict due to an unpopular verdict that found LA Police officers not guilty of the use of excessive force, citizen Rodney King asked his fellow Americans with tears, “Can we all get along?” Currently, our national community continues to be tested by persistent division, increasing intolerance and violence from all sides that present this question with renewed intensity.  We continue to witness shocking displays of hateful words, harmful actions and divisive declarations.  In spite of a history rich with calls for unity and pleas for togetherness, our society continues to struggle in everyday terms with the concept of being one nation indivisible.  Even the Church struggles with oneness in Christ, as Sunday Worship Services stubbornly remain representative of not only racial segregation, but political and social separateness as well.

Nevertheless, in spite of the painful realities of persistent divisiveness, the call remains for Christians to spread the Good News across all barriers and to live as ambassadors of consistent and unrelenting reconciliation.  As Christ followers we must remember the directives that are spelled out in the Scriptures for us and not be distracted by the traditions of our earthbound perspectives. The admonitions from God’s Word are numerous:

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”

“Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.”

“We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;  that is, in Christ God was reconciling[c] the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore 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.”

To be effective ambassadors for racial reconciliation, we must rivet ourselves to the unchanging truth that reconciliation begins conceptually with God, requires inward transformation by God and calls for demonstrative action empowered by the Spirit of God.  For many years in the United Sates, we Christians have neglected to apply that truth and have instead sought to bring about change in our own strength and wisdom.  We have depended on the government or various movements to accomplish reconciliation for us. We have implemented numerous strategies to bring our people together across all types of dividing lines.  We have had it written into our founding documents.  We fought a Civil War to enforce it.  We wrote new laws when the War and the Constitution failed to bring about the degree of unity we sought.  We applied new educational emphases to help bring about togetherness, and spent a couple of decades teaching the world to sing about perfect harmony, and changing our own lives through peace, love and rock and roll.  Each of these actions accomplished some degree of change, but somehow, some way, flare ups of division, hatred and racial tension have found a way to dominate our national psyche, and sometimes they have infiltrated our churches and severely dampened our sense of hope and our resolve to be a reconciling people.  

With such painful setbacks in the face of significant yet uneven gains, should we continue the pursuit of peace, love and racial harmony? Absolutely.  But those of us who follow Christ must always remember Jesus’ directive, that if we are to bear His fruit, we must abide in Him.  Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”  We do not see the impact we desire to see in the area of racial unity, because we do not recognize it as a problem of the heart, with an ultimate spiritual solution.  We must acknowledge that our sinfulness and self-absorption prevents us as Christians from loving our brothers and sisters as we should, let alone our neighbors.  If we can’t model unity in our local churches with those whom the Bible says we are bound by “… one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call — one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all,” how can we preach unity to others? If we who are one by the power of the Holy Spirit and the victory of Jesus, cannot express that oneness in our community of faith in real life and real time, how can we expect the rest of the nation to experience it?  

We, those who love Jesus, must lead the way of reconciliation by living up to our calling as ambassadors, even though the process is challenging and the path, difficult.  We must “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and…run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…” Just as Jesus endured the pain and suffering of the Cross, we must endure the inconveniences that often accompany our efforts of reaching out to brothers, sisters and neighbors who are different.  We must risk the pain of misunderstanding and being misunderstood, while clothing ourselves with a humility that opens doors for second chances, forgiveness, and the building of trust. We must unflinchingly pursue the gains of reconciliation that come from a loving commitment to the pursuit of friendship no matter how rough the seas of relationship might be.  

We who follow Jesus must carry out the ministry of reconciliation by basing our every move on the transformation brought about by the Lord Who has saved us.  We must demonstrate our transformation by our example, and by our example, hold out the hope of transformation for others.  We must do this as individuals, as local churches and whole communities.  As ambassadors of Heaven, our true country, we must represent the One who sent us, not seeking to be comfortable, but seeking to be conformed to His image, committed to His purpose, engaged in the work of breaking down barriers of hatred and division by building bridges of love and unity in Jesus’ Name! Let those of us who belong to the household of God open the doors, step out in faith, reach out and apply ourselves to the worthy work of reconciliation.  Let us love our friends, love our enemies and make the love of Jesus’ known by sharing the wisdom of love wherever and whenever the foolishness of hate presents itself.  Let us commit ourselves to demonstrating the reality of Jesus being our peace by speaking words of peace and living lives of peace in a deeply troubled era.  Let us love boldly as peacemakers – the children of God - to walk the walk so that others may see what we do, and give God the glory by doing likewise! There is no other way!

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