Reconciliation - Are the Bible and the News talking about the same thing?
A sermon on Colossians 1:15-28 by Nathan Nettleton, 19 July 1998
Our experience of being reconciled to God through Christ provides the inspiration and the model for the work of reconciliation across the various divides within our world.
Reconciliation is frequently heard buzz word these days. You can listen to or read the news any week and you will hear the word used, usually with reference to indigenous Australians and specifically to the search for a just and harmonious relationship between them and the rest of Australias population. But you wont only find this word in current affairs. In the New Testament we are told that through our Lord Jesus Christ we have now received reconciliation. That God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself. And that God is giving us the ministry of reconciliation and is entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So does the use of the word in the newspaper mean the same thing as the use of the word in the New Testament? Is the reconciliation that the aboriginal people are calling for the same thing that God says is our ministry? I would suggest that they are at least very closely related, but I hope that you know better than to just take my word for it, so lets look at this scripture passage in light of these questions.
Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God. He has in himself the full nature of God. Through Jesus Christ, God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things. This idea of reconciliation, of the whole world being reconciled to God, appears repeatedly in the New Testament, most notably in Pauls letters to the Romans, to the Corinthians, and in the reading weve just heard to the Colossians. God was in Christ, and through Christ the reconciliation of all things to God is accomplished.
Now the idea of reconciliation presupposes some things, doesnt it? I mean, if I said I needed to be reconciled to my wife, whats the first thing you would assume???
Thats right youd assume that there was some sort of breakdown in our relationship. And before anybody starts worrying about the fact that shes not here this morning, no its not because of any breakdown in our relationship. If I said there was a need for reconciliation between me and the Church Council, what would you assume???
Yes, that there was a breakdown in my relationship with the Church Council. So when the scriptures say that there is a need for reconciliation between God and the world, what do you assume???
Thats right, there is a breakdown in the relationship between God and the world. Now how could that be? God created all things and declared them to be good. God was pleased with all that was created and Gods intent ever since has been to bless all of creation, to take pleasure in all of creation, to delight in the fertility, growth, prospering and joy of all creation. So how could there be a breakdown in a relationship like that? What happened???
Yep, as Paul put it in our reading, we became estranged and hostile in mind. We abandoned God, and consequently Gods ability to keep blessing us was limited. We distanced ourselves from God causing enormous pain to God and enormous deprivation to ourselves.
Now when you think about it, if God is the one sinned against, what would God have done if God behaved like us? If God behaved like most of us God would have said, Well if thats the way your going to treat me you can all go and get lost. Ill have nothing further to do with you until you come in your knees and say sorry. God would have said that since we caused the problem, it was up to us to make the first move in repairing it.
But is that what God did??? No. God reached out to us in Jesus Christ to reconcile us to himself through his suffering and death on the cross. Not only did God not say we had to make the first move, but in making the first move himself, he put his body on the line. He risked and copped the ultimate rejection. Reaching out the hand of reconciliation, the hand of undeserved friendship, he had it slapped back in his face and was killed for his trouble. But even that couldnt stop him. God raised Christ back to life and the reconciliation project was continued and ever since then there have been men and women here and there who have taken the hand offered in friendship and found themselves reconciled to God: the relationship restored, the blessing resumed.
Now there is an important point to note here: although God was willing to take the initiative in this reconciliation project before we expressed any sort of apology, that doesnt mean an apology was unnecessary. You all know from your own reconciliation with God that although God reached out to you first, one of the first steps of response you had to make was to say sorry. To confess your rejection of God and repent, change your ways. And why? Because there can be no genuine reconciliation that is not based on truth and honesty. A reconciliation that doesnt take seriously the nature of the initial breakdown in the relationship will be superficial and short lived. Thats why in South Africa today there is a Truth and Reconciliation Council. They know that there will not be real reconciliation between the racial groups in South Africa unless the truth of the breakdown is first told and acknowledged.
And that question brings us to our original question: Is the reconciliation spoken about by Paul in the New Testament the same thing as the reconciliation being called for by the indigenous people of Australia? Well not exactly, but yes almost. Not exactly because Paul is usually speaking primarily about the reconciliation of people to God. But yes almost because he also says that God has handed the ministry and the message of reconciliation to us, and the reconciliation of people one to another is implicit in the reconciliation of people to God.
Let me illustrate. Tim and Dayo, come out here. Now just for the purposes of illustration, Im God for a moment. And Im standing here with an arm around each of Tim and Dayo because, as God, Ive reconciled them both to myself. Now whats going to happen if Im standing here demonstrating my love to each of them and theyre trying to kill each other??? Thats right, Im going to get caught in the middle, arent I? And whats more, how long are people going to believe me if I just keep saying I love you to both of them while theyre trying to kill each other? Not long, hey? I cant stay neutral for long and still expect to be close to both of them.
Now lets push this a bit further. Tim sit down and Vipiano, you come up here instead of Tim. Now Im still God and Ive reconciled both Dayo and Vipiano to myself, but Dayo is trying to exterminate Vipiano. Now here in the Red corner we have Dayo. How tall are you Dayo? And how heavy? And here in the Blue corner we have Vipiano. How tall are you Vipiano? And how heavy? OK, so weve got Dayo, at 28 years of age and a rippling muscled mountain of a man. And hes trying to kill Vipiano here, a girl who turned nine years old last Friday and whos half his height and about a quarter of his weight. OK now Dayo, you start strangling Vipiano here. Now what do the rest of you expect of me as God? Can I stay neutral and just keep telling them both that I love them? Can I say, well its got nothing to do with me, it only matters that theyre spiritually reconciled to me? Can I say that politics and religion have got nothing to do with each other?
No, I cant can I? You can put her down now Dayo. There is a lot of rubbish spoken about politics and religion having nothing to do with each other, and theres a lot of rubbish spoken about reconciliation. All things cannot be fully reconciled to God without also being reconciled to each other. God is not just reconciling things one at a time without any concern for how they relate to one another.
And in the debates about the struggle to bring about reconciliation between indigenous and settler peoples in Australia it is very easy to speak rubbish in words that sound good and Christian and true. It is very easy for a Pauline Hanson to get up and say that all people should be treated equally. Sounds good. A quarter of Queensland say thats right and vote for her. Equal rights, we all agree with that. But when Dayos trying to kill Vipiano do we treat them equally? Do we just make sure that they both agree on the rules of the fight and leave them to it? Level playing field? I dont think so. Equal treatment is not necessarily fair. I dont refuse to give Jane a large print song book because everybody else can read the screen and I want to treat her equally. Fair treatment means that everyone is worthy of equal moral consideration, and equal moral consideration always takes into account the differences that we start with, not ignoring them in the interests of some superficial level playing field.
Pauline Hanson says we shouldnt fund special health programs for Aboriginal people because we dont have them for white people. Well given that on nearly every health measure you can come up with Aboriginal people are at the lower end of the scale in this country, her argument is a bit like saying we shouldnt fund special health programs for sick people because we dont need them for healthy people!
Gods anger at the unjust treatment of the poor and the downtrodden is thundered by the prophets from earliest times and is still part of the message of reconciliation. The truth must be acknowledged. Apologies must be made. God has shown us what reconciliation is all about by reconciling us through Christ. Now the message of reconciliation is in our hands. God has given us the example. God has shown us the model by which reconciliation takes place.
In Jesus Christ, God as the one sinned against reached out the hand and offered to make peace with those who had mistreated him. There is absolutely no doubt that in Australia today it is the Aboriginal peoples, the ones sinned against, who are reaching out the hand in peace and dreaming of reconciliation. Its not them who are using words like guilt and compensation claims. Theyre talking reconciliation, peace.
In response to his offer of reconciliation, Jesus Christ looks for an honest acknowledgement of the wrongs of the past, a confession, an apology. In response to their offer of reconciliation, our indigenous brothers and sisters look for an honest acknowledgement of the wrongs of the past. A truth telling. An apology. Our culture sought to dismantle their culture. The institutions of our culture decimated their families by taking their children away.
And theres no use saying that we cant apologize because it wasnt our generation that did it. Suppose Dayo didnt beat up Vipiano. Dayos grandfather beat up Vipianos grandfather, and now Dayos living in the house that Vipiano would have inherited and Vipianos sleeping outside the gate. Does that mean that Dayos got nothing to apologize for. I dont believe for a moment that if the current Japanese government made an apology for what Japan did to Australian POWs during the war, that Bruce Ruxton and the RSL would say, Oh theres no need for that, it wasnt your generation.
And when we respond to the offer of reconciliation in Christ, Christ calls us to follow up our apology with repentance, with a change of ways. The Aboriginal peoples are asking no more than that. Replace oppression with justice. Stop showing contempt and show respect. They are not asking us to get out of their land, although it would not be an unjustifiable demand. They are asking merely to be honoured as the traditional owners of the land.
In an act of extraordinary grace, after 200 years of being trampled over, disregarded, dispossessed and subjected to genocidal policies, like Christ with nails in his wrists and thorns in his brow, the original inhabitants of this land are reaching out the hand of peace and offering us reconciliation.
Yes, I reckon this word does mean the same thing in both these contexts. Christ has reconciled us to God and shown us the model for reconciliation. Now the Spirit of God is moving in this land and calling our generation to follow that model again and respond again to the hand of reconciliation held out to us. And I suspect that if we slap back this hand of peace from our black brothers and sisters, we will be slapping back the hand of God. But I dont think that will happen. I dont think our generation will long tolerate the hard hearted refusal of our politicians to accept that hand of peace. I believe that the Spirit of God is stronger and the day of reconciliation is upon us. Who will be my people of peace, Who can I send? says the Lord. Lets make our response, Here I am, Lord. Send me.