Reconciliation. Colossians 1:19-20
Welcome to SBD. Through the sundays of Lent leading up to Easter we’re focussing on one of the central events in the Christian faith, the cross of Jesus Christ. In these last weeks we have seen how the cross deals with our guilt (justification), our slavery (Redemption) and our shame (cleansing/expiation). This week we’re going to focus on how the cross deals with our alienation. We’re going to think about how the cross reconciles. We’re going to do that by looking at some verses from our reading in Colossians 1 on page … vv19-20.
What do I mean by alienation? Here’s an ancient story.
Once a man and a woman lived in an unimaginable paradise. They had everything they could possibly want. They enjoyed an intimate relationship with God, with one another and with the world in which they lived. They had a freedom to know and to explore.
But, they chose to betray the trust God had given them… Soon, instead of rushing to meet him, they hid from him; instead of selflessly loving one another, they began to blame and accuse; instead of developing the richness of their home, they experienced it as a place of frustrating labour. The story ends with an eviction. The couple are exiled to the east, from where no good thing can come. They are alienated from God, from one another and from home.
The Jewish Intellectual Edward Said, begins his essay Reflections on Exile with these words: “Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience. It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted.”
Now, I am sure many of you are familiar with that story from the opening chapters of the Hebrew Bible. It’s a story which has been told by Jews and Christians for thousands of years. It gives an account of our experience of tense sadness in the world.
See on the one hand we’re aware that the world is a place of great beauty and goodness. It is full of endless riches and feels like home. [Science museum - Testament to the work of human discovery and ingenuity for the common good - you can watch IMAX 3D film about life under the oceans ..extraordinary - coral reef, touch it. - miracle: on a precise day once a year the coral spawns - new life… ] endless riches.
But, we are also aware that the world is a hard place in which to make our home. often something is wrong. We feel displaced. Something is wrong. [Our work in the world, without which we feel less than human, often feels nothing like discovery for the common good. And more like slog and frustration. It can easily become selfish. Those same coral reefs that regenerate every year cannot do so fast enough to counter their destruction caused by human greed. Great beauty and goodness in the world but…something is deeply wrong
We’re aware too that human beings are extraordinary creatures with an intense ability to create and to love. This last week i cam across another amazing growing charity operating in Hackney. The happy baby community provides support for women who are pregnant or have small children and are survivors of trafficking. But, we are also aware that human beings struggle to get on. We argue, we fight, we wage war, we retreat from one another. [Syria: 450k dead in 7 years/national, racial, class pride - we flock with those like us, we love those who love us. Roots of Bitterness can set in.
Finally, many people are aware that there is more to the world than meets the eye. There is a sense of something, maybe somebody, which is transcendent. [Walk the city. encounter churches, temples, synagogues, meetings in homes where - something transcendent is being sought] But, we’re also aware that the transcendent is elusive. We often ignore it or struggle to find it. When we encounter it we often recoil from it or reject it or hate it. [Last week have you found even yourself withdrawing from God?].
All this is what it means to be alienated from the world, from each other, from God. We live east of Eden.
Now the story says that When alienation sets in there is need for reconciliation. Parties who are set against each other need to be brought back together. Severed relationships need to be mended and restored. The ancient Jewish prophets imagined humanity reconciled to God, to each other and to the world. They called it, Shalom, Peace. [Extraordinary set of images to imagine what that will be like Wolf/lamb; child/snakes nest] All things will be reconciled
Colossians 1:19-20 tells us that God has already done that comprehensive work of reconciliation through the blood of Christ shed on the cross. Have a look at it.
Notice first God’s passionate desire for reconciliation. God takes the initiative. ‘God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Christ’ [Many of us when we fall out with each other. We specialise in the silent sulking approach, you don’t say anything but you let the other person know that they have deeply wounded you and you wait for them to come and talk to you] Colossians 1 says God does not sulk in a corner brooding over how mean human beings have been to him. Rather, he draws close. He holds nothing back. He is pleased to allow all his fullness to dwell in Christ who dwells with us in order that he might reconcile all things to himself.
Notice too that reconciliation is costly. The God who draws close in Christ does so to shed his blood on the cross. It’s about violent death. At one level we know that reconciliation is costly. If you have ever fallen out with someone then it will often take a lot out of you emotionally, spiritually and physically to restore the relationship. Have you ever felt that? And the greater the offence, the greater the cost particularly if you are the innocent party.
[Marilyn Robinson’s novel Home is the sister novel to her acclaimed Gilead. It tells the story of Glory Boughton - a teacher in her 40s who has never married and returns home to care for her dying Father. At the same time her youngest brother, Jack, the prodigal son, who has been gone twenty years, returns home seeking refuge and to make peace with the past. He is welcomed with love.. But reconciliation is costly. Old wounds are opened. Deep hurts and regret. And the fear of a repeat performance looms..
Reconcilation is costly. The greater the offence the greater the cost particularly if you are the innocent party.
God was pleased to have all his fulness dwell in Christ, and through him to reconcile to himself all things… by making peace through his blood shed on the cross.
God draws close as the rejected creator and lover in order to make peace with his creatures who have chosen to be… his enemies.
21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of[g] your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—
Enemies? Now you might say.. hang on a minute. Isn’t that overstating the case? I might not be that interested in God but I am not his enemy. We may not be on speaking terms but I don’t wish him any ill.
Maybe it’s only when we get up close to the God of the Bible that we realise we might be his enemy after all. See, what if I said to you that this God says that He alone is the way to spiritual life and you can contribute nothing, you must come to him. What if I said to you that this God demands that you serve him with every part of your life that he has given you? What if I said to you that this God says you can hold nothing back from him? He wants everything.
Maybe you don’t feel quite so neutral towards him then. Maybe we say ‘no’ and we fight him for control of our life. Maybe it’s not so far fetched to say that we are his enemies in need of reconciliation.
Neither is it simply a one sided affair. As if we don’t like God and that hostility on our part just needs to be overcome by some good PR. We just need to see how great God actually is. No, the enmity is on both sides. Our human rejection of God, our taking of the gifts but rejecting the giver. Our human self-love. Living like we are God. All this that the Bible calls sin - has provoked God’s righteous, holy anger.
We have rejected God in his world and he is perfectly within his rights to reject us. It’s a punishment we perversely welcome and deserve.
But still he comes after us in love. Even while we are still his enemies he loves us and he gives himself for us. In the shedding of his blood he does the costly work of reconciliation. In Christ, God takes upon himself his anger against our sin so that we will never have to bear it. He takes our place. This is an incredible discovery.
Once when i was at university and a foolish young man, I inadvertently had managed to offend this guy who was a bit of a nutter. Apparently he was on his way round to my house to ‘kill me’ some friends of mine waited outside my house to bar his way incase he came. All the time i was totally unaware that this was happening - I was sleeping in my bed (suffice to say the misunderstanding was cleared up). But look, we were in terrible danger, having rejected God, perhaps we weren’t even aware of it. But while we were sleeping soundly in our beds, Jesus met that danger in our place and dealt with it. In paying for our sins Jesus absorbs the deep brokenness and alienation which have invaded reality and he mends it. He makes possible a new relationship between God and humanity, within humanity and between humanity and the world. In all the circles of our alienation He creates and brokers peace.
The Apostle Paul says an extraordinary thing in Ephesians 2 – he says, “Christ is our peace”. That’s unique. All the prophets of the world’s religions in one way or another call their followers to live lives of peace; all the people of good will who do the hard work of reconciliation from marriage counselling to inter-community relations to international diplomacy invite people to make peace. But, here we are promised that there is a man in whom dwells all the fullness of God and he is our peace!
This is an extraordinary claim.
[Imagine: Tony Blair – UN Envoy for Middle East – Jerusalem “I am your peace!” unimaginable. (actually maybe you could imagine it but would be ridiculous. no mere human being would make that claim.] Christ is our peace. An extraordinary claim.
Let me end by working that out in the three circles of alienation where Jesus reconciles all things to God. First of all he turns us from being God’s enemies to being God’s friends as we trust in him. Access to God! He allows us to draw near to God the Father with confidence. Important to hear that because Maybe some of us are fearful of drawing near to God. We think that we’re not good enough. Maybe some of us are working hard to try and get close to God. Maybe some of us have allowed ourselves to grow distant from God. Listen: Jesus is our peace. Rest in Him. There is hope. [This is the great reality of adoption. Through union with Christ the Son, we now have the same Father. Jesus taught his disciples to pray Our Abba. More intimate word than Father.. more respectful than Daddy. Dad. Pray to your Dad in heaven. This is who he is to you. You who were once God’s enemies as you rest in Christ’s reconciling work - you now are able to call him Abba]
But, secondly Jesus our peace restores us to relationship with one another. If you put two or more human beings together for any length of time then conflict will emerge. There are no exceptions. Our default is to quickly blame each other. Or retreat into our comfortable tribes. The good news of the Gospel is that Christ is our peace. If we rest in him and see the cost of our reconciliation then maybe we stop blaming the other and are open to forgive. Christ our peace can and does restore broken human relationships. [CTC Europe. Prague, Urban church plants 50 different cities, 20 European countries. Our best friends - the Germans. Berlin and Hamburg guys.. Communion - moving because 100 years ago.. and again 75 years ago our ancestors were killing one another. And now we break bread together because Christ is our peace.]
In the church of Jesus Christ, God is creating a new humanity - a disparate people, enemies, people who are chalk and cheese - he makes us One in Christ. Jesus says doesn’t he: ‘Don’t just love those who love you (who are like you) - everyone does that. Love your enemies.. Love the different. Love those who are difficult to love. Then you’ll be true children of your Father in heaven.’ In our church, in your workplace, at the schoolgates - move beyond your comfort zone - talk to people you’ve never talked to before. Find out about them. Christ is our peace. We commit ourselves to the peace of our church and our communities and our world because of Christ.
Finally, Jesus our peace ultimately reconciles the whole created order to God – all things whether on heaven or on earth. His body in which God’s fullness dwells, is raised from the dead. He promises that in and through this body the whole material created order will be renewed. We will one day no longer be alienated in this world. It will once again be our home. So, in and through Christ our peace we anticipate that life now. We seek the good of the earth. We pursue shalom. Because we know in Christ who is our peace there is hope.
Christ is our peace. Through him God has reconciled to himself all things in heaven and on earth by making peace through his blood shed on the cross.