February 10, 2016
Seminary of the Southwest
Joel 2:1-2; 12-17
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-22
“We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor 5:20b)
As we enter into this season of Lent, I have been thinking a great deal about reconciliation.
I have felt deep in myself all the places in which divisions and hurts have created deep chasms and gulfs among people.
We see this in our politics where the Democratic and Republican fields reveal stark contrasts about the nature of this country and where it ought to head.
And these are divisions not only between the parties but strong generational and ideological divides within these electorates.
We feel it deeply in the life of the Anglican Communion where both progressives and traditionalists alike can appeal to Scripture, reason, and tradition to offer completely different views on human sexuality.
These seemingly irreconcilable views have lead to deep wounds in our life together as Anglicans.
And of course we feel it daily in our lives — the hurts we have experienced and done; the isolation and anonymity of our lives, the marginalization of the poor, the homeless, the different.
We live in our bubbles, surrounding ourselves with like-minded people, resisting encounters with those whose very presence might upset our vision of reality.
And so we must hear again earnestly these words of Paul — “We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor 5:20b)
Why first must we be reconciled to God before we can be reconciled to each other?
The witness of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, is that since humanity is, as the pinnacle of creation in the image and likeness of God, the stability of the created order and our own lives depends on humans first living in right relationship with God.
If we see God as the source of all good things and we remove ourselves as the center of reality, we, our relationships, society, and creation itself, is able to live in harmony.
But if we remove God as the source of all and put ourselves, our politics, our economics, or anything else in the center, chaos eventually creeps in.
Too often this is exactly what happens.
And so we need reconciliation.
And if we see the signs of the need for reconciliation in our lives and in the world around us, it is also a sign of our collective need for reconciliation with God.
This reconciliation is constantly offered to us by God.
We experience it as something done for us definitively in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
But it is also something we are called to over and over again in our lives, as we hear in the words of the prophet Joel.
“Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.”
We are called to return to God over and over in the Scriptures.
And why do we return?
Because God has revealed to us his true nature.
God is not a fierce, angry judge waiting to destroy us.
Rather, God is, as we first heard in Exodus when Moses was on Sinai, and now again in Joel, God is gracious and merciful, abounding in steadfast love.
The punishments that fall upon us are the results of the chaos and discord that raises up when we draw away from God as the scope and focus of all things.
But when we draw near to God, we encounter grace, mercy, love.
We experience reconciliation.
We experience reconciliation, first with God and then with one another.
It is fitting that we place ashes on our heads today.
They serve as a sign of our true repentance and our deep desire for reconciliation.
And as dust they remind us of the dust to which we will return.
But that dust also represents the earth, the created order.
We stand remembering it is God who made all that is and that we are here to live in right relationship with God and all creation.
And we stand on the cusp of the long journey towards the cross and the grave, to that moment, when Jesus, returned to the earth, rose up from it, triumphed over death and set all things right.
Jesus Christ is the author of our salvation and the maker of our reconciliation with God and all creation.
So let us receive our ashes and return again to the work of reconciliation.