Grace Presbyterian Church
March 1, 2017, Ash Wednesday A
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
This is a great shirt, isn’t it? (Note: see below) Upon receiving it from Mabel Tuma on Sunday I knew it was the coolest piece of clothing I’ve ever owned. Direct from Cameroon.
I am forced to confess that before coming to this congregation and meeting the Tuma family, I didn’t really know a lot about Cameroon, and didn’t really think much about it. When I did notice it, it was mostly around the quadrennial World Cup in soccer, if their national team (the Indomitable Lions – that is an awesome team name, people) made a run in the competition.
As a result, I was never particularly aware of the country’s nearness to the ongoing struggle against the violent group Boko Haram, kidnappers of young girls. I certainly knew nothing of the increasingly strained relations between the country’s French-speaking and English-speaking populations. No clue.
Cameroon would hardly be the only country of which this was, and still is, true for me. I know there is internal conflict in Myanmar, but next to nothing about it. There is also ongoing conflict, with acts of terrorism, in Peru, and Colombia is trying to work out a fragile peace with paramilitary rebel groups in its own borders. Ukraine is dealing with pro-Russian rebels, ongoing civil war in South Sudan, drug war in Mexico...if it isn’t in the Middle East, we can pretty easily ignore it. And we certainly don’t want to look at acts of violence in this country, including that shooting too near my old hometown back in Kansas a few days ago, that we would call terrorism if they happened anywhere else in the world.
We could talk about “white privilege” here – we good Americans don’t have to be concerned with these things, because, well, we’re good Americans. We could talk about a lot of things, but I wonder if we need to be listening to Paul here, and concerning ourselves with being reconciled to God.
This is how this reading from Paul begins – “be reconciled to God.” That’s pretty straightforward, or so it seems. But the context for this instruction is anything but. Paul, a founder of this church in Corinth, had found himself tossed aside as that body fell under the sway of fancier, more uppercrust self-proclaimed evangelists who filled the ears of the Corinthians with something like a first-century equivalent of prosperity doctrine, who presented themselves as classier, more sophisticated, more erudite, more elite leaders than Paul. That had to hurt.
Having earlier in the letter vented his frustrations at the Corinthians, Paul now turns to the crux of the matter, and he has enough wit to know that before charging off to try to patch things up with the Corinthians, it was necessary to remind them of the indispensible and irreplaceable thing; to be reconciled to God, “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Of course, Paul then goes right to making his case before the Corinthians as to how he and his colleagues had conducted themselves in their work in Corinth.
But being reconciled to God, really being the righteousness of God because of Christ’s work on the cross, changes us – not just in individual personal ways, but us as a body of believers, us as the body of Christ. When we are seeing the world through the righteousness of God we see all the world, no longer obliterated by our more immediate concerns. We are reconciled to all God’s children, not just the ones in this place or the downtown church or the church out in the county.
We feel with God the grief or the sorrow for warfare, conflict, injustice, and oppression in all places where they happen, not just the ones that show up on our nightly news. Our compassions don’t stop at the city limits or county limits or state line or national borders. We see the world as God’s, and we realize the world’s mortality is our mortality, the world’s suffering is our suffering, the world’s cry for justice becomes our cry for justice.
No, this isn’t your usual Lent theme about ashes or giving something up, except in the sense of perhaps giving up our insular mindset or tunnel vision. Being reconciled to God means everyone matters, and that’s not an easy thing to learn. But perhaps that might be the kind of Lenten fast that would make a difference in our world fraught with conflict and strife. To be so reconciled to God that we see the world as God sees it, we see each other as God sees us all: now that is a challenge for Lent. To live as though Cameroon and Peru and Ukraine and Olathe, Kansas matter; there is a worthy fast.
For real, genuine, eye-opening reconciliation with God, Thanks be to God. Amen.
Hymns (from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal):
#165 The Glory of These Forty Days
#421 Have Mercy, God, Upon My Life
#166 Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days
The shirt in question. Best garment I have now.