God is using YOU: 2 Corinthians 5.11–21

godsparkDelivered at Ames UCC
on June 19, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard rather than read.
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At the heart of today’s passage from Paul’s second letter to his church at Corinth is the notion of reconciliation. The version we hear today, from
The Message translation, gives a clear definition:

God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them.

Reconciliation is the holy work of bridging divides, breaking down walls—whatever metaphor means the most to you to describe eliminating the divisions between people and holiness.

For Paul, the impetus to do this is Jesus Christ. He understands the execution and Easter mystery as God using Jesus as a scapegoat, in the most traditional sense of the word: Put all sins on Jesus then drive him out of existence.

And, for Paul, reconciliation is essential because Jesus will be back very, very soon. He’s less than 20 years out from Easter and certain to his bones that they need to be in the business of preparing for a massive, world-wide, collective, and final experience of God.

In the two millennia since Paul was building churches and creating this first Christian theology, as we have built churches and lived with that theology, we have developed other, equally valid, understandings.

You may remember that, last summer, I did a survey of our church and found we range from classic Pauline theology to “Jesus was a good, regular man to whom a bad thing was done and from whom we can learn to do better.” And we are not a church that places such an emphasis on a second coming of Christ. We name the constant risings of Christ in our midst rather than the cataclysm that Paul imagined.

I think there are at least two reasons for that. First, all predictions of the second coming have proved false. God’s time is clearly not our time. Second, we have plenty of cataclysms of our own that need to be reconciled. We don’t need to worry about one from on high.

This is, obviously, when I need to talk about Orlando and the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in the hours before we gathered for worship at Hobbit’s Hill last Sunday. After I went home from that lovely morning, I watched the news. I learned of the extent of the violence and that there had been a thwarted attack on the pride parade in Los Angeles.

That’s when I decided to host the gathering here on Monday night. As a formally gay-friendly church, we had to remind our county and ourselves that we are both a haven for the battered and scared and a beacon for the only thing that will save us: love.

God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them.

On Monday morning, Brad Friehoffer from the ISU LGBT student services center called to ask what they could do to help, so I asked for flags. We have an outdoor rainbow banner but nothing that I could use on our Communion table.

Later, as I draped the cross here with the trans pride flag, I wondered if I would get in trouble. Now, no one should ever feel “in trouble” at church. “In trouble” implies a power differential, a hierarchy, that cannot exist in beloved community. So I shook that off.

But then I wondered if anyone would find it indecent. Is it indecent to wrap the cross in a symbol of pride for transpeople? And to wrap the Communion table in a symbol of pride for all queer Americans?

Because indecency has been the issue with human sexuality and gender identity. Anything that appears to deviate from the cisgendered, heterosexual norm has been labeled not just naughty and titillating but perverted and dangerous. It is a notion of indecency that has been and continues to be promoted by people who, like us, gather at the foot of the cross.

Of course, the cross is the ultimate in indecency. If decency is the accepted standard for morality and behavior, then the cross is the ultimate violation of both. For those of us whose standard for morality and behavior is the open table of Christ, the cross that killed our host is the perversion. Building more crosses is the danger we must avoid.

Columbine, Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, Ft. Hood, Mother Emanuel, Aurora, and Orlando are the perversions. They are the crosses erected by individuals to slay their perceived enemies, to make a claim of power and superiority over others just as Rome did over Jesus 2,000 years ago. Those crosses and these murders are the antithesis of reconciliation.

God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them.

Paul’s barriers to reconciliation were the religious and cultural practices that kept people from joining his church and professing Jesus as anointed one. The reconciliation he was so burning to generate was between all of humanity and God as he had come to understand God on the road to Damascus.

That’s the same work we are called to do today, though without the claim of Christian superiority. Because of our own encounters with the holy, we are also trying to overcome barriers that keep people from seeing the full and gorgeous humanity of each other regardless of race, class, sexuality, gender, nation of origin, physical and cognitive capacities, and religion.

Paul had once been an agent of an oppressive state. He was once employed to persecute people, to judge them less-than and sentence them accordingly. But he was able to get free of the cross-addicted and become an emissary for the kin-dom of God.

How we follow in Paul’s footsteps is up to us. Each of us needs to identify the issue related to the prevention of mass murder on which we can actually act. I know it might feel overwhelming but our system of government and capital really do grant us significant leverage.  And, remember, as a member of AMOS, we are united with about 10,000 people. That’s a lot of leverage.

God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them.

We may be 2,000 years out from the execution and Easter mystery but the urgency of our work, and strength of God’s invitation to a new way, have not lessened. And the judgment on humanity’s shortcomings does not wait: It comes in these storms of bullets.

So do not worry about getting in trouble or any indecency beyond that of the premature, violent death of innocents.

Instead, let us reconcile ourselves to the truth that God is trying to use us to make things right in the world. And with this open table and last Monday night and the love in this space right now as evidence, we can. We already are.


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