by Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
Reconciliation restitches the unraveled, reverses the rebellion, rekindles the cold passion. Reconciliation touches the shoulder of the wayward and woos him homeward.
Max Lucado, He Chose the Nails, 64
In Jesus Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself. Jesus Christ is God with man. He is the eternal Son of the Father, who became man and lived among us to fulfill the work of reconciliation. He is present in the church by the power of the Holy Spirit to continue and complete his mission. This work of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is the foundation of all confessional statements about God, man and the world. Therefore, the church calls men to be reconciled to God and to one another.
To be reconciled to God is to be sent into the world as his reconciling community. This community, the church universal, is entrusted with God’s message of reconciliation and shares his labor of healing the enmities which separate men from God and from each other. Christ has called the church to this mission and given it the gift of the Holy Spirit. The church maintains continuity with the apostles and with Israel by faithful obedience to his call.
Confession of 1967 – Reconciliation
Phil had become a Christian several years earlier and he was growing in his faith. He knew that possessions were not the center of life and he had more than enough to live, but he was not happy with losing a significant amount of money. He also knew that we are supposed to forgive those who hurt us, but he had been betrayed and just couldn’t let go of his anger. Eventually he started to calm down and his anger didn’t eat at him quite as much. Part of that was remembering that he had himself been forgiven many sins, but part of it was that Nessie wasn’t around. Out of sight, out of mind.
Then Nessie showed up at his door. He had a letter that he gave to Phil. It was from the man who had first told Phil about Jesus.
Every time I think about you I give thanks to God. I keep hearing about your love and the faith that you have in Jesus, faith and love that overflow into the lives of those around you. People can see Christ in your life. You have no idea how good that makes me feel.
And now, I have a request to make of you. I have continued to tell people about Jesus and even though I’m in jail, people are giving their lives to Jesus. That includes Onesimus – Nessie – who stands before you right now.
I know what he did to you – how he stole your possessions and ran away. I’m sending him back to you, hoping that you will welcome him, not so much as a servant but as a brother in Christ. Whatever he owes you, feel free to charge to my account – and don’t forget that you own me your life and your faith.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
In case you haven’t figured it out, that is a paraphrase of Philemon – Phil – the shortest and most personal of all Paul’s letters. I tell you that story, and had Joan read the story about Jacob and Laban, because they point to the theme that is at the center of our confession for this week, The Confession of 1967. The theme is reconciliation.
Let me give you a little background for this confession. In 1956 the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church was asked to work on a revision of the Westminster Confession. At that point it was the only confession we had as Presbyterians, but it was 300 years old – a bit outdated. The committee that worked on the revision came back in 1958 with the suggestion that a new confession should be written. A new committee worked for seven years on the new confession. In 1965 a draft was sent out to the local churches and presbyteries for comments and suggestions. After the comments came back the committee revised the confession. In 1966 the General Assembly approved the new confession and sent it out to the presbyteries to vote on it. It needed 2/3 of the presbyteries to approve it but about 90% approved it. In 1967 it was officially adopted as one of the Presbyterian Confessions, with the creative name, The Confession of 1967.
The Confession of 1967 is built around our passage in 2 Corinthians. “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself… and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us” (2 Corinthians 5:19). It’s all about reconciliation. There are three sections in the Confession. The first one is called “God’s Work of Reconciliation.” It talks about how God, through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, has reconciled us to himself. The second section is titled “The Ministry of Reconciliation.” Those of us who have been reconciled to God belong to the Church and are sent out into the world to proclaim God’s work in Christ and to work for reconciliation, between people and God and between different people. The third section is titled “The Fulfillment of Reconciliation.” This section affirms our hope that in the end God ultimately wins. At the end of time the Kingdom of God will become a reality and we will be reconciled to God and to each other.
The banner for the Confession of 1967 is probably my favorite one. The stars and the planets on the blue background suggest the Space-Age setting. Our perspective of the creation is very different from the people who wrote the Westminster Confession, much less the Nicene Creed. The hand at the top that is reaching down, is a symbol for God reaching down to the world. It is the same hand that was in the banner for the Nicene Creed. The crown at the top of the cross is repeated from two banners, the Nicene Creed and the Westminster Confession. The crown points to the victory of Jesus. In the end he will rule over all the earth. The circle underneath the cross represents the earth and the four hands of different colors, pointing to the two hands that are clasped, suggest the reconciliation that God works through Christ. People of all colors, black, yellow, white, and red, will come together at the foot of the cross. The cross and the nail-scarred hand remind us of Jesus, who brings about our reconciliation with God and with each other.
Think for a moment about what was going on in the world during the time when this was written – the 1960s. The Cold War, with the threat of nuclear devastation, was very real. Racial division was exploding. The conflict over race in our country was at least as bad as it is now, if not worse. Women’s liberation was becoming an issue, pointing to the divide between men and women. The generational divide was starting to pull our country apart. The need for reconciliation was very real.
I doubt that I need to spend much time trying to convince you that the need for reconciliation is just as real today – just turn on the news or read about the Presidential election. We need reconciliation between Republicans and Democrats; racial reconciliation in our cities; reconciliation between the rich and the poor, between the third world and developed countries; reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis, between Shia and Sunni Muslims. The list could go on and on. The truth is that we don’t need to look out “there,” at the world, to find the need for reconciliation. We all probably have broken relationships, people with whom we need to work on reconciliation. And because we all continue to sin, we all continue to need reconciliation with God. We need Jesus as much today as we did the day he died on the cross and the day we first believed.
There are at least three different ways that the message of reconciliation can connect with our lives. First, we all need to be reconciled to God. We all turn away from God. And so, whether it is for the first time in your life or for the tenth time this weekend, turn your hearts and minds to Jesus. For through him we are reconciled to God.
The second way this message connects with us is that you may know someone who needs to be reconciled to God. That is part of what it means to be reconciled to God, telling others the good news of Jesus. Our job is to tell people, to remind them, that in Christ our sins are forgiven and we are reconciled with God.
The third way reconciliation connects with us is that we all probably have people with whom we need to be reconciled. We’ve been hurt, or we’ve hurt someone else, and a relationship has been broken. This is about forgiving and being forgiven, which is hard. And if it seems too hard, then I invite you to remember that you have been forgiven. Remember that Jesus died for your sins and he died for the sins of the one you can’t forgive. We are called to work for reconciliation with other people.
Let me close by telling you a story of reconciliation. Hubert Humphrey, the senator from Minnesota and Vice President under Lyndon Johnson, won the Democratic nomination for President in 1968. He narrowly lost to Richard Nixon. Humphrey was a liberal Democrat and was known as a peacemaker, not only in politics but in his relationships.
Near the end of his life he was talking with a friend who was a pastor. They were reflecting on his life, remembering the good times and the difficult times. Humphrey said that the lowest point in his life was right after he lost to Nixon.
His friend asked him when the last time was that he had been in Washington DC. Humphrey thought for a moment and said, “I guess I ought to go back one last time.” His wife, Muriel, said “That’s great. I’ll call the president right now.” The next day President Carter flew to Minneapolis in Air Force One and picked Humphrey up to take him back to D.C.
Several weeks later Humphrey called up his pastor friend to thank him. As they talked his friend said, “Hubert, I doubt there is any American more applauded than you… The irony is that there is another man in our country who lives in almost total exile. His name is Richard Nixon. Because of the Watergate scandal he is isolated and all alone. Should he be forgiven? Could there be healing and reconciliation?” Humphrey thought for a bit and realized that probably better than anyone else he could help Nixon come back into the public eye with some sense of dignity. He said that he would contact Nixon and invite him to come to his funeral.
Several months later Humphrey died and at his funeral Richard Nixon sat next to Muriel Humphrey. Someone asked, “How could they invite Nixon to Humphrey’s funeral?” Someone sitting close by answered, “If you knew Hubert Humphrey you wouldn’t have asked that question.”
May we be people who are reconciled to God and are known to be working for reconciliation in our world.