Sunday, February 27, 2005

Word for the Week

Romans 5:1-11

I mentioned in last week's introduction that the Christian lectionary has a way of creating "happy accidents". This week's text is a fine example of how that works.

It's a transitional paragraph, a scrap of a reading--but an important one. Because the switch Paul is making here is from talking about how Christians are saved to what salvation means in their everyday lives.

His answer gets to the heart of his ministry: reconciliation. When the apostle looked out on the world, he saw a place torn apart by sin, in desperate need of a unifying force. His belief was that Christ's atoning death and resurrection provided that unity: though humanity did not deserve a second chance, yet God offered one in Christ, and through it, restored us to friendship with the almighty.

But though reconciliation begins and ends in God for Paul, humanity also plays a role in the process. Like Jesus, Paul had a keen eye for divisions: Jews vs. "Greeks," or Hellenized Roman society, slaves and masters, rich and poor, male and female. Both Jesus and Paul understood the corrupting influence of power in social relationships, and both called the faithful to work to overcome division by freely giving up their power to live in equality with one another.

Yes, it was as radical an idea then as it is today.

No, neither Jesus nor Paul were completely able to live up to the ideal.

Still, in an age as beset with divisions as ours, there's something to the message of reconciliation. Good people of all faiths and no faith want to participate in what Jews call tikkun olam, "the healing of the world."

And here's where the serendipity comes in. I had originally intended to talk about the need for reconciliation between the rich and the poor in US society, using Ron Sider's recent article "State of the Union on Poverty" as a springboard. Sider is no less than prophetic when he declares:

For the richest nation in human history-a nation which claims a Judeo-Christian heritage-[income inequity] is a moral outrage. Surely there ought to be a moral consensus across all religious faiths and political parties that every American who works full-time year-round in a responsible way will escape poverty and enjoy affordable health coverage.

Instead, what I found myself thinking about at the end of the week was the apparently growing schism in the Anglican communion. What fuels that schism? You guessed it: homosexuality, in the form of the openly gay bishop Gene Robinson and blessings for same-sex unions permitted in some dioceses.

As a person committed to Christ's prayer "that you all may be as one," it saddens me to hear about division in any church. But the Anglican rift is particularly troubling. As the Archbishop of Capetown is reported to have said, "the church has far more urgent problems to talk about than sex".

That's true for Americans as well, whether inside the church or not. Our "far more urgent problems" include: a continuing war, political estrangement, an economy that's limping along, stubborn racial divides, and yes, egregious disparities in the distribution of wealth.

Yet here's the Anglican communion being torn apart because certain people have the nerve to want to be in stable, committed relationships with one another.

What's wrong with this picture?

Paul writes that Christians should have hope "because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us," and it is this hope that allows us to participate in the work of reconciliation.

He's right, and it's time for Christians to start acting like it. Let's begin with focusing on the truly urgent problems.

At 10:06 AM, Blogger Steve said...

Reconciliation between two parties requires compromise on the part of both parties. That is not possible in the USA politically right now. Perhaps it will be in the future.

In our own hearts, it MUST be possible.

Keep up the good work.

At 11:28 AM, Anonymous SaiHo said...

I really appreciate these weekly sermons on the lectionary text. And this one really hits a fundamental chord. Jesus said that his followers would be easily recognized by the fact that they loved one another. It seems pretty clear to me. He didn't say they would be recognized by the viciousness of their doctrinal divisions, that's for sure.

Thanks, Pastor Dan.

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