TRA 20th October, 2002
Ambassadors of Reconciliation
2 Cor 5:17 - 6:2; Ephesians 2:11-22
Today we erected a large brass plaque at the front of our building acknowledging the prior occupation of this land on which we have built by the Indigenous inhabitants. This is an attempt to progress reconciliation between the Indigenous People of Australia and the white community. There is a genuine desire by most Australians for measures that will result in reconciliation, and which will meet the deep needs of Aboriginal People.
Reconciliation is important to all Christians because of our commitment to justice. There is no reconciliation in Australia as long as serious injustices are suffered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Peoples. All churches recognize that past and continuing injustices cannot be ignored. For us, as people of faith, the task of reconciliation with justice can never be abandoned. Addressing the continuing injustices, inequities and negative community attitudes requires sustained courage, determination and creativity. Our failure to achieve reconciliation through apathy, ignorance or complacency, bequeaths to succeeding generations increasing pain and violence. Such failure compromises the integrity of our nation and leaves a festering sore at the heart of national life. There is a ministry of reconciliation and as Christians we must pray and work towards reconciliation. Reconciliation is central to the Gospel. No reconciliation is complete until people are reconciled with each other. We stand at the foot of the Cross, the ultimate symbol of all reconciliation. This is where estranged and alienated parties can meet. We identify with the suffering that took place there, and we hope that identification will bring us together.
Justice is central to reconciliation. For there can be no reconciliation in Australia as long as serious injustices are suffered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. We must require and enable national leaders to deal with these substantial issues with persistence and respect. Our desire is for Indigenous and non-Indigenous People to live together harmoniously in and with this land.
1. CONTINUING INJUSTICES ALIENATE.
One continuing injustice is the issue of native land title. The Mabo case indicated that Indigenous People have a right to own the land they occupied when European settlement commenced. The High Court's judgement in favour of the Wik People in North Queensland went further and protected the rights of subsequent pastoralists as well as the original land inhabitants. This decision has created a new opportunity to work for reconciliation in co-existence.
A second injustice concerns the issue of the separation of Indigenous children from their families. The report into this unjust policy told us of the pain it caused and pointed to healing through measures to redress the ongoing disadvantage Aboriginal People have suffered.
A further injustice concerns Aboriginal deaths in custody. Our leaders must feel obliged by public opinion to follow through the recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. We cannot allow a disproportionate number of Aboriginal young men to die in prison through suicide. They feel totally lost and alienated in a hostile world. That is a similar feeling faced by many others today. It is part of a global sense of alienation.
That is how the Apostle Paul describes humanity's condition. Alienated from the people of God and the presence of God. "You were apart from Christ", and apart from blessings of God given to His people. As a result: "You were foreigners". Jews thought only in two races: Jews and foreigners or Gentiles - others. The temple was surrounded by a wall with notices warning foreigners to keep out of the Temple area on pain of death. Archaeologists in 1871 and 1935 discovered notices: "No foreigner may enter within the barrier and enclosure around the Temple. Anyone who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death."
Even today, at the base of the Temple, at the Western Wall, is a barrier, with signs forbidding any woman from entering. There are many divisions in our world: race, sex, class, education, politics… . Paul mentions some of the results that exist when a person is apart from Christ: "You do not belong to God's chosen people"; "You have no part in the Covenants." "You live in this world without hope." "You live without God." "Atheoi" is the Greek term he used, like the secular humanists who dominate political life in Australia today. These are the results of living "apart from Christ", the true nature of sin: "apart from God": you are spiritually dead; morally enslaved and eternally condemned. It is not only theologians that talk like that. Urbanologists Richard Moore and Duane Day who studied the effects of city living came up with the same results: "loneliness, compartmentalisation, fragmentation, alienation, depersonalisation, and meaninglessness point to widespread experiential realities in an urbanised social order. An alienated society without ultimate concerns."
They are the horrible consequences of human divisions. The Apostle Paul continues: "But now .." Here is a miracle! God is at work changing us, making the difference, ending the alienation, bringing us together. That's good news! Paul describes the main fruits of the coming of Christ in one word:
That is the opposite of "being apart from".. God has made the difference and you are now "reconciled, in union with Christ". No longer alienated, but now reconciled. Richard Moore and Duane Day continue: "The Church is charged by God in the sometimes overwhelming metropolis to carry on a ministry of reconciliation: bringing the warring and the divided self together under the Lordship of Christ; helping the defeated to find dignity, courage, and power; uniting men in a mutual acceptance grounded in their sonship to the God and Father of us all; and reconciling them to the God who is acting in their midst, even when they are unaware and uncommitted."
Paul says: "You have been brought near", not foreigners but family; "for Christ has brought us peace by making one people" with no divisions; "with His own body He broke down the wall that separates" "He abolished the Jewish Law, commandments and rules" all the regulations Jews had about worship, ritual, kosher and cleanliness. "He created out of two races one new people", the Christian Church. "In this way making peace", bridging the gap between us, "by his death on the Cross". Eph 2:11-22 When Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth, about all the gulfs that divided them, he concluded with a great passage on the reconciling work of God in us. 2 Cor 5:16?6:2
God gives us a new respect for others. v16 "So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer." Christians must look at all other humans, not from the worldly point of view of secular humanists or fanatical fundamentalists, but from the eyes of people who have been reconciled themselves. We need a new regard for others, for Muslims and Indigenous People especially.
God gives us a new reason for living. 17 "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" The only reason that we prejudiced humans can cross over the divisions made by race, colour, economics, politics, religion and so on, is that we are remade completely. We must become new creatures without the effects of our hereditary and influences of our environment. We must be totally born again. Become new creatures in Christ.
God gives us a new reconciliation to proclaim. v18-20 "All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God." That reconciliation which overcomes human alienation is the primary message of the church. Paul implores us to be reconciled to God. God has given us a message of reconciliation to proclaim. We are to be ambassadors of reconciliation. Christianity is not a way of life, not Western culture, not our standard of living.
Christianity is a relationship with Jesus Christ who sends us as His ambassadors of reconciliation. Ambassadors of reconciliation are desperately needed. The eminent Church historian Michael Green says "Today a lot of the mainline churches are not going anywhere. It's almost a matter of "How do we keep ourselves from going out of business?" Often churches have no strategy, because they are not trusting the Holy Spirit and are not open to new options. They are concerned only about keeping open and their people happy."
Open and happy is not good enough. All believers must work to end division. We can no longer remain alienated. We must be reconciled. That reconciliation that can bridge the divisions that divide us, must be the primary message of the church. It is not to be based upon who has the strongest arguments, the largest economic resources, or holds the rights to land and property.
God gives us a new righteousness of soul. v21 "God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." Because our angular and aggressive humanity is covered by His righteousness, we become right with God and with each other. We can love our enemies and bless those who persecute us. A reconciled and righteous humanity has been made by God, not by our achievements or our own goodness, but by His righteousness.
God gives us a new remedy for alienation. 6:1 "As God's fellow workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain. For He says, "In the time of my favour I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you."
I tell you, now is the time of God's favour, now is the day of salvation." That is the only hope for mankind. The wars will drag on and hatred will triumph until people accept God's salvation. This is the time of God's favour. Now is the day of salvation. The only remedy ultimately lies in people accepting God's reconciliation. Only by the blood of Jesus and in the power of the Spirit can we put hurts behind us and go forward. The ministry of reconciliation must be based upon this message of reconciliation. That is possible through Jesus Christ by His death for our sins! Reconciliation comes through Jesus' death on the cross. God took Christ, who knew no sin, to represent our sin and to receive the punishment due for sin in His death on the cross. The result is that we, who were alienated from God by our sins, are reconciled back to God!
God "has given to us the ministry of reconciliation," to be sent as Christ's ambassadors to the world! God is pleading with us, Christ is imploring us: be reconciled to God! God needs us as His ambassadors to tell the world what He has done to reconcile us to Himself. Once we are back with God and reconciled to Him we have the task of telling that message and fulfilling that ministry of reconciling others. All Christians must be involved in "the ministry of reconciliation"! Christianity is a relationship with Jesus Christ who reconciles us with the Father then sends us as His ambassadors of reconciliation. Jew and Arab, East and West, white and black, Indigenous and European Australians - we must be one people, reconciled instead of alienated! That is the Good news of the Gospel. Believe in Jesus Christ who gives us the blessings of reconciliation, and then calls us to be ambassadors of reconciliation!
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