Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | November 26, 2009

Sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:17-21

Thank You Jesus for the Ministry of Reconciliation

In the Name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!  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.  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

There used to be a church billboard on I-35 heading south towards Hillsboro advertising “Spirituality without the religion.”  That billboard reflected a thought of our age.  Surveys indicate a rising trend of people that consider themselves spiritual, yet not religious.  They prefer not to identify with any particular denomination or organization.  The net result is that while church attendance declines, so-called “spirituality” is on the increase.  It would seem that for some (many?), if so-called “organized” religion just rolled up and blew away, it wouldn’t be much of a loss.  After all, we can commune with God in so many other ways and places than in boring church services with authoritarian pastors and hierarchies telling us what to think, believe, and do.

Some of this animosity towards “organized” religion, towards the Christian Church, comes from the sins of the Church.  You can’t surf the net or listen to the news too long without hearing another story about pedophile priests, a church leader’s misuse of funds, a televangelist with a golden toilet or private jet, or some other shocking scandal.  History books are filled with the sins of the Church.  Nor do you have to look too far to find the sins of individual church-goers, which leads to the charge of “Hypocrites!”  You get the sense that a person with this sort of animosity wouldn’t be saying “Thank-You” on Thanksgiving for the Church, for organized religion, for pastors and teachers, for the means of grace administered and distributed.

And so, on the one hand, we acknowledge that these are real sins committed by real sinners, some of whom also happened to be real believers in Christ.  That’s no excuse for these sins.  They are abominations.  They demand repentance.  Where we are guilty of such things, we beg God for forgiveness and cling to the cross where Christ won forgiveness.  For our contribution to this by our sinful ways, lives, attitudes, and behaviors, we cry God’s pardon and beg to do better, strive, by the Spirit’s power, to do better.  We pray that people would look beyond the sins to the Savior.

Yet, on the other hand, today we do give almighty thanks and praise to our God for the Church.  More specifically, in the words of Paul before us, we give thanks that He has given the ministry of reconciliation to the Church, that He has sent out ambassadors of Christ, making God’s appeal on His behalf.  Luther said it well in his Large Catechism:  Neither you nor I could ever know anything about Christ, or believe on Him, and have Him for our Lord, unless it were offered to us and granted to our hearts by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel.  The work of redemption is done and accomplished.  Christ has acquired and gained the treasure for us by His suffering, death, resurrection, and so on.  But if the work remained concealed so that no one knew about it, then it would be useless and lost.  So that this treasure might not stay buried, but be received and enjoyed, God has caused the Word to go forth and be proclaimed.

God has indeed reconciled the world to Himself through Christ.  God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that we would become that righteousness of God in Christ.  But, as Luther pointed out, in agreement with Paul, if no one tells us about this, how can we ever believe it?  Paul writes, How can they call on the one they have not believed in?  And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?  And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? Answer:  They can’t.  Christ’s work remains concealed unless it is revealed.  And it is revealed.  God gave us the ministry of reconciliation. God committed to us the message of reconciliation. God empowers Christ’s ambassadors who shout from the mountaintops:  Be reconciled to God! And so that we may be what God calls us to be – reconciled, enemies made friends, separated spouses together again – He has instituted the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments….Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given.  He works faith, when and where it pleases God, in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake.

Faith doesn’t come apart from means.  You need the Church.  You need what the Church has and offers.  You need what pastors and teachers preach and teach.  Therefore we give thanks that God has sent these means that effect in your hearts the reconciliation effected by Christ.  Apart from these means, apart from the Word and Sacraments, you are still in your sins.  But praise God He has sent His Spirit to organize this band of believers, this Holy Christian Church.  For, as Luther again writes, Everything, therefore, in the Christian Church is ordered toward this goal:  we shall daily receive in the Church nothing but the forgiveness of sin through the word and signs, to comfort and encourage our consciences as long as we live here.  So even though we have sins, the grace of the Holy Spirit does not allow them to harm us.  For we are in the Christian Church, where there is nothing but continuous, uninterrupted forgiveness of sin. This is the Church God instituted, the means God ordered, the ministers God sends.  Through these means, we receive the forgiveness of sins.  We are reconciled.  Our sins are not counted against us.  We are a new creation.  And we give thanks then also for the beautiful feet of the ambassadors Jesus has sent us, those faithful ministers of reconciliation, the pastors and teachers of the Church, those who reveal what Christ has done already on behalf of the world, they, who called by God like the prophets and apostles of old, beg and implore you:  Be reconciled to God! Be reconciled to no other God than this, the God who made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Thank you Jesus for reconciliation with God!  Thank you Jesus for the ministry of reconciliation!  Thank you Jesus for the ambassadors you have commissioned and sent to beg and plead for our souls.  Thank you Jesus that through You and Your preaching the old has gone and the new has come!  Amen.

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