Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Ministry of Reconciliation

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
II Corinthians 5:17-20

Last Sunday our Church Council Chairperson, Keith Sanzen, announced that our Council has begun the process of becoming a Reconciling Congregation, formally affirming our openness to our LGBTQ sisters and brothers, and he shared a draft of our statement of inclusion and reconciliation. This does not change who we are, but it makes clear where we stand to those who are outside of our fellowship.

In the past I have resisted this step, because I did not want to have us vote on something I believe is implicit in the Gospel. And votes are inherently divisive. There are winners and losers. But the recent church trial of the Rev. Frank Schaefer and the publicity surrounding that trial, has made it necessary for us to make a public declaration.

This is a draft Keith shared with the congregation:

The East Greenwich United Methodist Church strives to be a place of open hearts, open minds, and open doors. We believe in Christ’s commandment to love our neighbor and commit ourselves to be disciples rooted in compassion and caring for one another.

We firmly support and welcome all people, regardless of gender identity, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, marital and socioeconomic status, age, faith history, education, or physical and mental ability.

We recognize that there are differences among us, but with John Wesley we believe that we can love alike even though we may not think alike, and we invite all people to join us in our faith journey.

The passage from Paul’s Second Letter to the Church in Corinth posted above provides a wonderful biblical anchor for our reconciling statement. It is a remarkable declaration of Paul’s theology. This is central to what Paul believes. It is his understanding of the Gospel.

In Christ God has made, and continues to make, all things new. The whole world has changed. In Paul’s view, this is a cosmic shift. It is not about what we believe; it is about who we are. To be in Christ is to be reconciled to God and to one another. In the second volume of Paul Tillich’s Systematic Theology, he centers his Christology on this idea. Jesus is the Christ, the messiah, precisely because he is the one in whom the New Creation is made manifest. This is not an obscure point of theological trivia. It is at the center of the Gospel.

In Christ, God has reconciled the world to himself, and now this ministry of reconciliation has been entrusted to us.

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