Southeastern Synod ELCA

The Ministry of Reconciliation

Bishop H. Julian Gordy - January 11, 2018
Reconciliation, by Josefina de Vasconcellos, in St. Michael's Cathedral, Coventry

“In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.”
 -- 2 Corinthians 5:19
 
This past week Morgan and I attended the U.S. and Canadian Lutheran Bishops Academy in Vancouver. Among other excellent presentations, we were privileged to hear from the Right Reverend Mark MacDonald, first National Indigenous Bishop of the Anglican Church in Canada. Bishop MacDonald spoke of the need of the church to recover its understanding of its mission in the world. That mission, he said, is the ministry of reconciliation.
 
Bishop MacDonald pointed out that reconciliation never happens because an oppressor decides what he is doing is wrong. Rather, reconciliation becomes possible whenever an oppressed group reclaims its humanity and moves from being victims to being survivors. This reclamation of humanity is very much what we saw happening in the United States, when African Americans, tired of injustice and oppression, reclaimed their humanity and put their lives and fortunes on the line to assume their rightful place as citizens and full participants in national life.
 
This year we mark fifty years since the murder in Memphis of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is a good time to take a long and honest look at how the church is doing in carrying out God’s ministry of reconciliation to which we are called.
 
We know that in spite of many victories for civil and human rights, our world is still far from the world of harmony that God wants for us. Systemic racism continues to flourish in our culture. You know the sad statistics that demonstrate the reality of continued unequal justice under the law. The past year has shown us that sexism and gender violence continue too, in government, entertainment, business, and the church. And hardness of heart in high places seems ascendant in these days, as access to health care for the working poor is even further reduced, the gap between the very rich and the poor increases, refugees flee violence while wealthy nations turn their backs on the suffering.
 
What does it mean to be entrusted with the message of reconciliation in a world like ours? What does it mean in this time of division and distress to claim our calling? What can we do to support those who are oppressed as they confront their oppressors and demand justice? How do we support those who are reclaiming their humanity and their place in God’s world?
 
Bishop MacDonald suggested four ways the congregations of the church can be an “incubator of reconciliation:”
 
       1.   By accompanying the suffering in their struggle.
       2.   By being places of truth telling.
       3.   By being exemplary places of reconciliation, where those things that separate people are bridged. 
       4.   By focusing our formation and discipleship training on reconciliation as a core spiritual practice and
             value.
 
In this 50th year since the death of Dr. King, I hope we who follow Jesus, in whom God was present reconciling the world, will turn our attention to reconciliation in our families, our congregations, and our communities. This fractured world needs to hear a word of reconciliation in this time of sword-rattling, conflict, division, inequity, and separation. As Christ’s church, pursuing that reconciliation is our work. But it is not work we do alone. Bishop MacDonald reminded us that God’s Spirit is at work in movements of reconciliation wherever they happen.