Editor’s note: This column originally ran in The Mountain Mail on Aug. 24, 2018.
We inhabit a world marred by animosity. I’m sure you hardly need me to give you examples. You can smell it in the air. You hear about it every time you turn on the evening news.
Of course, you can stick your head in the sand and only imbibe the uplifting stuff, but you still know that you’ve got your noise-canceling headphones on.
Whether it is global-scale politics or family-sized squabbles, the world is saturated with enmity. Like Cain in Genesis 4, we feel threatened by the presence of the Other. And as with Cain, sin is always crouching at the door, desiring to devour us.
This hostility is a symptom and manifestation of human desecration of God’s creation.
But the church’s perennial message is that God has initiated reconciliation between himself and his creation. Where we have turned away and run his world into the ground, he has taken the first step in making peace with us. Our message is also that one day he will finish what he started.
Reconciliation begins here, with God making peace between himself and his world. It begins with a God who takes his hands off the throats of people who have wronged him and makes peace at great cost to himself. Human reconciliation then is a symbolic and sacramental re-enactment of what God has already done.
So here’s one way to think of what church is: Church is a local community of people who embody the forgiving welcome of God among themselves. Actual flesh-and-blood people actually forgiving actual offenses because they submit to a God who has actually forgiven them. God help us!
Church is a community of reconciliation, a network of people who embody the reality of God’s atonement in the way they treat one another. Church is where animosity is confronted with grace, enmity with hospitality and pride with love.
Church is a way of being in the world that is characterized by people setting aside that which divides us and embracing him who draws us together.
David Fitch has written, “Reconciliation is so central to the good news of what God has done in Christ that to see no reconciliation in our churches suggests there is no gospel in them.” A church full of grudges, unforgiveness, hostility, factions and racism is a church that has forgotten the gospel.
But a church that works at reconciliation among themselves and in the world is a church that understands and embodies what Christ came to accomplish.
When two people reconcile or when two groups make peace, a space is opened up for the kingdom of God. God’s will is done when humans come together in submission to his generous and benevolent lordship. God’s kingdom comes when antagonism and division are supplanted by hospitality and mercy.
When we pray, “Thy kingdom come and thy will be done,” we pray for nothing less than the dissolution of the boundaries we have erected between one another. We are praying for nothing less than healing, justice, forgiveness and recognition of Jesus’ sovereignty.
May the church be disciplined in this prayer. And may we be disciplined about seeking out opportunities to reconcile, humbly approaching people we have wronged and welcoming those who have wronged us.
The Rev. Parker Bullard is senior pastor of Poncha Springs Church of Christ.