Spending some time in the fifth chapter of St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians I ran across some exciting as well as somewhat troubling news. “If anyone is in Christ he or she 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 he has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” This really is exciting, that no matter who we are or what we have done, the old can be put away and all, through the Grace of God, becomes new. It is also rather frightening that we, like Jesus are called to be reconcilers. Frightening because to be reconcilers we have to admit that we may be wrong as well as right, we must at times find the strength to apologize and to forgive. Jesus taught us how to do this, but it does not make it any easier in practice. I suspect this was the reason Paul wrote this letter to the church at Corinth. I suspect they were having “church squabbles” which may have been turning into church fights. Paul is reminding them of who they are and “whose they are.”
Paul goes on to tell the Corinthians (and by extension, us) that we are truly “Ambassadors for Christ, since God makes his appeal through us.” The best plan God has for reaching the world is through us. While some people may wander into a church or other “house of God,” most do not. Many people will, however, run into us: at the grocery store, at work, on the ball field or the gym. They will see how we act when things go our way and when they do not, and they “will know we are Christians (or not) by our love.”
Paul proclaims that because of Christ’s righteousness we can become the righteousness of God. Filled with the righteousness of God we can recognize that all of us have burdens which are unknown to those others, that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. This knowledge alone can help us find reconciliation with one another as well as with God.
The Church, the Body of Christ in the World provides space where this reconciliation can take place. The church is really a people joined together by our baptism: a people called to love not judge, to forgive not to hold on to a grudge, to apologize rather than encourage grudges in others, and to realize that relationships are more important than our human need to always be right. This is not easy since in addition to being Ambassadors for Christ, we also happen to be human. But, the community of the local church gives us a place of beginning.
As I write this I have just been made aware that Pat Conroy, one of my favorite writers, died last evening, may he rest in peace. Conroy’s writings were filled with relationships, “good, bad and ugly,” relationships with himself as with those around him. His books deal with relationships that can be mended and relationships that are beyond all hope of redemption. He also deals with that most important of all relationships, that with oneself. We learn from Conroy, just as we learn from Scripture, that “life is not always easy, that relationships can be difficult and tragic. Conroy’s works also show us that abuse, inequality, depression and addiction affect the way we treat others and our selves, sometimes tragically so.
In his writing, Pat Conroy allowed us, in fact, forced us to look at all of these issues as well as at the importance of good therapy and medication, and the hard work of building and rebuilding relationships. He shows us that it is not enough to ask God to release us, but that we must use the tools God has given to the world which can help us to be reconcilers and to be reconciled.
As Jesus and Pat Conroy and Jimmy Buffett say, “The God’s honest truth is it’s not that simple.” BUT, it is more than doable when we “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.”