We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!
2 Corinthians 5:20b, 6:2b
February 10, 2016 (Ash Wednesday) – I had really wanted to write and post yesterday morning, but my brain was not cooperating. I wanted so much to write on the Isaiah reading for Ash Wednesday. It is the alternate first reading for this Ash Wednesday and I had been leaning toward it for a week, as I indicated in my last post.
But last night, as I was reviewing my homily for our noon Ash Wednesday Eucharist, I was also listening to the results of the New Hampshire primary blaring on TV in the background. I don’t advise that practice to anyone, whatever your vocation, profession, or political leanings. I was overcome with an overwhelming sense of sadness and despair at the polarized state of our political climate today.
Earlier in the day, I had read a column by David Brooks of the New York Times on the traits of President Barack Obama’s presidency. Keep in mind that Brooks considers himself a conservative, although in my estimation he is quite moderate in his thinking.
Anyway, Brooks, in his column highlighted the fact that reconciliation is still a major issue for our country and for our communities. The current partisan discourse is as coarse as ever, if not worse.
I would commend this article to you for your reading [click HERE]. But allow me to share just a couple paragraphs in this space:
“…there is a tone of ugliness creeping across the world, as democracies retreat, as tribalism mounts, as suspiciousness and authoritarianism take center stage.
Obama radiates an ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners and elegance that I’m beginning to miss, and that I suspect we will all miss a bit, regardless of who replaces him.”
This lack of integrity, humanity, good manners, and elegance that Brooks refers to is not limited to politicians. All of us are guilty of criticizing and finger pointing instead of coming up with constructive ideas and solutions. It’s the easier thing to do.
So I was drawn once again to the reading from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian Christians (or TWO Corinthians, as Donald Trump would say). It is the assigned second reading for Ash Wednesday in which Paul insists on the need for our reconciliation with God, and he communicated it with a sense of urgency. “Now is the acceptable time,” he says.
I wrote on this very topic last Ash Wednesday. Not much has changed in the interim. If anything, it’s deteriorated. Thus, I am unashamedly duplicating much of what I wrote then, to save the reader the chore of scrolling back through a year’s worth of posts to find it.
I think about reconciliation almost constantly; given the number of congregational conflicts I have been called in to mediate nearly on a weekly basis. The heightened sense of anxiety around financial issues has not diminished. I repeat that I strongly believe that these fears are often symptomatic of deeper distresses. In many ways, we are no different than the congregations in Paul’s time.
Paul recognized the need for Christians and the church to receive the good news of forgiveness in Christ, and to let it take root in our hearts. He knew the difference that this reconciliation would make in their lives. But the reality is that our human sinful nature dictates that we more often hold on to grudges. And the longer we hold on, the harder the reconciliation becomes.
The good news of the gospel is that we are not only put in right relationship with God, but we are also put in right relationship with one another. And Paul says, “Don’t wait! Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation!” This word is not only for unbelievers who are delaying their relationship with God. It is also for you who are currently in the church. Now is the day of our salvation!
And so we are challenged by this reading from the Apostle Paul. We who are the body of Christ in the world today. It also called to mind a comment that Will Willimon made at our Bishops’ Academy a few weeks ago, “Some of the toughest changes required are those changes within us.”
We are called to be a reflection of God’s radical love in Christ Jesus. So it begins with us. Redirecting our lives before God demands a radical call outside of oneself to be reconciled to others. Reconciliation cannot totally be achieved on our own. It is the “power of God” that shines most brightly within and outside of us.
The invitation of Ash Wednesday is simple. We are invited to contemplate what we can do today to welcome God’s reconciling power into our lives. And that begins today. Not someday, but today.
Today is the day of salvation – not tomorrow.
Today is the day of forgiveness – not next week.
Today is the acceptable time. Not a time in the future, but today.
As Jesus will say to the thief on the cross – today you will be with me in paradise.
Wherever you go today to receive the ashes on your forehead, that cross is a reminder that it is in Christ and through Christ that reconciliation is possible. And you are also invited to remember that with the seal of the cross of Christ, you are Christ’s ambassadors of reconciliation.
You are sent back into your communities as representatives for Christ, in Christ’s place. Like Paul, we are apostles, sent ones, messengers. God has entrusted the message of reconciliation to us, and that is our calling as servants of God.
We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.