Excerpted from the NC Council of Churches Lenten Guide, “Love One Another: Reflections on Race, Power, and Privilege”
Second Corinthians 5:16-21
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 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. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Reconciliation is one of those things that sounds great in concept but can be really hard to execute. People love to talk about it, but true reconciliation is difficult, long-term work.
For it to occur and have meaning, the person seeking reconciliation must admit they were wrong. Without excuse or prevarication. No wishy-washy “If you were offended by what I said…..” or “My words may have been misinterpreted….” It takes sincere, thoughtful, heartfelt regret for things done or left undone. Plus it usually takes some work on oneself to surrender strongly held, internalized justifications and lies in order to fully acknowledge mistakes and work toward forgiveness.
Just going through the motions does not count.
And if it can be ridiculously complex to get a sincere apology for even simple and straightforward wrongs (the person who ran a stop sign and smashed into your car; the neighbors whose dog uses your yard as a bathroom), what chance do we have on the really difficult stuff? It’s why personal injury lawyers make fortunes and even robust diplomacy cannot seem to steer the world away from perpetually teetering on the brink of war.
Few things for which reconciliation is desperately needed seem more complex than this nation’s history of oppressing and exploiting people of color. Since its very founding, America has operated on a system where non-Europeans were obstacles or property, and, in both cases, sub-human. Less than. The other. The genocide perpetrated against indigenous people, the enslavement of Africans, and now the tandem exploitation and condemnation of Latinos have left this country with a profoundly bitter legacy that seems almost insurmountable.
Reconciliation among individuals will be an eternal process. Some folks will never see the wrong and some will never forgive. But progress has been made and can be made with leadership, with the hard, good work of conversation toward better understanding, and with an institutional commitment to better days. Perhaps everything will not exactly become new, but most things can become fundamentally better.
As Paul reminds us in his second letter to the Corinthians, reconciliation is a ministry, and ministries are usually not transient. Otherwise, it could be a committee or a task force or whatever title you assign to a group executing a finite project. Ministries address the problem at hand, so if your faith community has a soup kitchen, in this moment, it provides food to those who most urgently need it. But the work of your ministry is also to address the circumstances that leave people hungry. You’re not trying to get out of the work of feeding those in need, but you want to make sure that the policies and structures that prevent people from feeding themselves are diminished and eventually eliminated.
Because we are human, imperfect in the best of times, I imagine we will always need the ministry of reconciliation with us as its messengers. And as we commit to that work among ourselves as individuals, may we also commit to holding our leaders accountable to be messengers and actors at a level that creates true, sustained, structural change.
Prayer: God who sees no other, only all, help us to engage in the difficult important work of reconciliation with the understanding that we must work within ourselves and within our broader world if everything is to become new. Amen.