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• Efrem Smith, Greg Boyd

This morning Efrem Smith and Greg Boyd preached as a team on the topic of reconciliation and its centrality to the Gospel. The text for the sermon was II Corinthians 5:16-21.

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This morning Efrem Smith and Greg Boyd preached as a team on the topic of reconciliation and its centrality to the Gospel. The text for the sermon was II Corinthians 5:16-21.

Efrem began by looking at II Corinthians 5:16. The apostle Paul, in this verse, is saying that to build unity in the midst of diversity involves not looking at people from a human perspective. That is to say, the focus should not be on a person’s external being, but instead we should understand people holistically as body, soul, and spirit. Efrem was not saying that people should ignore a person’s unique cultural and racial identity, but instead that for Christians there is something higher that binds us together and that is Jesus.

Greg continued by preaching on II Corinthians 5:17. In this verse, Greg contrasted being connected with Christ to being separated from Christ. When this verse speaks of the “old,” it signifies that time when people were alienated from God. Instead of abiding in God’s love, humanity chooses to perpetuate Adam and Eve’s sin of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As Greg showed in his sermon series on love, the result of this action is that we attempt to play God by judging whose right and whose wrong, or whose “in” or whose “out.” A byproduct of this selfish mentality is that we enter a competition game. For example, we attempt to establish that our nation, culture, or skin color is better than another’s is. Where this mindset is in place the will to dominate persists. As Curtiss DeYoung showed in a previous sermon (January 19, 2003), this largely describes US history. However, the Good News is that this is not the end of the story. Instead, we find our worth and new life in Jesus Christ. In him, we realize the depth of our sin, and yet that God loves us anyway. When we abide in God’s love, there is no need to secure life from the competition game. Instead, we are empowered to enter the pain and strife of life and bring reconciliation.

Efrem followed by preaching on II Corinthians 5:18-19. These verses state that God still pursues a relationship with us in spite of our idolatrous behavior. It would have been just for God to count our sins against us. Yet, he chose not to. Through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross our debt has been cancelled and we are reconciled to God. Now God calls us to be ministers of reconciliation with each other. Efrem shared how difficult this calling can be. The weight of reconciliation sometimes feels too great. The work can seem too difficult and the progress so slow. Yet, God calls us to rise above this. This does not mean we ignore the pain and hurt that mark a person’s history. However, it does call us to forgive and to live in grace towards each other. Only with our identity rooted in Jesus are we empowered with the hope to persevere.

Greg continued by looking at II Corinthians 5:20-21. These verses state that a Christian is like an ambassador. An ambassador is someone who speaks on behalf of another. He or she only speaks what the nation wants spoken; personal opinion is irrelevant. In these verses, the call is for Christians to be ambassadors of Christ with the message of reconciliation. We are to implore people to become reconciled with God, which as a byproduct should entail reconciliation between each other. We do not achieve this by proclaiming how righteous and holy we are. We are to be imitators of Christ, whom God “made to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (verse 21). This calls for us to enter into the problems of another. As sisters and brothers in Jesus, an issue that one member of the family is facing needs to become an issue for all members of the family. In particular, these verses speak to whites in the US on the subject of racial injustice. In this society, whites often do not feel the need to enter into the work of confronting racial injustice. Because of the United States’ history of racial segregation and stratification, whites can largely operate within settings where they never need to think about the injustice that people of color experience. In this isolation, whites can have the tendency to think that such injustice cannot possibly happen in a country that prizes freedom. However, how can whites know this unless they have come alongside their brothers and sisters of color? Ambassadors of reconciliation build bridges. This means taking intentional steps to reach out. For Christians, the sin of racial injustice is not a “them” problem but instead is an “us” problem.

Efrem closed by challenging whites to move from the denial that racial injustice does not exist to being involved in the work of reconciliation. In addition, he challenged people of color to get ready to go the second mile of forgiveness and grace. These types of commitment will lead the Church beyond simply “tolerance in diversity” to “transformation through unity.”

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