02/17/21 (Ash Wednesday) “Reconciliation”

Lent is a time of reflection and repentance—a time for examining our hearts. A time for seeking out the sin that we harbor there, and committing ourselves to turning in a new direction. It’s a time for probing the painful places where we have neglected to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves. Recognizing how we haven’t loved our neighbors as ourselves necessarily includes figuring out how we haven’t loved ourselves to begin with.

As I’ve shared with you before, I define “sin” as anything that comes between us and God, us and other people, or us and the truest selves that God has created and calls us to be. I like that definition because it gets away from the idea that all sin is morally bad or evil. Sin is more like a barrier—one that we erect.

We may not intend to build barriers between us and God, or between us and other people. We may not even realize that we’ve built a barrier that keeps us from being all that God calls us to be. Sometimes these barriers of sin are more like the huge snow bank that now stands between my driveway and my yard. I didn’t intend to build an enormous frozen wall there. But each time I shoveled, the pile got higher, and higher, and higher until yesterday, it was so high that I couldn’t reach far enough to put more snow on top and so big I’d have trouble climbing over it.

That’s how sin works, too. We don’t set out to sin in ways that are big and obvious and possibly involve jail time. It’s the little choices we make that start piling up. The decision to skip a family get-together in order to avoid an unpleasant relative, or holding a grudge against someone who offended us or hurt our feelings. Scrolling away an hour looking at Facebook or Instagram posts rather than spending time in prayer or reading our Bibles. Shouting angry words at the TV screen or changing the channel so we don’t have to hear what might be uncomfortable truths from people we’d rather ignore. Avoiding a change in our life out of fear or lack of confidence in the abilities and gifts and opportunities God gives us. We keep adding to the sin pile, shovelful by shovelful, until it’s so big and so high that it forms a seemingly insurmountable barrier between us and whomever is on the other side.

By now, my snow pile has become a solid mass cemented together by ice and its own weight. It’s unlikely that I could dismantle it by myself. I’d need someone to help me—someone with better tools and a lot more strength than I have. It’s the same with our sin piles. We can’t dismantle them alone. But, the good news is that we don’t have to. Jesus has the tools and the strength we need, and he’s prepared to help us tear down our walls of sin and rebuild relationships. This is what we call reconciliation—reuniting what has been separated by walls of sin.

Paul wrote these words about reconciliation in his second letter to the Corinthians: “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.”

This what the season of Lent is for. It’s a time for identifying the sins that make up the barriers we’ve built between ourselves and God, between ourselves and others, and which prevent us from being our deepest, truest selves. It’s a time to think about how we, together with Jesus, can tear down those barriers so we can be reconciled to whomever is on the other side. Finally, it’s a time to share our experience of reconciliation with others, so that they might experience all the blessings of reconciliation, too. This reconciliation to God through Christ is more than a gift we enjoy for ourselves alone. It’s a ministry we’ve been commissioned to carry out.

May this Lenten season be a time of deep reflection on the fact that, through Christ, we’ve been reconciled with God.  May we begin anew to live as the ones who have been made new in Christ. May we embrace our ministry of reconciliation—reconciling ourselves to others so that we can be bearers of Christ’s good news of reconciliation. During this Lenten season, brothers and sisters, I entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  And, may you be inspired and strengthened by Paul’s words: “Praise be to God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ.” Amen.

~~ Pastor Carol Williams-Young