By: Rev. Shannon Youell
“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one spirit.” Ephesians 2:14-18
Like most I am weary of the increasing divisiveness in our society. And I am saddened that Jesus followers seem just as susceptible to falling into polarities as the rest of our culture. It hurts me. It hurts us. Equally important, it hurts our witness of ‘joining God at work’ in his mission in the world. We preach and posture God’s love towards humanity, his redemption through the submission of Christ and his invitation to follow Christ and to join him in his work of reconciliation and restoration of humans to God and to one another.
Joining God at work is a phrase often used to describe a posture of participation in his mission. The question we must always be attentive to is what is God doing in that work? The overarching answer is his kingdom has broken into the earthly realm to facilitate his shalom in the human experience through the birth, life, and death of God’s Son. We often simply call it Good News – Gospel.
Of course, this inbreaking work didn’t stop at Jesus – we are each called to be God’s ministers of reconciliation as a priesthood of all believers. We should not attempt to minister in this alone. God invites us into the work where he is already present and we must take the time to be attentive to him and to what he is doing in that space.
Reconciliation is a key word in our understanding of the Gospel. Paul reminds us that believers are to be ministering reconciliation – participating in the reunification of people who have been separated by some means, whether political, religious, societal, racial, or behavioral, through the grace, mercy, love, and salvation of God extended through Christ. While the foremost aspect of that reconciliatory work is between God and humans, it extends from there to reconciliation between humans and one another and reconciliation with all of God’s creation. Reconciliation in all three aspects facilitates God’s kingdom of his Shalom. It breaks down the barriers that divide which Paul speaks of in his letters for the purpose of unifying the (two) divisions and making peace – Shalom. It opens up space to foster healing, forgiveness, redemption.
Theology professor and pastor David Fitch, in his book Faithful Presence, writes on reconciliation, emphasizing that in times of division the posture Christ invites us to take is one of mutual submission. Engaging conflicts with any other posture perpetuates the us/them divide; the I’m right/you’re wrong divide. Coming together in a posture of mutual submission – submitting to listen and hear one another – allows the Spirit of God, who is present, to guide us to love, grace and mercy towards one another and towards God’s kingdom breaking in.
When I spend time with others each of us have different ways of viewing the world and those views are not only shaped by ‘those who believe’ and those who are ‘not-yet-believers’. I have found that when I back off the argument aspect of different opinions, (even though I can personally thrive on those hearty discussions!), and am attentive to discovering how my neighbour thinks, then I am more aware of how they came to a particular conclusion.
It opens up space for a deeper kind of conversation and makes me aware, if I am attentive, of not forging ahead for God, but rather recognizing that God is already at work and I am joining with God as he enacts his Gospel in the hearts of each of us.