Sunday, November 21, 2010

Colossians 1:13-20 - “Reconcile”

Last Sunday of the Church Year (Year C - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Sunday, November 21, 2010

I was sitting on a bench outside the bank in Evanston. This was my senior year at Northwestern, I was saving up money to buy Susan’s engagement ring, and I had just found out that I had overdrafted my bank account for the second time in a month. It was time that I started taking math seriously. It was time to actually reconcile my bank statements and my checkbook.

This was in the days before overdraft protection. This was in the days of needing every dollar I had between buying textbooks and buying that engagement ring. This was in the days when an overdraft charge really, really hurt. This was in the days when two overdraft charges in a month really, really, really hurt.

I was sitting on that bench outside of the bank, and I was feeling pretty glum. The big bank building was at my back. I didn’t want to look at the bank. I didn’t want to look at my checkbook. I didn’t want to face what I had done. I didn’t want to reconcile my bank statement and my checkbook, but it was time to do some reconciling. It was time to make sure things were adding up. It was time to stop just fudging the math and hoping it would work out alright. It was time to take reconciling accounts seriously.

Sometimes when we hear about the end of the world, it feels like we’re sitting outside the big bank wondering how we’re going to reconcile our account. When we think about Jesus coming back to bring an end to this world, we start wondering how we can possibly reconcile our account with Him. We’ve made so many overdrafts, we’ve sinned so much, we’ve gone against Him in so many ways, and well, it’s hard to believe that we’ll be able to reconcile this. It’s hard to know how we could possibly make the situation right.

But when we hear about the end of the world, we think that we must reconcile with God, we must be the ones to take action, we must make the situation right.

Except with God, there’s true overdraft protection. You have sinned, you have overdrawn your account, and He makes it right, He reconciles your account. With banks, with overdraft protection, usually that just means you’re borrowing from your own savings account or borrowing from the bank. The bank isn’t giving you anything for free.

But with God, with our spiritual account, it is a true overdraft protection. He gives us a righteousness and holiness to fill up our account, a righteousness and holiness that isn’t ours but He gives it to us to keep. God takes the initiative. He takes action to make us right. He takes action to reconcile us to Himself.

Look again at Colossians chapter 1, verses 19-20. See how it is God’s action that does the reconciling, the balancing of accounts, God does the overdraft protection.

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Or if we go on in Colossians, because Paul continues there talking about reconciliation. In verses 21-23, he says:

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.

God reconciles our accounts. He makes the empty, overdrawn accounts to be full again. He makes the sinners to be righteous again. God does the action. That’s true overdraft protection.

But man, it’s hard. We hear those end of the world passages, we hear about Jesus coming back, and we think that we’ve got TO DO something in order to make sure that Jesus will take us to be with Him. We think that we have to get right with God. You and me, spiritually, we find ourselves sitting outside the bank, wondering how we’re going to reconcile our account, thinking of all the actions we’re going to take to get right with God.

In 2001 country singer Lucinda Williams won a Grammy Award for her song, “Get Right with God.” It’s a country Gospel song whose chorus says just that, “I’ve got to get right with God.” The whole song talks about ways that people try to get right with Jesus in some off-the-wall ways, by handling snakes and walking on hot coals and sleeping on beds of nails. We’ll start to believe that getting right with God is like that, that you have TO DO some out of the ordinary things, that you’ve got to prove your faith, that you’ve got to put yourself on the line in order to reconcile yourself to God.

The song, I don’t know, I don’t think the song actually supports the idea, but rather is kind of second-guessing this idea that snakes and coals and beds of nails can make you right with God, but the chorus, the chorus seems to speak of the true desire, the desire to be right with God. Sure, these off-the-wall ways might be the wrong ways, but the desire is still there, the desire to be right with God, the desire to make ourselves reconciled to God.

It’s like the people surrounding the Colossians in the days when Paul wrote his letter to them. The Colossians were surrounded by a culture, a Greek culture, that had always focused on people taking action to get right with the gods. The people had to do something to be right with the gods, to keep the gods from being angry. That was how you got reconciled with the gods. You did something—you sacrificed something, you gave up something, you did something, you followed some ritual, you did some action.

And here Paul comes along with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, comes along with something that turns that completely around, makes reconciliation to be God’s action. That’s what God Himself had promised in Jesus Christ. We aren’t able to reconcile ourselves; we aren’t able to make ourselves right with God; we’re not capable of saving ourselves, so God steps in, so God sends His Son, so God does the action to make us right with Himself, does the action of living and dying and rising again.

Again, it’s what Paul says in Colossians:

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.

That’s true overdraft protection. That’s no snake-handling, walking on coals, sleeping on beds of nails kind of theology. That’s Gospel. That’s Good News. That’s a promise from heaven that God will take care of us, will make our accounts right, will fill us up where we’re empty, will make us righteous where we’re sinful.

So the question is: when do you find yourself trying to get yourself right with God? What do you think you need to do to get right with God? What do you find yourself thinking and doing that makes it seem like being reconciled is your action? Do you find yourself bargaining with God—you’ll do some spiritual actions if God will just fill you up the rest of the way? Do you find yourself planning spiritual steps to take to get back to God? Do you think of your actions as a Christian as actions that get you right with God?

I mean, we talked about this in the last class I had this week with some of our new adult members. The last class is about what it means to live as a Christian. And I said that sometimes you’ll hear Christians talk as if living for Christ means taking the right steps so that we become God’s children. If we do the right things, then we’ll be in God’s family.

But really it’s the opposite, and that’s what this passage in Colossians is showing us too. God has already made us to be His children. God has already taken us into His family. You are righteous and holy in His sight because of what Christ has done for you. Your account is reconciled.

The rest of it, the rest of your life, the part about living for Jesus, that’s all a response. That’s all about rejoicing. That’s all about living as the person God has made you to be.

So when you live for Christ, when you follow Christ with your life, that’s you responding to reconciliation, that’s you responding to what Christ has already done in you. You’re not trying to prove anything. You’re not trying to get right with God. He’s already taken care of that. Now you’re simply living as the person God has made you to be.

For instance, we’re not going to look at those Time and Talent surveys that you filled out today, we’re not gonna look at them and see whether you’re proving yourself to be a Christian. We look at those to see who God has made you to be, how you want to respond with your life, how God is going to use you in the work of His kingdom. It isn’t proof of your status; it’s a response to your status. You are God’s child, so now let’s see how He’s going to use you.

So when you hear talk about the end times, about Jesus coming back, about this world coming to an end, about Judgment Day, I don’t want you think that you’re sitting outside the bank with too many charges against your account and no one to pay them back. I don’t want you to think that you’re got to do a bunch of stuff including off-the-wall things in order to get right with God.

I want you to know that you’ve got a true overdraft protection in Jesus Christ. That your account is reconciled. That you are right with God. That you are righteous and holy in His sight. That He has taken you to be His child. That everything that needed to be done was done by Jesus on the cross.

You have been reconciled to God. Rejoice in that with your life!