By Paul Koch –
I remember quite fondly an unexpected trip that my dad took me on when I was still quite young. We hopped in the car, without my brothers, and headed north. We went all the way to Sacramento. I remember touring the state capitol and looking up into the dome of that beautiful building for the first time. Then we went to the California State Railroad Museum. For a young boy it was an awesome thing to be able to stand right inside of an old locomotive and check out the Pullman sleeping cars. It was easy to imagine what it might have been like to travel through this great state aboard such a train. On the way home we stopped a few times and camped, and we even fished some small lakes. I got to be the navigator and studied the map intently, suggesting places we might check out along the way.
I did not know at the time that this trip we took was not just some spur of the moment trip to get away from the normal flow of things. This trip was intentional. Not that it was all planned out, step by step, but it was an intentional move on my father’s part to spend some time with me. You see, it may be hard for you to believe, but I wasn’t exactly the easiest or most obedient child. I wasn’t quite sure for many years that school was of much use at all. Most rules I encountered I assumed were made to be broken, and I never seemed to just go with the flow in our family.
My mom was the one who had to bear the brunt of these things; she was the one who received the phone calls from the school and the letters from my teachers. She was the one who was frustrated when the discipline didn’t seem to be working at all. She was the one who broke up the fights between my older brother and me. My dad worked. He worked a lot, and things seemed to be spiraling out of control for me. So he stepped in to take me away from it all for a few days. Looking back, I see now that one of the blessings of my dad was that he provided a perspective that was much needed. Partially because he wasn’t the one dealing with the day-in day-out trials of my adolescent life, he was able to see me differently than others. Our trip to Sacramento wasn’t about me getting my act together or developing a better form of discipline; as it turns out, it was about learning to see myself as my dad saw me.
Sometimes when you read St. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, you wonder how frustrated and how upset Paul must have been. Their lack of unity, their willingness to embrace false teaching, their desires for personal glory have torn and wounded the church in Corinth. But again and again he proclaims to them to powerful and life changing work of the Gospel. He says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” And this new creation, this creation made out of the mess that is the Corinthian church, is engaged in a glorious work: a ministry of reconciliation. This work of reconciliation is the work of Christ. It is then the work of the church, and by it broken sinners are made the righteous ones of God.
But who are the Corinthians to do such a thing? For that matter, we may well wonder, who are we?
Clearly the work of reconciliation is an ongoing ministry of the church. That is why we gather together. That is why we continue to preach, teach and administer the sacraments, isn’t it? Through these means God works His killing and life giving activities, and He does so through those he has called his own dear children, through you. But our sin and our brokenness works not only to make our efforts imperfect, it can also stifle them from ever really getting under way. The condemnation of the sin in our lives works not only to bring us to repentance, but then can drive us to a place where we don’t believe what our Lord says we are in Christ.
For starters, how is it that we can hope to be ministers of reconciliation when our current lives are filled with struggles? How can we focus on the care and concern of others when we barely seem to make it through each given week ourselves? We want to be the faithful saints of God, but when we begin to examine just how it is we are doing, if we are really honest with ourselves, we find that there is much to be desired in our performance. There are grudges and selfish cliques. There is disregard for the blessings of God and willful disobedience to His commands. Our own rebellion creates a prison within ourselves where we are consumed with our effort to make it right and our inability to do so. Around and around we go, like an adolescent boy who believes that his identity is what his frustrated teachers have labelled him to be.
But then we are given the gift of seeing ourselves through our Father’s eyes. Paul, in speaking to the Corinthians, begins with a plea for endurance. Endurance not because their lives are so stellar, endurance not because they have it all worked out, but endurance in the grace of God that finds them in their broken and hard lives. The call for endurance goes out in the face of great opposition; “in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, and hunger.” We may well add to the list, disobedient children, family struggles, and confusion about the future. But how, how do we endure through our afflictions?
Again we hear the words of St. Paul. We endure “by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left.” The tools of our endurance, the means that are needed to press on through the hardships, are not of our own making but the very works of the Spirit in our lives. Paul reminds us that God has placed the weapons of His righteousness in our hands. Now we may very well wonder at the wisdom of this. We may think it’s foolish that the almighty God would do such a thing. After all, when we look at one another we see the sinner unworthy to wield such weapons as the Spirit gives. But through our Father’s eyes we learn to see something more. We learn to see children clothed in the very garments of Christ.
What He sees changes everything. So again Paul can say, “We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” Out of death our Lord brings forth life. Out of broken sinners He makes beloved children and ambassadors of reconciliation. The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ has turned everything over.
My dad reminded me that I was more than the struggles and confusion of my young life. While he didn’t ignore the wrongs I had done, he didn’t allow them to define me either. In his eyes I was something more; for a while on that trip to Sacramento I began to see it too. So Paul encourages us all to widen our hearts and allows us to see ourselves, even for a moment, as our Father sees us. And the Father sees sins atoned for. He sees the baptism that proclaimed you to be His own. He sees the Words that echo in your ears declaring that you are forgiven in Christ alone.