It’s a Family Affair
Minister: Revd Dr. Ian Tutton | “Thus, in this oneness Jesus Christ is the Mediator, the Reconciler, between God and humanity. Thus, He comes forward to humanity on behalf of God calling for and awakening faith, love and hope, and to God on behalf of humanity, representing humanity, making satisfaction and interceding. Thus, He attests and guarantees to God’s free Grace and at the same time attests and guarantees to God humanity’s free Gratitude.” (Karl Barth, The Humanity of God).
‘…And after that his brothers talked with him…’ (Genesis 45, 15)
Having taken a fairly leisurely look at the story of Joseph throughout September, we now ‘fast forward’ to its end.
Joseph is Pharaoh’s trusted adviser, steering the nation during periods of famine and drought. Those living in neighbouring communities were not so fortunate. Jacob and his family travel to Egypt to buy food. Following a series of comings and goings we finally arrive at that moment when the whole family is together. Joseph reveals himself to be who he was always was – Jacob’s (Israel’s) son – the brother of his brothers and there is a reconciliation at every level. Decades earlier Jacob himself had become reconciled to his brother Esau, the same Esau who had cheated him of his birth right. Nevertheless, he overcame the natural inclination to take his grievance to the grave so that in the lifetime of each of them it became possible for them to rediscover the brotherly love that should have been their lifetime’s experience if only in their latter years.
The Apostle Paul was a genius at identifying the very heart of the issue. For him, the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus, the reason for Jesus living and dying, it was in order that reconciliation might be accomplished between God and each and every one of us. The clarion call of the Gospel is none other than this, ‘Be reconciled to God!’ Why? Because, ultimately, amidst all the complexities of life; its interwoven nature; there is a ‘simple’ choice, one which Jesus Himself drew attention with a stark straightforwardness that stunned his listeners – ‘You are either for me or against me’, ‘You cannot serve two masters’, ‘You cannot serve both God and mammon.’ Words that themselves echo those of Moses when addressing the children of Israel, setting before them a choice – ‘life or death’ – and imploring them to choose life. Atheism – denying the existence of God – is a fairly recent phenomenon, save amongst the chattering classes that are found in every generation, and there is no doubt many reasons given by those who don’t believe in God for why they don’t so believe.
Wondering out loud, I offer you this suggestion; people deny the existence of God because to affirm God’s existence, to believe in God, would make life, they imagine, rather more complicated than it is. Deep down, somewhere deep in their psyche there is a faith, a faith for which they were hard wired for even before they were born, struggling to get out.
Paul is saying to such people, in effect, stop struggling, your struggle is futile, be reconciled to God; be reconciled to the fact that there is a God; stop resisting, stop denying, stop fighting it. Just accept what is, if only you would be prepared to acknowledge it, the inevitable conclusion that one is bound to draw simply from being alive in this world. But Paul pushes the point: he says to his audience, be reconciled to the fact that through Christ you are already reconciled to God. God has acted, we are to respond. God has held out a hand to each one, it is for each one of us to grasp that hand. God determines to be reconciled to each one of us to be ‘at-one’ with each of us, hence in Jesus God acts to remove that which would otherwise estrange us from God through an act of ‘atonement’ – of ‘at onement’. So called irreconcilable differences continue to exist between so many of us, at so many levels. In Christ God demonstrates to the world that there is no such thing as a necessarily irreconcilable difference. If it is possible that the barrier that would otherwise exist between a holy God and a sinful humanity can be torn down, reduced to nothing, swept away, then it has to be possible that anything that divides us within and among ourselves ought to pale into insignificance. From the vantage point of being right with God, everything should seem different to such an extent that it should cause us to questions everything that otherwise we took for granted, believed to be set in tablets in stone, gave into because we had to. If we as individuals are serious about God having acted to put us right with God, then we have no choice but to seek to put right that which otherwise divides us from each other. If we have grasped the hand of friendship held out to us by God then we cannot but hold out our hand to those whom we have allowed to become strangers to us. And so, to paraphrase Paul, I urge you, I urge each one of us, to be reconciled to whomever. The process of reconciliation can be painful, excruciatingly so at times, but nevertheless it is that which we ought to strive for above all else as far as the realm of human relationships is concerned. And we are ‘Ambassadors for Christ’, called to give a practical demonstration of what it means to be reconciled within, among and beyond ourselves.
This is the mission of the Church – to proclaim the Good News that no one need any longer feel separated from God because in Jesus even those who were ‘afar off’ have now been brought near to God, and to exemplify what it means for love to triumph over hate, as surely as in Christ life s triumphing over death.