Outreach and Mission

Scriptures: 2 Corinthians 5:11-21; Romans 10:1-4, 11-15

As we wrap up the sermon series called “On Being the Church,” we have a topic today called “Outreach and Mission.” And I thought that maybe the passages that we read might be a little bit of a surprise to some of you. You might be expecting Matthew 28 with the Great Commission or something like that.

But following the flow of the series, where we talked about all of the ways of being the church, forgiveness in the end here, and being a friend last week, and how we witness to that, I was struck by what Paul said about the mission of the church, what is our purpose.

You all know what our individual purpose is, right? “What is the chief end of mankind?” [Congregation responds, “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”] But as a church, what is our purpose and our mission? As I prayed through this week, I was struck by the fact and the idea of reconciliation.

Reconciliation. Christ reconciled the world to himself, it says, “not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

According to Paul, our mission should be one of reconciliation: first, of telling others about Jesus, so they can be reconciled with God, and second, practicing reconciliation with each other within the church so that we can present a consistent witness to the world that will help them understand what being a child of God is all about. Thirdly, we then attempt to reconcile even with those who are unbelievers in the hope that they will one day come to see the grace that is in Christ Jesus.

This passage directly confronts us with the subject of reconciliation. It requires spiritual thinking: no longer regarding people from a worldly point of view, or as Paul says in my translation, “according to the flesh,” and certainly not regarding Christ from a worldly point of view.

If we’re going to talk about reconciliation, maybe it’s helpful to define what reconciliation is. It’s one of those two-dollar words. Webster’s defines the term “reconcile” this way: to restore friendship or harmony, or to settle or resolve.

As we look at reconciliation within our lives and within the church, the need for reconciliation arises because of our estrangement from God on account of our sin. Sin manifests itself in two ways: in a failure to do what God commands, and in a propensity to do what God forbids. Ever since our first parents ate the forbidden fruit, sin has held mankind in its thrall, with death as its consequence. We would be totally unable to escape its clutches, except that the Lord stepped in!.

Which is interesting, because the offended party is God. He reconciled us to Himself, and in Christ He was reconciling the world to Himself. We couldn’t come up with any answer to the problem of our alienation from God: but the Lord already had the matter in hand.

From all eternity He had planned a way whereby He might remain true to Himself as just, judging Sin in the Person of His Son whilst mercifully justifying the sinner who has faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

I think it’s important for us to understand that God was the offended one. He’s not the one that reconciles to us. He’s been faithful. We are reconciled to Him, because we are in the wrong.

The mediator of that reconciliation is God as well. He is always the initiator. “All things are of God.” Even when we were dead in trespasses and sins, even then, He made us alive with Christ. This demonstrates the extent of the love wherewith God has loved us.

There has to be an instrument of reconciliation, a way to reconcile, and that was Christ. Reconciliation was brought into effect through Jesus Christ, and was something that God was accomplishing, as Paul notes in the passage in Corinthians, “in Christ.”

The cross was no accident, nor a last resort: it was for this that Jesus came into the world, and steadfastly set His face toward His destiny. If there had been any other way, the cup of His suffering would have passed from Him at the Garden of Gethsemane when he asked for it.

The cost of that reconciliation was the death of Christ. The cross stands as a monument to the seriousness, the dire consequences, of sin. God, who is “of purer eyes than to be behold evil” as it says in Habakkuk, cannot look upon sin, and literally turned His face away from His only begotten Son.

We all understand about the substitutionary atonement that was made through Jesus Christ. But the question that comes up is how we work with the results of that

The result of this reconciliation, after all, is a new relationship with God in each of our lives. The old has passed away, and we are initiated into a new life in our Lord Jesus Christ. The “new creation” evidently has a cosmic dimension, but it is our privilege personally and individually to enter into its newness in the here and now.

Our severed relationship with God has been repaired, and we find ourselves no longer slaves to sin, but have a new desire, hopefully, within our hearts, to live for the one who has brought us back to life. We try to live out that new relationship, that new life, with those around us.

Reconciliation can be hard. Anyone who has been in any kind of family that has had a crisis knows whereof I speak. The easiest one to point to is a couple who had been separated for almost a year, that I read about. They got together and talked out their differences with their counselor, and reconciled their relationship.

There was an offense, there was a separation or a barrier in their relationship, but now it is gone, because they have experienced reconciliation. This is not, as we’ve noted before with forgiveness, excusing what was wrong. It does not wipe it away, in terms of forgetting. Trust that was broken has to be re-earned. But the offense has been set aside. They have been reconciled to one another, so that they can move forward together.

Those who are reconciled with God are called to the ministry of reconciliation. He has given us the ministry of reconciliation and committed to us the word of reconciliation. Paul even calls us “ambassadors for Christ.” He uses the first person plural when speaking of his ministry, and is obviously including his apostolic colleagues in the expression. But more than this, I believe that all who have benefited from the death of Christ are also called to share the gospel with others.

You see, we are called to a ministry of reconciliation, as believers and as a church. This should be the mission of the church. Recognizing the reconciliation that was occurred with us and God, we then reconcile with one another within the church, and we practice that reconciliation. As noted last week, that is part of our faithful witness to God’s love.

And then we need to reach our into the outer community, and we need to show them what reconciliation means. We’re called to this mission, to reach others with the word of God, and I think sometimes we fall into one of two extremes.

On the one hand, we have the folks that like to talk all about hell and judgment and being soul-winners and things like that. And that can turn a lot of people away. Then you have those on the other hand that I think are too soft, as it were. They talk about a God of love, but they make it almost like it doesn’t matter, everybody is going to be saved because God loves us. And that’s not true either.

Reconciliation is a way of presenting the balance between those two. There is a judgment coming. God is a pure God and a holy God and a just God. But in His love, for those of us who call Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, He has made a way for us to be with Him, instead of being separated for eternity.

That is a hope that we have, at least I would hope. It’s a hope for me, for the future. Something we can look forward to. And it’s something that we can offer to a world that is very dark right now. A world that has a lot of despair. A world that has a lot of hatred.

There are a lot of problems between people these days, and reconciliation is the only way to move forward. Just as God was the initiator of reconciliation between Himself and us, we need to be the initiators of reconciliation with others, both within the church and in the community at large in the world.

We need to be the ones that reach out, even if we’re the ones that have been wronged, and say, “I forgive you.” To offer the opportunity for a healed relationship. To offer the chance to move forward together in glorifying God.

Nothing that’s easy. But Paul speaks of being ambassadors for Christ, and I suppose that anybody that’s ever been in the State Department will tell you it’s not a very easy thing to do. As an ambassador, you represent Christ. You have the authority of the person you represent. Things that are done to you are done to him, back in the old day. Things that you do are seen as coming from him.

And thus through us, we can teach others about that reconciliation. I think if we can walk this balance between being winsome and referring to the love and grace of Jesus Christ, and yet still not watering down the word of truth, then we fulfill the Great Commission that Jesus gave us, when he told us to make disciples.

Because a disciple is one who has chosen to follow the one he or she is discipled to. For us, it is Jesus Christ. They have chosen to emulate the one that they are discipled. They have chosen to follow the commands and the teachings of the one that they are discipled to.

And that understanding of peace, that understanding of hope, that understanding of reconciliation with one another and with God, I believe is one that can appeal to folks in terms of discipleship.

So I would challenge you this day, this last sermon in the series “On Being the Church,” as a church, to be reconciled. Reconciled with each other when there are problems. Let those of you who have wronged try to make amends. Those of you who have been wronged, forgive, so that you can move forward together.

And I will challenge you then to move out into the community and into the world, where people, it seems, don’t care – but they really do – and bring that message of reconciliation to them. And if they see the kind of love that you have for them because of the kind of love that God had for you, the mission of the church will be accomplished and His kingdom will be expanded. And all glory will go to God in heaven above, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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