READINGS: 2 Corinthians 5:14-21; Matthew 5:21-24; Romans 12:9-18
There’s as great Scripture in Song item from 1977 by a man called Rick Ridings which goes like this:
Little children, Forgive one another, As I have forgiven you;
Cast all your bitterness, In the depths of the sea: Forgive like Me
Little children, Serve one another, As I have served you
Take off the robes of Your rights and your pride; Wash each other’s feet
Little children, Receive one another, As I have received you
Call not unclean, What I have called clean; Come learn of Me
When you look at all the passages in the New Testament which use the phrase “little children” most are Jesus’ words and refer to real little children. You know the ones I mean – like the King James version of “Let the little children come unto me..” which goes like this: Mat 19:14 But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.
Ironically too many children actually do suffer at the hands of adults. We know of course, if English is not your first language, that “suffer” in 17C English meant “allow” or “let”.
You may remember that Jesus also used the phrase for the disciples in John 13 – from last week. And then John uses “little children” quite a bit for Christians to whom he writes his first letter.
Even Paul, not known for sentimentality when he writes, as usually he is ticking off the Christians for their sins or heresies, uses the term in Galatians 4. It comes out in the NIV as “Dear children” but other translations have it like this:
4:19 my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!
Children of course are not meant to get everything right. They’re always learning.
And I think that’s the secret of real discipleship. Being open to correction. And it is the one thing that makes adults very difficult.
We’re not always teachable.
One of my little sayings is that I want FAT people in church.
Faithful, available, and teachable.
I was reading this week that in on particular country children in their early years of school spend a lot more time working on getting on together than learning things.
Getting on is the main thing. Every drama – family violence – gang rumble – civil war – world war – is about people who stop talking and start shooting – one way or the other.
The bible narrative deals with broken relationships early on.
The first family – soon after the couple fall out with God – have kids that fall out with each other in a very dramatic way. Cain kills Abel as you know.
And God’s mission to people after that is a constant attempt to clean up the mess and get His people on track.
Okay it is a bit radical when he drowns most of them in a flood. (Noah)
And of course he saves key people along the way. Like Joseph who was also done in by his brothers – and ended up prince of Egypt.
They are rescued from famine by going to Egypt. And through Moses they are eventually saved from Slavery and given their own land.
(Look along the wall of the Family Centre and you will see the narrative visually in the collages we’ve done through the year at Messy Church as we’ve worked through the Old Testament.)
And it’s into that land that ultimately Jesus comes.
On Friday at Messy Church we focussed on Isaiah the prophet – who foretells the coming of a wonderful counsellor, mighty God, every lasting Father and PRINCE OF PEACE (Isaiah 9:6).
People who are peacekeepers who don’t keep the peace get fired. There was a big commotion this week over UN peacekeepers from Kenya who failed in their job. Their commander got fired and they are offended and all going home.
But Jesus the mighty warrior is the ultimate peacekeeper and the prince of peace. He sees the project though as He dies for us.
The CROSS is at the centre of this.
One of the important terms for what he does is related to his sacrifice. We talked about it last week – he dies in our place – he is the lamb slain and his blood is sprinkled on the eternal mercy seat of God. You may remember the verse: 1Jn 4:10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Atoning sacrifice is also translated as propitiation.
One of the other terms is REDEMPTION which involves a payment of a ransom. And of course Paul talks a lot about JUSTIFICATION. All these terms in the New Testament try to capture what Jesus has done for us.
It’s RECONCILIATION which is repeated a lot in today’s reading from 2 Corinthians. The prince of peace logically brings reconciliation.
It crops up in Ephesians in a peace-making passage too:
Eph 2:14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, Eph 2:15 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, Eph 2:16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.
Who are the “two” he has made one? The two out of which he makes one new man? Gentiles and Jews of course. That’s a major peace project. You see it being worked out in the life of Peter who needs a vision from God to get him to go to the house of Cornelius.
This event is picked up in the last line of the song – “little children” – “call not unclean what I have called clean.” Which means the Jewish Christians could mix with Gentile Christians and the two groups could form one new family in Christ.
And then in Colossians the reconciliation is broader – he speaks about all things needing this reconciliation:
Col 1:19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, Col 1:20 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. Col 1:21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. Col 1:22 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— Col 1:23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
Reconciliation – made possible through the cross of Christ – is actually the theological foundation of all this “one another” loving, serving and forgiving.
Paul spells it out in our reading from 2 Corinthians 5:
2Co 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 2Co 5:18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 2Co 5:19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
Reconciliation is central to our faith and we need constantly to make peace and restore relationships. You may remember the old saying “love means never having to say you’re sorry”. “Yeah right” – is our response to that.
So here are two practical outcomes of this.
Jesus speaks about reconciliation as well. We read the passage from Matthew.
- Before you offer your gift to God (Jesus) – get reconciled
Jesus gives us this angle on reconciliation – sort out your relationships before you come to offer yourself and your gifts to God in worship. The thing that needs to be fixed? The same thing that messed up Cain and Abel’s relationship – and caused Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery (remember they planned to kill him initially). Anger.
So Jesus says:
Mat 5:22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
Mat 5:23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, Mat 5:24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
The interesting thing about this verse is who is responsible for fixing the bad relationship – who needs to initiate reconciliation?
Who is it? Yes – the one who is probably wronged – the one who realises that his brother has something against him or her.
If you have any sense of a broken relationship and someone being mad at you or resentful of you – says Jesus – sort it out. It must be asked – why would they be mad at you anyway? Probably because YOU made them mad. 🙂
In other words – it doesn’t matter who started. Fix it. Because you can’t offer true worship to God if you are in a bad relationship with your brother or sister.
John backs this up in his first letter, especially in Chapter 4:19-21:
1Jn 4:19 We love because he first loved us.
1Jn 4:20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.
1Jn 4:21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
We are to constantly make peace by walking in the light (see 1 John 1:7-10).
And then, secondly – we are to
- Keep up the one another focus
We’ve talked about serving, loving and forgiving one another.
All of these are the consequence of reconciliation with God and one another.
There are a host of other “one another” commands in the New Testament.
- Bear with one another
- Be kind and compassionate to one another
- Be devoted to one another
- Honour one another above yourselves
- Accept one another
- Agree with one another
- Encourage one another
- Spur one another one towards love and good deeds
- Do not slander one another
- Offer hospitality to one another
- Clothe yourselves with humility towards one another
- Submit to one another (specifically in marriage)
- Live in harmony with one another
And of course –
- confess you sins to one another.
- Teach and admonish one another.
These last two especially require trust in a community.
We have to be open to learning a new way of doing things – to be like little children as we trust God and take the risks of opening our lives to one another.
And we have to give time to relationships for any of this to happen!
So I remind you of my invitation a couple of weeks ago.
How do we achieve these things in our Christian community? We talked about them in the context of serving one another. Here they are again:
- Join a home group – best place for really growing and making friends.
- Stay for tea and meet some new people. Invite them for coffee through the week.
- Pitch in to help – share the load. We need everyone rowing on this waka. Offer to help in practical ways. When you’re not on the roster.
Most of all – if you need to make peace and be reconciled with someone – just do it. Again -like little children – we too need to get on together.
Do something about those relationships that need fixing. Otherwise none of this will really matter – or happen.