The following is a reflection on the Mennonite Church USA Convention theme and key verse (2 Corinthians 5:16-21): I love my city. I love Houston’s ridiculously hubristic skyline, our underperforming sports teams, our gargantuan flyovers and 20-lane highways, our farmers markets, our bayous and museums, and our longing to be a “real” city.
I love our food. In my neighborhood alone you can find world class Thai, Polish, Mexican, Korean and Salvadoran food. I walk my family to a little Churro booth that holds its own against anything at Mennonite relief sales.
And I love our diversity. Houston’s four million people have no majority population and Houston is home to 325 different people groups. When our family first moved to Houston I remember going to the play-land at a local mall and counting no less than eight languages being spoken by the children there.
Yes, moving to Houston has helped me to fall in love with diversity. But too often, rather than celebrating diversity, Christians allow it to divide and separate us. High profile cases of Christians judging others who are different (like the Florida pastor who burned a Koran; or the Kansas church known for protesting funerals) or who believe differently (the outrage among Christians towards pastor Rob Bell’s thoughts on hell) or who act differently (homosexuality) embarrass me by how far off the mark they are. Race, legal status, wealth, politics, and faith divide us.
But reconciliation is at the heart of the gospel.
In word and lifestyle Jesus draws his community together, breaking down the boundaries that divide. Drawing on Isaiah’s vision of the peaceable kingdom (11:6-9 & 65:25), he calls his followers to be makers of peace (Matthew 5:9) rather than judgment and discord (Matthew 7:1), and gives us specific instructions on how to pull it off (Matthew 18:15-20). Leave your worship behind, he says, and go be reconciled to your neighbor – it’s that important (Matthew 5:16-26). It’s also controversial enough he’s almost killed (Luke 4:24-30) just for mentioning the possibility of reconciliation with an outsider.
So how have Jesus’ followers done in emulating his example? The first generation of believers did smashingly well! Paul in particular sees reconciliation at the center of the Christian life, declaring we have been “given the ministry of reconciliation… So we are ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18,20).”
Likewise, the next generation embraced this ministry of reconciliation. One late second century pastor said Christians “Love all men, and by all men are persecuted… They are reviled, and yet they bless; when they are affronted, they still pay due respect (section 5 of The Epistle to Diognetus).” They were clearly working for the good of all by valuing relationships more than being “right.”
But what about Jesus’ followers today? Is this, my Mennonite friends, how we are known? Are we the glue that binds, or the scissors that divide?
We as Mennonites and as Mennonite churches have a marvelous opportunity to regain that reputation for being reconcilers committed to the dignity and respect of all persons and cultures. Peace, reconciliation, conflict transformation is in our blood. Jesus is our DNA.
As ambassadors of reconciliation (racial, religious, political, economic), our call is very different from civil ambassadors, who work to impose the will of the dominant party on fringe groups. No, our call is the reconciliation of all groups to each other and to God. It is to share one story, one identity in the midst of diversity. Our call is to love, and to empower others to do likewise.
How is God calling you to build relationship in your neighborhood or workplace? As an ambassador for reconciliation, what resources do you need to love, overcome barriers, and stand with those different than yourself? Is there someone in particular that you need to be reconciled to today? Wouldn’t it be great if we Christians were known not for our exclusivity, but for our ability to “love the stranger as you love yourself”?
To all members in our denomination of beautiful multicultural diversity: “Be ambassadors for reconciliation.” Perhaps our political leaders don’t believe in diversity of cultures, but our God does. Love your city, your neighbor, your co-worker, your enemy and everyone you meet. If you do, you’ll be “the justice of God (2 Corinthians 5:21)”!