Summary: We live with contradictory feelings about many things, including our church. We do not get the gift of reconciliation fully until there is conflict, but God wants to give the gift of reconciliation now, if we will accept it.
Church, some say, should be a place of peace. Church should be a place where we can come after a week of dealing with conflicts, fears, and doubts, and find peace. I was told we don’t want conflict at church.
And I do understand. I do understand why, when we come to the hour of worship, we want release from the normal hurly-burly of life. I do understand why, when we are in the house of God, we want an atmosphere of love and calm and quiet. Most of us do want that. I want that.
And yet, it is also true that because we are real people we will have real conflicts. Real people bring deep contradictions and genuine issues to church with them. Just walking in the church door does not change who we are. A whole lot of folks can at least manage to stay polite for a couple of hours on Sunday, but that does not mean that their lives are not plagued with problems and corroded with contradictions. That’s just reality.
I come back so often to Paul and to the church at Corinth. That yeasty, fractious, loud, argumentative place. That church, not exactly a place of peace, with problems, factions, immoralities, questions. That church whose address was Corinth, but it could be Washington, it could be Piney Branch Road and Aspen Street. I keep coming back to that church, because I like it! I like that church, with all of its issues! It’s familiar! And its life teaches us about living with contradictions:
II Corinthians 5:17-20, 6:2b-10
I once heard a man describe what mixed feelings are. He said that his description of mixed feelings would be seeing your mother-in-law drive herself into the ditch by the side of the road and get stuck, and you feel a kind of wicked delight. But when you look again you see she drove into the ditch in your brand new car!
Contradictions. Mixed feelings. Bad news - good news jokes. Have we not all had these happen to us?
This Friday was my daughter’s birthday. A time for fun, a time to be with her for a little while, a time to rejoice in all she means to our family. Good news. But she broke the spell by saying, “Well, Dad, here I am at the big three-oh.” Wait a minute. Wait a minute. If you, dear daughter, are at the big three-oh, then that means I am only fifteen months away from the bigger six-oh! Mixed feelings. We live with mixed feelings and contradictions wherever we turn.
Yesterday afternoon Margaret and I went to the store to make a few purchases. We paid for them with our Visa card and left. When we got home and unpacked, I found in the sack not only the customer’s copy of the credit card slip, but also the signed store copy. Aha! That would mean that the store doesn’t have a record of my purchase! Did I just get something free! Wow! But .. but .. mixed feelings. The clerk who waited on us at the store was a church member!
Here’s the slip, Cohen Cosby!! This is a test, this is a test!!
Contradiction and mixed feelings in all of life. Just why should the church of Jesus Christ be any different? Why should life in Takoma Park Baptist Church be an exception? It is not. It is not. We live in the midst of contradictions. But that is exactly what church is all about. That is what the gospel is all about. And that is what God is involved in.
You see, the gospel is reconciliation. Paul tells us that God was, in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself. God’s work is resolving conflict. Our conflict with God, which we call sin. Our conflict with others, which we call anger, hatred, and misunderstanding. And our conflict within ourselves, which we call anxiety. But God is in Christ reconciling. That’s what God does.
But now notice: you have to have a conflict before you can have a reconciliation. You have to have some tension before you can get a release. Looked at that way, tension is a good thing, because it allows us to experience release. Contradictions are good things because they permit us to get some clarity. And it is only when we experience reconciliation that we have something to share with the world. It is only when we know release from sin and contradiction that we can be messengers of the good news.
Did you add up all the contradictions Paul felt in his ministry with the church at Corinth? Did you count up all the stuff that he felt, all the bad news - good news items? He says that he found himself in the bad news camp a whole lot: “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger”. A serious laundry list of woes and worries! Tough to deal with!