Ash Wednesday – Epistle

by Crossings

From Rift To Reconciliation
2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2
Ash Wednesday
Analysis by Ron Starenko

2 Corinthians 5:20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 6:1 As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2 For he says,

“At an acceptable time I have
listened to you,
and on a day of salvation
I have helped you.”
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!

Introduction: The apostle Paul was no stranger to rifts. He faced conflicts with political and ecclesiastical authorities, his own colleagues, and repeatedly he needed to defend his ministry to those who sought to discredit him. The “Board of Missions” in Jerusalem argued that he was an illegitimate preacher, too unorthodox, too controversial. So, what does Paul do? He preaches not himself but the gospel, making his appeal based on the reconciling act of God. What better place for us to begin another Lenten season, given our own rifts, than to focus on the death and resurrection of our Lord through whom the cosmos has been reconciled?


Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem) – Rifts
Who today would deny that we live in a world riddled with irreconcilable differences? There is the endless impasse in the Middle East, the never-ending clash of races and classes, the struggle between nationalists and revolutionaries, even the infighting between Republicans and Democrats. Who will deny that we are all part of a world at odds with itself? We experience it in the antagonism between the sexes and the generations, in the aggression of athletics, and in the daily road rage we encounter on our streets and highways. And who can escape the rifts we experience because of physical, mental, and emotional illnesses, because of our broken relationships, in our hunger for a friendly world, and for peace? Our lives, our relationships, our world are plagued by rifts.

Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem) – Enmity
What is also inescapable is the fact that we initiated the rifts (Genesis 3). Furthermore, since Adam and Eve, we have clung to the notion that somehow we can do something about this calamity, that we have the power to change it. This thinking only reveals our stubborn belief in ourselves, and confirms that we have accepted “the grace of God in vain” (6:1). Putting our faith and trust in the wrong places, we have declared war on God with whom we have irreconcilable differences. Consigned to our enmity (the sin that now originates in us), we cannot let go of our anger and hatred toward our Creator–although we continue to deny that too.

Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem) – Condemnation
So the insurmountable rift remains between God and us. But whatever illusions we may hold about the trouble we are in and what we can do to overcome it, our biggest problem is that we cannot escape God who “counts our trespasses” (5:19). We have devastated God’s good creation with sin. As a result, we are condemned to death with the old creation; we are swept up in a judgment from which we are helpless to escape.


Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution) – Crossing the Rift
As bad as all of that sounds, and as likely as it is to grab our attention, it is by no means the last word from God. God is, above all, the God of promise. God’s gracious word more than matches God’s judgment. The apostle Paul knew this when he quoted Isaiah’s prophetic vision about “a day of salvation” for Gods exiled people (6:2). He proclaimed that that day had arrived in Jesus Christ; in him God has reconciled the cosmos to God’s self. Now reconciliation cannot happen without trespasses being counted. But rather than holding those trespasses against us, God put the weight of those trespasses on Jesus: God made him “to be sin who knew no sin” (5:21), by counting all sin against him. By way of the cross, God accomplished for us what we could never do for ourselves: He made us righteous before God (5:20). And then, to confirm his plan, God raised Christ from the dead, giving birth to the promised new creation. Because of Christ, even our dust-to-dust, ashes-to-ashes existence (still at work in the universe) has given way to reconciliation, forgiveness, and salvation.

Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution) – Acceptance
There is no power in all creation greater than that good news. It is so powerful that the Holy Spirit is able to create in us what we could not manufacture for ourselves: faith and trust which enable us to receive God’s grace, to grasp “the acceptable time” (6:2), to know enmity has ended, and that we are recipients of God’s peace. And that’s not all. To be “in Christ” (5:17) is not only a matter of “being saved,” it is also a matter of becoming righteous (5:21) through the very act of believing–indeed as righteous as the Christ who suffered away our sin.

Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution) – Peacemaking
The solution gets even better. Believing in Christ, following our Lord, we step with him into the new creation. Despite the fact that wars still rage, disease still afflicts us, death still stalks us, we are given the confidence that we are already in God’s future–where everything has become new (5:17). No longer do we live for today, no longer must we seize the moment–not when God has made peace with us and calls us to represent that peace. As “ambassadors for Christ” (5:20), we are able to wrestle with the evils we deplore. We seek to create communities where reconciliation happens, where we forgive rather than count trespasses. We join with others in places of hospitality and hope, and we acknowledge and assist those who have fallen into the rift of human sin. Before that ultimate “day of salvation” we get to be ambassadors who work to end violence and revenge; for now it is through us that God “makes his appeal” (5:20) to an estranged world, as we preach and practice what God has already accomplished in Christ.


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