Sunday’s sermon: Rebuilding the Ruins


Texts used – Isaiah 61:1-9; 2 Corinthians 5:14-21

  • There’s a DIY (“Do It Yourself”) craze that’s swept the country in recent years, and that craze is something called ‘upcycling.’
    • Upcycling = process of taking an old, worn out, broken item and refurbishing it → making it into something new and usable again
      • Could be making into a fresher version of what it was (e.g. – reupholstering and painting an old chair)
      • Very often it’s repurposing it into something entirely new (e.g. – turning an old door into a headboard)
    • Lots of energy dedicated to the idea of upcycling
      • Books
      • Magazines
      • HGTV shows
      • “How tos” on YouTube, Pinterest, and other online sources
    • I think we’re probably even more aware of the potentials (and maybe even pitfalls) of upcycling here in Oronoco because of Gold Rush Days!
      • Plenty of vendors sell items that have already been upcycled
      • Lots and lots of people come to Gold Rush Days looking for that perfect item to upcycle themselves
        • Junky set of chairs
        • Old window frame
        • Various types of signs
        • Rusty lighting fixture
    • The trick to upcycling is finding a way to both honor whatever the thing was before and make it look like something new.
      • Not trying to hide its past life/purpose
      • Trying to celebrate what it was while also making it useful and beautiful again
        • E.g. – window frame that I bought a few years ago and turned into a picture frame → All I did was clean it up, sand down the rough paint edges, and add some hanging hardware. I didn’t paint it to try to make it look uniform and new again. I didn’t remove the original window hardware. It still looks like a window … but it also looks like a picture frame. There’s no hiding what it was or what it’s become.
  • Now, throughout Lent this year, we’ve been taking a look at some of the creeds and confessions of the Presbyterian Church and talking about how they still speak to our lives.
    • 1st week: Nicene Creed (oldest and most universal creed)
    • Last week: Theological Declaration of Barmen → document that came out of Nazi Germany and speaks to the authority of God above all else
    • This week – tackling the Confession of 1967
      • All about reconciling
      • All about rebuilding relationships → taking what was old, worn out, broken and making it new again … spiritual upcycling.
  • The Confession of 1967 – historical background
    • Document born out of the turbulence and cultural uncertainty of the 1960 → contemporary of Vatican II in both the time it was generated and the way in which it tried to bring the church into a new era
    • Creation of the confession = long process
      • Originally, in 1956, a number of presbyteries requested to modernize the language of the Westminster Catechism (one of the older confessional documents that came out of the Reformation period) → morphed into a decision to write a new confessional document to speak to the current age
      • First draft took a special committee 7 yrs. to write
      • Reviewed and revised by a different special committee in 1965
      • Finally adopted by the General Assembly in 1967
    • Certainly the longest of the confessions that we’ve tackled so far → In fact, this is the only time throughout this sermon series that you do not and will not have the whole text of the confession in your bulletin insert. Frankly, it was just too long to print the whole thing. You have …
      • Preface: gives you a taste for the intent/purpose of the confession
      • The text of the confession itself [READ CONFESSION]
      • Heading titles for the 2 main parts of the confession (“God’s Work of Reconciliation” and “The Ministry of Reconciliation”) → This is the main body of the text which addresses a wide variety of theological topics from the grace of Jesus Christ to the love of God, the role and authority of Scripture, the mission of the church, and the Sacraments. If you’re interested in reading the body of this document, I’d be happy to either loan you a copy of the Book of Confessions or make a copy of the Confession of 1967 in its entirety for you.
      • Part III (the conclusion): “The Fulfillment of Reconciliation”
    • As you can probably tell from the titles of those parts, the central theme = reconciliation → built around a line from our NT passage for today: God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ[1]
      • Encompasses Reformed understanding of reconciliation – Presbyterian theologian and scholar Jack Rogers points out the two main movements of reconciliation under Reformed theology: God comes to humanity in forgiveness, and people are to be peacemakers with their fellow human beings.[2]
        • Addresses first and foremost the ways that we are brought back into right relationship with God
        • Also addresses the importance of being brought back into right relationship with one another as a facet of our spiritual well-being
  • Now reconciliation – the restoration of right relationships – was certainly an issue that arose in the face of the massive cultural shifts of the 1960s: the explosion of rock and roll; the divisiveness of the Vietnam War; the Civil Rights movement; the assassination of key political figures like President Kennedy, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Senator Robert Kennedy; the waning of mainstream religion … I could go on and on. But I think that today, we find ourselves in a time that is at least as desperately in need of this message of reconciliation if not even more so: our political system, which was initially built on the ideas of compromise and working together, has become fractured and combative at best; social media and the invention of smartphones has caused us to be more insular and self-centered than possibly any other time in history; across the board, churches have been declining for decades, forcing some to make difficult decisions; our society has grown to relish things like unhealthy views of women and violence, leading to the birth movements like Me, Too and Time’s Up; gun violence has become such an acceptable part of our day-to-day news cycle that the massacre of 17 students in a high school only stays in the headlines for a week (at most!) before we move on to the next thing. Again … I could go on. If anything, all of this bespeaks a desperate cry for the restoration of right relationships with God and with each other.
  • Need for reconciliation = spelled out in both Scripture passages today
    • NT passage = reconciling with God
      • Text: So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived! All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation. In other words, God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them.[3]  → all about how we are called back into good and beautiful relationship with God
        • Makes it very clear that this is something that God does for us, not something that we achieve on our own → this is grace – totally one-sided in its generosity and freely given
        • Friends, this is what it’s all about when we come to the table. As we will in a few minutes, we participate in this sacred meal because we are coming to God asking for forgiveness … asking to be restored in our relationship with God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, asking to rebuild that relationship one step … one prayer … one piece of bread … one cup at a time. That’s why, in our communion prayer, we acknowledge that there are times when we have indeed turned away, acknowledge the power of Christ’s death and resurrection, and ask God to pour out the Holy Spirit on us again to draw us together with God and one another in mission and in grace.
      • NT passage also speaks to our call to share that message of reconciliation with one another – text: [Christ] died for the sake of all so that those who are alive should live not for themselves but for the one who died for them and was raised. … He has trusted us with this message of reconciliation. 20 So we are ambassadors who represent Christ. God is negotiating with you through us. We beg you as Christ’s representatives, “Be reconciled to God!”[4]
    • OT passage speaks to how we can enact that reconciliation in our relationships with one another
      • Text: He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release for captives, and liberation for prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and a day of vindication for our God, to comfort all who mourn, to provide for Zion’s mourners, to give them a crown in place of ashes, oil of joy in place of mourning, a mantle of praise in place of discouragement.[5]  → Basically, it’s about treating people well – treating people like people, no matter the circumstances.
        • That is the call we hear from Isaiah
        • That is the call we hear from the Confession of 1967: God’s redeeming work in Jesus Christ embraces the whole of man’s life: social and cultural, economic and political, scientific and technological, individual and corporate.[6]
  • But here’s the thing about reconciliation. It’s a lot like upcycling in that it’s not meant to simply smooth over what was and pretend it never existed. Reconciliation isn’t a “forgive and forget” sort of action. That sort of mentality, in fact, defeats the whole point of reconciliation. In order to restore those right relationships, we have to be able to acknowledge what broke them in the first place – to confess it and express our regret and desire for forgiveness, to bring ourselves in humility and ask for forgiveness. Reconciliation isn’t about restoring a relationship to what it was before it was broken but about making it stronger, better, fuller than it was before. There’s no hiding what it was or what it’s become.
    • Beautiful, powerful example in some of the work of the missionary family that we support – Rev. Shelvis Smith-Mather works with RECONCILE International, an organization dedicated to rebuilding relationships after the decades of violence and civil war that eventually split the nation of Sudan into Sudan and South Sudan → from RECONCILE’s website: RECONCILE International was established in 2003 as an affiliate church organization by the New Sudan Council of Churches (NSCC). The recent civil war killed an estimated 2 million people, and has had a dramatic affect upon the peoples of southern Sudan, resulting in an environment where it is difficult for communities to build trust, heal the wounds of trauma, transform conflict into peace, and promote reconciliation. We aim to contribute to Nation Building and realization of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement by equipping communities with knowledge and skills for peacebuilding through psychosocial rehabilitation, civic education, and advocacy. This will ultimately help to create an environment for a healthy, peaceful, democratic society.[7]
      • Story after story from this crucial organization about people who were traumatized engaging with those who caused the trauma in the first place in ways that both honor/acknowledge the past and build a bridge toward the future through discussion, prayer, mutual community building, education, etc. → powerful, powerful ministry
  • Nothing in our readings today – in our Scripture or in our confession – says anything about reconciliation being easy. And frankly, I don’t think we’d want it to be. President Theodore Roosevelt said, “Nothing in this world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty. No kind of life is worth leading if it is always an easy life.” Just like the work and the sweat that has to go into successfully upcycling something, we have to be willing to put work and spiritual sweat into restoring our relationships, both with God and with others. But in the end, it all comes out beautiful. → words from Isaiah: They will be called Oaks of Righteousness, planted by the LORD to glorify himself. They will rebuild the ancient ruins; they will restore formerly deserted places; they will renew ruined cities, places deserted in generations past. … You will be called The Priests of the LORD; Ministers of Our God, they will say about you.[8] Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] 2 Cor 5:19.

[2] Jack Rogers. Presbyterian Creeds: A Guide to the Book of Confessions. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1985), 220.

[3] 2 Cor 5:17-19.

[4] 2 Cor 5:15, 19b-20.

[5] Is 61:1b-3a.

[6] The Confession of 1967 from The Book of Confessions: Study Edition (revised). (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017), 9.53.


[8] Is 61:3b-6a.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s