Below is a sermon that Isaac Martinez, our wonderful Formation Program Director (and a student at Harvard Divinity School), delivered to Christ Church in Needham on September 26. We share this sermon here because Isaac speaks to the Church's ongoing need for reconciliation -- a crucial tenant of LDI's work. Please enjoy his words and share as your heart desires!
Christ's Gift of Reconciliation
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable to you, O God our rock and our redeemer, Amen.
Good morning. It is a joy and an honor to be with you all this morning. My name is Isaac Martinez and I am the Director of Programming at the Leadership Development Initiative or LDI for short. I am also a postulant to the priesthood and a first-year Master of Divinity student at Harvard Divinity School, but I hope this won’t be a typical seminarian’s sermon, mostly because I haven’t taken Greek yet.
I want to start by telling you why I’m here in my role with LDI, an organization that seeks to equip leaders for an awakened Church. At LDI, we think an awakened Church is not a building or a single denomination or an institution of any kind, but the Body of Christ in all times and places that seeks to follow in Jesus’s way of healing and reconciliation personally, communally, and societally.
We take our cue from 2 Cor. 5 where Paul says that “if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” So now I will throw a little Greek at you. The original word we translate as reconciliation is katallasso, which can also be interpreted as “mutual adaptation,” or each party changing for the benefit of the other. God became human in Jesus to liberate us and we must also change to fulfill God’s dream for all creation.
It might be helpful to look at today’s gospel reading in context to see what this mutual adaptation can look like. In Luke 15 & 16, Jesus is in full-on parable mode as he makes his way to Jerusalem. In Luke 15, we find the parables of the lost and the found: the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son. In them, Jesus is teaching us that there are no ends to the lengths God will go to find us, to show us how much he loves us, to always make the first move towards reconciliation with us.
And when we are found by God, when we finally see a bit of light creep into those deep, dark places we know so well, it is a sweet sound indeed. But we risk becoming lost again if we aren’t willing to change ourselves to meet God in return. And I think what Jesus is trying to show us in these parables of money in Luke 16, especially the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man, is that there is real danger to us if we aren’t willing to examine all we have in light of all God has done for us. Jesus, going to such great lengths to describe Lazarus’s suffering, implies that it’s impossible for anyone to not see the poor, hungry man lying right outside your house, with dogs licking his sores. But the Rich Man doesn’t help Lazarus, and not because he doesn’t care, but because he can’t even see Lazarus. The Rich Man is blinded by his luxury, “trapped by many senseless and harmful desires,” and can’t be fully reconciled with God because he can’t even examine where and how he must change. And if he can’t be reconciled to God, then he cannot be a minister of reconciliation to Lazarus who desperately needs him to be.
And who are we in this story? We are the Rich Man’s brothers, who have not only the law and the prophets, but a man risen from the dead to convince us of our need to adapt to God so that we can begin the process of mutual adaptation with each other.
I want to be clear here that neither Jesus nor Paul are giving a blanket, un-nuanced condemnation of all wealth, rather because money is the most visible and tangible of things we have, they are asking us to pay attention. They are saying to all of us, “no matter if you are rich or want to be rich, pay attention to the ‘why.’ Why do we want to accumulate or hold on to our wealth? Who are we not paying attention to and whose suffering are we letting go by unnoticed and unaddressed because we are blinkered by our desire for more or fear of less?” In asking those questions, we begin to adapt ourselves to God’s liberating movement so that we can participate in his work of reconciling the world.
In truth, we can substitute many things for money—prestige, achievements, knowledge. If we aren’t willing to ask ourselves hard questions about why we want those things, then we run the danger of being stuck not in a future hell in the afterlife, but in a present torment of being oblivious to the obvious suffering all around us and unable to do anything about it.
Unlike the Rich Man, you Christ Church are not blind. You are “rich in good works, generous, and ready to share,” as a glance at all your charity activities makes clear. It is a sign that you are indeed with reconciled with God.
But we can’t rest on our own reconciliation with God. As Paul says in 2nd Corinthians, since we are made a new thing, we are now entrusted with that message of reconciliation to our community and our world. We must follow Jesus, not just with our money, but with our bodies and our hearts, into the broken places that surround us. We must be good news to the poor, the homeless, and the forgotten. We must be release to all who are captive, whether to unjust laws or to addiction. And we must be liberation to all who are oppressed, whether by a hypercompetitive school environment or by systemic racism. Just as God makes the first move in finding us who were lost, as reconciled ones, we must make the first move into our community and society so that they can be reconciled to God’s dream of justice and peace. It is not easy work, which is why we need an Awakened Church, and why an Awakened Church needs leaders who are equipped.
Here again, Christ Church, you give me hope, that isolation and division don’t have the last word. In your community engagement panels last winter, you have taken the first steps to be ministers of reconciliation here in Needham. You may not know where to go next or how to get there, and if that’s true, then I invite you to join LDI on Saturday, Nov. 12 from 9am-5pm at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Boston. We are hosting a training called Our Collective Call to Action that will introduce you to two sets of tools we think are crucial to being ministers of reconciliation, community organizing and contemplative practice. You will also hear stories and examples of the awakened church from across the country and introduced to a whole ecosystem of support as you continue on this path.
So let us continue in God’s grace and mercy and race to the obtain his promises of life and salvation. Amen.