Hearts Wide Open

Reading: 2 Corinthians 6.1-13
A few years ago there was a plan to build the world's tallest building in Brisbane. A great deal of controversy surrounded the project - wind currents, shadows… Anyhow, why do we need the tallest building? I am sure we can think of a few more questions about it today - such as, it's one thing to put Brisbane on the map, but do we want to make it a target?

Several buildings were demolished. A new wider traffic bridge was built over the railway line in Edward Street. Work began on a big hole under the railway line. Then it was all stopped, and the level area from Ann Street was used for a small amount of off-street parking for several years. A more modest and appropriate building now fills the space.

But - that hole? It was explained that, the higher the building, the deeper the foundations must be.

Twenty-six years ago today, the Uniting Church in Australia came into being. Where were you? We were in Stanthorpe, watching proceedings on Wednesday night on TV. Then on Sunday we had a big celebration together.

Some were fearful that with Union we would lose long-cherished traditions. At the first Synod in October I was encouraged to note a real willingness to go back beyond our Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian past to search afresh the Scriptures in order to understand our mission and directions for the future.

Today is another birthday, and it is timely to consider where we have come in the past twenty-six years and where we are going. It is also timely to commit ourselves afresh right now to our Lord.

Open to God

In 2 Corinthians 5 Paul writes about "the ministry of reconciliation". That's the call of God on the church. It is also his call on every Christian. The life of a Christian and the life of a Christian church consist of being open to God. That may seem so obvious we hardly need to say it. Yet we do, and we need to spell out what we mean by it.

God has revealed himself - we need to be open to his Word in the Scriptures.

The letter to the Hebrews begins by affirming that God spoke to their forefathers in many and various ways, but now he has spoken by his Son... (Heb. 1.1,2). Chapter 2 goes on to say that we had "better pay more careful attention to what we have heard... For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?" (vv. 1-3)

The church is tempted, on the one hand, to see the Bible as a random source-book for "words from the Lord", or, on the other, as a very useful collection of illustrations - rather than as the foundation which gives both direction and correction to church and people, what the Basis of Union calls "constant reform under his word".

We are glad when the younger generation has a healthy appetite - even though it may stretch our budget! A healthy Christian has a healthy hunger for the Word - to absorb and apply its truths, not just to nibble a spiritual tidbit here and there.

When Jesus died on the cross, God opened the door to all humanity - we need to be open to his grace in Jesus Christ.

Paul writes that Christ "died for all" (2 Cor. 5.15). He says, "We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God" (v. 20). He begins chapter 6 by urging them "not to receive God's grace in vain... now is the time of God's favour, now is the day of salvation" (6.1-2).

God offers us his grace - that's how he wants to relate to us. None of us can get to heaven on the basis of all the good things we have done in the church or in the community. Every Christian is a sinner saved by grace. A Uniting Church sinner doesn't have a superior entry visa into heaven above any other sinner. Always be open to the grace of God in Jesus Christ. That's where we begin. That's where we grow.

God gives the Holy Spirit to each believer to live the Christian life, to engage in the Christian mission in the world - we need to be open to the Holy Spirit.

The teaching of the New Testament is that the Holy Spirit indwells each and every believer (as in Rom. 8.9). When Paul writes in Ephesians 5.18, "Be filled with the Spirit", he is assuming that the Holy Spirit already indwells us.

No Christian denomination has the monopoly of the Holy Spirit - bestowing the Spirit through its liturgies or by inducing charismatic ecstasy. Great harm is done to the body of Christ by those who teach that one Christian is "better" than another because of this or that ritual or experience.

The issue is whether we are "filled with the Spirit" - the meaning is actually continuous, "be continually being filled with the Spirit" - in other words, whether we are fully open to the grace and will of God which he wants to minister to us increasingly through the Holy Spirit.

Open to One Another

We need to be open to God. But, by our response to the grace of the gospel and through the indwelling Holy Spirit, we are "born from above" into the family of God (Jn 3.3,5). We need to be open to one another. We aren't called to be Christians in isolation but in relation to the other members of our Christian family.

Clearly, this was a problem in the Corinthian church. They laid claim to all the spiritual gifts, but were divided among themselves and tolerated immorality (1 Cor. 5). A delegation from Chloë's house had told Paul about a series of concerns (1.11). This had prompted Paul's first letter. But the people in the church were none too ready to listen. In 2 Corinthians he speaks of a "painful visit" he had made to them (2 Cor. 2.1).

In the present passage he describes the hardships he has endured in the course of his ministry - giving himself to them. "We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange - I speak as to my children - open wide your hearts also" (6.11-13).

Hearts wide open to one another. That involves us in recognising one another as brothers and sisters in God's family, loving one another, praying for one another, encouraging and supporting one another...

In part, the formation of the Uniting Church in Australia embodied that conviction and commitment. The real danger, of course, is that we can assume that organisational union is all those things. It isn't, and the process of union has been easier and harder than any of us thought. But at least we recognised that there are many more Christians than are embraced in our organisation - we are "uniting", rather than "united".

The call to be "open to one another" urges us to acknowledge, love and encourage Christian brothers and sisters in other denominations with different worship-styles and doctrinal emphases.

Open to Others

But it can't end there! We are to be open to God and open to one another. So we are understanding that this is to include, not just those belonging to our congregation and denomination, but all of our brothers and sisters in Christ. But it can't end there! God's family isn't a "closed shop"! The commission of Jesus is to go and make disciples, so they can make disciples, so they can make disciples... We need to be open to others - engaged with the members and life of our community, caring, serving, loving, living witnesses...

"Now is the time of God's favour, now is the day of salvation". God has called us to be reconciled to him. He calls us and commissions us to be ambassadors of his reconciliation - open to God, open to one another, open to others. It is Christ's commission to this congregation. It is his calling for each one of us.

© Peter J. Blackburn, Home Hill and Ayr Uniting Churches, 22 June 2003
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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