In case you had forgotten, these past two weeks have reminded us that there are deep divisions between people in our society. In a sinful act of violence, a police officer killed George Floyd on the street in Minneapolis. Ever since, citizens have been protesting across the country. Many of the protesters have been peaceful. But there have also been many riots, in which countless sinful acts of violence have been committed against innocent people. Over the past two weeks, some people have found opportunities to be kind and respectful to each other, and we don't want to miss that. But many have displayed their hatred of people whom they see as different than they are. People ask, "Can't we all just get along?" The past two weeks show us that the answer is, "No." People won't just get along. Something has to be done. Something needs to happen so that the violence will stop and people will act in a mature way toward one another.
You may think I'm about to take sides here and say that law enforcement is right or the rioters are right. In our divided society, you are supposed to choose a side and make every issue black versus white or Republican versus Democrat. Clearly, the sin of racism is still a problem in our society, and must be condemned. But the Bible says that every sinful act of violence is wrong no matter who commits it, and there has been plenty of violence to go around.
If you are a Christian, there is another temptation you experience. There's the temptation to see the division between us good people who don't commit acts of violence and those bad people who are doing terrible things. Yet you and I all know that we don't always get along with everybody else, either. Even if we've never murdered, even if we've never looted, we've hated people inside our own hearts. And if we are so busy pointing fingers at the sinners in our society that we don't stop to confess our own sins, then we're being hypocrites. Sin causes divisions between people who belong to a church and others whom we might be tempted to think are too sinful to belong to a church. Sin causes divisions even within congregations.
Unfortunately, divisions within Christian churches are nothing new. They go all the way back to the early years of the Christian church, when the apostle Paul dealt with the divisions within the congregation in the city of Corinth. The members of that church argued with each other and sinned against each other. And their sinful actions against each other gave them a bad reputation in the eyes of people who weren't part of their church.
At the end of the letter that we call 2 Corinthians, Paul told those immature Christians to get along. But that wasn't going to happen just because he told them to. He told them what God was doing so that they could enjoy fellowship with their fellow believers.
A lesson from 2 Corinthians 13: "Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you." Paul greeted these people as his brothers and sisters, in spite of all the pain they had caused him. His prayer was that God would restore their relationships with his Word. He admonished them with the Lord's law and encouraged them with the Lord's gospel. He wanted this divided congregation to be completely united, not to go back to their fighting, but to live at peace with each other. How would they put their sins against each other behind them and face the challenges of the future together? Our God is the God of love and peace, and he would be with them to work these blessings in their lives, just as he does for us.
Paul continues: "Greet one another with a holy kiss. All God's people here send their greetings." Paul was writing from Macedoina, nearly 400 miles away. Paul sent greetings from the Christians who lived in the place from where he was writing. The fact that the Corinthians were united through faith to people who lived far away showed that God could unite them to the fellow members of their own congregation. Our fellowship extends beyond our local congregations to places where we believe and teach the same message about the same Savior.
Paul closes his letter with words with which we are familiar as a blessing that we use in church: "May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all." This isn't just a nice-sounding greeting. These are powerful words that speak truth and bring change into people's lives.
Our sins cause a deep division between us and God. But the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ brought him across that divide and motivated him to unite himself to our human race when he became fully human. We didn't deserve it. His grace motivated him to suffer and die for all our sin, even our hypocrisy and hatred, and to live a life of perfect love for us.
It was the love of God the Father that moved him to send his Son for us and that moves him to declare us to be not guilty of our sins and holy. God is love. He loves every person in this world. And God loves you. He has displayed that love through the life and death of Jesus.
The fellowship of the Holy Spirit is ours because God the Holy Spirit has brought us the gift of repentance and faith. By his power we confess our sins and he gives us forgiveness and new life from the Father and the Son, so that we are now united with our God. Paul's blessing shows how the Corinthians could have fellowship with each other. This same blessing from our Lord is how there can be true fellowship among all of us!
Today we get to express that fellowship by joining together in person for the first time in months. Unfortunately, not all of us can be together yet. We still look forward to expressing our fellowship by being together with the rest of our church family. After this time of separation, let's never take our fellowship for granted again. Instead, let's appreciate each other and display our love by sacrificing for each other!
Your fellow Christians need you. And this world needs you, too. There is injustice in our society. We see destruction around us. Let's make sure that our church will always be a place where we display love and enjoy peace. And let's work together to bring that love and peace to our city and our world.
Our world doesn't need more hypocrites. It needs us Christians to be honest about what we've done wrong and confess our sins. It needs us to trust in Jesus for forgiveness. Our world also needs us Christians to be honest about its sins. And it needs us to extend to it the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. When we work together to bring that blessing to our community, we are displaying how the Holy Spirit has worked in us to overcome our hatred and hypocrisy. And the Holy Spirit will work through the gospel message that we proclaim to bring his fellowship to other people's lives. He bridges the divide between people and the Lord, giving them God's love and peace. He heals the divisions between them and other people, so they can show love and be at peace with each other. There is no division between people that the love of God can't overcome. He has conquered ethnic divisions before, and he will do it again. There is no bigger difference that we can make in our divided society than to be the messengers of God's blessing.
But that work isn't easy. It takes a high level of Christian maturity. That maturity cannot come from ourselves. It can only come as a gift from God. He sends the Holy Spirit to create fellowship with fellow believers. The God of love and peace will be with us!