Reconciliation – A Sermon by Bishop James S. Dunlop
For the Ordination of Carla Christopher Wilson and Installation of the Rev. Dana J. Blouch-Hanson and the Rev. Elizabeth G. Martini
February 23, 2020
II Corinthians 5:14-21
We gather this day on the lands of the Susquehannock, indigenous American people. They lived for millennium on this land. They were part of the Iroquois nation living on the banks of the Susquehanna River. By the 1670’s, contact with Europeans ravaged the Susquehannock with disease, especially smallpox, destroying their numbers from thousands to a few hundred. By the 1760’s, there just a handful left when some European immigrants, known as the Paxton boys, slaughtered the last of the Susquehannock in nearby Lancaster County.
We gather this day on the lands of the Susquehannock, indigenous Americans. The justification for these actions by our forbearers was the “Doctrine of Discovery,” created by (wait for it) the church. Pope Nicholas V issued the papal bull Dum Diversas on 18 June 1452. It authorized Alfonso V of Portugal to
reduce any “Saracens (Muslims) and pagans and any other unbelievers” to perpetual slavery.
Additional bulls from the church allowed for conversion, enslavement, or the killing of non-Christian people in lands that were “discovered.” This was the justification for the taking of land from indigenous people and the enslavement of Africans in this part of the world, which began 400 years ago. It was further entrenched in the law of the United States. In 1823, the Christian Doctrine of Discovery was quietly adopted into U.S. law by the Supreme Court in the celebrated case, Johnson v. McIntosh (8 Wheat., 543). Writing for a unanimous court, Chief Justice John Marshall observed that Christian
European nations had assumed “ultimate dominion” over the lands of America during the Age of Discovery. White European immigrants used their Christian faith and teaching to justify that there were different races. One race should dominate the others.
The sorting of people. Sorting, this is a natural thing for us. It is how we bring order to our world. In the creation story in Genesis, God brought all the creatures to Adam to name and sort one from another. We sort things. I sort my socks coming out of the wash. That way I wear socks that match. I sort them in the
drawer keeping the navy blue far from the black, so I don’t mistake them accidently when bleary eyed in the morning. I can’t wear navy socks with my black suit. I sort the screws in my garage, so I can find a deck screw as opposed to a regular wood screw.
We sort things, but sorting people is different; and we have been sorting people for a long time. It did not begin with the Doctrine of Discovery; and it seems that when we sort people, we see some as preferred and some as less so. It is not new. It has been the sin of God’s creation from the beginning. Cain killed
Abel. And so, it began. God’s children have sorted themselves, enslaved others, and killed others.
There were the preferred people and the “other.” Our tribe preferred over the other. This is not just a problem of recent times. It is our history as humanity. It was the history in Corinth. Corinth was a seaport in Greece. It was completely destroyed in 146 BCE by the Romans. No one lived there for over a hundred
years. And then in 44 BCE, Julius Caesar refounded the city; it was a new city; it was a seaport; it was where people came to make a quick buck in a burgeoning new place; it was a crossroads of the Roman Empire; it was the Silicon Valley of the ancient world where the nuevo rich came to make a name for
themselves; and it was into this place that Paul the Apostle came.
We believe that Paul the Apostle was there for a year and a half, working and proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, and starting a church. After he left, news filtered back to Paul about the church there and he wrote a series of letters. Some of which we have and some we do not. The letters that we have
constitute First and Second Corinthians. It is not clear exactly how many letters make up these two books of the Bible. What is clear is that Paul was often irritated with the church in Corinth. There were many problems: money, sexuality, legal issues, and treating of some of the members of the church as less than
others: Jew and Gentile; rich and poor; followers of Paul and followers of Apollos.
Into this divisive world, Paul proclaims Christ crucified. Paul sees himself as a minister of the new covenant and apostle who suffers to be prepared for the final transformation. But in this passage, he sees himself as a minister of reconciliation. This ministry of reconciliation is at the heart of Paul’s ministry
because it is at the heart of the Gospel. It is not about what we do, but rather it is God’s action of reconciling God’s self to the world. Paul is clear, Jesus died for all, not some, all! We have been joined in his death so that we might be joined in his resurrection; and in that resurrection, we have been made new
For once we knew Christ from a human point of view, but now Christ is a new creation and we too are new creations. God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, is reconciling God’s self to the world. The sins of the past have been forgiven. The division is gone so that we might become the righteousness
of God. This changes everything. The petty divisions in Corinth are to be put aside. How can we not see that we have been set right with God, as all have been set right with God in Christ Jesus? If God accepts all the Corinthians as children of God, how can we do any differently? Jew, Gentile, rich, poor, those
baptized by Paul, those baptized by Apollos. If that is how God sees us, how can we see any differently?
The message of the Gospel is a message of reconciliation with God and with one another. The divisions are gone. We are one with God through Christ Jesus. Are we willing to hear that today? In this church?
Fifty years ago, this church ordained the first woman as a pastor. Forty years ago, we ordained the first woman of color as a pastor. Ten years ago, we ordained the first LGBTQIA+ person as a pastor. In 2016 this church repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery. In 2019 this church apologized to our siblings in Christ
of African Descent for the racism that has plagued the Lutheran Church. In 2019 we issued a social statement on sexism and the sin of patriarchy.
We’re good, right? Not yet!
We have named and confessed our sin and it is a start. Patriarchy, racism and prejudice against our LGBTQIA+ siblings still exist in our church. It is in our history; it is in our present reality; it is in the culture of this nation; and I will not take the time to talk about all that plagues our society as a whole.
So, what does it mean for this church and this synod that we are installing two gifted women to be assistants to the bishop? And we are ordaining as a pastor, a married LGBTQIA+ woman of African Descent, the first in our synod.
I pray that it means that we are beginning to live into the heart of the Gospel, a gospel of reconciliation. To the three of you, I would love to promise you that in this church you will not be judged by your gender, your age, your race, or to whom you are married, but I know better than that and for that I am sorry.
Yet, you must remember, you are called. Called to be a voice in this church; called to be a voice for the voiceless; called to be a witness to the gospel of reconciliation; and called to be an ambassador for Christ. Not because of your gender, age, race, or to whom you are married, but you are called to be proclaimers of the Gospel, ministers of Word and Sacrament.
Like the Apostle Paul, we are called to proclaim that Jesus has died. That Jesus has been raised from the dead. That we, in our baptism, have died to sin and have been made alive with Christ. The old creatures have died, and we are a new creation. That we have been reconciled to God by God. We have been made
right with God not by our action but by the action of God in Christ Jesus. That each and every one of us, every one of us, has become the righteousness of God. That the divisions of our checkered past, the ways in which the world wants to sort and divide people, have no place in this church. They have no place in
This is a church that proclaims that Jesus Christ has given us a ministry of reconciliation. That we will not see each other from a human point of view any longer, for we do not see Christ from a human point of view.
We gather this day on the lands of the Susquehannock, indigenous Americans, who were annihilated by European settlers. We must confess the sins of the past. We must be reconciled to God and to one another. We cannot tolerate hate of the other. God is making us a new creation. God has reconciled God’s self to
Dana, Beth and Carla, you are ambassadors for Christ.
Let us be what God has created us to be, the righteousness of God.
For the love of Christ urges us on.