In the story of Peter and the conversion of Cornelius (Acts 10-11), which we considered on Sunday, we saw how the apostle was prompted by the Holy Spirit during his time of prayer to do something he never would have done without the Spirit’s direction. Entering the home of a Gentile was something a devout Jew simply did not do. Even with the clear direction of the Spirit, Peter must have experienced a great deal of internal conflict, as he took steps into territory way beyond the edge of his comfort zone.
On Sunday, I encouraged you to begin praying for those individuals and groups with whom you may have conflict or differences, for those for whom you bear (or who bear toward you) any trace of hostility, for those who are outside your respective comfort zones (because of differences in race, ethnicity, religion, social status, political stance, or personal grievance, etc.) And then, to be willing to follow the Spirit’s prompting to step outside your comfort zone in order to share the good news of the forgiveness of Jesus with them. I’d like to follow up that exhortation with a relatively long but pointed excerpt from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s, Life Together (Gemeinsames Leben.)
“A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner. This is a happy discovery for the Christian who begins to pray for others. There is no dislike, no personal tension, no estrangement that cannot be overcome by intercession as far as our side of it is concerned. Intercessory prayer is the purifying bath into which the individual and the fellowship must enter every day. The struggle we undergo with our brother in intercession may be a hard one, but that struggle has the promise it will gain its goal.
How does this happen? Intercession means no more than to bring our brother into the presence of God, to see him under the Cross of Jesus as a poor human being and sinner in need of grace. Then everything in him that repels us falls away; we see him in all his destitution and need. His need and his sin become so heavy and oppressive that we feel them as our own, and we can do nothing else but pray: Lord, do Thou, Thou alone, deal with him according to Thy severity and Thy goodness. To make intercession means to grant our brother the same right that we have received, namely, to stand before Christ and share in his mercy.”
Bonhoeffer speaks here in the context of brothers (and sisters) within a Christian fellowship, but I believe we can apply his observations in principle to our relationships with those still outside the fellowship–particularly those for whom we harbor personal fears or resentments. When we truly pray God’s grace upon a person or upon a people, our own hearts cannot but also be transformed by grace toward that person or people.
The miracle of the Cross is that Jesus has become our peace, having abolished the walls of hostility that existed between us and God and between us and our fellows (Ephesians 2). It is in this vein, we are given the ministry of reconciliation, “as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” ( 2 Corinthians 5). This is our calling as disciples of Jesus. This is our mission at Christ Church.
May our intercessions (through the power of the Spirit and the Cross of Christ) become wrecking balls that destroy walls of hostility wherever they are found–especially in our city, known for its former wall of division.