Last evening my wife and I were invited to the 243rd Chaplain Corps Anniversary Dinner at Naval Air Station – Jacksonville. A room filled with approximately 30 chaplains, their aides, and a Regional Captain, all dressed up to the nines in their Ceremonial Uniforms. It’s a rare occasion when I feel “under-dressed” in my navy blue suit and tie…but this was one of those moments. When Lieutenant Ian McCarthy, a chaplain at NAS JAX introduced the theme of the evening I was quite surprised: Reconciliation. He went on to read 2 Corinthians 5:18-21:
“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
I moved to the edge of my seat…How would a Chaplain, who works with the diversity of society and reduced to a microcosm in uniform, address this teaching of Jesus to a room full of other chaplains (and guests such as my wife and myself). How would a person who serves both God and Country understand Reconciliation and its application in ministry?
So what does the word Reconciliation mean? According to the Google Dictionary Reconciliation can mean the following: The restoration of friendly relations. It further states:
reuniting, reunion, bringing together (again), conciliation, reconcilement, rapprochement, fence-mending; pacification, appeasement, placating, mollification
“the reconciliation of the disputants”
resolution, settlement, settling, resolving, mending, remedying
“a reconciliation of their differences”
agreement, compromise, understanding, peace;
“there was little hope of reconciliation”
harmonizing, harmonization, squaring, balancing
“the reconciliation of theory with practice”
In my limited world as a parish pastor Reconciliation is a rather succinct theological truism: Through Christ’s death and expiation God had removed guilt from sin which had previously separated us from God; and by making us a new creation we now live unto Jesus Christ and are constrained by His love. God has transformed us from enemies into friends, which is what Paul states in Romans 5:10: “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.” To put it another way, Reconciliation is a vertically restored relationship by and through Jesus Christ.
However, Lt. Ian McCarthy began to unpack “why” the theme Reconciliation. Within the scope of the United States Navy, the Chaplain is a proclaimer of Reconciliation to the men and women entrusted to his care. The chaplain stated: 1-We reconcile men and women to the reality of military service and separation from friends and family; 2-We reconcile sailors separated from families during deployment; 3-We reconcile families with those sailors when they return from deployment; 4-We reconcile the Navy community to Jesus Christ, the one who reconciled the world through His Cross…
Did you catch that? Layers of reconciliation…My Lutheran sensibilities would have started with #4 and worked from there…but the point is, he got there! Reconciliation flows from the cross and out to the world. Dietrich Bonhoeffer would state it this way:
“Christ’s cross is the cross of the world’s reconciliation with God…The cross of reconciliation sets us free to live before God in the midst of the godless world, sets us free to live in genuine worldliness. The proclamation of the cross of reconciliation frees us to abandon futile attempts to deify the world, because it has overcome the divisions, tensions, and conflicts between the “Christian” and the “Worldly,” and calls us to single-minded action and life in faith in the already accomplished reconciliation of the world with God (Bonhoeffer Ethics 400)
How refreshing to hear this beyond a Lutheran Pastor’s Conference or read it in one of the Seminary Journals. I found myself filled with a peace knowing that my son (who is enlisted in the United States Coast Guard) is being served by a Chaplain Corps that understands, embraces, and desires to extend the Reconciliation of Jesus Christ with the sailors (as well as the Marines and Coasties) they serve. And furthermore, they desire to assist those same sailors (Marines and Coasties) in living out reconciled lives with their families and military community.
Maybe this is why my church body – The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod has such a long and storied tradition in serving the Chaplain Corps. Amongst the chaplains assembled at the Anniversary Dinner there were 4 chaplains from my church body. I was privileged to be their guest and serve their families and them as a brother in Christ as well as their pastor when they are not on their respective bases. So thank you: Pon Chanthapon, Mark Moreno, Ross Engel, and Carl Muehler for your service to the United States in the ministry of Reconciliation. Happy Birthday Chaplain Corps of the United States Navy! 243 years and still about the ministry of the Cross!