2 Corinthians 5:11-21
Reconciliation in our world takes many different forms and quite frankly different interpretations. Take for instance, the British actor, Frederick Lonsdale, who saw his main nemesis at a New Year’s Eve party. After some prodding by his friends to let bygones be bygones, the actor strutted over to his nemesis and wished him a “Happy New Year”, and added, “but only this one.” Not quite what I had in mind when beginning to prepare this sermon.
Much more appropriate was news from June 14th, 2003, when the fourth generations of the Hatfield and McCoy families signed a truce agreement in Pikeville, KY. At the height of the now famous feud over logging rights, more than 12 family members were killed from 1870-1888. And now, over 100 years removed from those intense days, the families came together to send a signal to everyone that peace can take place.
Or what about on February 1, 2007, when the state of Virginia moved forward to apologize for slavery, something no president or legislature has done. The Virginia House Rules Committee unanimously approved a measure that expresses “profound regret” for the state’s role in the slave trade and other injustices against African-Americans and Native Americans. The original proposal by Del. Donald McEachin, a Democrat, called for “atonement.” “This is a good first step,” says McEachin, whose great-grandfather Archie was a slave.
Reconciliation is defined as making things compatible or consistent, or recreating friendly relationships Remember those famous words uttered by Rodney King’s during the LA riots of 1992? “Can’t we all just get along”. This leaves much to be desired from the Christian perspective. It is more than simply externally getting along, smiling and making nice talk. It is making things heart right between two persons or nations or organizations, etc. That is the reconciliation that I believe God calls us to and that is the type of reconciliation that I want us to explore today.
MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION EXPLORED: 2 COR 5:11-21
We are currently in a sermon entitled “Lift High the Cross” in which we are looking at the Cross’ implication for our lives. The Cross, as one grand ole hymn states, is, “an emblem of suffering and shame”. It is also an emblem of unity for those who stand under its shadow. It is for this reason that reconciliation is at the heart of Christianity. Paul underscores the importance of reconciliation when he describes his entire life’s work as a “ministry of reconciliation.”
Paul describes this ministry of reconciliation and we have come to understand it as two-fold in nature. First of all, the Cross provides reconciliation to God. Jesus’ willingness to die provided the perfect sacrifice for all who would come before and after Him. Picture this first part as the vertical beam in the Cross. It that connects you, me, and all the world to God. Secondly, the Cross also provides the place that unifies our self-centered world with itself. That is the horizontal beam. It is the picture of Jesus outstretched arms welcoming all who would come into their loving embrace. It is this complete ministry, both to God and one another, that is given to all followers of Christ. Paul knew early on the God’s chosen delivery system for this message was to be his people. Paul calls himself an Ambassador for Christ. It does not stop with Paul, we too are ambassadors of Christ. Given God’s timeless message of reconciliation in order to tell it to all.
But how do we go about this ministry of reconciliation? In Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus instructs us to be light in a dark world. By providing a contrast, we point people toward a loving, caring, and all-powerful God. We build bridges by being light in this world. Being different, being counter-cultural. Jesus goes on to say in John 13:35 that we will be known for our love. That is the contrast. That is our counter-cultural message. We are to be light in this world through our love. Not for our programs, or great preaching, or etc. But by how we live in relationship to God and to our fellow sojourners in this world. We are to be known by our RELATIONSHIPS! Don’t miss this. We are to be known by our RELATIONSHIPS. It is how we treat one another that counts and is noticed by those around us. That is the message of the Cross. Jesus willingly put his relationship with God ahead of his own personal comfort, his own career ambitions, his own personal interest. And get this, the Cross also shows us that Jesus put you and me ahead of all these things as well. The Cross defines reconciliation for us. It is putting others ahead of our selves.
So, we are to be known for our relationships with one another. That is the message that is sent around the world each day. But you are probably asking, will it make a difference? I commend you for your rapt attention to my ramblings. But I digress. Romans 2:4 says that we are drawn to repentance by God’s kindness. Not by his judgments? Not by his commandments? But by his kindness. Since we are God’s Ambassadors, it must also be true that our kindness to others is the very thing that draws them to God. And so, it is important to begin asking ourselves, ” Do we say we love Jesus and then refuse to get along with those around us? Do we practice an empty religion that is full of rituals but not relationships? Is our personal theology a list of things we “don’t” agree with therefore drawing lines in the sand and alienating ourselves from others? Do we read the bible, pray, go to bible studies and then refuse to act civilly toward our friends, family, neighbors and co-workers?” We are known by the way we treat one another and the world around us. Whether we like it or not, people watch us closely and are wanting to see if our actions agree with our words. And we are either propelling people toward or directly away from God’s throne by the way we act! Which is another reason I do not put a fish on the back of my car! Or a First UMC bumper sticker for that matter!
GRAVITY OF RECONCILIATION: Matthew 5 & 6
I realize that reconciliation is much more difficult to live out than to speak about. You are probably thinking, “Todd, you have no idea how much I have been hurt. Or, you don’t know the other person.” All these things are so valid and I hear you this morning. But for the sake of God’s Kingdom, for the sake of people around us who need God’s love and forgiveness, and for our own spiritual growth, we must all be involved in reconciliation. This is clearly seen in two places in Jesus’ sermon on the Mount. Matthew 6:14-15 which immediately follows the giving of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus continues by saying that if we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us. Not a “nice to do” statement. Not a “here is one way to be a better person” statement. But an imperative command. Do not expect your Father in Heaven to forgive you when you are unwilling to forgive others. God will treat you how you treat other people. In order to receive forgiveness from God, we must be willing to accept it. To truly receive God’s forgiveness in done by a heart that And again in Matthew 5:21-25, Jesus says that we are not able to worship God until we at minimum attempt to be reconciled to those around us. Jesus tells us that God doesn’t want our worship unless we are active partisans in the ministry of reconciliation. Just like forgiveness, how can we say we have received reconciliation and then not be offering the same blessing to others?
The way I think of how all this works is by using the image of an equilateral triangle. God is the top point of the triangle. We are another point, and the rest of our relationships are the third. As we grow closer to one another, we then naturally move closer to God. Our relationships work in a symbiotic way. Relationships do matter. I believe that they are the most important part of our lives while here on earth.
Therefore, as much as it is up to us, we are to be reconciled with those around us. We are to be bridge builders. The beginning step is forgiveness, which is a personal issue that does not take others to accomplish. The second step is to offer to rebuild our relationship. This is to not say that we put ourselves in abusive situations or act in a way that is not in keeping with common sense. I realize that there may be situations that will not be reconciled in our lifetime. As I said earlier, it does take two to make reconciliation work. But that does not mean that we do not try and keep trying. It is too important for the Kingdom of God. It is too important to those who have offended us. And it is too important for our spiritual lives. The steps to reconciliation are 1.) acceptance of God’s forgiveness and being reconciled to God. 2.) offering forgiveness to others, 3) offering a new relationship to others.
Two father’s, one from Oklahoma and the other from New York, sat down across a dining room table for a 2-hour chat in upstate New York. The father from Oklahoma, Bud Welch, his daughter Julie-Marie worked in the Oklahoma City Federal Building as an interpreter for the Social Security Administration. She was meeting with a client at the moment the bomb went off and was killed. Bud remembers turning on the TV and in horror watching the images. There was a painful two day wait before finding out that his daughter had been killed in this horrible act of terror. The man across the table was Bill McVeigh whose son Timothy was one of the organizers and perpetrators of the event. Bill McVeigh’s former neighbor helped arrange a meeting between him and Bud in September 1998, three years after the bombing. “Bud came early,” Bill says and chuckles. “I didn’t have my shoes on.” But he greeted his guest before searching for his shoes. “He [Bud] stayed for two hours. It’s hard for me to believe a man whose daughter got killed could be that friendly and nice. He’s a great guy.”
Bud continues to telephone Bill occasionally, but Bill does not phone back. “I wouldn’t know what to say.”
On his part, Bud says he felt nervous all the way to the McVeigh home. He started by telling Bill he didn’t think there had been a government conspiracy connected to the bombing. They shared their views of the Nichols brothers. When Bud prepared to leave, Tim’s sister, Jennifer, hugged him and cried. At that meeting, Bud told the McVeigh’s that they were all in this together for the rest of their lives. Then he cried all the way back to Buffalo where two friends waited for him. “I couldn’t stop sobbing,” he says. “I drove 85 miles per hour because I needed to get to people I knew. When I pulled up at the house, I was still crying.” He can’t explain why, but Bud says, “Since I met Bill McVeigh, I feel closer to God. I’m not a real religious person, but that was an unforgettable experience!”
He can’t explain it…I think we can.
We are a reconciled people who are involved in reconciling others. That is the bottom line. This very day, many of us in this room stand in need of reconciliation. We have done something that has harmed another. In addition, many of us have been harmed. Whatever the reason, whatever the situation, God stands ready to make everyone involved whole. Will today be the day that you look at the Cross in a new way and take steps to end the hurt in your life? That is my hope. That is my prayer. That is God’s heart.