Tag Archives: reconciliation

Reconciliation is Our Victory

(You will most likely want to listen to the sermon as I deviated from my manuscript in quite a few places.)

I sometimes jokingly say that the person who most needs to hear my sermons is me. As I prepared for today’s sermon I also was dealing with a colossal error in which I hurt someone. In short my mouth engaged well before my brain did and I said things that were hurtful. I was confronted with just how far I missed the mark by on that one and we could say that if I was aiming inside of the barn I still would have missed the broad side. The good news is that the person who confronted me provided an example of today’s teaching by Jesus and came to me with the help of some elders to make things right. You know what? I did completely fail on that incident, and knew that the only recourse was to confess that they were right and that I had indeed sinned through my careless words. I knew that I had to ask for forgiveness, and forgiveness was granted. This is the truest sign of Jesus at work among us, not that we don’t mess up, but that when we do we own up to the way we miss the mark, humble ourselves and ask our brother or sister to forgive us we give and receive that gift of forgiveness and display the truth of God’s reconciling power for the world to see. This is why Jesus felt it so important at the beginning of the disciples’ ministry to instruct them in the best ways to interact around conflict situations.

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister[b][c] will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’[a term of contempt] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. 23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. 25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny. Matthew 5:21-26

Jesus had just finished talking about the importance of the Torah and now begins to address specific areas of interpretation in which the scribes and Pharisees were missing the point. There is a formula here that we will see in the next few weeks of Jesus’ teaching in which he corrects a superficial interpretation of the Torah by giving an interpretation that addresses motivation as well as action. You shall not murder is one of the big 10 and saying that it leads to being judged is a serious no-brainer. When a person is murdered there are two sins that occur: the first is the idolatrous act of claiming God’s power over life and death and the second is in acting on our judgment of the value of another human to be zero or less than zero. The focus in Jesus’ time was on the action of committing murder and the punishment for the action, but Jesus took his teaching to the motivator, the underlying moral issue, that drives the action: harboring anger against another. Every one of us gets angry, it is a normal part of being human, what Jesus is talking about is not that anger which is beyond our control, but when we allow that anger to stay and to guide our thoughts, words, and actions towards another human being. The Greek word underneath what we translate as anger implies provocation and duration, that this is not a short term thing. In many places in the bible we hear about harboring anger or holding grudges and this type of anger that Jesus is addressing is the anger that leads us to pass judgment on another person’s value as a human being.

Murdering someone is the end of a mental process and Jesus is saying “Hey, let’s address the moral issue that leads to the bloodshed before we get there.” You see, if we address issues before they have had a chance to reach an internal boiling point we avoid taking our eyes off the mark that God has set for us to aim at. Jesus gives us some warning signs to pay attention to that can tell us when we are beginning to lose sight of our end goal. First is when we start making dismissive or contemptuous comments about someone. How many times have we said “Oh, that’s just them being them. Nothing to bother ourselves with.” or “They’re always that way. I stopped paying attention to them a long time ago?” Those are the beginnings of contempt and we usually go there with people who get on our nerves. The problem is that when we dismiss others we are judging their value as a human being and it is a short step to mentally saying “You know, we would be better off without them.” or “They are just a drain on everything, they are worthless.”  When I find myself heading down those well-worn mental paths I am walking a path of sin and need to repent and begin the process of reconciliation.

This is an incredibly bold statement on Jesus’ part because he is telling the disciples that God’s heart and deepest desire is for reconciliation and not punishment. This is easy for us to see when we look back and see the sacrifice Jesus made to demonstrate God’s way of redemption, but I want you to take a moment and think about just how this had to sound to the disciples at the beginning of Jesus’ teaching. Nothing is more important to God than reconciliation and that if we really pay attention to the mark the Torah aims us at we will have that same priority. Even when that person who seemingly drives us crazy by their mere existence is bringing us closer to the boiling point, God wants us to think and act in ways that lead to reconciliation rather than devaluing, dismissal, and rejection. This is so important to God that he would rather us fix the broken relationships with each other before coming to him with our gifts. “Leave your gift at the altar and deal with the broken relationship first.” The ways we think about and act towards our brothers and sisters is a crucial part of the way we are called to worship God and are a sign of the truth of God’s forgiveness offered in Jesus. Our sharing of the gospel of God’s reconciliation becomes a lot more convincing when our lives display reconciliation.

Jesus isn’t just addressing externals he is dealing with the thoughts that are in our minds, and let’s be honest here; I don’t think any of us would be very comfortable with everyone around us knowing exactly what is going through our heads at any given moment. God wants to reconcile all of creation in him and that is the condition of victory we have been given. Consider what could happen if we carried our grudges out to their retributive ends. Our prisons would be overflowing with people, making one mistake of a certain kind could get you fired, everyday conversations would consist of walking around on egg shells because we would never get around to the hard work of looking inside and asking the question: How have I hurt my brothers and sisters? Or slipping down the road of hatred because we can’t see how anyone could behave that way and have malicious or sinful intent. Internalizing and avoiding conflict and not asking ourselves the hard questions is the way of defeat! I don’t think that anyone here wants to live under the defeat that comes from focusing on judgment. We see just how devastating it is just by looking at the news headlines in our browsers and papers. Do you want to experience the victory of God in your life? Then work towards reconciliation. Become a person who catches the dark thoughts and examines them to find their source and goes to their brother or sister in love to reconcile. You will experience the truth of Jesus sacrifice when you do that, and you will make that truth known to the world through your example.

I am not saying this will be easy, but Jesus makes an important point that we must keep in mind. Do we really want to drag each other before God with our full feelings and motivations exposed before him and the one who accuses? Do we really want to see someone destroyed? Or do we want to see relationships restored and made whole? Do we want to see that person who is acting in hurtful ways brought into a transforming relationship with God? Because when we come to God demanding justice he gives it to us in full, not just the other guy, but us as well. Jesus does give us a more excellent way: as we get dragged towards a place of judgment we can pause and take on the humility that comes from taking responsibility for the ways we contribute to the situation and seek to invest in restoring the relationship. In the world we live in victory comes from beating our opponents and dividing the world into the categories of winner and loser. In God’s eyes victory comes from reconciliation.

As we prepare for open worship take five minutes to allow your thoughts to wind down and seek the Holy Spirit’s leading in ways you can work towards reconciliation. Maybe there is someone who you find yourself beginning to dismiss or devalue. Maybe there is a conflict that has been brewing for a while. Maybe there is someone you know deep down that you are harboring anger towards. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you towards the steps you can make to bring reconciliation. It can be a scary thing to face into conflict and work towards reconciliation, but you are not alone. God is with you and we have elders who can help pray with you and go with you to begin the reconciliation process. Let us who so desperately need God’s reconciliation come together in His presence to seek his victory.

Being Ministers of Reconciliation

When I was five years old I thought that the people who made candy had the best job ever. As I got older that answer changed to reflect was important to me. At 10 the best job to me was a fire fighter, saving people’s lives, at 15 I thought the best job was a musician, and at 20 the best job was whatever would pay me the most. Now I know better, as followers of Christ, we have the best, most fulfilling and rewarding job that has ever existed. We are all ministers of God’s reconciliation, ambassadors for Christ. So let’s take a look at the job description that Paul gives us in 2 Corinthians.

16From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

 

This is one of those meaty passages that it is good to come back to since there is quite a bit of depth to what is being said here. While our main focus is going to be on the ministry of reconciliation, I want to start with a brief look at verse 16 and its impact on our job as ambassadors. The question that comes into my mind when reading this is about what Paul means by saying we regard no one from a human point of view. Since I am a big fan of using other scriptures to interpret the bible or to draw out a deeper meaning, I read some of Paul’s other writings and have come to the conclusion that Paul is talking about human categories. Paul is saying that when we regard someone our first point of view needs to be that they are a beloved child of God. He had written to the Corinthian church previously that “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 12.13 and later said to the Galatians and Colossians that these categories of national identity, religious identity, or gender identity were no longer relevant categories for the believer, that the only important category is the presence of Christ. In those passages Paul also follows up or precedes the statement with a reference to laying aside the old self and becoming a new creation. Being a new creation means that we see with new eyes, we need frequent renewal, but when we are operating out of God’s agenda we see the new creation bursting forth into our world.

The mechanism God has set up for this new creation is that of reconciliation. He first reconciles us to him, and then sends us out to bear His reconciliation into our lives. We have the ministry of reconciliation, the ministry of showing people that through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus God no longer holds our sin against us. This is not an easy message to convey, but when it is lived out it has a profound impact on lives. One striking example of this kind of testimony is the Amish response to the Nickel Mines School shooting. Their forgiveness was so striking that it has its own entry on Wikipedia. Not a notably faith based site last time I checked, and this is how the response is described:

On the day of the shooting, a grandfather of one of the murdered Amish girls was heard warning some young relatives not to hate the killer, saying, “We must not think evil of this man.”[15] Another Amish father noted, “He had a mother and a wife and a soul and now he’s standing before a just God.”[16] Jack Meyer, a member of the Brethren community living near the Amish in Lancaster County, explained: “I don’t think there’s anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and not only reach out to those who have suffered a loss in that way but to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts.”[15]

A Roberts family spokesman said an Amish neighbor comforted the Roberts family hours after the shooting and extended forgiveness to them.[17] Amish community members visited and comforted Roberts’ widow, parents, and parents-in-law. One Amish man held Roberts’ sobbing father in his arms, reportedly for as long as an hour, to comfort him.[18] The Amish have also set up a charitable fund for the family of the shooter.[19] About 30 members of the Amish community attended Roberts’ funeral,[18] and Marie Roberts, the widow of the killer, was one of the few outsiders invited to the funeral of one of the victims.[20]

Marie Roberts wrote an open letter to her Amish neighbors thanking them for their forgiveness, grace, and mercy. She wrote, “Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. Gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.”[20] [1]

 

God made an incredible appeal through the Amish and is ready to make His appeal through us as well. Are we ready to bear that incredible good news, to show forgiveness, comfort, compassion, and generosity to those who are caught up in destructive patterns? Can that forgiveness even extend to radical generosity? Are we ready to be God’s ambassadors? That is what Paul tells us we are, ambassadors of God’s kingdom to our world. When we go about our daily lives, we do so as representatives of God’s kingdom. We are resident aliens in a foreign land given the task of reconciling others to God and welcoming them into our people. This foreign land is dying to hear our ordinary stories. Even the stories of a church as ordinary as Clackamas Park Friends Church are bound to sound adventurous, and even heroic, because the world’s cynicism and unbelief make the courage, continuity, and conviction of anybody, even ordinary people, appear to be extraordinary.[2] I hope you will have the freedom and courage to share your story of faith before it gets shared at a memorial service. Yesterday we got to hear some of the story of Dorothy Allen, and one of the things that was shared were snippets of her faith journey. Dorothy had written down and prepared herself to share how God had been at work in her life. She was ready for people to hear how living in relationship with God affected her life. Beyond that testimony we heard many people share about the infectious spirit of joy that Dorothy carried around with her. Dorothy’s life was a greater example of God’s goodness than her words were. That is what it means to be an ambassador.

That leads me to my final point, this building is not “the church”, it is not even “a church”, it is an embassy of the kingdom of God. We, the church, are the ambassadors that are sent out from this embassy into the society around us. When we come to our embassy, it is to participate in the life of our true home together, to remind ourselves of the stories of how God is active, and to work together on spreading the good news of God’s reconciling work. Even though we struggle with our role as ambassadors, our society needs us. It needs us to be living examples of God’s reconciliation even when it seems foolish. Some people actually were angered by the reaction of the Amish community, saying that they couldn’t extend forgiveness if there was no remorse. I am so glad that Jesus didn’t wait for others to feel remorse, but said on the cross “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” I so desperately want to see the peace of God’s way flourish in our world that is so filled with violence. When we embrace our role as ambassadors and submit to the promptings of the Holy Spirit we can begin to act in our ordinary lives as extraordinary agents of God’s kingdom and of his way of being and doing what is right. Let us live into becoming a new creation, a community that does not regard people, even those who are profoundly broken, from a human point of view. Let us hold each other accountable to being ambassadors who practice the ministry or reconciliation and practice radical forgiveness and generosity. Do we see this building as an embassy of God’s kingdom? Have you embraced the best job you will ever undertake as an ambassador of God’s kingdom? Let us consider what God has to say to us and through us in our time of communion with God. If in our time of open worship you hear God speaking to you with a message for our community, please rise and speak that message in obedience. If you hear that still small voice and hear a message that is for you alone, treasure that message in silence. Let us enter communion with God and each other and pray that he can give us the courage, wisdom and joy to share His presence.

 

When I was younger, I was much more judgmental and much less merciful. My mother confronted me and said that there was enough hell in the world without me giving it to others. She told me that for some folks, the only heaven they are going to experience is what we show them. So, Friends, I want you to go out there and give them heaven.

 


[2] Hauerwas, Stanley and Willimon, William.  Resident Aliens. Abingdon Press, Nashville. 1989. p58