Sunday’s Sermon: Witnesses of Reconciliation

Peace is  hard to achieve and harder to maintain.

To achieve peace, which I define as a harmonious relationship between two or more individuals or entities, requires someone to work to bring the sides together for discussions. Sometimes we believe the work of achieving peace is the hard part, but I disagree. It is relatively easy to get people to talk about the problems they have with someone else. Once peace has been achieved, the difficult work comes in maintaining this condition by refusing to return to the previous situation of hard feelings and frustrations. This hard work produces some amazing fruit. When peace is introduced to a relationship that was once defined by hostility, we catch a glimpse of the condition we will all experience when the Kingdom of God comes in its fullness.

In our lifetimes, we have a number of examples of the difficulties of achieving and maintaining peace. For me, the best example of working for and maintaing peace came in 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall. In November of 1989, two groups separated by a wall, West Berlin and East Berlin, were reunited. This led to the end of East Germany and contributed to end of the Soviet Empire. Where there was once fear and anxiety, the people of Germany were united by a common desire for peace.

We don’t have to think about peace on the global scale to really see it played out. All of us can think of times when we have had to work for peace in our homes and in our relationships. Peace comes about when two people put aside their resentment and are reunited in a relationship. More than likely, we have experienced this in our own lives. The extension of peace comes when we have been reconciled with a family member, such as our spouse, after a fight, or when we have reestablished a relationship with a friend who hurt us. When we forgive someone of a wrong committed, it leads to the potential and possibility for peace to exist.

This idea of peace is our way of understanding reconciliation. Today, we conclude our Lenten sermon series entitled the “Journey to Forgiveness.” The title of the series is a little misleading, because it can lead one to believe that forgiveness is the end of the road. It is not. Forgiveness does not necessarily lead to two once-hostile groups returning to a renewed relationship. Sometimes, we forgive someone and have no desire to renew a relationship with that person. To seek reconciliation is something that is difficult, but holy. It is to do the hard and difficult work of bringing two or more people or groups back into a relationship built on mutual love and trust.

Reconciliation is important to understand and do. I believe reconciliation is an expression of God’s love for humanity. Each step of our series has worked towards this moment of seeking reconciliation. At the start, we said sin was an act of disobedience against God’s will. We walked through what sin looks like, and how there might be a sin we are struggling with during this season of Lent. When we are confronted with sin, we said we are to admit what that sin is and also repent from it. Remember, we said repenting was different than confessing. Repentance is a complete reversal and desire to move away from our sin. Finally, last week we said forgiveness was the grace that washes away the guilt of our sin, by Jesus’ act on the cross.

Throughout this entire journey, God has been right in the middle of it. God is actively involved in the work of forgiveness and reconciliation. Every moment and step was initiated by God’s Spirit with the purpose of bringing humanity back into a relationship with God. From the moment sin entered the world, God set a course to seek humanity’s salvation. It is a process that has its climax with Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Reconciliation is the message Paul proclaims in 2 Corinthians 5:11-21. In this passage, Paul is working through a contentious situation with the church in Corinth. The people began to doubt Paul’s authority, because he had not visited them as promised. Paul and the Corinthians are working towards the goal of reconciliation. Notice what Paul says. It is not a human act that brings reconciliation. It is an act of God out of God’s great love for all people. Reconciliation is a gift that expresses the depths and lengths of God’s love.

How did God secure reconciliation? It came on the cross. Jesus voluntarily gave his life up for us and our sin. In this, Jesus served as the High Priest who took it upon himself to be the officiant and the sacrificial lamb that secured humanity’s atonement. On the cross, Jesus took on the Levitical sacrificial ritual in a one-time sacrifice for all of humanity.

Something else happened on the cross. Paul makes notice of this when he says Jesus was “reconciling the world to himself.” Why was this needed? Sin creates a distance between us and God. It has been this way since the first sin of Adam’s disobedience. Just like someone sometimes needs to help bring us back into relationship with someone who has hurt us, Jesus does the same in our relationship with God. He became the mediator. Jesus reconciled God’s holy love and humanity in order to restore the bonds of a relationship that we broke.

By faith in Jesus Christ, we are reconciled in our relationship with God. When we receive this free gift, we are able to experience the peace and transformation that comes in knowing that God will no longer count our sins against us. Christ’s death and resurrection is the key that opens the door to this relationship. That is the promise of the journey that we have been on throughout Lent. When we sin, Christ’s act of mediation brings out God’s grace to all who would believe. That is a promise that we can hold onto today, tomorrow, and for all time.

Reconciliation is not something we hold onto as our special possession. Paul says we are to be Christ’s ambassadors, which means we are to be ambassadors of reconciliation. What does Paul mean by this and what does it mean for us today? I think it is clear what Paul is saying. The free gift of God’s grace and reconciliation is something we are called to receive ourselves and proclaim to others. All Christians are called to be ambassadors of God’s peace and to be peacemakers.

Being peacemakers is at the heart of what it means to be a reconciler. As children of God, we are called to be like Christ in seeking and proclaiming reconciliation. This is not an easy calling, which is why Jesus says in Matthew 5:9 that those who work for peace, those who seek and proclaim reconciliation, will be blessed and called children of God. It is hard to work to be peacemakers, reconcilers, but it is a rewarding and deep calling that we are all called to participate in as a fruit of our own reconciliation with God.

The first place we can be a witness of reconciliation is at home. This is the place can be the most meaningful and difficult to practice God’s love for all and desire for all to be reconciled. We do so by seeking to be reconciled with those whom we have harmed. We take it upon ourselves to make the first step in restoring relationships that have been broken by our hurtful action. As well, we also help others, among our families and friends, experience reconciliation by being mediators between two people who are upset at one another. Of course, this isn’t easy. It is possible we are going to be in the middle of some nasty dialogue. Our role as reconcilers with our family and friends is like being the negotiator of a peace treaty. Negotiators sit and compassionately listen to the wrongs and help both sides see their need of each other and the greater value of love and forgiveness.

We can also be reconcilers in our world. It is hard for us to live as reconciled people if we are unwilling to be people who are proclaiming reconciliation in our communities and world. Here, I am thinking of two specific ways. First, we can be reconcilers who proclaim justice. In his historic “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” These words were true when he wrote them, and they are true today. As witnesses of reconciliation, we are called to stand for justice and be advocates of peace. We do so by uniting our prayers, our voice, and our heart with those who are hurting and who have been harmed by injustice. The call for justice should be the mantra of the church, because God is deeply passionate and concerned about justice.

We are also witnesses of reconciliation by being unifiers in our communities and world. The church has a strong message of God’s reconciliation and what it means to live as people reconciled with one another in response to God’s love. As Christians, we are called to be mediators who help mend the brokenness in our communities and seek to bring groups who see nothing but hate to experience love and respect for one another. We can be people who help bring down the walls that prejudice, racism, injustice, poverty, ignorance, stereotypes, and bigotry have for centuries built. As witnesses of reconciliation, we can be people who proclaim the unifying love of God’s grace.

This can begin for us today. It is disheartening to hear the reports coming from Sanford, Fla., of 17-year-old Tayvon Martin who was allegedly killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman who believed Martin was a threat. Martin was unarmed and was killed because of one man’s stereotypical response in believing a black man wearing a hoodie was a threat. We must not be silent. We must take off our fear of being persecuted for our love Christ and love of God’s desire for justice and take on Christ’s call to be unified with the poor, the captive, the blind, and the oppressed. As a response to God’s holy love, we should seek to stand with all who are oppressed simply because of the color of their skin.

The world needs to hear from the church and it needs to hear that God’s loves all people. Friends, we live in troubled times and times that desperately need God’s love. It will only hear that message if we are willing to join with the Holy Spirit in being witnesses of reconciliation. We cannot ignore God’s call to be ambassadors of reconciliation when a world needs to hear this message so desperately. This message goes beyond racial, cultural and socio-economic lines. It is a message that God has done the work of reconciling all of humanity, because of God’s love for them. We must share and live into this message.

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