In the movie Grumpy Old Men, John Gustafson, played by Jack Lemmon, and Max Goldman, portrayed by Walter Matthau, are two retirees who are at odds with each one another. Their feud dates from their childhood and started when Goldman accused Gustafson of stealing his girlfriend. The spat continued into their golden years as they competed for the love of another woman.
It is a feud that is exhibited through practical jokes and name calling. There is, of course, one moment when the feud erupts into a physical confrontation, which had to be separated by Gustafson’s elderly father.
As the movie goes along, it seems that outsiders, typically their children, are wanting John and Max to settle their feud and admit they actually like one another. Max’s son is the one who is really making the push for peace between the two, but his dad wouldn’t budge. When confronted Max’s only response is that John was the one who started it.
While watching this movie the other day, I couldn’t help but think about how it is symbolic of how we seek forgiveness. We do not easily make that first move toward forgiveness. Sometimes, we need someone to help us to make that first step. Of course, sometimes we wait for the other person to make the first move. Forgiveness cannot take place until someone makes that first step.
If this is true for our relationships with our family and friends, then what about our relationship with God? Reconciliation, or forgiveness, in our relationship with God, and we’ll talk about why we need this reconciliation in a moment, occurs when someone makes the move to heal the brokenness that exists between us and God. Who is the one who makes the first move? Does God make the first step? Do we?
When we think of reconciliation, we are thinking about the reunification of a once broken relationship. Reconciliation ends the hostilities and heals brokenness. It takes the discord that existed in a relationship and replaces it with peace.
In this way, reconciliation with God is not something we initiate. We cannot. It is something God initiated. In an expression of the Lord’s love and holiness, God provided the means for reconciliation that healed the broken relationship between God and humanity. This is a central theme in the New Testament and all of Scripture. It is also a central theme in our passage, this morning, from 2 Corinthians 5:16-21. God makes the first move in reaching out to a people that the Lord loves and desires to be in relationship with. God makes the first move in our lives to bringing us back into the Lord’s arm.
Why is reconciliation needed? To understand why we need to look at the entire history of humanity’s relationship with God. In the beginning, God created this world out of nothing. Everything was made perfect. Humanity was a key part of God’s creation. We were made to reflect the image of God. Even more, we were made for a relationship with the One who created us.
Scripture tells us that this relationship was broken when sin entered the world. Sin is the act of disobedience to a known will of God. It first came about through Adam and Eve disobeying God’s commands in the Garden of Eden. Sin is part of each of our lives today. Through our words, thoughts, actions, and deeds, we do things on a daily basis that disappoints God. We disobey what we know to be true about God’s love. Sin severs the relationship of love between us and God. It tarnishes what God created perfect.
It creates a void in our soul. Something is not as it should be. All of us have tried filling that void in some way. We try filling it through pouring ourselves into our work. We might try through our relationships with others. Sometimes, we will try to fill it through destructive behaviors that harm our lives, and sometimes, the lives of others. The one thing that is for sure is that in whatever way we try to fill our holes nothing will fill it. Nothing we can do will fill the hole.
The only one thing that can fill that hole is being reunited with God. Only God can fill that hole and offer reconciliation. The great thing about God is that even though we created the distance in the relationship, God never stops reaching out to us. God’s love is so great that the Lord took the initiative in healing the relationship and paying the cost of our sin. Scripture tells us that an atoning sacrifice is needed to heal the brokenness. This was done, in the Old Testament, through the High Priest who would offer a sin sacrifice on behalf of himself and the entire community. It was an act that would have to be repeated.
In Jesus Christ, reconciliation with God took its fullest form. In Christ, the Son of God, the reconciliation between God and humanity was fully secured. Jesus’ ministry is the “ministry of reconciliation,” as Paul writes. Jesus’ ministry was focused on bringing humanity back into a relationship with the Father and showing us what it means to live in response to this new relationship.
On the cross, Jesus built a bridge between God and humanity. On the cross Jesus served as the High Priest who offered the atonement sacrifice for our sins. Jesus, the one born without sin, claimed our sin and died the death we deserved. His death atoned for our sin. He died for you. He died for me. He died for every person in the world.
It is only through belief that Christ died for us that we can receive the benefits of the cross. That benefit is justification and to be known as forgiven in God’s eyes. We become a new creation. We enter a new relationship with the Lord that allows us to live in grace and hope. When we are reconciled with the Father that void that exists in our lives is no longer present, because we are reunited with the One who made us, shaped us, and has known us from the very beginning. Nothing we could do could achieve what Christ did for us. We didn’t earn salvation or reconciliation with God. It is grace and the mercy of God that led Christ to the cross. Through faith, we can receive the benefits of it by accepting what Christ has done for us.
Reconciliation, truly forgiveness, is a great thing, but it also shapes us for how we live in response. Paul says we are to live as ambassadors of reconciliation. What does Paul mean by this idea of ambassadors of reconciliation? When we think of an ambassador, we might think about a representative of a country who serves on behalf of that country’s interest. The ambassador represents a country’s views and speaks on behalf of that country.
This is what it means to be an ambassador for reconciliation. We live lives that reflect what God has done for us in Christ. This means we represent Christ in our communities. Our lives are to reflect the character, hope, and love of the Father who sent his Son so that we might be in a relationship with the Lord empowered by the Holy Spirit. We allow the grace of God to transform us into a new creation so we can inspire others, through our words and actions, to see what Christ has done for them in their life. In this way, we become messengers of the greatest thing that has ever happened to us by being sharers of the grace of God.
It is a great joy to being reconciled with God. It is the freedom of a new life in Christ and a new lease on the world. It calls us to live our lives in thanksgiving for what the Lord has done.
As we approach Easter morning this conversation on reconciliation comes with a reminder. It is a reminder we are all in need of reconciliation with the Lord. We have all done things that disappoint God. None of us are immune from separating ourselves from God. We are in need of reconciliation with God, of being restored to a relationship with the Father as it was intended from the beginning of time.
God has made the first step in offering forgiveness. The gift of Christ’s grace is available to every one. All you have to do is believe that on the cross Jesus died for you. Accept that grace today, for the first time or the hundredth time, and allow it to transform you in the depths of your soul. However, don’t just hold onto that gift as a possession. Share it with others. Share it with the person you work with. Share it with the person you know who needs grace. Share it with the person whom you’ve never related to simply by the way you live your life.
The grace of God – reconciliation – is available to us all. Will we accept what God has done for us? Will we allow that grace to shape how we live in this world?