“Reconciliation in Three Directions”
Fourth Sunday of Lent
Sunday March 14, 2010
Joshua 5: 9-12
2 Corinthians 5: 16-21
If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
Today’s reading from 2 Corinthians offers the eloquent reminder that the promise of reconciliation rests at the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself.”
So what do we mean by reconciliation? And with whom are we called to be reconciled when we make the decision to respond to the Gospel and embark upon the journey of the Christian faith?
When we hear the word ‘reconciliation’, many different meanings spring to our minds. For some, the word ‘reconciliation’ refers to an accounting function, in which a list of disbursements and receipts needs to be ‘reconciled’ with a budget or with a bank statement.
For others, the word ‘reconciliation’ calls to mind situations in our lives and in our world where individuals and groups of people come together after periods of estrangement or conflict. A couple who has experienced a time of separation seeks to be reconciled rather than divorced; or formerly conflicted groups sign peace treaties as a part of the journey towards reconciliation in their countries; perhaps the most significant example of this journey of reconciliation, in our modern age, involved the people of South Africa who sought to find their way towards a peaceful future between the people of their country through a Truth and Reconciliation process.
The word reconciliation is on a combination of re which means “again” and the word concilare which means “to make friendly”. To reconcile is to bring things together again, or to make things friendly again.
So what does reconciliation mean when it comes to our spiritual lives, and to our understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
This morning, I would invite us to consider that reconciliation, in Christian terms, contains three important dimensions.
The first dimension of reconciliation in the Gospel is the invitation to be reconciled with God. Our reading from 2 Corinthians states it clearly – “all this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself.”
But what is the nature of the estrangement that needs to be overcome between ourselves and God? After all, if God is always with us, as we so often claim, then why do we speak of needing to be brought together again?
In a word, the Christian answer to this question about what estranges us from God is sin. Our brokenness and willful disobedience to God’s direction for us and for our world leads to estrangement from God.
And we have all sinned. This is not intended as some word of judgmental condemnation; it is, rather, a statement of fact. Each and every one of us have done things which have caused hurt, harm, and offense to others, and to God. As the Bible so insightfully observes, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
It is for this reason that our reconciliation with God, and the invitation of the spiritual life, is rooted in the call to repentance. And, again, it is important that we ponder what repentance actually means. Repentance is not, primarily, about subservient groveling and self-flagellating lament rooted in a preoccupation with our own moral indiscretions. Rather, repentance is rooted in the tremendous gift of being offered the opportunity to accept responsibility for our lives. To repent is to accept that we are free and responsible moral beings; to repent is to stand up, with integrity, and admit that we have sometimes used that freedom for less than noble purposes. Repentance is, in actual fact, a very empowering experience because it invites us to assume responsibility for who we are and what we have done.
But repentance is not the same as reconciliation. The grace of reconciliation unfolds before us when we realize that our willingness to accept responsibility for our actions is met with God’s willingness to forgive us.
And that call to repent and to accept that we are loved and forgiven reveals to us the nature of our reconciliation with God. Yes, God is always with us; but we are not always with God. Yes, God always seeks to be in relationship with us; but we do not always long to be in a relationship with God. Yes, we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God; but God is willing to forgive us and to raise us, once again, to share in the glory of God.
But even as we ponder this call to repentance, it is important to remember that reconciliation with God does not begin with us. Rather, the great good news of the Gospel – so beautifully articulated in this passage from 2 Corinthians – is that it is God who takes the initiative in restoring this relationship. “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself.” It is God who reaches out to us, not we to God. It is God who has done all that is necessary for this relationship to be reconciled and restored; and in response, we repent and believe. And, in so doing, we begin the journey into an ever greater experience of that great, eternal peace and grace for which our souls long.
But this reconciliation with God is not only a personal journey. Reconciliation with God has profound implications for our lives, which leads us into the second aspect of our call to reconciliation. Reconciliation with God calls us to seek to be reconciled with others. We pray, “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” Or, as 1 John 4 challenges us, “those who say that they love God, but hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”
Reconciliation with God compels us to seek to live in reconciled relationships with one another.
This is, of course, often much easier said than done. Some have been so badly hurt that coming together to be reconciled with their offender or abuser is neither possible nor appropriate. Others long to be reconciled, but cannot force the other to meet half way. Others long to be reconciled with those from whom they have been estranged or in conflict, but time, distance, and even death make such a coming together impossible.
Without a doubt, when we can, we should do what we can to be reconciled with those who we have hurt, and with those who have hurt us. But in those situations in which such a noble goal is not possible, it is still possible to prayerfully allow our hearts, our minds, our feelings towards the other to be softened and changed. There are times when reconciliation with another calls us, primarily, to make a difficult journey into our own hearts, minds and spirits – and to realize that even if we never physically are together with the one from whom we have been estranged, we can forgive them.
So, first, the call to reconciliation is a call to restoration in our relationship with God, rooted in repentance and forgiveness. Second, the call to reconciliation is a call to renewal in our relationships with others, and particularly with those with whom we have been in conflict.
But there is a third dimension of reconciliation – and, in some ways, this third dimensions is the most difficult journey of all. That is, the third dimension of this spiritual call to reconciliation leads us within. The Gospel’s invitation to reconciliation calls us to be reconciled with ourselves.
This may seem like a rather strange notion.
But before we dismiss such an idea too quickly, it is good for us to ponder, in our reading from the Gospel of Luke, what served as the motivation for the prodigal son to decide to turn around and come home, back into a state of reconciliation with the family that he had left behind.
There was the prodigal, in a distant land, stealing the food from pigs. A more completely degraded situation could not be imagined in the minds of Jesus’ Jewish audience. To be in a distant land was to be cut off from his community, and to be reduced to stealing food from pigs would be deemed to be particularly offensive to a people who did not even eat pork.
But listen again to how the prodigal’s moment of transformation was described. “…when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father.”
Did you notice the phrase that inspired this journey home? “But when he came to himself”.
When he came to himself. When he remembered who he truly was, and when he came to realize that the home that he had sought to escape from was better than the world to which he had tried to flee. When he came to himself, he turned around, and began the journey back into the arms of the One who loved him.
And all because he came to himself, because he realized and remembered who he truly was.
The journey to come to ourselves, to remember our true identity, is never an easy journey. After all, we live in a world and in an age which goes to great length to tell us who we are. We live in a culture that slots us into so many different categories to tell us who and what we are. We are male, or we are female. We are gay or we are straight. We are black or we are white, Asian or North American, rich or poor, married or single, educated or uneducated, powerful or weak, healthy or strong, young or old.
And not only does our world tell us who we are, and how people ‘like us’ should act, but it also seeks to define what makes us acceptable and loveable. And the message that we are constantly bombarded with, each and every day, is that we are not acceptable or loveable as we are. Rather, we would be loveable if we were just a little thinner, or a little richer, or a little more educated, or a little younger, or a little older, or a little more like everyone else.
In such a culture, it is easy to forget who we are. But, like the prodigal, it is sometimes only after we embark upon that journey of trying to run from the One who loves us that we come to discover that what we thought would make us feel fulfilled can rob us of joy and, in fact, be destructive to our lives.
In such a world, it is good for us to strive to remember who we are -- or, perhaps more specifically, to remember whose we are. Because when we remember who we are, when we come to ourselves, we discover a deep and transforming reconciliation with our true identity.
And what is our true identity, according to the Bible?
We are children of the living God, beings created in the image of God. Our true identity is not found in any of the categories that the world seeks to set upon us; our true identity is found in God, and it is only when we come to ourselves that we remember and are reconciled with who we truly are.
There are, of course, other dimensions of this call to reconciliation in the Christian life. But the call to reconciliation that rests at the heart of the Gospel is rooted, ultimately, in the three-fold call to reconciliation that rests at the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Be reconciled to God; be reconciled to one another; be reconciled with ourselves.
Repent and believe in God; love and forgive one another; and come to yourself.