Ministry of Reconciliation -- Part 3
In Part 2 we saw that, in the beginning, all creation, the whole cosmos, was in harmony with each other and God. We saw how people rebelled and the whole thing was spun out of control (from our perspective) and how God set in place a plan, in the call of Abraham and the nation of Israel, to bring the whole thing back together. We saw how this was ultimately accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus. As St Paul put it, '[God] made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of [Jesus’] blood on the cross' (Col. 1.19-20). In other words, God has done God's part. But, as we saw, we still need to do our part. You see, in reconciling things, all parties concerned have to work for reconciliation. It does no good when only one party reconciles. It takes all parties working together to make things whole again. Briefly last time, we saw that people need to decide that they want to reconcile with God. God has already done God's part, but now it is up to us to follow through on our side. We must reconcile ourselves back to God. This is accomplished through trust in Jesus. The result of that trust is good works -- of doing things that show true trust or faith. And that is what we are going to look at in this post.
Not only do we need to reconcile ourselves back to God, we need to be reconciled to each other. This is probably the most difficult part. It is relatively easy to reconcile our selves back to God since God is (supposedly) 'out there' somewhere and we don't have to look God in the face. It is altogether different with people. We have to see them every day. We have to determine, like God did, to forgive the sins of people. Of not counting their sins against them. That is a very tough job. And, left to ourselves, I would say it is an impossible one. But, we are not left to ourselves. We have been given the Holy Spirit, the abiding presence of God. There are several passages that tell us to forgive people. For example:
Matthew 18.21-22. Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”
“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!”
Luke 17.3-4. If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive. Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.
Colossians 3.13. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.
From this we can see that we 'must forgive' people. This is an imperative; not a suggestion. In several places we are told, nay, warned, about forgiving. In the 'Lord's Prayer', for instance, Jesus said, 'Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us' (Matthew 6.12). From this we see that our forgiveness of others is somehow tied to God forgiving us. The following verses stress this point:
Matthew 6.14-15. If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Other passages to consider:
Mark 11.25. But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.
Luke 6.37. Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven.
So, one of the things we can do to reconcile ourselves to other people is to forgive them. The Episcopal Church has a couple of section in the Book of Common Prayer that speaks specifically to this point. In The Reconciliation of a Penitent: Form One, after the penitent has confessed his or her sins the Priest then says:
Priest: Our Lord Jesus Christ, who offered himself to be sacrificed for us to the Father, and who conferred power on his Church to forgive sins, absolve you through my ministry by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and restore you in the perfect peace of the Church. Amen.
The Lord has put away all your sins.
Penitent: Thanks be to God.
The Priest concludes: Go (or abide) in peace, and pray for me, a sinner.
I love that last part. It shows that priests are sinners, too, just like the Penitent person.
Another thing we must do is love people. Personally, I don't think the two are that far apart. It is really difficult to love someone and not forgive them. And it is equally difficult to forgive someone and not love them. We all know that loving others is one of the key elements in the life of a Christian. In fact, Jesus said that it was 'equally important' to loving God:
Mark 12.29-31. The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.
Why is love so important? Because it was love that moved God to redeem creation (John 3.16). It is through love that we are seen as God's people (Matthew 5.43-48). I would go so far to say that, taking these passages together with 2Corinthians 5.11-21, these are our 'Reconciliation Charter', if you will.
But it doesn't stop there. We must also talk about our actions toward others. Again, Jesus is pretty clear about this in Matthew 5. But we are not just limited to Matthew 5. The Bible clearly states, on more than one occasion that we are to take care of other people, to reach out to them when they are in trouble and need. For example:
Leviticus 25.35-36. If one of your fellow Israelites falls into poverty and cannot support himself, support him as you would a foreigner or a temporary resident and allow him to live with you. Do not charge interest or make a profit at his expense. Instead, show your fear of God by letting him live with you as your relative.
Deuteronomy 15.10-11. Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do. There will always be some in the land who are poor. That is why I am commanding you to share freely with the poor and with other Israelites in need.
Hebrews 13.15-16. Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name. And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.
1John 3.16-18. We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?
Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.
That last passage is very telling. It shows us what we should be doing in order to bring reconciliation to other people. Of course, that passage ties in with James 2:
My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?
What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?
So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.
Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God. So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.
Therefore, as people who have been reconciled to God, we must show that reconciliation in how we treat other people. It is because of our actions to others that we '[show] to be right with God' through our trust in the Good News of Jesus of Nazareth. It is because of this trust that God 'gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ' (2Corinthians 5.19-21). And, God willing, others too will want be Christ's ambassadors; will want to join us in the reconciliation project. When this happens, God's New Creation is one step closer to consummation. But not quite. We still have to deal with reconciling with nature. We will do that next time.
I could go on and on. I have just glimpsed the surface of this topic of reconciling people to God. But I want to hear from you. What can you add to this conversation?
Peace be with you.
<- Go to Part 2 or Go to Part 4 -->