2 Corinthians 5: 16-21; Matthew 5: 21-26
Through the years, rabbis, priests, ministers, counselors, and even advice columnists have provided a vital place where people have gone with relationship issues. It is the classic triangle that we form: someone hurts you or betrays you, and you go to share your pain or ask for guidance from someone else. The triangle satisfies your need for a listening ear, or revenge planning, or sorrow sharing, or guidance for awhile. But at some point along the way, a good rabbi, or priest, or minister, or counselor, or columnist like Dear Abby will encourage you to go talk with the person you have hurt. If you are the one betrayed, then you hope that the other will show some signs of regret. Perhaps you’ll need a mediator, or some other third person there if you decide to talk to the one who has caused your stress, lack of sleep, tears, or anguish. Who really wants to do that? People would rather just hope that God will be on their side as they share their tears or sense of betrayal. Even Jesus had apparently seen conflicts in his lifetime too. He wisely gave this counsel: “When you are offering your gifts at the altar, and you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, then come and offer your gift.” [Matthew 5: 23-24] Conversely, if you are the one who has hurt or betrayed another, and your conscience draws you to God before trying to work things out with the other person, God will send you to that other person first.
My professor for Presbyterian Thought and Doctrine at Princeton Seminary was Dr. Edward Dowey. He said one of the key concepts not only with Jesus but also with Paul in 2 Corinthians 5, was reconciliation. In 1968 he wrote this:
[Reconciliation] is one of the rare terms in the Bible that can epitomize the whole gospel in one word: God’s reconciling work in Jesus Christ and the mission of reconciliation to which he has called his church are the heart of the gospel in any age. The word “reconciliation,” unlike “love,” implies a previous violation of harmony and peace, a barrier erected, a battle going on…. One of the most important passages in all of Scripture—which [John] Calvin called “the best passage of all” on justification by faith—is II Corinthians 5:19. [A Commentary on the Confession of 1967 and An Introduction to The Book of Confessions, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1968, p.41.]
So one of God’s top tasks on earth is reconciliation—reconnecting God with people, and people with people. Reconciling is the end of estrangement, or of separation because of disagreement. I once told the story that Pastor Dale Galloway wrote about: “Last winter our dryer went kaput, so we called the repairman and he came out to take a look at it. After he evaluated the damage, he said it would cost just about as much money to fix the dryer as to buy a new one, so we agreed we would get a new one. [Then the brakes started going out on my wife’s car,] so we took it in to a repair shop. This time it was a lot cheaper to make repairs than to buy a new car. Many things in our society can be purchased cheaper than they can be repaired, so we have turned into a throwaway society…. Don’t think this attitude hasn’t crept into our personal relationships too! If love breaks down between two people, we have a tendency to throw away the relationship and look for [another] one. We just aren’t willing to spend the time and effort necessary to repair the relationship, so we treat the other person like a [malfunctioning appliance, throwing it away and buying a new one.] But when people are treated like objects—things to be discarded—the value of human life goes down.” [Love Can Be Repaired, Fleming H. Revell Company, 1990, p. 35]
We are part of a fractured world. How many can honestly say they haven’t hurt someone by betrayal or a hurtful comment or action? Conversely, who hasn’t been hurt by someone who spoke or acted harshly or thoughtlessly? Sometimes the harshness another person shows is less about your relationship with them than it is about a broken or binding relationship they have with another family member: mother, father, spouse, or sibling. So like a wound on an arm that hurts on touch, a word or action we bring up with someone else can cause an over-reaction because their pain is already raw from someone else. Relationships suffer and sometimes the pain can put a hole in our soul. The Rev. Thomas Patrick Nolan put it like this: “Deep in the human heart is a restless longing—a tender, aching emptiness yearning to be filled. It has been described as a thirst, a hunger, a vacuum of the spirit, a God-shaped hole in the very center of our being that can be filled only by God. [Our desire to be reconciled to God has also been addressed by some of the great spiritual writers of the ages.] German theologian Karl Barth said it was a longing for the heart’s true home. Augustine said it was a deep-seated restlessness that touches every part of our lives…. Charles Wesley described it as being ‘touched by the lodestone of God’s love.’ Our culture is propelled by the quest for efficiency, control, and success. Yet there is much loneliness in the world. Feelings of emptiness, lack of friendships, depression, and a deep sense of uselessness fill the hearts of many in our society.” [Alive Now, Upper Room Publishing, Nov/Dec, 2005, p 28.] Do you see the fractures in society and the fences people put up to keep others at arm’s length? One person sighs, “My grown child doesn’t talk with me.” A college student shares, “My parents don’t understand me.” And another says, “My partner has betrayed me.” Like a windshield that shatters after an impact, one hurtful action can splinter the human race into a million little pieces. Some here today, either intentionally or unintentionally, have created such a breach; a divide between yourself and some other person. Some may get to the point of building a bridge so the relationship can continue. That’s what God wants the most! God want us to go to that other person to clear matters up as soon as you can do so. God is in the business of reconciliation, never retaliation that is practiced much too often. Jesus said, “Love … and pray for those who persecute you.” My heart gets heavy when I see relationships of people I care about sour. I wonder if God’s heart gets burdened like mine does, and perhaps like yours does?
Here is a biblical pathway to be able to bring your gift to the altar of God again; to have your sins forgiven in the manner that you hope God will forgive yours on the day you meet your Maker. Restored connections with other people bring delight to Heaven, they and restore your relationship with God. That is the power of reconciliation- reconnecting with those you have hurt; and reconnecting with the God who’s been waiting to see that happen. These key words all start with “R.”
You may want to jot them down:
First, show remorse or regret over what you have done.
Second, repent from your wrongdoing, and return to the path of life where lost trust can begin to be built again.
Third, establish a means of restitution to square either the financial account between you, or the emotional account, or both. Jesus shows willingness to go to the altar with us and square our account with God only after we seek to work things out with our family member, our neighbor, or whoever.
Fourth is reconciliation; being connected again, not by naïve trust anymore since trust was destroyed, but by verifiable arrangements.
Fifth and finally, we can gain renewal and reunion; renewal of relationships once severed, and renewal of relationships restored. God’s way is not the way of walls; it is the way of bridges. Consider well the roadmap just described that can move you from estrangement to engagement in an important relationship you once had.
Jeffrey A. Sumner February 16, 2020