Psalms 133;  Ephesians 2:11-22;  2 Corinthians 5:17-21

Michael
Christopher’s play The Black Angel haunts everyone who struggles for
reconciliation.

It
involves Herman Engel, a former German army general who is trying to make a
new beginning for himself and his wife outside a little French village.  He
has spent the last thirty years in prison, having been sentenced by a Nuremberg
Court for atrocities committed by his army during World War II.  Upon his release,
Engle retires to this village, hoping to remain unknown and forgotten.  He builds
a log cabin in the mountains and sets out to put his guilty past behind.  After
decades of incarceration, Engel feels that he has earned the right to start
over.

However,
there is a journalist named Morrieaux who has been keeping track of the old
general.

There
are some events which he cannot forget.  His family had been massacred by Engel’s
army when they overran his village during the war.  Everyone had been shot to
death by his soldiers.  For thirty years, the journalist has been planning his
revenge.  Hatred burns deep within his heart.  If a law court would not sentence
him to die, Morrieaux would take matters into his own hands and condemn him.
He succeeds in inciting the fanatics in the village and that evening, the plan
is for them to come up the hill, burn down Engel’s cabin, and shoot the general
and his wife.

But
the journalist is not satisfied with his revenge.  He still has unanswered questions.
So before the mob attacks, he goes to the general’s cabin and spends the afternoon
asking questions.  Morrieaux is compelled to get the whole story straight.
As the afternoon wears on, something begins to happen to Morrieaux.  His need
for revenge begins to sour.  He experiences newborn doubts about what he is
doing and decides to warn Engel of the villagers’ intentions.  He offers to
take the general and his wife to safety.  But Engel waits before he responds.
He will go but under one condition – that Morrieaux would forgive him.  Forgive?
Morrieaux is willing to save Engle and his wife but forgive?  Never!  That evening,
the villagers turned into a mob, climbed the hill, and burned down the cabin
before shooting Engel and his wife to death.

The
story leaves you gasping for answers.  Morrieaux’s inability to forgive after
years and years causes you to ask, “Why couldn’t he forgive?”  “How is it Morrieaux
could not put behind things that happened years earlier with someone who had
already suffered for years for his wrongs?”  “Why could there not be reconciliation?”

Though
the story is fictitious, it has the smell of realism.  Men and women, players
on the stage of real life, act in similar ways and cause us to ask, “Why can’t
the madness stop?”  “Will people ever learn to put aside their differences?”
“Reconciliation: Is it possible?”

There’s
not one simple answer to our question.  Life is too complex.  Varying perceptions
of hurt, fear, anger, and lack of trust make our best attempts at reconciliation
awkward and incomplete.  Consequently, there are several responses as to whether
or not reconciliation is possible?

Answer
#1: “I Certainly Hope So”

One
possible answer is, “I certainly hope so.”  Reconciliation should be possible
because it is part of God’s dream for the world.  Isaiah prophesied: “They will
beat their swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.  Nation will
not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4).  The Apostle John envisions in Revelation 7 ”a great multitude that no
one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language” prostrating
themselves, falling down before the throne of God and worshiping.

Yet
it is not only in the future. Reconciliation is our Lord’s dream at this juncture
of time and eternity.  David writes in Psalms 133:1: “How good and pleasant it
is when brothers live together in unity!”  And in the Garden of Gethsemane,
Jesus prayed: “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that
you sent me and have loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:23).

When
barriers come tumbling down and alienating lines are being erased, God’s power
is on display for everyone to see.  Though the coming together of men and women
is not easy and comes with a price, reconciliation is achievable in this life.

In
Genesis, there is the story of Joseph, whose brothers wickedly schemed, sold
him into slavery, and then returned to their father and lied about him being
eaten by a wild animal.  Yet after years of being in Egypt, Joseph still wants
to reconcile when his brothers come asking for food because of the famine in
their land.  As he reveals his identity, Joseph says that he’s not angry with
them.  In fact, Joseph says: “Don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me
here because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.”  Then he threw
his arms around his brother Benjamin, kissed all his brothers, and wept.

John
Perkin’s story is another remarkable one, a powerful account of reconciliation
in the face of the racial oppressiveness of Mississippi in the 1960s.  The son
of sharecroppers, he grew up in grinding poverty.  His brother was shot by a
deputy marshal and died in his arms.  He decided to leave and he went to California.
But it was during these years that John Perkins came to faith in Jesus Christ.
He knew that he couldn’t stay and he returned to Mississippi.  Again, there
was more violence.  While being held in a jail cell on trumped-up charges, he
was beaten unconscious by police whose faces he could only describe as being
“twisted with hate.”  But after surviving that unjust beating, John could not
hate back.  He could only pity them.  That night he prayed: “God, if you’ll
get me out of this jail alive, I really want to preach a gospel that will heal
these people too.”  That is what you call prayer.  It is a “break down the walls”
type of prayer which only comes when your heart is synchronized to the heart
of God.

Reconciliation
is never simple.  Putting aside differences doesn’t come naturally but requires
sensitivity and responsiveness to the Spirit of God.  It takes persistence because
we have a way of drawing lines which separate us on the basis of gender, ethnicity,
economics, politics and whatever else we want to have our own way.

So
when asked, “Is reconciliation possible?” you may say “I certainly hope so.”
But you might be a little tentative, not too certain, because you know that
your best attempts at untangling issues and mending fractured relationships
isn’t so easy.  Efforts to reconcile can be poorly conceived and flaw-filled
which leads to a second response to our question and that is, “I’m not so sure.”

Answer
#2: “I’m Not So Sure”

You’re
not sure!  Neither am I!  We aren’t certain because repeatedly images of atrocities
are splashed across our TVs.  In the Middle East, Israelis and Palestinians
battle for place and power (ironically in a land our God calls holy).  In Iraq,
bombings and bloodshed have become too commonplace.  You say, “I’m not so sure”
as you reflect on the struggles in our nation.  Prejudice and bigotry keep raising
their ugly heads.  The culture wars keep escalating as groups argue over who
is right and what isn’t!  And personally, you’re unsure if reconciliation is
actually possible in your relationships and situations.

It
is nothing new!  Reconciliation has always been a challenge.  It is why Paul
wrote so pointedly to the Ephesians.  Years after the gospel had been established
in that city, tensions still existed between Jewish converts and believing Gentiles,
and they weren’t making very much progress.  So Paul writes in Ephesians: “This
isn’t right.  Not good.  You folks need to be doing something about those barriers
which you’ve constructed.  It doesn’t look good before the unbelieving world.
People are closely watching us.  You are Christians and you are supposed to
be quite different.”  Then he reminds them of God’s purpose “to create in himself
one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile
both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility”
(Ephesians 5:15-16).   Paul is saying, “We don’t need to Christianize the Jews
or come up with new laws for the Gentiles.  God isn’t interested in creating
religious half-breeds.  What we need is a new society.  The Lord is looking
for an overhauled gathering of men and women who have been brought together
by Jesus Himself.”

“Is
reconciliation possible?”  You’re not sure.  You hope is there would be a greater
likelihood for reconciliation but your experiences cause you to temper your
optimism.  And more than moderate your hopes, you might be cynical about the
possibility.  Instead of anticipating a better tomorrow you feel as if there
will be no coming together.  So when asked if reconciliation is possible, you
just shake your head and offer a third possibility, “It isn’t going to happen.”

Answer
#3: “It Isn’t Going to Happen”

Not
every relationship will be harmonious.  Not every situation is reconcilable.
Peace keeps slipping through your fingers like water, whether it is with a family
member, coworker or neighbor.  As much as world leaders attempt to bring about
peace, there will be other governments that refuse to put down their arms.
As a friend likes to remind me, reconciliation is one of those things that “ain’t
gonna happen.”

King
Saul and David had a stormy relationship.  God was prying away the kingship
from Saul and giving to David.  Plagued by an evil spirit, Saul repeatedly sought
to kill David.  Still, he continued to honor Saul beyond what anyone would expect.
When he had chance in the cave of En Gedi to kill Saul, David wouldn’t do it.
As he said, “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing . . . lift my hand
against him; for he is the anointed of the Lord.”  In the end, David was never
able to reconcile with Saul.

I’m
aware of one family’s story in which two sisters did not speak for ten years
because of wrongs done by one sister’s husband in a family business.  As he
was partially paralyzed and dying from a stroke, the sister-in-law went to the
ICU and begged him to just squeeze her hand if he would forgive her for the
hatred she had held for so long.  He did.  After he died, the sister confessed
to her father, “It wasn’t worth it.”  The sisters reconciled and even began
to spend holidays together.  They would talk and laugh.  They were sisters again.
The relationship was good for a few years.  But where is the relationship today?
It is broken again.

Irreconcilable
relationships shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.  There is the “will” of
God and the “won’t” of man.  Not everyone is interested in reconciliation.
Some individuals could care less if strained relationships get mended.  They
don’t care about making thing right, harmonious or even tolerable.  Paul recognized
this reality.  When dealing with the church in Rome, he wrote with great honesty
when he said: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace
with everyone” (Romans 12:18).

As
much as you desire to resolve a relationship or an important issue, it may never
come about.  As much as you pray and plead, there will be not be a coming together.
But could it be that you are the unwilling party?  You say that you aren’t ready.
You don’t want to reconcile.  You would rather be right.  You enjoy replaying
old videos in your mind.  You like to nurse those old wounds.  You may be willing
to resolve issues but you want to be sure it’s going to be in your best interests.
I have played that game too.  There have been times when I’ve been in an irreconcilable
frame of mind when I should have been making the first move.  With self-righteous
justification, I too have conveniently sidestepped the biblical command to be
engaged in “the ministry of reconciliation”.

But
there is a fourth answer to our question, “Is reconciliation possible?” and
it is not, “I certainly hope so,” or “I’m not so sure,” or “It isn’t going to
happen.”  The answer, “Always and absolutely.”

Answer
#4: “Always and Absolutely”

It
is a reconciliation which is not just possible but desirable.  It is a reconciliation
that is essential.  It is not subject to the whims of another person or group,
or contingent on your negotiation skills.  No.  It is a reconciliation in which
God takes the initiative.  It is a gift God offers through His Son.  It is the
reconciliation of which Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:19 where says “God was
reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins again them.”

While
reconciliation with people is not possible in every situation, it is forever
possible with Jesus.  While you can’t resolve matters with some individuals
in this world, God is more than ready to make things right with you not only
now but in the eternal world to come.  This reconciliation is possible not because
of what you have done or achieved.  No.  Reconciliation is possible not because
of you but because of what Christ has accomplished for you.  Now that’s reconciliation.

The
cross is the greatest demonstration of reconciliation this world has ever seen.
On the cross, God treated His Son Jesus as if He had lived your life so He could
treat you as if you had lived His life.  On an ancient Roman torture rack, your
sin was put to His account.  His perfect life was credited to your imperfect
life.  So when God looks at you He is able to say, “You’ve done everything right.
You were good in your relationships.  You were holy not only in your thoughts
but in your actions.  You have done no wrongs.  When you were ignored, scorned
or mistreated, you responded in righteousness.”  In other words, you weren’t
bad, wrong, mediocre, good, OK or even superb.  No.  In the eyes of God, you
were perfect.  That’s how God sees you.  “God made him who had no sin to
be sin for us, so that in him, we might become the righteousness of God.”
That is how God sees you because He does not see you but His Son, Jesus Christ.

That
is a shocking assessment because you know better.  You don’t deserve this gift
of heaven.  This awesome offer of reconciliation should not be yours or mine.
But that is the mercy of God.  And it is because of the One who had no sin deliberately
became sin so that we might become the righteousness of God.

______________

John
Tornfelt is Professor of Pastoral Ministries at the Evangelical School of Theology
in Myerstown, PA.

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