Reconciliation is a gift from God. It’s a gift to be shared; and we’re just the ones to share it.
My grandmother had two older brothers named Jim and George. The story goes that Jim sold a pig to George that died three days later. George was convinced that he’d been had so he demanded his money back. Jim was offended he’d been called a swindler by his own brother. The two of them exchanged words and settled on an agreement that if either of them set foot on the other one’s property, he’d get shot.
After 30 years of silence, they broke their truce. It was at their own mother’s funeral. We were gathered around the graveside when all of a sudden George walks over to Jim and puts a hand on his shoulder. Jim looks up, sees it’s George, nods his head. It wasn’t much, but all of us there looked on in amazement. The sight of George’s hand resting peacefully on Jim’s shoulder was the sign of reconciliation we’d all worked and prayed for for so many years.
Reconciliation is a gift of God. In Christ, our relationship to God has been restored. As we accept this gift, our outlook on each other dramatically changes. The barriers we have used to hide from God and each other are broken down. We all have these barriers. They may be more subtle or complex than the barrier of a dead pig, but they’re just as isolating. We may use politics, education, even religion to draw the dividing lines, the effect is all the same.
The good news is that in Christ, our relationships are restored. Our barriers are broken down. We are given a fresh outlook. As we accept the gospel, we no longer judge others according to externals. No longer according to what we see, but according to what Christ sees in us.
I had the opportunity to work for a year at an institution for persons with developmental disabilities. These persons were classified as “severely” and “profoundly” retarded. Few could walk. Even fewer could speak more than a couple words. Most had physical impairments, what some would call “deformities.” I saw visitors come and go, obviously affected by the sight of these persons rocking in a wheelchair, unable to speak. I saw a number of visitors leave with tears in their eyes, telling me, “I don’t know how you work here. It just tears me up.”
I saw something quite different from the staff, however. These people had learned to work daily with handicapped not because they shut out a part of themselves, not because they shut off feelings of sadness, but because they saw things differently. They had been given a new perspective and could see beyond the handicaps, the barriers which prevent most of us from truly sharing ourselves with a person so different from us. They no longer judged from “a human point of view,” but shared the joy of restored relations with persons we would normally shut out. Reconciliation is a gift to be shared.
Paul had deep affection for the faith community at Corinth. We see the special role the Corinthians believers share in the ministry of the gospel. Paul’s words are both uplifting and challenging. “We are ambassadors for Christ.” “God has entrusted us with the message of reconciliation.” Paul encourages the believers with words which also set forth their special responsibilities as followers of Christ. Paul here confronts the community not by telling them what to do, but by reminding them who they are – ambassadors of Christ.
There is a great need for reconciliation, both within the Church and around the world. Between individuals, communities, and nations. Awhile back I saw a photograph of survivors of an earthquake in Armenia. They were standing among the ruins. A mother with her baby. A young boy. An old man. It was a great tragedy and what struck me about the photograph was how each person seemed to be lost in the depth of personal tragedy. Their eyes did not meet. Each stood alone in pain.
In Christ, we are called out of isolation to proclaim the hope of restored relations. We are called out of hiding to face the divisions which separate us from each other. We are called out to proclaim that nothing can separate us from the love of God. That in Christ, God descended to the depths of personal tragedy to lift us to new heights of reconciliation. We are not alone.
Reconciliation is a gift from God. It is a gift to be shared. And we’re just the ones to share it.