Two Sundays ago my message on Ephesians 2:11-22 was about how Christ breaks down the walls of hostility between us and God, and between us and other people – seen most clearly in the unification of Jews and Gentiles in the Church – but with broader implications.
Our world is marked by hostility and hatred, by pride and division, and by false ideologies. The past couple of weeks have made that once again blatantly obvious. My Facebook feed has erupted with “hot takes,” and while I’m sure I could add a few of my own (regarding racism, the alt-right, violence in general, the danger of unhealthy backlash, etc.), and that they would have some value, I don’t think there’s anything I haven’t said before.
Instead, I want to look at the pre-requisites for reconciliation – for breaking down the “walls of hostility” in our world – in any and all circumstances. Here’s an uncomprehensive list:
Truth: I can’t tell you how many articles I’ve read recently that I agreed with in spirit but which undermined their cause (and mine) by communicating in a misleading way. So much commentary that I read today plays fast and loose with the facts, overstates things, and leaves out important details. Rhetoric gets more “likes” than truth, but it only garners applause from those who already agree. If we’re going to commit ourselves to being peacemakers then we need to commit ourselves to speaking the truth, even when that truth doesn’t fit our narrative.
Seeking truth also means calling out sin. Reconciliation can’t happen until sin is exposed. Without that, reconciliation will be superficial.
Love: Our truth-seeking and truth-speaking should be done with love. Love means that we truly desire the best for others and then take action to secure that good. It’s not so hard to love people like us. Jesus calls us to love even our enemies. And reconciliation is only needed when there are enemies involved.
Crossing boundaries: The sort of love needed for reconciliation, then, is not just brotherly love, but love across boundaries. Reconciliation won’t occur when people remain within their bubbles. If we only listen to and interact with people like us, we’ll feel justified in our opinions, but will only contribute to a more divided world. We need fewer people screaming at each other (though, there’s a place for public, peaceful, passionate advocacy) and more people who build bridges.
Humility: Pride is the enemy of bridge building. Pride is the mother of division. The second I place myself above my neighbor we are divided. I’m not arguing that everyone is the same, or that all sins are morally equivalent (President Trump’s morally equivalency argument was as sloppy as it was dangerous). But, we must admit that fundamentally we stand at the same level. If we can humble ourselves, we can begin to seek reconciliation. Until then, we’ll only seek to win.
Confession: The child of humility is confession. I confess my failure to speak the truth on many occasions. I confess my silence when I should have spoken, and my speech when I should have remained silent. I confess that I talk more about love than I act on it. I confess that I have failed to cross boundaries and find plenty of comfort remaining in my own insular community. I confess that even as I write this I am struggling with pride.
If we are to speak the truth about sin, we better speak the truth about our own sin. Speaking the truth about your own sin is called confession. And almost all of us have something to confess.
Justice: But sometimes it’s more black and white. Sometimes there’s the oppressor and the oppressed. In that case, we need more than love, humility, and confession, we need justice. Wrongs cannot be overlooked, they need to be set right. To the extent that there are injustices, those injustices cannot be left to continue, but should be exposed (truth) and dismantled (justice). Continuing injustice will only create more occasions for division and hatred. Again, peacemaking without justice leads to superficial reconciliation.
Mercy: And yet, a level of mercy is required. Why? First, because we all sin. If we fail to show mercy to others, we shouldn’t expect it to come back to us when we need it most. Second, because in our quest for justice we often overstep our bounds into the realm of vengeance. We need an attitude of mercy to temper the devils within us that make the backlash worse than the original offense. We’re tempted to return a slap with a punch. Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek. We’re tempted to return injustice with further injustice. Jesus tells us to go the second mile.
Jesus and Reconciliation:
All these ideas come together in Jesus. Jesus not only spoke the truth. He is the truth. He called out sin like no other, and his death on the cross exposes just how evil mankind can be. Yet Jesus loved the world so much so that he died for the world. He didn’t just tell us to love his enemies, he died for us while we were his enemies. His love crossed boundaries – the greatest boundary of all, that of Creator to created. His ministry crossed boundaries – between Jew and Samaritan, between men and women, between the “clean” and the “unclean.” He was humble, even though he didn’t need to be. He was God incarnate, yet washed his disciples’ feet. His death enabled both justice and mercy to be met in a single event. In it God could be just – since sin was atoned for – and he could show mercy by justifying many – since the penalty of their sin was removed.
The only one that doesn’t apply is confession. He had no sin to confess, yet took on the sins of the world. Yet his love leads us to confession since it shows us just how far we fall short.
The Church and Reconciliation:
And we fall so short. The church is the reconciled community. As followers of Jesus we are well positioned to lead the way in truth, love, boundary-crossing, humility, confession, justice, and mercy. But too often we (I) take a back seat. I wish I could make this last paragraph more positive. I’m not sure I can.
I would be nearly hopeless, if it weren’t for a few facts: 1) The Church has always been flawed, yet we are redeemed, and God continually works in his people for renewal. He’s doing a work now, even if unseen. 2) God’s Word is true. He has given us a task, and will be faithful to complete that task in us. 3) Our hope extends beyond this world and this age. It is this future which pulls us forward. We pray together: Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. God is faithful to answer that prayer. And we must be faithful to His call to be a reconciled community which proclaims and demonstrates his reconciliation before the watching world.