Skip to content Skip to footer

Basic Christian life skills 5: Bringing reconciliation — Sermon

Readings: Matthew 5:21-26 and Romans 12:9-21
Romans 12:9 – “Love must be sincere.”

1. On October 2, 2006 in the little town of Nickel, Pennsylvania, tragedy struck the Amish community. Charles Roberts walked into a one room school near the town with a gun, and took ten girls hostage. He shot eight of them, killing five before taking his own life.

What followed took everybody by surprise. In the midst of their grief over this shocking loss, the Amish community didn’t cast blame, they didn’t point fingers. Instead, they reached out with grace and compassion toward the shooter’s family. The afternoon of the shooting Amish neighbours visited the Roberts family to comfort them in their sorrow and pain. Later that week the Roberts family was invited to the funeral of one of the Amish girls who had been killed. Amish mourners outnumbered the non-Amish at Charles Roberts’ funeral. Several families, Amish families who had buried their own daughters just the day before were in attendance and they hugged the widow, and hugged other members of the Roberts family. The Amish community later donated money to the shooter’s widow and her three young children who were in financial difficulty.

Marie Roberts, Charles Roberts’ widow, wrote an open letter to her Amish neighbours thanking them for their forgiveness, grace, and mercy. She wrote, “Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. Gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.

We live in a broken world; a world in which terrible things happen. Yet, there are moments in which an undercurrent of true beauty and goodness breaks through to bring healing where we had not thought it possible. God is at work in our world, inviting us towards reconciliation, towards peace. God is a god of relationships. God is love. Therefore, when human relationships break down, when we turn towards each other to do harm it pains God. And when the dust settles and we are left with the pain and devastation that we visit on each other, God shares the pain and thirsts for healing. This is why we find such a heavy emphasis on forgiveness and reconciliation in the Bible. If you know God, you know this about him. If you love God, you share this burden with him and share the thirst for the healing of memories and the pain caused by human conflict. When Christians act the way the Amish in Nickel did, it causes God great joy.

2. Today we continue our series on Basic Christian Life Skills with the theme, “Bringing reconciliation.” Let us first clarify what reconciliation is. Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing. Forgiveness takes only one person. Even if reconciliation is not possible, forgiveness can still be given. Reconciliation, on the other hand, is a next step in the process of mending relationships. But reconciliation takes more than one person. It asks something from the person who committed the hurtful deed. It needs the perpetrator to understand and admit that he or she has done the victim harm and it needs the perpetrator to understand the pain and harm it had caused. It also needs guarantees that the deed would not be repeated. If these conditions cannot be met, the process cannot go further than forgiveness. Paul is very realistic about this in the passage from Romans that we read. Verse 18: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Let me give you an example to clarify how this works. In a previous congregation I served there was a couple who had been happily married for a number of years, but with something that had soured the marriage from the start. The husband had a drinking problem that he never admitted. Unfortunately, it got worse over time and he started becoming violent when he was under the influence. Then there came a day when he came home in a drunken state and took out his hunting rifle and threatened to kill his wife and kids before committing suicide. She phoned me in a panic and I was able to talk him down. He was extremely remorseful afterwards. He admitted that he had a problem and agreed to go for treatment.

After returning from treatment, he found that his wife had taken the kids and moved in with her parents in the neighbouring town. He wanted her to return home, but a seed of fear had been sown. His wife confessed to still love him, but her fear of a repetition of what had happened made it impossible for her to return home. He admitted that her fear was not ill-founded and they came to an agreement. He would visit her and the kids at her parents’ house, where it was safe. She and the kids would return home only when she felt safe in his company. After six months of him turning up sober and the best version of himself she told him that she felt safe with him. She and the kids would be moving back home. The process of reconciliation had been completed.

Reconciliation is not cheap and cannot be forced on the victim, even if forgiveness had been given. It often needs time. In some cases, restitution needs to be given, as we see in the case of Zacchaeus, who offered to pay back money he had taken from people by extortion, even fourfold. Reconciliation is vastly important to God. Zacchaeus understood that and responded well.

3. The first passage we read today underlines just how important reconciliation is for God. Jesus launches into the sermon of the mount and the first subject he speaks about is murder. Seven times in the sermon of the mount we hear how Jesus uncovers the deeper meaning of the law of God. It is not only about what we do or don’t do, but also about what goes on inside us. What Jesus does here is nothing like the Pharisees’ additional laws or ‘refinements’ to ‘strengthen’ the law that they likened to a series of ringfences around the law. Jesus always starts with the words, “You have heard…” and then he quotes from the law or from the Pharisees’ interpretation of the law. He then continues with, “…but I say to you” and then he uncovers the deeper intention of the specific portion of the law. In our passage Jesus tells us that anger is just as serious a matter as murder. Why is that so? Anger is the source of murder. Anger is murdering your brother or sister in your heart. It might start very small – with angry thoughts directed at a person, and calling the person a fool. Anger has a way of growing and, then, of souring relationships if it is not checked as early as possible.

And so, Jesus says, go to a person who has something against you and make peace; reconcile. We should note two things here. The first is the setting in which this occurs in Jesus’ little parable. You are in the temple. You are in the presence of God and about to bring your sacrifice. Then you remember someone who has something against you. And now, Jesus says, “Stop! First, before bringing your sacrifice, go and make peace.” This is so important for God, that he sends you to make peace before you bring your sacrifice, before you worship. It bothers God so much that there is bad blood between you and the other person that it would spoil your time of worship.

The second thing to note, is that there is no mention of guilt on your part. The spark for Jesus’ injunction to go and make peace is the anger of your neighbour. It might be that you know that you have wronged him, but this is not necessarily the case. It might be a misunderstanding that caused the problem. You might have no idea why he is angry at you. Yet, it might also be that you had in fact wronged him and would need to ask for forgiveness before reconciliation is possible. My point is this: The important thing for God is not who is in the right and who is in the wrong. The important thing is that relationships be repaired. God is a god of relationships. God is love. He desires that we love one another. Peace must be restored.

4. This gets us to our passage in Romans 12. Paul spent the first part of his letter to the Romans telling us how we were reconciled with God and with ourselves. Now he gets to the part where he tells us how we should respond to this wonderful new state of affairs. And he gets practical. The passage we read starts with the words, “Love must be sincere.” A good translation, more direct from the Greek, would be, “Love is not hypocritical.” Unhypocritical love. The rest of the passage tells us how to practice sincere love. This is how Paul sees the Christian life unfolding:

It all starts with being reconciled with God. No more guilt. This is the main emphasis of the first eleven chapters of Romans. We are lost sinners, but God reaches out to us and reconciles us with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And therefore, we are free to respond to God’s love by loving him in return. Verse 11“Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord.” Yes, “love must be sincere” towards God.

You are reconciled with yourself. No more shame. This is beautifully explained in Romans chapters six to eight and, in our reading, we find and echo of the way we respond to this new freedom in verse 12 “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” You can only experience these freedoms once you know that you are not merely a slave to sin, but a well loved child of God. So, “love must be sincere,“ also towards yourself.

You are reconciled with others. No more conflict. “Love must be sincere” towards others – all others. Paul did not see the believers’ lives neatly divided into two sets of attitudes and obligations – one towards fellow-believers and one towards those outside the church. The same positive outgoing love should be the rule in both cases – a love that does not depend on receiving a positive response in return; a love that even includes enemies and persecutors. Jesus is the ultimate model for this kind of love.

Verse 13 aims at fellow Christians: “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.” Verse 14 is aimed at those outside the church: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” Yes, “love must be sincere” towards others.

5. When we hear Paul saying “Love must be sincere” we hear a call to action. Love is more than a feeling. It is something that you do. And, when we do what God calls us to do, peace descends on us all. God is the great peacemaker and we become recognizable as his children we follow his lead. This is what Jesus meant with the seventh beatitude: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.