RECONCILIATION – Woodhill Prison

Jesus Christ was born into the world, for a very definite purpose; to break down, and remove, the barrier of sin separating mankind from God.
 
The removal of the barrier, would make it possible for mankind to draw near to its Creator; not only in prayer, but also in close relationship ... so God actually removed it, through Christ.
 
This loving action, is described in a single word 'RECONCILIATION', which has a special Christian meaning; that we can look at in a while; but first a few thoughts on St. Paul s use of the word.
 
Writing to a small but growing church at Colossae; situated in what is now modern Turkey; he gave encouragement and hope, to the people there. He wrote: ‘God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Christ, and, through him, to reconcile all things to himself ...
...’whether things on earth, or things in heaven; by making peace, through his blood, shed at the cross’. We can move a little nearer to the meaning of 'reconciliation’; by thinking about what Paul wrote, but using more ordinary, every-day language.
 
Once, no matter how much you wanted to; or how hard you tried; you could not get near to God. You prayed; yes! but you didn't seem to be getting anywhere ...
 
...the reason was, that you did not have a good relationship with God; because of who you were. Of yourself, you could not remove the barrier of sin, that stood between you and the Lord.
 
God, who could remove the barrier, saw a problem. He hates sin, but loves the sinner, who has got caught up in evil; but he could not destroy the power of sin, without also killing those tangled up in it.
 
A great problem. But, the Lord solved it; at a single stroke. At the cross; in his own body; Christ bore the sins of the whole world; past, present and future. In so doing, he paid the ultimate price of sin, with his own life; given for others; and purchased a new beginning for everyone who was willing to take the opportunity now open to them.
 
Those who accept God’s way of doing things; become ‘reconciled’ to him. They are no longer his enemies, through evil and sin; but have become as his children, and friends; through what Jesus has done for them.
 
Now they can draw very near to God; not only in prayer, but also in good relationship; because of who they are in Christ ... but there is one condition in all of this.
 
Although what Jesus Christ did for us long ago, need never be repeated; because it stands for all time; our acceptance of what the Lord has done for us, cannot be a one-off thing. Instead, it must be renewed each day, in faith and hope.
 
A story from late Victorian times; and probably made up; helps us to get a bit closer to the meaning of 'reconciliation'. It concerns a judge who had a great deal of sympathy for the prisoner in the dock.
 
Even when the nasty details of the crimes were read out in court, the judge did not change his attitude. The jury arrived at a verdict of 'guilty'; which, of course, demanded a sentence.
 
A fine, rather than prison, seemed the right thing to do. The judge imposed the heaviest one that the law allowed for the offence; then stepped down from the bench, and paid the fine himself.
 
Made up story or not; it shows something of what Jesus Christ did for us, and helps us to see how, in terms of sin, mankind was found guilty, but God, in Christ, paid the penalty.
 
In today's colloquial English; we hear people speaking of problems; troubles, and misunderstandings, by saying: 'Things just aren't coming together like they used to do’, or, ‘It sometimes feels as though my whole life is coming apart at the seams’.
 
When misunderstandings are put right; problems are being solved; and situations are definitely improving; then those same people will say: ‘I believe that I am getting things together again’… ... and that sort of language, moves very near to explaining what Jesus did for the world; and can do for us. The ordinary, dictionary definitions of 'reconciliation' include:-
That which brings together again, after a break in relationship…that which reunites…makes compatible…harmonizes… restores to friendship once more’.
 
Reconciliation means all of that, and more: because it has a very special Christian meaning, which goes beyond ordinary dictionaries.
 
The word breaks up into three parts: ‘re’ … ‘con’ … and ‘ciliation’. ‘Re’ has the meaning of again; ‘con’ has the meaning of ‘together’; and ‘cilia’ has the meaning of ‘call’.
 
So, the special, Christian meaning of 'reconciliation' is:- The ‘again-together-call’, of God to his people ... including you, and me.
 
We may not understand why it is that God wants to have a close, on-going relationship with us; but the Bible makes it clear that he does. The Lord took the initiative; and made God-and-man togetherness possible; at great cost to himself, through Jesus Christ.
 
Obviously, the 'again-together-call' of God to us, cannot be brought to fulfilment if we don't respond to it, and enter into a close relationship with the Lord.
 
As we know; vast numbers of people have no such relationship; for the simple reason that they have no belief; and no faith. However, even where people do have a large degree of belief in God; many never enter into close relationship with him; and this, for two, common reasons.
 
The first is where they have become separated from other people; from family, and one-time friends, and so on ... and where they make no real attempt to put things right; to 'get-things-together' again.
 
The second reason; just as unlovely; is where a man dislikes; distrusts; despises, and even hates, himself; and believes that he is so despicable, that God cannot possibly love him…
 
... and where; because that man makes no real attempt at self-forgiveness; he remains unreconciled to himself, and not at peace with his own soul.
 
In the New Testament, at Matthew 5:23. Jesus taught: ‘If you are just about to offer a gift to God, at the altar, in the temple; and you remember you have a dispute with someone you were once close to…
 
your gift will be meaningless, and unacceptable, until, first, you put things right. So, leave you gift to one side; while you go, and actually put things right. Then come back, and offer your gift to God’.
Before God's reconciling love for us, in Christ, can be effective in our lives; we must do all that we can to 'get-things-together', with other people, and with our own souls.
The mere passage of time cannot bring reconciliation about. It may dull the sharp edges of a situation; or blur the memory of it; but time won't put things right, on its own; for it has no such power.
Reconciliation is effective, only when ideas are translated into words and actions; and it becomes an actual event, from which we move on.
 
Many a man in prison, is likely to forgive other people's offences against him; long before he is willing to even consider forgiving himself.
 
To be unreconciled; with others, or ourselves; through a lack of forgiveness; is to rebuild the barrier that Christ broke down for us.
 
One last thought, for now, about forgiveness. Sometimes; when we have forgiven someone else, or ourselves, and hope that that is the end of the particular situation that hurt us ...
 
... memories will come creeping back; and we feel something of the old hurt and upset once more. At such times, we may wonder whether we did forgive that person, or ourselves, in the first place; and ask ourselves: ‘Am I an unforgiving sort of person?’.
 
Well, it might not be like that at all; and, instead, be something that is quite simple, and which can be put right, along these lines.
Usually, when we think to ourselves: ‘I can't be doing with this!’, and do our very best to forgive; we forgive the bits and pieces of the situation, and the hurt, that we remember at the time.
 
When, later, memories come back, and we feel upset all over again, it is probably because we are remembering things which we forgot at the time when we did the forgiving ...
 
... and, because we forgave only the bits that we remembered, on that first occasion; the bits that we now remember are actually unforgiven. Instead of getting upset with ourselves, we should forgive each new bit that we remember, until, eventually, all is remembered, and all is forgiven.
 
A closing thought. God, in Jesus Christ, undertook an actual event of reconciliation, long ago. What God did, historically, remains as valid as ever; as he calls out to each of us, personally; ‘again-together' ...
 
... but the on-going validity of God's action, will make little or no difference to us, until we make it fully effective, by accepting what he has done for us, in Christ.
 
St. Paul wrote, to people willing to listen, and respond: Be reconciled to God’.
 
Are we listening to God’s ‘again-together’ call; and are we responding; and receiving the blessings that follow? Amen.