“Reconciliation Needed! Reconciliation Obtained!” Romans 5:6-11
The Second Sunday after Pentecost (June 14, 2020)
Today is Flag Day. But I’m sorry to say, Brothers and Sisters in Christ and fellow Americans, it is with a sense of profound sadness that I must acknowledge to you that on this day Old Glory is not flying proudly. It is being tattered and torn by the ferocious winds of war, civil war. As these past two weeks of total civil upheaval and bloodshed have revealed, it is a war for our nation’s very soul!
One side in this quintessential struggle sees the soul of our nation rooted in the principal of freedom with justice for all as articulated in the Constitution of the United States of America and confessed in our Pledge of Allegiance. This side acknowledges the values and truths established by our Creator as delineated in the sacred pages of The Holy Bible and exercised through a fair and democratic politic.
The other side rejects such notions as being nothing but white men’s privilege. Instead they desire a nation based solely on the freedom of following one’s own passions without the restraints of any higher authority or transcendent ideals. They say they want a society in which everyone is free to believe in whatever they want, live the way they want and establish for themselves what is true and right. Yet, they are anything but democratic. Under the guise of concern for rights and justice, their true modus operandi is the seizing of power from anyone who presently has power. They preach tolerance yet contradict this dictum with the most destructive intolerance our society has ever witnessed. Any conservative or traditional voice is silenced. Anyone who disagrees with their views they charge as racist. They use threats, looting, torching of buildings and the confiscation of other people’s property to bully others into following their will. They seek to transform America into a society ruled by the mob with ever-changing values established by whoever has seized control.
The fundamental differences, as well as vitriol, between these two opposing sides has seemingly become a chasm too deep and wide for anyone to bridge. Aside from some of their ridiculous photo ops, our politicians, governors and mayors seem totally incapable, if not totally incompetent, to establish order, protect the innocent, address the concerns of either side, bring the two sides together and bring about any sense of peace. No one seems to be stepping forward to be a peacemaker. Instead, anger, hatred, chaos and uncertainty reigns.
A heavy and mighty hand could put down the anarchy and bring about a sense of order in the chaos. President Trump has threatened to do this with the force of the military, which is at his disposal and, indeed, is within his God-given authority to use the sword to protect the vulnerable and punish the wicked (Romans 13:1-10). But in the end, the sword will be totally insufficient to provide any real cure to what ails us as a nation.
What our country needs is the same thing you and I need in every relationship we have. We need a spirit of sincere repentance to overcome the hard hearts and a True Savior Who is willing to step into that chasm of bitterness, rage, and hatred and truly reconcile all us warring parties. Thanks be to the grace of God, a Champion of Reconciliation has been gifted to our world. His name is Jesus.
For you see, above the din of war we see in our streets and we experience in our daily lives through relationships with each other, there looms an even greater state of warfare and strife in all our lives. Here I’m referring to the enmity, the separation, and the war that exists between mankind and The Father, God the Creator Himself. It is a pipe dream to expect any peace and reconciliation between Black Lives Matter and the police across our country, between liberals and conservatives, between constitutionalists and socialists, and between Democrats and Republicans if we are not all first made to be at peace with God.
Let’s be clear, no one on this planet is neutral with respect to God. By our very nature as fallen human beings we are actually at war with God. The apostle Paul uses three different terms to describe why we humans are on the outs with God. He says that Christ Jesus had to die for the ungodly ... the sinners ... the enemies of God. There is no other way to think of a sinner’s relationship with God other than that it is hostile ... estranged ... full of enmity.
This is no small matter! All of us human beings need to wise up to this harsh reality. Most people seem to be living in a “make believe” world imagining that as long as they don’t actively work against God then they somehow are okay with Him and He is their friend. Survey after survey of people’s religious views consistently shows that the majority of Americans believe they will be going to heaven no matter what they believe about God because, after all they insist, God is love and looks kindly toward everyone.
I’m afraid many are heading for a rude awakening. Jesus warns: “the way that leads to life is narrow and few are those who are on it, but the way that leads to eternal destruction is wide and many are those who are on it” (Matt. 7:14).
It doesn’t matter what you and I personally judge to be just and right. What matters is what God judges. And, as we are told in His Word, God sees none of us by our very nature as spiritually neutral, nor pious, nor godly, nor friendly. Instead, He sees and judges that we are enemies.
Why is this? A spiritual “cat-scan” of what resides in the heart of every descendant of Adam reveals the opposite of respect, love, or even neutrality, toward God the Father. Earlier in his letter to the Romans the apostle wrote this analysis of God’s “cat-scan” of our hearts: “There is none righteous, not even one. There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good...(their) mouth is full of bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood... and the path of peace have they not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Such warring madness against God is not limited to the atheism, humanism, pluralism, secularism and hedonism of our society at large. We can also witness such hostility toward God residing even within our own hearts; yes, in you and me who claim to love God the Father and His only begotten Son Jesus Christ. When things go wrong in our lives or when troubles or death invade our existence, on whom often do we try to pin the blame? “Where is this God of love,” we cry out in our hurt and anger. “How can He allow this to happen to me?” Conversely, when things go well in our lives, often who is it that we credit or give thanks? Is it God or ourselves? We are eager to give God credit for the disasters but ourselves for all the good things. At the same time, we often live in a state of fear of God’s wrath. In spite of the comforting Words of God’s grace and forgiveness for Jesus’ sake offered us in the Gospel, we still try to justify our sinful actions instead of confessing them because we are afraid that God might punish us. We are hardly at peace with God!
From where does all this hatred of God stem? It began in the primeval Garden. When that first man and the first woman chose to eat that forbidden fruit, because they wanted to be like God, they immediately set themselves, and us, against God. In essence, as Martin Luther has pointed out, the father and mother of our human race not only wanted to be like God, but by their desire and disobedience they demonstrated that they wanted to “murder God,” putting Him out of the way so they could rule their own lives.
Immediately upon their sin, Adam and Eve experienced the consequence of their rebellion. They were overcome by shame and had to cover themselves. They cast blame on one another, the devil, and even God.
They learned true fear of God as they sought to hide from Him. The love of God they had always known was replaced with the wrath of God. Their sin made them enemies with God and each other.
You and I and the rest of Adam and Eve’s offspring have all inherited this hostility toward God. It’s embedded in our very nature. We can’t escape it. As the Psalmist confesses so must we, “Surely I have been a sinner from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” This inherited, or original, sin, as it is called, puts us on the outs with God, knowing only His wrath. Talk about “irreconcilable differences!” How can the relationship of God and sinners ever be restored? How can we be reconciled so that we might enjoy God’s grace and love? Or put it in worldly terms, how do you get Black Lives Matter and Antifa to sit down together with the Police and those who believe in the rule of Law and actually make peace?
In order to reconcile such warring parties, you need someone who is willing to step into the gap... ready to give up His own life if necessary in order to bring peace.
Here’s the Good News our society so desperately needs. In His great love for us, our Heavenly gave us just this someone. He gave His only-begotten Son. “You see,” Paul notes, “at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly... While we were still sinners Christ died for us... when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to (God) through the death of His Son.”
Invariably when a third neutral party attempts to reconcile two opposing groups, he takes heat from both sides and is often despised by both. So it was with Christ. He incurred the wrath of both God and man. We read in Isaiah 53: “He was despised and forsaken of men... smitten of God and afflicted.”
In spite of this opposition, Jesus willingly stepped into the gap between heaven and hell to be pierced through for our transgressions...and crushed for our iniquities.” As a result God’s own spilt blood has broken down the wall of separation and the barrier of enmity forever. This is God’s brand of justice. In Jesus Christ, our Father is truly reconciled with us.
What a clear demonstration of God’s undeserved love for us! As Paul notes, scarcely would one human being dare to die for a good person or a friend. Once in a great while, we do hear of a soldier who will throw himself on a grenade to save his bodies, or a mother who will sacrifice herself to save her children, or even a rescuer who will risk his life in the raging floods to save those who are drowning. But who would do such a thing for a wicked person or their most bitter enemy?
Yet, this is exactly what God in Christ Jesus did for you and me. Jesus did not die for “good people.” He didn’t die for you and me because we were so deserving of His sacrifice. He died for the “ungodly... sinners ... His enemies. All this that He might restore peace between Him and you once again. This is true reconciliation you have been graciously given in your baptism, through Word of Holy Absolution and continuously in the Holy Supper of the Lord and you have received through faith in Jesus.
There is nothing like being reconciled. What a relief of tensions when the two warring factions can live side by side in peace. What security is reestablished when fear of attacks and retaliation are removed. What joy fills the air when there is an end to the exchange of bullets and missiles and there is instead the exchange of handshakes and cooperation.
No greater joy and relief can be experienced than when we enjoy peace with God. Paul concludes: “we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.”
Be assured of this, dear Christian, God has extended the olive branch of peace to you in Jesus Christ. God is reconciled to you. You no longer need to fear God’s wrath against your sins. Through the faith the Holy Spirit has given you in Jesus Christ, you now have access into the fullness of God’s grace. In fact, through faith in Christ you are made to stand in that grace (5:2). You can freely and without fear confess your sins to God, imploring His forgiveness, having the full assurance that He will forgive you for Jesus’ sake. You have Christ with you; who can be against you? No longer do you need to wonder if God is on your side. You have Christ for you.
Having been reconciled to God, you can even rejoice in your tribulations. Since you have been restored to God’s grace, you can be confident that trials, sicknesses, pains, and heartaches are not punishments but are simply manifestations of His permissive will to serve His ultimate good for you. Since He is reconciled with you through the blood of Jesus, by your trials He is bringing forth perseverance of faith and steadfastness of hope within you.
Having been reconciled to God in Jesus Christ, you are free to be reconciled to all those who are at war with you. You are set free in Christ to forgive as you have been forgiven!
Rejoice, then, even as you live in this time of war. The true reconciliation needed between all factions and sides has already been obtained by and in Christ Jesus. Let the banner of this freedom ever wave. Pass it on!