Thursday, August 18, 2016

18 August 2016
“So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24, NRSV)
“And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that you’re Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” (Mark 11:25, NRSV)
“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (1 John 3:14-15, NRSV)
            Good morning, and thank you for joining me. Today we consider reconciliation, the final expression, so to speak, of our discussion on anger. The word Matthew uses for reconciled occurs only here in the New Testament. It has the sense of being thoroughly changed, of ending a useless hostility. Fitting, then, that this would be the result our changed attitudes toward God and one another. My thinking here is this is a very clear statement that Jesus expects us to forgive one another if we are to be forgiven-at the very least, to forgive one another because we have been forgiven. It is the principle of greater to lesser, illustrated in Matthew 18:23-35 (see also Matthew 6:15; Mark 11:25-26; James 2:13; Proverbs 21:13).
            This brings us back to the idea that we are all equal before God, who, as our creator, is the only one qualified to judge any of us. It is, I believe, one of the more radical principles of life in the Kingdom. Paul puts it this way in Romans 14:13 “Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another.” Paul may have been writing to believers, but that statement was preceded by a reminder that we will all be accounted to God. He is echoing Jesus teaching in Matthew 18:6-7: “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes!”
            The points I am making here, the issues I am trying to press home, are 1) We must be very careful how we act, because people are watching, and we do not want to be the cause of anyone’s rejection of God’s grace shown in Christ and 2) because of that, we need to do everything in our power to maintain peace with our brothers and sisters, as much as it depends on us. This is what the Beatitudes teach. This idea probably wasn’t received so well by those who believed their righteous standing with God put Him squarely on their side.
            There also seems to be another side to Jesus’ teaching here-the idea of settling debts owed. It’s really two sides to the same coin-maintaining right relationships on all fronts. Paul addresses this idea of believers settling their differences in 1 Corinthians 6 and hits the nail on the head in v.7, where he says to have a lawsuit at all is a defeat-why not just be wronged? I think this is probably where Jesus is going here, this idea of surrendering our rights.
            Given the overall state of the country today, I don’t see where this is any less radical now than it was when Jesus first said it. The idea that to be right with God we must first be right with one another-which may very well involve giving up our right to have this thing or do that one; that anger and insults and contempt are the spiritual equivalent of murder-simply does not play well today. And yet this is what we are called to as citizens of the Kingdom.
            By the way, speaking of rights, the bottom line here is Jesus Christ alone is the one who has a legitimate claim on our lives. He has this claim on all humanity, believers and unbelievers alike. When He returns to claim this right, we do not want to be found to have prevented anyone from entering the Kingdom because of our selfish behavior.
            In closing, let me ask you-who might you need to get reconciled with? I’m not necessarily talking about major arguments here. This could be something small-an angry Facebook response (I’ve posted my share of those); an unkind word directed towards a coworker or spouse or child or parent; or simply not listening when one of the above was speaking to you. This is an important point-listening. True listening creates a bond that is not easily broken; blowing people off raises walls hard to tear down. So make a list or two (you knew this was coming, right?). Get started today. The disagreements of today, once reconciled, have the potential to become pleasant memories tomorrow. Think about this. You have the choice-harbor resentment for a lifetime or laugh about the time you argued over how to cook the rice or set the social hall (or who would do the setting) or serve communion. I may have said this before but it bears repeating-God loves to see His children get along.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all today. JRG  

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