Sunday's Sermon

 

"First be Reconciled"

 by Wayne L. Derber, Pastor

February 16, 2020 - 6th Sunday after Epiphany - A

Sermon text: “But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.  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 5:22-24

 

“I’m right and you’re wrong!”

Have you ever felt this way?

Have you ever felt that your words and actions were completely right

            and those of another person were completely wrong?

 

Whenever we have an argument with another person,

                  we may not say it aloud,

            but inside we are thinking: “I’m right and you’re wrong.”

Then we begin to make our case with the other person.

We list our reasons, one after another, for why we are right

            and the other person is wrong.

 

Wanting to be right causes quarrelling.

Each person is convinced that they are right

            and that the other person is wrong.

We’ve all been there.

We’ve all done that.

Arguments are a part of human relationships.

 

In the book Great Church Fights, the author tells about

      two unmarried sisters who had so bitter an argument

            that they stopped speaking to each other.

Unable or unwilling to leave their small house,

            they continued to use the same rooms

                  and sleep in the same bedroom.

A chalk line divided the sleeping areas into two halves

            separating doorway and kitchen,

      so that each could come and go and get her own meals

            without trespassing on her sister’s half of the house.

In the darkness of night each could hear the breathing of each other –

            bitter enemies.

For years they lived together in angry silence.

Neither was willing to take the first step of reconciliation.

(page 91, Leslie B. Flynn, Great Church Fights)

 

Of course, we really don’t need to be told of such an example.

We are well aware of the strife and conflict in our own lives.

We know well the pain and hurt these conflicts have caused.

 

Dealing with strife in human relationships

            is the focus of our gospel reading for today.

Jesus told the people:

      “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.”

 

It’s quite a remarkable point that Jesus is making here.

Before we can really worship God,

      we must first make our peace

            with those people with whom we have had differences.

It is not possible to love and worship God

      when inwardly we are angry and upset with someone.

 

When Leonardo da Vinci was working

                  on his painting called “The Last Supper,”

            he became very angry with a certain man.

Losing his temper,

      he lashed out at this person with angry words and threats.

Returning to his canvas, he attempted to work on the face of Jesus,

            but was unable to do so.

He was so upset with this other person,

            that he could not see in his own mind

                  what the face of Jesus should look like.

Finally, he put down his paint and brushes

            and went to the man and asked for his forgiveness.

The man accepted his apology.

And only then, was da Vinci able to return to his workshop

            and finish painting the face of Jesus (author unknown).

 

So it is with you and me.

Whenever there is anger and hostility in our hearts,

            we will never be able to see the face of our Lord.

We will never be able to feel his presence…

            never be able to worship him.

 

Sometimes in the winter we get a terrible snowstorm.

Big snow drifts might cause us to be snowed in for a day or so.

Even if we would want to go somewhere, we are unable to do so.

There just is too much snow in our driveways.

There is no way our vehicles could make it through such deep snow.

We can’t go anywhere.

So what needs to be done?

Well, the answer is obvious.

First the snow has to be removed from our driveways

            so that we can go to the places that we want to go.

First the snow needs to be removed.

 

When we are angry and upset with another person

            it is like we are snowed in…

      we are unable to go and worship our God.

So what needs to be done?

The answer is also obvious.

First the anger has to be removed

            and then we can go and worship our God.

Until the anger is removed, we are trapped inside.

 

Jesus was once asked about

            which was the most important commandment.

He answered:

      “You shall love the Lord your God

                  with all your heart, and with all your soul,

                        and with all your mind…

      And… a second is like it:

            “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Mt. 22:37-30).

This is a very important teaching of Jesus.

What matters most of all is our relationships…

            our relationships with God and with other people.

If loving other people is as equally important as loving God,

      it’s no wonder then

            that Jesus tells us to make up with someone

                  before we can really worship God.

“First be reconciled,” Jesus tells us.

 

Reconciling with another person can be very difficult,

            but Jesus wants us to attempt to do so.

Our relationships with other people are so important

            and we need try to fix a relationship when it is broken.

 

Our relationships bring us great joy and happiness.

But when they are broken, they cause us much pain and heartache.

It may well be that broken relationships

            cause our deepest pains in life.

So it is important that we try to fix broken relationships

            if at all possible.

           

So how can we reconcile with others?

Let me lift up three teachings of Jesus

            that can help us do so.

 

The first teaching is in our gospel reading today.

When we have a problem with someone,

      what we need to do is to go directly to that person

            and talk things over.

 

We might do other things instead.

We might do nothing.

We might get angry and bitter with that person.

We might try to hurt that person back.

We might want others to solve the problem.

We might complain about that person to others.

Of course, none of these other approaches fixes the broken relationship.

 

So that’s why Jesus tells us to go and speak directly with the person.

This is the point that Jesus made on another occasion when he said:

      “If another member of the church sins against you,

            go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.

      If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.” – Matthew 18:15

Attempting to reconcile with someone can be very difficult,

      but our Lord promises us:

            “For where two or three are gathered in my name,

                  I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20).

These familiar words of Jesus are often quoted out of context,

      but Jesus originally spoke these words

            referring to when someone is attempting

                  to reconcile with another person.

Reconciling can be difficult,

            but Jesus promises that he will go with us.

 

So when we have a disagreement with someone,

      first we need to go and talk directly with that person.

 

A second teaching of Jesus to keep in mind in trying to reconcile

                  is that we are all sinners.

 

Once when a crowd of self-righteous people were about to stone to death

                  a woman who had been caught in adultery,

      Jesus said to them:

            “Let anyone among you who is without sin

                  be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7).

 

Yes, sometimes we have the self-righteous attitude

                  that we are far better than others.

But Jesus reminds us that we are all sinners.

None of us should “throw stones” at others.

We are all sinners, after all.

 

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome:

      “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10).

A few verses later he concluded:

      “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

 

 

The Russian author and activist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once wrote:

      “If only there were evil people somewhere

                  insidiously committing evil deeds,

            and it were necessary only to separate them

                  from the rest of us and destroy them.

      But the line dividing good and evil

            cuts through the heart of every human being.

      And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

(Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago)

 

If we have the attitude that “I’m right and you’re wrong,”

            we probably are not ever going to reconcile.

But if we realize the truth that we are all sinners,

            then reconciliation is much more likely to happen.

 

Realizing that we are sinners and not perfect,

            we can be willing to apologize and say “I’m sorry.”

 

I’ve heard it said: “When two friends quarrel, both are wrong.”

That’s true.

 

A relationship is always more important than being right.

A relationship is always more important than being right.

 

So a second teaching of Jesus to keep in mind

                  when trying to reconcile

            is the important truth that we are all sinners.

 

A third important teaching of Jesus

      is that we all need to forgive.

 

This is a point that Jesus made many times.

It is the point of his command:

      “(Forgive someone who sins against you)

            …not seven times, but seventy times seven” (Mt. 18:22).

It is the point of Jesus’ words from the cross

                  about the very people putting him to death:

      “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

And it is the point of Jesus’ words in his prayer:

      “And forgive us our trespasses,

            as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Mt. 6:12).

 

The old saying certainly is true:

      “To err is human, to forgive divine.”

(Alexander Pope, 168801744, I. 325 “An Essay on Criticism”)

We are human and so we err.

But if we forgive, we are doing something divine –

            something God wants us to do.

“To err is human, to forgive divine.”

Divisions and conflicts are sure signs

            of our sinful nature.

Reconciliation and peacemaking are sure signs

            of God’s Spirit working among us.

 

So in attempting to reconcile, we have these three teachings of Jesus:

      first, we should go and talk directly with the other person,

      second, realize that we are each a sinner and need to apologize,

      and third, we must be willing to forgive the other person.

 

If we follow these three teachings of Jesus

            then often a broken relationship can be mended

                  and there can be reconciliation.

 

Of course, reconciliation doesn’t always happen.

Maybe the other person doesn’t want to be reconciled.

Maybe the other person doesn’t want us in their life anymore.

Sometimes that’s the way it is.

If that is the case, then we need to move on.

We still need to forgive that person

      and let go of whatever anger we feel towards them.

 

Sometimes the former relationship is never restored.

Sometimes people go their separate ways,

            but there can always be forgiveness.

And we can always treat the other person with kindness and respect

            even though we might not feel close to them anymore.

 

Yes, reconciliation doesn’t always happen.

But Jesus always wants us to attempt to reconcile.

 

In one of the readings in our “Christ in Our Home” daily devotions,

                  the author gave this illustration:

      “A friend was angry with her son for several months.

      She refused to see or talk to him.

      During those months it was difficult to pray,

            and she avoided worship

                  because her heart was so heavy.

      Then one day she realized,

            ‘I’m sick and tired of being angry.

            It’s pointless.’

      That night she went to her son’s home and they reconciled.

      She could pray again,

            and the next Sunday she went to worship with a thankful heart.”

 

The prayer included with this daily devotion was:

      “Lord, help me to let go of the anger

            and to allow your healing power to take over.  Amen.”

 

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote:

      “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ,

            and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (1 Cor. 5:18).

 

Yes, God has given us the ministry of reconciliation.

So, let us be reconciled with one another.

 

If we want to truly worship and love God,

      there is something very important that we need to do first.

Jesus tells us:

      “…first be reconciled to your brother or sister,

                  and then come and offer your gift…

 

Yes, first be reconciled!

 

      Amen.