Opening Prayer: Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our
hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
There are many ways young people can spend their time- to be here this evening – after countless hours of rehearsals- singing, giving God the glory- moves me to my core. Thank you for your gift- and thank you Dr. Stephenson and Mr. Vick for your direction.
God has a wicked sense of humor. The gospel reading appointed for today – from Matthew- speaks boldly about difficult topics: anger- adultery- divorce. The Rector and the Director of music- both gave me a “bye” on this reading. They told me I could select any passage I wished- but I decided to “wrestle” with the text- like Jacob did. Of course it is no surprise where Jesus comes down on these topics. It may be hard for us to hear but it is certainly no surprise. He has expectations for us, goals for us, ideals for us- even though He is fully aware that His hope for us may seem impossible.
The overwhelming message of this text is for us to be reconciled with one another. Jesus’ life, His hope- is always for us to be reconciled- with each other and with God. It’s why He came- to literally reconcile us to God.
The portion of the text that speaks to all of us – married or unmarried – is the part that says before we ever come to the altar, before we come to God in prayer, before we worship – we must be right with our neighbor, with our brother or sister, our friend, our parents, our spouse, our co-worker.
Those words are hard to hear- for sometimes we would rather just stay angry- or estranged- or self righteous- in fact, sometimes our pride tell us- it’s not “our fault” so why should we be the one to reach out and make amends? “We aren’t the one who needs to apologize- she is!” Raise your hand if you know what I am talking about. Can I get an Amen too? Thank you.
What makes this passage so powerful for me is that I know that Jesus- in his humanity- knows of what he speaks.
Jesus understands angry. Jesus gets being ticked off. I like that. I would hate to think- since He is fully human- that He is giving us a sermon and doesn’t know how hard it is to live up to those words.
We see Him angry when He calls out the Pharisees and Scribes- and says “Woe to you- you Hypocrites!”
We see Him upset right before He heals the man with the withered hand- He looks around the room angrily (the gospel writer says)-because they are watching to see if He will heal the man on the Sabbath – which of course Jesus does. Healing always trumps the law of keeping the Sabbath holy.
We see him turn the tables over in the temple – throwing chairs and tables – He is furious- because the money- changers are there- and He yells: “You have made it (The Temple) into a den of robbers!” (He did not go in and kindly ask them to put their things away….)
We see Him curse the fig tree and declare: “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” And the tree withers up and dies.
And of course we see Him rebuke Peter on the road to Caesarea Philippi saying: “Get behind me Satan!”
There are not any passages on Jesus’ teenage years- but don’t you know He had a few fitful moments with Mary and Joseph that were too unseemly, to raw to put into print? At least that is how it plays out in my head when I am the Editor of the gospels. “We can’t put that in print….He is the Savior after all!”
I like this side of Jesus- as much as I do the sweet, kind, compassionate Jesus who heals the woman at the well and raises Jairus’ daughter and feeds the hungry 5000 and weeps with Martha and Mary at the death of their brother Lazarus. For in Jesus’ anger- we see ourselves, our humanity, our brokenness, our outrage- those times when we get frustrated or upset or annoyed. In these passages, He is like John Wayne Jesus – a man’s man – calling it like He sees it- telling the truth as He sees it- and we like that. We relate. He means business- He isn’t going to turn the other cheek in every scene- thank God.
And yet here He is asking us to forgive one another- make amends with one another- before we ever come to the altar. That’s a tall order- but if He gives it- He must plan on doing it too. And He does- doesn’t He? He forgives Peter three times- for the three times Peter betrayed Him, denied even knowing Him. He forgives those who crucify Him- “for they know not what they do.”
I have always loved working with young people- they tend not to carry grudges- they forgive easily and move along quickly.
Watch children on a playground- they are feisty one minute- arguing over who had the ball- making verbal threats- calling one another names- “you’re stupid.” “No, you’re stupid!” – and ten minutes later they are best buddies running in from recess arm in arm. It’s like they get it all out and then it’s over. They are so good at that. No brooding, no wounded egos, no dredging up the past. There is an honest exchange of angry feelings, an even briefer cooling off period – and all is forgiven.
Children seem far more forgiving than adults. Somewhere in the process of growing up we seem to have become experts at holding grudges, cradling fragile egos and unforgiving natures. (Leo Buscaglia) Maybe that is why Jesus said, “let the little children come unto me – for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Children get it. A child is quick to forgive and to love. Like God.
Sometimes I look at the world’s headlines and think: How can we ever be reconciled one to another? How did Nelson Mandela forgive the people who held him in prison for 27 years? How did the employees of Enron and Worldcom and Tyco ever get peace after their pensions were lost by the greed of their employers? How did the Amish families in 2006 forgive the man who shot their children? How will the people of Egypt ever forgive the dictatorial ways of Mubarak? The short answer is: With God’s help of course.
Jesus gave us the mandate for us to be reconciled with one another because He knew we needed to be reconciled. It is hard to carry anger day in and day out. It is like hauling luggage around with us everywhere we go- big heavy suitcases that we haul into work and in our homes. It’s like a cancer that eats away at us. It takes an incredible amount of energy- that could be spent in so many other ways.
And when we make amends, we are unburdened, free, we have some peace- AND we get a glimpse of what God is like every single day – as He forgives us every single day.
Who are we to come to His table and ask for His forgiveness- if we cannot forgive one another? Isn’t that what Jesus is really saying in this text? “Don’t come to the altar and ask me to forgive you when you cannot forgive someone .…… go and make it right….then come back and see me.”
And it can happen so easily. Do not be fooled to think otherwise. We have free will. Forgiveness, reconciliation- is our choice. It is our choice to make peace. And I have seen it. I have seen years of agony and estrangement melt away (between siblings and children and parents) with one eye movement or one handshake or one hug. Without one word passing their lips- chasms are bridged, the gulf that separated them is closed. ………. And I often wonder, why did they wait so long? Forgiveness and healing and love can happen in an instant.
There will be times when we want our way, when we want someone to make amends with us first, when we are frustrated, feel angry and lash out. Moments when we say: “hmfph. It is not my fault – if they want to make amends, they can call me.”
And there is only one thing to do at those moments: we must take them to Christ over and over; we must ask Him to deal graciously with us so that our hearts might be changed…..and we can make the first move. We can’t do it alone. That is the linchpin. We can only do it with God’ s help and a willing Spirit.
Each day presents a new opportunity. The sun rises over the earth and with the light, comes the light of a new day, the promise that He does make all things new- and let it begin with me.
Move forward. Let go. Forgive. And know His promise- the peace that passes all understanding. Amen.
Opening Prayer: Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our