Reconciliation: It’s All About You

Matthew 5:21-37

There are a lot of reasons why I love the Episcopal Church.  But the particular reason I’m thinking of today will take place in a few minutes, right in the middle of our liturgy: the exchanging of the peace.  Right in the middle of the service, week in and week out, we take a moment to focus very intently on one another; and we exchange handshakes or embraces and say peace.

Why do I love this about the Episcopal Church?  I love it because this action, this moment in our liturgy, puts into practice the very Gospel passage we heard today, where Jesus says:

“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.”

Each Sunday we come through those doors on the west side of the room and sit in pews facing the east side of the room and we worship Christ.  But as we worship we don’t focus exclusively on Christ.  It’s mostly on Christ, yes, but not exclusively.  It’s also on our neighbors.

The worship leader calls out, “Blessed be God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  And you respond, together, “And blessed be his kingdom, now and forever.  Amen.”  You do this collectively, as one body made up of many parts.  Together, collectively, we focus on Christ.  But just in the fact that we are doing this together means others are involved.  Other people.  Together.  With you.  Collectively.

One of our opening prayers is even called the Collect.  Think of it as a prayer to collect everyone’s individual thoughts into one, unified whole.

As we focus on Christ actively in worship then, together, there is at the same time a passive focus on each other.

And this active-passive relationship becomes inverted at the peace.  Suddenly the worship leader says, “The peace of the Lord be always with you,” and you reply, “And also with you”—and suddenly the focus on Christ is passive as we focus actively on each other.

And as we’ve been worshipping, thinking mostly about Christ but some about each other, perhaps someone has come to mind—someone you may have had an issue with earlier in the week, or last week, or the week before.  The Holy Spirit has brought someone to mind, maybe even in this very room, with whom you ought to be reconciled.  And you know it’s the right thing to do.

Well, now’s your chance!  Go over to that person during the exchanging of the peace, grab her hand, and say peace to her.  When you do, it’s as much as to say, “Look, I know we’ve had our differences.  But we’re siblings in Christ.  And that’s more important than whatever petty disagreements we’ve had with one another.  Let’s be reconciled!”

But it’s not always so easy, is it?  The people we disagree with aren’t always in the room with us, are they?  And even if they are, we can avoid them if we want to, right?  The peace only lasts a minute or so; it’s plenty easy enough in that minute to shake a few hands in a different direction, with my back turned to the person I’ve really got a beef with.

Whatever else you make of the peace, Jesus in fact brings three scenarios to mind that are not so easy to deal with regarding reconciliation: anger, divorce, and forsaken promises.

He says things like, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not murder.’  But I tell you, if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment.”

But the simple truth of the matter is that people do make us angry.  They hurt us; they disappoint us; they let us down.

For Jesus, it’s not just the acts themselves of murder, adultery, and lying; but what’s in the heart—the motive behind the acts.  And—here’s the real difficulty for some of us—it doesn’t really matter if you’re the perpetrator or the victim.  If you are unwilling to forgive, then you are the one Jesus is speaking to here.  You are the one who needs to let go of whatever feelings you have of bitterness or hatred or anger.

Forgiveness is extremely personal.

So, to return to our Sunday morning scenario:

Let’s say you’re in church worshiping Christ actively but focusing passively on others.  And in that worship the Holy Spirit brings someone to mind who wronged you some time ago.  And you realize now that you’ve been harboring resentment and maybe some anger towards that person for these past several years.  But the problem is they now live in Los Angeles; and you’re right here in San Antonio!

According to Jesus’s words here, what are you supposed to do?  Are you really supposed to forget this present worship experience, forget the Eucharist we are about to celebrate together, run out of the church, hop on a plane, fly out to California, and be reconciled to this person?  Really?

If you were really to do this—let’s pretend just a little more—you know what would happen?  Chances are, after all that hassle and expense, you’d find your old friend in California and he wouldn’t even be aware that you were upset in the first place!  Which would probably make you even more upset because of all the hassle and expense!

No, Christ’s words throughout this passage are focused on your heart.  Rather than literally leaving your offering at the altar and running off to California to be reconciled to some far-off friend or foe (who probably knows nothing about your beef anyway), it’s your heart that matters here.

Reconciliation begins with you.  You must forgive your offender.  You are the only person who can do so.  It’s all about you.

Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go over during the peace to that certain person that the Holy Spirit brought to mind; I’m not saying you shouldn’t go home this afternoon and call that person from California.  If you feel the Holy Spirit is leading you in that direction, then do it!

But what I am saying is this: if someone has offended you, forgive them.  It is a part of your spiritual act of worship.  And that action we do each week here in church, the exchanging of the peace—that is your visible reminder to let go of all bitterness; and instead to approach Christ’s altar as an offering, whole and undefiled.

Reconciliation is all about you.

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