“Give peace, O God, give peace” are fitting words to sing this morning, because the heart of what Jesus has to say to us today is: “First, be reconciled to your sister or brother.”
Our gospel text comes on the heels of words we heard last week, in which Jesus told us to be salt and light. Jesus said, we are to be dissolved like salt, to give ourselves away for the good of the world. We are to go out as rays, sent to give light in the darkness and to show God’s intentions for humankind.
Jesus prescribes a salty, illuminated life in which our righteousness exceeds the righteousness of even the scribes and Pharisees, that group on whom we often throw shade, but who desired above all to follow God the best they could and, in the midst of a pluralistic Roman empire to present the Lord as the one true God.
These teachings of Jesus are spoken to us as a community, in order to make us a saltier, more illuminated body. And while the church today is larger and more complex than the gaggle of unorganized disciples in the days of Jesus’ own earthly ministry and in the days immediately following his tragic death on the cross and glorious resurrection from the dead, we still live in a pluralistic world.
We still live in a world with a plurality of truth claims and many competing ideas about what makes for a good life – and Jesus’ words, now as then, are meant to form us into a particular community to give witness to God’s intentions for us. If I had a chance to relive my life, I think one of the tweaks or changes I would make, one of the things I would do differently, is that along my educational path I would have taken a business class or two.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed all the art, history, and literature classes that I took instead, but I have to say that knowing more about spread sheets, investments, and finances would’ve come in handy earlier in my life, because you have to learn about these things too.
I have learned a lot over the years, but I am continually amazed to watch God bring together all sorts of people into his church, people with varied interests and gifts, and especially people who are well-versed in saving, spending, tracking, accounting for and making the most out of resources God has entrusted us with.
Bruce, our financial secretary, Tim, our treasurer, and Debbie, our finance manager, spend untold numbers of hours crunching numbers, allocating fund, tracking down receipts, and reconciling our accounts, and we are blessed to have their hard work and expertise.
From what I can tell, and what I think I have learned from Bruce, Debbie, and Tim is that financial health is centered mainly in account reconciliation – that process of comparing internal financial records against monthly statements from external sources—external sources like our bank and our credit card company—to make sure they match up and to understand what is going on in the organization so you can understand what is possible with your mission going forward.
The heart of what Jesus has to say to us today is: “First, be reconciled to your sister or brother” and this is just what he means. The life Jesus urges us towards is one in which we are trying to crunch the numbers and understand what is going on within us, and comparing the interior life – our heart – with our exterior lives, the people we encounter and work with and live with, to bring it all into harmony.
Jesus is an accountant who means to tally the assets and find the errors in our community and fix them, and he begins with a deep dive into the commandment against murder and uncovers for us that its actually about anger and reconciliation.
Unfortunately for me, and maybe for you, it’s not enough not to murder. Jesus says do not be angry. And listen to this now: when we are angry with another person, according to Jesus, we are guilty of murder. We deserve the same penalty.
Reading this passage with a college student friend of mine recently, she said, “This is like reverse-grace!” I said, “what do you mean.” She said, “grace means we’re all forgiven…this is like saying we’re all guilty!” And I think that’s right.
You can’t read these words of Jesus and think they don’t apply to each of us and all of humanity. Fox News and MSNBC and politicians and pundits and a lot of regular people on the Twittersphere and driving down the road are just angry. And we get angry.
But Jesus wants to free other people from the consequences of my anger. And yours. And he wants to free me of my anger and to free you of your anger.
Reconciliation with those whom we have previously been angry is so important to God, according to Jesus, we should leave worship if we think of someone with whom we have a broken bond and take care of that first, before returning to offer our gift of praise here.
That’s pretty astounding from the Son of God, but the thing of first importance is to be reconciled to a sister or brother, and to make sure my account and your account balance
and that there’s no outstanding grudge. Or in other words, as far as it depends on you, be reconciled to one another.
Jesus believes we can’t be reconciled to a person we are lusting after. This doesn’t mean that we aren’t attracted to people, or even that we aren’t attracted to people that are out of bounds for us because they are married or we are but it means we are not supposed to marinate in our attraction. We aren’t to stoke the fires of our attraction.
And the simple reason for this is that the action of adultery comes from stoking those fires. The final act of adultery comes after many smaller infractions. King David, for example, doesn’t just sleep with Bathsheba, and send her husband Uriah to the front lines to die, out of nowhere.
It all started, you’ll remember, “in the spring of the year, when Kings good kings go out to battle,” but David chose to stay in Jerusalem. He allowed himself to be in a position to produce a very poor decision.
Jesus wants us to be reconciled in our marriages, for those of who are married. It is strange and sad that we sometimes treat the people we’re married to, the people we live with, the person we sleep beside with less respect than total strangers, in the midst of the pressures of daily life, which can be enormous.
But Jesus upholds the value of the promise of marriage. In first century Palestine, only one of the members of a couple could initiate a divorce (I’ll let you guess which one). If you guessed only the man could initiate a divorce, you’re right and if a woman was left divorced she had no way to work or support herself, except perhaps prostitution, so, at least in part, Jesus speaking for women’s health and women’s rights.
That said, I don’t think God desires divorce for us. But I don’t think most couples do either. On their wedding day couples aren’t hoping the relationship will end and at least in my own family and among my close friends who have divorced it was a hard decision with real heartache.
But relationships do end and sometimes it is necessary, especially in cases of abuse. And there is grace for that. Even reconciliation. Wounds can heal. New relationships can bring joy.
Finally, Jesus says that in all our words, our yes should be our yes and our no should be our no. Our speech should be reconciled to the truth always, even though vows were common in his own day. Rob Burger, as so many of us remembered yesterday was fond of the word “candidly.” “Candidly, the first three Star Wars films were a waste of time,” I can hear him say. And he told people, “Don’t say, ‘to tell you the truth.’” If you say, “to tell you the truth,” it implies there are sometimes when you’re not telling the truth!
It never occurred to me until now, but maybe Rob got that strait from Jesus!
I think all these words from Jesus are tough to preach on. Many people may hear Jesus’ words here as an attack on personal freedom. And we could hear Jesus as sounding kinda “judgy” here. There is a lot of “reverse grace.” But there’s also a lot of grace grace.
A tremendous amount of grace actually, and not only because these are Jesus’ words. Not only because here Jesus is showing that his authority is greater than the law, and he chooses to forgive us and bring us God’s peace and forgiveness.
But also, because Jesus’ account of our life is that our words matter, our relationships matter, what we think about matters, how we feel matters – and in his love and for us, it is all accounted for, and no part of our lives are lost, like God has a balance sheet and pencil and wants it all reconciled.
Jesus meets us and helps us come face to face with our mistakes. And Jesus is honest that when we are audited, it’s clear that the math of how we treat each other, how we treat ourselves, and how we treat God doesn’t add up. We didn’t take enough business classes, and we don’t know how to zero out our anger and lust and dishonesty, but God forgives our debt.
Jesus is the CFO, if CFO stands for Christ Forgives Offenses. With love and patience, he pulls us out of the red and into the black, so that there is a surplus of forgiveness, community, connection, and reconciliation…so that we are a people whose bottom line is reconciled.
And Jesus creates a community where we can speak bravely to each other, where the Spirit raises up confirmation mentors, TMs, and Sunday school teachers to help guide young people on the path of a good life and learn to speak candidly about life with integrity.
In our Bible studies, and in seedling groups, and adult education classes, God is providing places to listen deeply to one another, and speak words of wisdom into one another’s lives to provide support and honest conversation.
Where we fall short, Jesus’ own perfect life given on the cross fulfills God’s desire, and this Jesus Christ is at work in us to create a community living toward the kingdom, which transcends our brokenness.
Here God is creating a community which is learning again and again, to pray: “Lord, forgive us our debts, as we forgive those who are indebted to us” and we realize that our reconciliation with God is lived out and tied up with our reconciliation to each other.
Today, in this mean of Holy Communion, we commune with God and we commune with one another and when we eat the meal, God offers us the totality of himself, and we offer God the totality of our lives.
Here we offer God the brokenness and the rightness, the darkness and the light, the salty and the bland and all we are is blessed and broken and healed and returned to us to give to the world, to use as we witness of what the kingdom looks like, so may God reconcile our accounts and reconcile our transactions with one another to produce a reliable, accurate statement of who God is to the world.
And may we be the balance sheet that reflects God’s spending in the world—
May our service be the loan God gives through us to others until others are strong enough to serve.
May our kindness be God’s currency invested though us into the lives of the most vulnerable.
May our forgiveness be God’s canceled debts extended through us to one another.
And may any credit we accrue all go to God for the reconciliation that he distributes like a trust fund kicking off an endless supply of everything we need.