Reconciliation: The Work of the Church

6 Epiphany.A.17
Matthew 5:13-20
The Rev. Melanie McCarley

There’s a great Calvin and Hobbes cartoon where Calvin says to his tiger friend Hobbes, “I feel bad that I called Susie names and hurt her feelings. I’m sorry I did it.”

“Maybe you should apologize to her,” Hobbes suggests. Calvin ponders this for a moment and replies “I keep hoping there’s a less obvious solution.”

In the gospel lesson for this morning Jesus says: “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 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.”

Well….that pretty-much does it for anyone who’s ever spent an afternoon standing in line at the DMV.

Anger, frustration and rage are all around us. Now, anger, it’s not always a bad thing. Anger when faced with injustice can provide an impetus to reach for righteousness. The Bible gives us many examples: Moses got angry when the people made an idol. Prophets got angry when widows and orphans were neglected, and when the stranger wasn’t provided with hospitality. Jesus got angry and overturned the tables of those in the temple who were profiting from poor people who simply wanted to worship God.

So, anger itself, isn’t the problem. The difficulty arises when we become so angry that we do harm. Anger becomes a problem when we allow it to fester and degenerate into rank bitterness. Anger becomes a problem when it becomes the lens through which we view other people. Likewise, anger becomes a problem when it damages relationships. (Melissa Bane Sevier “Anger & Murder 2/6/17 Over the past few months we have experienced a firestorm of political opinions and scores of us have discovered that Facebook and other forms of social media can form a slippery slope culminating in the end of many long-standing relationships of family and friends. As Calvin, whom I quoted earlier in today’s sermon discovered, insults and angry words almost never help things; they make things worse.

The danger of anger has consequences for the individual as well. Dr. Bedford Williams at Duke University determined that people who score high on a “hostility test” are in far greater danger of dying young than their peers. In fact, those who are prone to anger are in greater physical danger than those who smoke, have high blood pressure or even high cholesterol”. (Steve Goodier, 2008 “The Danger Zone”) Anger, quite literally, can kill you.

What are we to do? Jesus has some advice: “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.” At this, we might be tempted to pick up Calvin’s reply to Hobbes and proclaim: “I keep hoping there’s a less obvious solution.”

However, reconciliation is the primary work of the church. Tucked in the furthest reaches of the Book of Common Prayer you will find the Catechism. The teachings of the church. In it, the top of page 855 begins with a question: “What is the mission of the Church?” The answer: “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” A bit lower on the page you can find another question: “What is the ministry of the laity?” (The laity, by the way, are all of you in the pews). The answer: “The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world…”

Reconciliation is the work of the church—it is the work of every Christian. You might ask, “Why should we work to be reconciled with people who dislike us every bit as much as we dislike them”? The answer is simple. Because this is the will of God. Think of it this way. We are to be reconciled with others—not simply so that we might be safe from the warmer regions of the afterlife; but because, in the end, Jesus wants more for us—and for our neighbor as well. And this is Good News. Jesus wants us to see our neighbor the way that God regards us—with a reconciling love—a love that brings all of us together. In the lesson for today Jesus outlines goals that seem impossible to achieve, but he does this precisely so we can look beyond the law itself to the goal—and that goal—the hope of God is this: Quite simply, that we might all flourish. God loves all of us.

As I see it, the only way for us to do this is to develop a vision that what lies ahead of us is more attractive than what is behind us. In other words, the future vision that we craft must be more palatable than the anger we leave behind. It leaves us with a question to ponder: What kind of community—what kind of world do we want to inhabit?

Today, at our 10:00 a.m. service we will baptize Ava Soares. Upon her baptism, not only she—but also we—are charged with a task. During the Prayers for the Candidate, the lector leads us in the following prayer: “Teach her to love others in the power of the Spirit.” And we respond: “Lord, hear our prayer.” Then the lector prays: “Send her into the world in witness to your love.” And once again we respond “Lord, hear our prayer.” Here’s the key—each of us who responds to this prayer are involved in helping Ava come to understand (or not understand) what it means to love others in the power of the Holy Spirit. In other words, we, along with Ava’s parents and her brother Noah, are the ones who by our life and witness will help this child to understand what it means to love others—and we will do that by demonstrating to her what it means to speak the truth of God in love—even to those who don’t want to hear it; to ask for forgiveness when we hurt others, and to work towards reconciliation with one another in Christ. And it is by this witness that we will equip her for when she is sent into the world to witness to God’s love. Think of the power that your witness will have upon the life of this child when she sees you. And think of the power that witness will have upon all those who know you.

There’s a poem by Marilyn Maciel that begins “I/you/us/them/those people/ wouldn’t it be lovely/if one could/live/in a constant state/of we?” The only way I know to achieve this, is to begin looking at one another—not through a lens of anger, but with love, with hope and determination to work for a better future. A better future not simply for you or for Ava, but for everyone. In Jesus’ name. Amen.