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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Matthew 5: 13-24

21You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not murder'; and 'whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.' 22But 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. 23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.

You have two minutes to turn to the person next to you and tell them what Thanksgiving is about for you. Consider completing this sentence. “For me, Thanksgiving is about…” I will call you back when your time is up.

I imagine that some of you suggested to your pew neighbor that at its simplest Thanksgiving is about giving thanks. Thanksgiving = Giving + Thanks.” The pilgrims arrived during the long cold winter of 1620. Half of them died of disease and starvation before the warmth of spring brought new hope in the person of a Native American and escaped slave named Squanto. It was this Native American who introduced them to the local tribe, the Wampanoag, and taught them how to fish, grow corn, extract sap from maple trees, and avoid poisonous plants. The pilgrim’s relationship with Squanto and the Wampanoag saved their lives and without them I would not be here today since an ancestor of mine was one of those Pilgrim survivors. In November of 1621, after a successful corn harvest, Governor Bradford called for a three day banquet of celebration. With sugar supplies low and a lack of ovens, it is doubtful that it featured any pies, which I suppose is why we have been making up for their early absence ever since.

At its simplest, perhaps, Thanksgiving is about giving thanks, but our Gospel text for today suggests that there is nothing simple about giving thanks. Nothing simple at all.

We read:
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.

So, what Jesus is saying is that if you are bringing your gift to the Lord, your thanksgiving for all that God has so graciously entrusted to you: your offering of yourself, your relationships, your time, your resources, your prayer, your praise, your life – just stop. Stop right there. Stop and think. Stop and reflect. Stop and consider:

Where is brokenness manifested in relationships in my life right now?
Who has offended me? Who has broken fellowship with me?
Where is brokenness manifested in relationships in my life right now?

The word for the work of mending broken relationships is reconciliation.
And God thinks that this work of reconciliation is so important that after God says STOP and think about the brokenness found in our relationships, God then says “GO!” Go and do the holy work of reconciliation. GO and come back when it is done.

Mathew 18 acknowledges that we are not called to whitewash the sin against us, not ignore the sin against us done by others, but rather to work for reconciliation in those broken relationships. It calls us to work at it; to give it every opportunity through our efforts. It does not guarantee that effort broken relationship will be mended despite our best efforts.

So how important is this work of reconciliation for our life and ministry as Christians?
Paul explains it in the 5th Chapter of Second Corinthians this way:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.

We see that God reconciled the world – all of creation – and obviously that includes people like you and me – to Himself in and through Jesus Christ. So we are a new creation – and given the sacred and holy task by God to continue that work of reconciliation in the world through the words and deeds that make up our everyday lives. In Christ, God has radically altered our relationships with one another. For us it is no longer about friends and enemies and “frenemies” and haters and supporters, rather it is about something wonderful, extraordinary, radical, unbelievable:

Listen again to Jesus – this time in John 13: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

So how is it even possible? How can we as new creations called in love to be ambassadors of reconciliation do this holy work when so often our strongest impulse is to dismiss from our lives those who have broken relationship with us? We must acknowledge that there are circumstances where the work of reconciliation must take into account issues such as personal safety and the possibility for further abuse physically, emotionally, or spiritually. However, there is a real fear that the FACEBOOK notion of just unfriending someone and moving on might just be seeping into our way of thinking about all broken relationships in our lives. Where do we find the strength, the patience, the wisdom, the wherewithal to act faithfully in this? To be followers of Jesus in this? To be reconcilers and not haters?

We must constantly remind ourselves that being new creations unleashes the extraordinary power of the Holy Spirit to work in and through our lives. The power of the Holy Spirit is the power of creation and salvation – that power will accomplish God’s purposes in the world and so there is no “impossible” to hold us back anymore. Gone is the line of thinking that says “I do not need them I have God,” because here is Jesus saying if we want to put Jesus first in our life and honor Jesus then we need to be about this work of reconciliation. It is a call from Jesus to us for us to build a community of love and reconciliation - The very community that Jesus embodied for us through his life, death, and resurrection.

In the vows of my ordination I am called to lead you in building that community of love and reconciliation here at Trinity. We hold ourselves mutually accountable in this shared work of faith. It is time to place the building of such a community at the core of our purpose and the center of our work together.

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