Pastor Paul E. Hoffman
The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
Beloved in Christ, grace and peace to you in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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.
Can you imagine how long that might take? Jesus says: First, be reconciled to your brother or sister…. Rather than the few minutes we set aside in the Eucharistic liturgy to share the peace with one another before we bring our gifts to the altar, can you imagine how long it might take for us to first be reconciled with one another, and then move on to the offering and what follows?
It’s a beautiful if somewhat impractical thought, isn’t it? This business of reconciliation is a rich and messy endeavor. And, granted, some of those with whom we need to be reconciled are here with us in the assembly, but certainly not all. How long would it take? How long would it take, do you suppose, to do what it takes to find those who we believe might have something against us – note that Jesus says those who have something against us, not those we have something against… How long would it take do you suppose for us to track those people down, lay ourselves humbly at their feet, seek their forgiveness, and then return to the assembly to continue with our worship? I think that it could take a really long time.
This idea of being at peace with one another – whoever, wherever those one anothers might be – stands at the centerpiece of this part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. At the heart of his message, Jesus imagines, even if we cannot, a community of followers who live together in peace.
It would be easy to make this all very legalistic, to set up this varied and eclectic catalog of ethics from Jesus as a new form of righteous-ness, which, as you know, almost always turns south into self-righteousness. So far in the history of humanity, no one has been able to keep the Law. So it is a fool’s errand to believe that now Jesus is setting up a new even more rigorous system that will frustrate us with failure at best and shame at worst.
No, Jesus sets this scene of reconciliation with one another as a prerequisite to bringing a sacrificial gift to the altar. He wants it to be clear: harmonious relationships are more important than ritual satisfaction. Holy living, à la Jesus, is more than checking a box.
First be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. First, be reconciled.
This new way of living together in justice and mercy is tucked into a list of ways that we manage to alienate and take advantage of one another. It was as true for the ancients as it is for us this very day.
Maybe we’ve never drawn a gun on anyone, but anger festers, insults, abound, the culture calls everyone with whom we disagree “a fool” in one way or another, but usually with much harsher words
Jesus paints a picture of a world in which women are not treated as property to be disposed of at the whim of a man’s desires. He imagines a community where every person in valued, and believed worthy of reconciliation. He challenges us to imagine a world in which one’s word is honored and respected. A world where saying YES is the same as meaning YES. The same as DOING yes. No swearing necessary.
And if you think that these are standards of compassionate living that were only needed in his time, think again. We continue to live in a world where women and people of color are still forced to scratch and claw in a culture deaf to their quest for equality. Persons whose self-expression challenges the hetero-normative culture long to be seen, but too often are dismissed in ways that closely resemble handing them a certificate of dismissal, as men did with their wives in Jesus’ day, waving them off, putting them away. Out.
We dismiss people with modern day equivalents of ritual sacrifice by sending a dismissive email and washing our hands of them and their paltry opinions. We salve our souls with a perfunctory text but fail to get to the bottom of what others long for or need. We reconcile with non-apologies. You know the kind, “If something I did offended you, well, sorry.”
Jesus wants more for us. With eyes of love fashioned before the Creation was formed, he looks on us and longs for us to live a reconciled life with one another. A life where sin and guilt and injustice and dis-ease are crucified, dead and buried. And here in words meant to heal, not condemn, he raises up a new vision, the entrance ramp to his new creation. First, go and be reconciled… Christ wants us to be partners with him in that New Creation, living in the spirit of his love, his life, his endless possibilities for purpose and depth – in what we say and do in the community of Christ and in the world. Do you see that he wants that first? Jesus wants us to live together in harmony more than he wants an offering. Especially an offering that is less than genuine. Especially an offering that just checks off a box. Jesus wants us to share the peace. And yes, I think it could take a really long time if we do it with all our hearts. But then the table is waiting, spread with a taste of the New Creation. And whether we’ve succeeded or whether we’ve failed, we are still invited.
This new life to which Christ invites us begins with reconciling. It begins with sharing the peace. It begins with taking that peace beyond these doors and into a world that is longing for meaning and hope. It is our joyful task to seek that peace of Christ in every person, in every nation. It is our baptismal call to be partners with Christ in bringing the light of dignity to every living being.
It may take a very long time. But in his dying and in his rising, Christ promises a day when time will be no more and we will all live together in both his presence and his peace. But there is no need to wait. First be reconciled to your brother or your sister, right here, right now. And Christ’s peace will come flooding back upon you.
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.