Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
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The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
Year A
February 12, 2017
Matthew 5:21-37
The Rev. Robin Razzino
In the name of the One God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
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.
Wow – sometimes the word of God is just hard hard hard. And sometimes just what we need to hear and wrestle with.
And by “sometimes” I mean today.
I think this is a particularly difficult passage for today - February 12, 2017 - because I believe, for so many of us -
especially in the political arena we are thrust into with every news article that crosses our screens –
the desire to be reconciled to our brothers and sisters has taken a back seat to the desire to feel justified in our dismissiveness of these same brothers and sisters.
And I am afraid we believe reconciliation is not worth the time or effort it would take to realize.
And more disturbing - I wonder if - deep in our subconscious - we believe the people themselves aren’t worth our time and effort?
But Jesus is being very clear. Every single person is full of worth. To the brim. And Jesus knows all about the risk of not reconciling.
Remember that part of our story where God sends Jesus, his only and eternal Son, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to God?
That reconciliation ended in a garbage dump outside Jerusalem in a place called the Skull, on the cross.
I think one of the things we need to think about is how we hear this passage from Matthew’s Gospel in light of the cross - in light of the time and effort God made to draw all the world to himself. Including that person you cannot stand to be around, think about or consider the humanity of.
How do we hear this passage from Matthew Gospel – this call for reconciliation – in light of the cross and in light of the rhetoric we hear - and respond with - when we pause to read the newspaper, turn on CNN or scroll through our facebook feed?
Our political and civil discourse is filled with hateful speech and the quick rush to dehumanize those with whom we disagree. Often we - me - this Christian standing before you - participate in this rhetoric - subconsciously or not – more often than we would like.
“Donald Trump is a monster.”
“Liberals are snowflakes, overly sensitive and easily insulted.”
“Muslims are terrorists.”
“Mexicans are illegals.”
The rhetoric is scary. And the place to which this rhetoric leads is even scarier.
Jesus understood this all too well.
In this part of the Sermon on the Mount he is helping us see the danger of the slippery slope we step onto when we insult, dehumanize, and denigrate our brothers and sisters – and those, of course, we wouldn’t dare to invite into our families, communities, or churches - at all.
We have heard that it was said “Stick and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”
But here Jesus says to us –when we spew hateful speech towards others – we are liable for their pain, and the small ways our words kill their spirit – the spirit of God breathed into them the day they were born.
How do we break out of this cycle of dehumanization and ugly rhetoric?
How do we face the difficult fact that the very people we may despise – the very people we may think have dark and ugly hearts are the very same people with whom God is madly in love?
The very same people whose hearts shine with a light we refuse to see. The very same people God invited to the altar rail this morning.
This is really hard work. And any honest introspection will convict us all.
I have struggled with hateful thoughts towards some of our political leaders and it is not okay.
Jesus is speaking to all of us. His words reach our hearts. Broken as they are – hearts which reflect the fractured relationships we have with those who hold different political viewpoints for sure – but also with the neighbors, colleagues and family members we feel are difficult to be around for any number of reasons.
Right now I look out into the world and see hateful speech being either too easily dismissed or too quickly condoned. I think the problem is getting worse by the day – and is being fueled by the ease with which we dehumanize individuals and entire communities.
But I know hateful speech – in the political or civil arena - is nothing new. And it is not the only arena in which we live and move and have our being.
I know we can all sit here for a minute and think of a relationship with another person we have that we feel is broken due to a wrong committed by us or by the other person.
Is it an ex-husband?
Your best friend from college?
Your noisy neighbor?
The person sitting near you in this church?
Your mother or father?
Sister or brother?
Or harder in a sense – that whole group of people consisting of individuals we have never met or care to meet – the Mexicans, the Muslims, the liberal elite, rural conservative voters, evangelicals.
Or the individuals we would just as soon see die in an unfortunate accident then seek to understand.
Today God is telling us that before we bring our gifts to the altar we must seek out this person - or these people - and seek to be reconciled.
Before we come to this altar, this rail - this love feast - this morning
we must make amends - or take steps to reconcile - with those with whom we are angry or annoyed,
with those people we would rather dismiss.
Jesus is being very clear.
That person we just thought of – that person marks our journey.
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.
Now I know we are all sitting here thinking of someone with whom we need to reconcile – or if we do not know this person personally – we know we need to work to reconcile our actions to match that of God’s hope for us.
And it all seems overwhelming – and certainly not something we can do in the five minutes between now and when we finish the prayers of the people and confession and walk towards that altar.
If we see today and this moment as our only opportunity for reconciliation, it seems like an impossibility, but if we can take steps to orient ourselves to reconciliation starting now – we have a chance to realize that this is the work of all our days, all our moments, all our decisions, all our talk, all our relationships.
And we are not alone in this work.
Remember how we began our worship this morning? Remember that simple prayer we said: “Because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace...”
I know you and I believe we can’t be this way all the time – all lovey dovey, all filled with light and peace.
We are way too human!
We believe anger and resentment between us will continue to exist – always and for all time.
Jesus, however, seems to think it is possible to live this way. Jesus things it is possible to be beacons of light and love in our world – despite ourselves.
Fully human himself, “Jesus refused to go the way of anger,” writes one theologian, “Instead he took the anger of his enemies, the Romans, on to himself, and died under its load. From that point on, reconciliation is not simply an ideal we might strive for.
It is an achievement - an accomplishment - which we in turn must now embody (N.T Wright in Mathew for Everyone 45).”
The cross calls us out of our narrow hopes, our narrow understanding of the greatness which lies inside us all.
We are more than we can conceive or imagine.
We are bigger than we seem.
We have so much we can offer to God and our neighbor and our world.
And so when we approach the table of God this morning, we do so knowing God does not want any gift from us apart from our very selves – even the parts we hope to amend.
God desires our whole selves, God desires our all.
This is the gift with which we can approach the altar this morning.
The gift of ourselves. The gift of who we are and of what we are made.
This gift, in fact, is impossible to leave behind.
Bring to the table all that leads to life.
And leave behind only those things which lead to death.
Leave behind only the resentment, anger and hatred we cling to so unnecessarily and so perilously.
Refusing to reconcile – refusing to orient ourselves to loving intention - is refusing the invitation to abundant life offered to us as gift from God.
The refusal to take steps towards reconciliation is the refusal to meet God’s gift with our own.
God knows the beauty found when our wounds are healed, our brokenness made whole,
the beauty of self-righteousness transformed,
the beauty of enemies building peace,
the beauty of the forgiven, forgiving
the exquisite beauty of sacrifice meeting grace.
God knows this beauty and God wants all of us to experience it – to eat from it, to drink from it.
So this morning come to this rail and eat and drink.
Go ahead and bring your gift.
And then when you are home – or at work – or at the library – or at coffee hour…begin the hard work God invites us into.
The hard work that is life itself.