Feb. 16, 2020 FIRST Be Reconciled
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ.
What a difference there is between our perception of ‘holiness’ and God’s expectation. We are pretty quick to think: well, I’ve never murdered anyone, or cheated on my spouse, or divorced without good reason, or lied in court. But then Jesus comes & says that God’s expectation is that we be perfect, as He is perfect = we can’t even think sinful thoughts, or speak carelessly. Jesus teaches an important point. The true righteousness God expects from His people is much more than an outward keeping of the plain Law. This shows that our sin is a much deeper problem than simple misbehaviors. If it was just outward behavior, then we might just be able to cut off our misbehaving hand, or tear out our offending eye, & be righteous enough for God.
But that’s not enough. What our Lord says is true, but outrageous; & this is how He illustrates how absurd it is for us to come before God with our own righteousness, and expect a share in His holy, eternal kingdom. Our real problem is a matter of the core of our being; our spirit or essence is dead in sin. So, Rom.3:10 is true: there is no one righteous; not even one.
Therefore, the Law condemns us, and teaches us to confess: “God, be merciful to me, a helpless sinner. I deserve nothing; Lord, have mercy.” And in answer to our confession & problem, God the Father sends to us His own essence & core = Jesus, the Son. God knows our problem and the solution; He sends Jesus to shed His blood on the cross, to orchestrate our forgiveness, to renew our hearts, & to make us His own people.
Those who understand the unreachable high bar of God’s Law, will then gladly receive the Savior lifted high upon the cross; so that all who look to & are baptized in Him, will have eternal life. Rom.7 says: “Who will rescue us from this body of death? Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory, thru our Lord Jesus Christ.” And now, in Christ Jesus, redeemed with that price, & alive to God, the Holy Spirit creates in us a right spirit to live our daily life in holiness.
Under the cross of Jesus, with our eyes UP, we are now able to aim to live upright & godly lives; God’s people live by His commands & teachings. Every day there is set before us right & wrong. By hearing His Biblical voice, we are able to discern what is good & right.
We are grateful that our Lord has come to rescue us and to lead us. Because of His mercy, we trust Him; when He warns us, we believe Him. And He is always there to correct, forgive & restore us. *Where is He? Right here, in worship; another word for our worship is ‘liturgy’, where He comes to be with us in His Word & Sacrament. Our Savior is a true shepherd for His people.
This morning we’ll just focus on the first part of our Gospel reading, which Jesus begins with the 5th Command, “You shall not murder.” From the Small Catechism we know that we are not to hurt nor harm our neighbor in his body, but help and befriend him in every bodily need. Jesus says this means that we are also not to hate, or to remain angry with each another; and that we don’t want someone to have reason to remain angry with us. And, to remind us that God is involved, Jesus says: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
We live in a world full of opportunities for DISPUTE. Politics has always been a wrestling between ideas; but now it seems like it’s just a lot of fighting, anger & hatred. And when our leaders dispute like that, its easier for us to show anger in areas of our lives. But, anger is not acceptable to God; it is one person wronging another, including /by bitterness & hostility, /by insulting & calling them names, /holding a grudge, /to lie about or disparage them.
To wrong another person =in mind, word, or action= is SIN; and to mistreat or cruelly neglect another person is an insult to their Creator, & to the sanctity of their bodily life. Jesus doesn’t distinguish between large or small issues; He’s teaching here that the presence of sin brings in the presence of God & His Law, and He wants us -His people- to know what is the right thing to do.
When someone hurts us by sin, we usually respond in one of 3 ways:
#1) we get angry, defend ourselves & stay mad. #2) we try to get even. #3) we present ourselves as the bigger person & ignore them like they don’t matter. But these are all worldly responses & not God’s ways. The Bible says, 1) don’t let the sun go down on your anger; don’t grow a bitter root. 2) don’t take revenge, and don’t repay evil for evil. And 3) forgive as you have been forgiven; do good to those who persecute you; live at peace, as much as it is up to you.
What Jesus teaches in Matt.5 is that He wants us to get the root of the problem by doing 3 THINGS when confronted by a sinful situation: Remember, Reconcile, and Remedy.
FIRST, we are to Remember. Now, we might think that this is no problem, since we DO remember how people have wronged us; all the way back to our early childhood.
But Jesus’ example here is turned around. It’s not that we’ve been wronged by someone, but that we’ve done something wrong to them; & we tend to forget those times.
So, God will remind us. When we come before Him to offer our gift of worship at His altar, where He calls us to be repentant & mindful of our sins, because we are seeking His forgiveness. While doing that here, the Holy Spirit will cause us to remember how we are involved with some sort of discord & dispute, and have avoided peace with them.
The Spirit wants us to remember that God is involved with our offenses as the Creator of both us & that other person. As we come to worship, we reflect on what we have done against God’s Law, & the Holy Spirit convicts us = that we deserve His anger; we are liable to His judgment & punishment for our sin. Thru remembering, God leads us to repent of our sin; which is to turn away from it, & to turn to Christ for forgiveness. Then, being thankful, He leads us to aim at peace.
To amend our sinful life is the SECOND teaching of Jesus here. After remembering, we go and reconcile. *How important is reconciliation with our neighbor? Important enough that, even in the middle of worship (or at least before the next worship time) if you remember that your brother//sister has something against you, you should FIRST go and be reconciled to them, and then come and offer your gift of worship.
Leaving during worship may seem impractical, (esp for the pastor) but Jesus teaches later in this Sermon on the Mount that IF we do NOT forgive our neighbor, our heavenly Father will not forgive us (6:15); and *what are we worshiping for, if not to seek God’s mercy & forgiveness for our sin? We do know that in the Lord’s Prayer each Sunday we call upon Him to “forgive us our trespasses, (just) AS we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Here, Jesus wants to train us in the habit of being reconciled to one another so that we worship properly, & with a clear conscience.
*What does it mean to ‘be reconciled?’ It means to bring separated, hostile people together again in peace. The model of reconciliation is what God Himself followed, as we hear in 2 Cor.5: “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation.” In other words, AS He proclaims Christ’s forgiveness of us, we learn how to bring forgiveness to others;
we forgive, as -in Christ- God forgives us.
And HOW has He dealt with us? In 4 steps:
Step 1) God desired to reconcile with us, says Romans 5: “God demonstrated his own love for us in this; while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God took the initiative; the sin & the broken relationship was not His fault; and yet He took steps of action to make peace between us & Him.
Step 2) He humbled himself. He set aside His own rights & ego for our good.
This kind of humility is essential in order to mend a broken relationship. At times we may feel that it wasn’t our fault, or that we didn’t start the problem. But the burden of humility rests with the one who has the mind & attitude of Christ. The goal is to settle the dispute, not to boast of who’s right or wrong.
Step 3) Jesus suffered for our offenses. Our offense of sin had ruined the relationship between God and us. Since our punishment is eternal death, only God himself could make things right again. So, “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” We keep in mind that the blood of Jesus covers the sin of that person who wronged us; God’s Lamb was sacrificed for them, as for us. We do not go to others to get a payment for sin, or to get our justice; but to apply Jesus’ forgiveness.
There will be times when we may have to suffer in order to be reconciled. We may have to endure angry words, emotional outbursts, & be extra patient for the other person to ‘come around.’ People may tell us that the other person is ‘not worth it,’ but that’s not how Jesus has treated US: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
His motivation was to save us; our motivation is to bring peace with that other person.
We do it in the name of our suffering Savior, who instructs us to ‘be reconciled to your brother/sister.’
Finally, Step 4) God forgave our offenses. God did not say that our sin didn’t matter and ignore it. Instead, He addressed it, & did away with it with forgiveness. When we confess our sins, humbly repent of them, turn away from them as wrong, God acknowledges them and then puts them away; because He honors both His Law and the blood-price Jesus has paid for our sin. Once forgiven, He forgets them == which means, He promises never to bring them up against us in the future; they’re gone.
We know what a relief this is for us. And this is the kind of forgiveness we must work hard to do toward others. We forgive others because Jesus went to the cross for them.
It IS possible to forgive because God’s people are Christ-like. What a comfort it is when someone forgives us and does not hold our past offense against us anymore. That’s the peace we give to others; to be able to ‘clear the slate’ and start over with them. Without forgiveness it’s just a ‘cease fire’ until we reload. But with forgiveness there is real peace.
That’s what 2Cor.5 says: “All this is from God, who thru Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, (to share with them that) in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” This is how God is treating us and treating those with whom we have a dispute.
So, finally, from the Gospel reading, Jesus teaches us the THIRD part of His reconciliation lesson; after we remember, & go to reconcile, there is remedy quickly. Jesus says to remedy things quickly so you don’t have to go ‘to court,’ or drag it out publicly, & drag others into our disagreement. Besides this, The Psalms teach that sin & guilt is unhealthy for us; it can make us physically & emotionally miserable.
We know how it feels to have regrets about not settling a dispute before it was too late. We know the anxiety of unresolved conflict. Sometimes we wonder later why we took so long in going after peace. Earlier in Matt.5 Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” Making peace is like building a bridge where there was a wall.
At a recent meeting, I heard the story of 2 brothers, both farmers who worked together for many years. They shared the family land, their houses were within sight of each other, with a winding creek between them. The brothers had an angry falling out, and for a long time both stubbornly refused to speak to each other.
The one hired a backhoe operator to dig out the creek & make it too wide to walk cross. So, the other hired a carpenter, and told him to build a high wall so that he didn’t have to look at his brother’s house. The carpenter went to work while the farmer went to town for the day. But when he came back, he didn’t see a wall, he saw a bridge. Angry, the farmer strode toward the bridge to yell at the carpenter; but, as he did, he saw his brother running to the bridge, waving & relieved & ready to reconcile. And so they did.
Jesus is that Carpenter who has built the bridge of peace between God & us,
and therefore a bridge of reconciliation between us and others. ‘So if you are here at worship, and remember that your brother or sister has something against you, Go and be reconciled to them, and then come back and worship.’
Use the bridge of /humility, /reconciliation, /forgiveness, /and peace. The Lord has dealt patiently & mercifully with US with all our sins. Jesus has made peace with God for us. Because of that, His thankful people will live like Him. The Lord strengthen us to live in forgiveness, reconciliation, & peace with others.