WEEK TWO: RELATIONSHIPS
Matthew 5:21-24 (NRSV)
You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment… Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
A few years ago I was attending a worship service at a new church for the first time. I was relieved that the worship practices were familiar and comfortable for me. But right before the offering was collected, most of the people stood up and walked out! The pastor just smiled and said, “Try to back in an hour so we can continue our service.”
No, this didn’t really happen. But if we were to truly heed Jesus’ words, every worship service would be interrupted by people who need to make amends before offering their gifts. Most of us have at least a few folks with whom we should reconcile!
The word reconcile means to restore friendship and harmony, resolve differences, or to make consistent or congruent. As followers of Christ, we are to do all we can to restore harmony and resolve differences when we have hurt or conflicted with someone. How often do we choose instead to distance ourselves from one another? How often do we choose to let our anger smolder and burn? How often do we cover our embarrassment by making flimsy excuses? We are instructed to do better.
The Lutheran Church of the ELCA has a beautiful worship practice of sharing the peace with one another. The practice is explained at http://www.elca.org:
The “exchange of peace” (or “sharing the peace”) is an act of reconciliation… The exchange of peace is a ministry, an announcement of grace we make to each other, a summary of the gift given to us in the liturgy of the Word… Because of the presence of Jesus Christ, we give to each other what we are saying: Christ’s own peace.
This practice is a demonstrative acknowledgement that I am broken, we all are broken, but we are forgiven and united through Christ- and so we all can share his precious peace. I once had the very difficult and yet beautiful opportunity to share the peace with someone at a time when our relationship was strained. I wasn’t being noble or holy- I just wasn’t given much choice- the person was right near me! But oh, I felt such peace afterward, and I was able to worship without the guilt, anger, regret, and embarrassment that had burdened me.
Jesus compares our anger with someone as ‘judge-able’ as murder. Jesus knows that our mutual anger, hostility and resentment are actually killing US. Jesus knows that we can worship God wholeheartedly only when we see one another as equally beloved and forgiven children of God. Jesus calls us to be his diverse yet congruent Body of Christ, brought together in peace and harmony to worship and to serve.
Did anyone come to mind as you read this devotion- someone with whom you may need to reconcile?
How might the practice of sharing the peace serve as a guide for you to make amends?
There are times when our efforts of reconciliation are not welcomed, or when we are not able to reconcile with someone because of distance, time, or even safety concerns. How might you offer reconciliation with yourself?
Loving Christ Jesus,
You love all of us, and you desire that we love one another. Your way of genuine love includes making amends and reconciling with those we have hurt. Give us the awareness, the wisdom, and the courage to do so! Please forgive us for the hurts we have caused. Help us to unite with others in order to serve and worship you wholeheartedly… with pure hearts that have been reconciled… sharing the peace that comes to us only from you. Amen.