A Blueprint for Being Fully Human
Grace United Methodist Church
February 13, 2011
Matthew 5: 21-26 (NIV)
“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.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ (insulting them) is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
It happens all the time. We’re watching it unfold in Egypt. Some say it prompted the shootings aimed at Representative Giffords in Arizona. It is sadly common. A leading politician makes a gesture of contempt towards the opposition. Someone on the other side reacts angrily. Soon dozens of people are on their feet, shouting. Insults flying to and fro. Out on the street, supporters of the rival parties jeer at each other, then begin to jostle and threaten. Fists start to fly. By the time the police arrive, several are injured, perhaps worse. The next day they are back in force, and begin to attack innocent passers-by. Their families in turn swear to get even. It’s an endless cycle. But is this what human life was meant to be like?
Part of the tragedy of all such vicious cycles is that people take their public anger back into the home. We know this ourselves. The executive whose boss has shouted at him goes back to his own office and shouts at the secretary. The secretary goes home and shouts at the children. The children shout at the cat. If part of human maturity is being able to recognize your anger, and deal with it before it gets out of control, we have to conclude that most of us are not very mature. We are called to be the light of the world. This is our true vocation. So, how can all this misguided and very damaging anger be dealt with? How can anger be defused, and prevented from spilling out all over the place? In this passage we heard from Matthew a few moments ago, as difficult and challenging as it is, Jesus teaches us about exactly how to deal with anger.
In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus takes the commands of the law and shows how they provide a blueprint for a way of being fully, genuinely, and gloriously human! You see, it’s no secret that every time we decide to let our anger smolder on inside us, we are becoming a little less than fully human. It’s a conscious decision to belittle ourselves. And if we let that anger reach a boiling point, it can cause a lot of trouble for ourselves and for others. Such anger might not necessarily result in murder, but by speaking this commandment against murder here, Jesus is making the point that we should never even allow anger to take us to a point where we wish another person dead. And I would even go a step further and guess that Jesus would also say that we should never even allow anger to control us such that we wish ill-will upon another person. If we are all honest, I think we would have to admit that we have gotten that angry at someone before. I think it’s fair to say that more than once, each of us has allowed our anger to control us, rather than us taking control of our anger. That’s why what Jesus teaches here is so challenging; it reaches deep down to the roots of our personality, and it produces a different pattern of behavior altogether!
The young adults who attended the Divine Rhythm retreat in Pigeon Forge a few weeks ago had the privilege of hearing from Bishop Sally Dyck. Bishop Sally as she is affectionately called, is the United Methodist Bishop of the Minnesota area. One of the topics Bishop Sally tackled head-on during the course of the weekend was “complicated relationships.” She talked about relationships that are complicated by addictions, anger, abuse, competition, and just about everything you could think of that destroys human relationships. After taking time to describe the sort of complicated relationships we all have to deal with from time to time, Bishop Sally went on to say that the key to overcoming complicated relationships is forgiveness. And she used this analogy. She said that when you do not forgive others, it is like a backed-up sewer in your heart. And it’s the same thing when we hold on to anger, when we don’t seek reconciliation with our brother or sister! You know what a backed up sewer looks like; what it smells like. You know how dangerous it is to have all that raw sewage exposed and floating around. When we cannot offer forgiveness and be reconciled with our neighbor, that’s what happens inside us. All that junk is being pumped through our body, poisoning every ounce of our being until we are completely ruined. So what’s the alternative?
Jesus knows our tendencies, and that’s why he makes a point in the Sermon on the Mount to offer two remarkably specific and practical commands. The first is to be reconciled; the second is to make friends. It seems so simple, and yet how difficult is it to go to a neighbor in humility when we know there is a problem, a point of contention. Without really saying it, Jesus makes it clear that no matter who caused the problem, if we are aware that a problem exists with a brother or sister, we have to go to them and be reconciled. It takes great humility and courage to admit to someone we were wrong, and to come to them asking for forgiveness. And it takes a lot of grace for someone to make the decision to forgive us and set us free from the bondage of hostility. But we have to be able to let go of the grudge. We have to step down off our high horse. We have to abandon that position of superiority over the person we’re angry with. Sometimes we like to hold on to our anger because we think it gives us power over the other person. But Jesus says if we live like that it’s like a sewer backs up in our heart. Jesus says that if we live like that, we can’t ever be fully human.
So what’s the blueprint for being fully human? Jesus says, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” Did you catch that? “First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” That’s incredible! Reconciliation with one another is so important that it takes precedence over worship! Two of the Ten Commandments have a direct connection to worship of God; “Do not have any other gods before me,” and “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” Many times in the Bible, God sends a clear message about the importance of worship. But now, Jesus says, true worship cannot happen if you are at odds with your neighbor. So if we’re getting ready to worship and realize there is a problem with a brother or sister, we shouldn’t even try to worship until we get that problem solved. That’s how important forgiveness is! That’s how important it is to be reconciled to our brothers and sisters!
Yet, Jesus’ point really goes beyond the importance of reconciliation. The point Jesus is really making is that we must live our lives, day by day, in such a way that when we come to worship there is no anger between ourselves and a neighbor, our sister, our brother. Part of being fully human is living our lives in such a way that we never have strife with others, we never get angry at a brother, we never hurt a neighbor, we never offend a sister! I don’t know about you, but it’s hard for me to imagine a life like that, much less live it! And such a life may be impossible, at least until we look at Jesus. Jesus himself refused to go the way of anger, did he not? And we too have to refuse to go the way of anger too! It takes nothing less than God’s grace to do this. But when we can offer forgiveness and be reconciled, we will also experience the fullness of God’s grace.
A few years ago I made a friend very angry at me. I can’t exactly remember what it was about, but I do remember the pain it caused me. After a day or two of really feeling bad about what I had done, I went to see my friend and asked for her forgiveness. By the grace of God, that person said, “It’s no problem. Don’t worry about it. I forgive you.” I was in seminary at the time and keeping a journal. As soon as I was done talking to my friend, I went back to my apartment and wrote in my journal the word: “Grace.” It is GRACE when someone forgives you! They set you free from the bondage of guilt and remorse. Thank you Lord for grace! Without grace, I think it would be nearly impossible for us to ever be reconciled with our neighbors!
Have you ever walked into a room, a store or a shop or maybe a party or any place where a group of folks were meeting and sensed a “power in the air”? Sometimes, and hopefully most times, it is a good power. Like walking into a room filled with beloved family and friends who you know—love you unconditionally. Or walking into this church building for worship, and seeing the smiling faces of persons who genuinely care about you. But sometimes we might walk into a place or situation where we feel a different kind of “power in the air.” And that power is evil. There is a meanness about it. It has a bite and sharp teeth. There is no love in that power. There is no room for grace. That is the place where we have all lived, and done our shopping. But even while we were in this place of despair. Even while we were so self-absorbed that love and reconciliation were the last thing on our minds, Jesus was there, drawing out the blueprint for being fully human.
Often, people don’t believe there’s much wrong with the human race, and with themselves in particular. As a result, they may not see much need for God’s grace. Perhaps, some people think, “God might help me out in a tight pinch here or there, but basically I can get along fine without God.” All that God has to offer, it seems, is a kind of spiritual enhancement of ordinary life, rather than a radical rescue from imminent danger! God’s grace is much, much greater than mere enrichment. It gives life to the dead! It is God’s free, undeserved gift. And it sets us free from the bondage of sin, death and despair! When we accept God’s grace, reconciliation occurs, and we travel in the right direction, that sewer that has backed up in our hearts is suddenly unstopped!
To not experience God’s grace in forgiveness and reconciliation; is the most destructive thing imaginable, like a sewer that backs up in our hearts. We need to forgive and know that we are forgiven. “Be reconciled, ” Jesus tells us. This is what grace is and does. This is why Jesus died for the world, for you and for me! “Be reconciled!” This is the only way to be. Amen.