Reading: Matthew 5:20-26
When I was in my first year of ordination training, I managed to wangle my way on to doing a two week placement at Durham Cathedral. I had a fab time, got to explore all the bits of the cathedral that no one else gets to see, got to do all the different jobs that keep the place going, I spent one day vacuuming the cathedral, that comes on a backpack – felt like a ghostbuster and I got to help out at the ordination services. There was one particular moment I won’t forget in a hurry. At the ordination service I had one job, to make sure that the bishop of Durham had his special service sheet. So I did that, and processed in with all the other people and sat at the front ready to do any odd jobs that may arise during the service. The service started, the bishop began the service and Bishop Paul does this thing in the cathedral during a big service of walking up and down the nave as he welcomes everyone. Suddenly he says, forgive me, I have been given the wrong service sheet. My heart froze, I felt like a rabbit in the headlights, and I may well have uttered under my breath oh sugar, except I didn’t say sugar. You know, I had been shown around the medieval jail cells they have in the back of the cathedral, originally for monks who stuffed up services, and was wondering which one was going to be my new home. Flustered, the bishop looks around for someone to help, looks at the sheet again and realises he does in fact have the correct service sheet, he had simply got confused. He apologised and said, look even bishops get stuff wrong. I spent the rest of the service recovering from the heart attack.
When we read passages like our gospel today, I am reminded vividly of that feeling of dread I experienced in the Durham Cathedral, because frankly this passage convicts me. Jesus starts by telling the crowd they need to be more faithful than the most faithful people in Israel, as far as the crowd are concerned, the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. I suppose its like being told to be more holy than the Archbishop. Then He says to them, you all thought you were doing okay and have kept number 6 of the 10 commandments, do not murder or you will go to trial. Well guess what, if you are angry, call others names or hate others, you’re going to suffer the same fate as if you murdered them. You have murdered them in your heart. If another believer has something against you, forget church, go and be reconciled first. Jesus repeats the point saying if someone takes you to court, settle it outside court if you can. That is really hard, isn’t it?
Can you think of anyone you cannot reconcile with? Or perhaps someone it is impossible to be reconciled with now? I suspect we don’t have to think very far, I know I don’t. Well today I am not going to give you a comforting platitude or come up with a clever way that allows us to hold on to our anger or hate. All I want us to do, in some silence after I finish is to invite everyone to think of that person or people who we may feel we still struggle with, or have lost contact with even if they entirely deserve it, or who we can interact with and I want you to place, in prayer, in your mind’s eye, that relationship on the altar. I want to encourage you to spend some time in prayer, praying for that person, thank God for that person, even or perhaps especially if they don’t deserve it, and asking God to heal that hurt and to be free of its burden through forgiveness. That doesn’t mean we then have to try and run into arms that frankly probably feel the same way about us, but it should leave us open to the possibility of it happening in the future even if that is with people already promoted to glory. By placing these things on the altar, we lay aside the poison of hate, of angry words, of negativity and leave it on God’s altar where the broken body of Jesus brings healing.
We as Christians are called to love others, and it never comes with terms and conditions – that is really hard when we have been hurt. Although for many of us, there are relationships broken beyond repair in our lives, what we can do is offer that hurt and brokenness on God’s altar in repentance because that frees us and the other and leaves open the possibility of God working through all our hearts towards reconciliation. Amen