5th Lenten Service, 2015
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 5:23-24 Sermon
March 18, 2015 


TEXT:  [Jesus said] "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."

            I have had conflict issues with other people in my life at varying times, which should come as no surprise to you.  It's a part of life and one of the many consequences we experience from living in a sinful world.

            There are many experiences that have happened to me; some are serious, some are trivial, and some are embarrassing not only to me but embarrassing to the other party as well.  However, there is one personal situation I can share with you at least in general terms that doesn't involve anybody you would know or anybody connected with our respective congregations.

            It was an incredibly hot day and I was on duty as a chaplain.  I was wearing a very hot polyester uniform.  I don't handle the heat well, mostly due to my suffering from COPD, which was now further exacerbated by having to wear clothing that did not provide for proper ventilation.

            Suffice it to say that my physical activity was very limited that day.  I spent a lot of time in a chair attempting to keep cool and trying to keep from succumbing to heat exhaustion.

            One individual was rather perturbed that I wasn't working hard enough. Without saying anything to me, or asking any questions or taking the time to check his facts, he went over my head and filed a complaint with someone else.  It took about a week for everything to filter back down to me.  I wound up having to attend a special meeting with several other individuals just to deal with this.

            In my estimation, this was absolutely ridiculous.  All it would have taken to resolve this was for him to come to me and express his concern.  I think things could have been very easily resolved once he had his facts straight. 

            But instead of talking to me personally, he chose to involve several others.  These people then had to each take time away from their other obligations to organize this meeting with me.  It was a lot of bother and expense, which resulted in complicating what otherwise would have been a very simple and trivial issue.

            The ironic part of this, is that several times during that meeting, I was informed how dedicated of a Christian the man is who made the complaint!  I think his Bible must be missing some pages.  He has yet to come to me in person; in fact, due to confidentiality issues, I still don't know who the individual is, so I can't even approach him directly.  And that's where it sits as of right now.

            One of the classic stories in the Bible is about King David and his compound sins.  Bathsheba was the wife of a soldier in David's army, Uriah the Hittite.  Despite the fact that David has multiple wives, he entices her and commits adultery with her.  She becomes pregnant.  Then David conspires to make Uriah think the child is his when comes back on furlough.  And when that doesn't work, David arranges to have Uriah killed.

            God was certainly not pleased with what David did.  So he sends Nathan to confront him with his sin.  And that could not have been an easy task.  Here's Nathan, seemingly a rather insignificant individual, and he's before the King himself.  So, literally shaking in his sandals, he levels the charge God has made.

            Personally, I absolutely hate conflict.  I hate it, and I make no bones about saying this.  I know there are people who thrive on conflict; and how they can be this way is a complete mystery to me.  I'm certainly not one of them.  And far too often, you'll find me on the path of least resistance, even at those times when I shouldn't be there.

            But then there are other times too where I speak my mind.  I have this tendency to speak to others the same way they speak to me.  Sometimes this works, but can get me into trouble too.  I try to be diplomatic, but diplomacy is a difficult thing to master, and I'm still learning.

            Finally, there is silence, where I will simply listen without saying anything, or completely ignore something I shouldn't ignore.  And that can be just as bad.

            But you know what?  I'm a human being, and I'm living in the same sinful world as everybody else is.  I think it's safe to say that you all have experienced some, if not all of these things in your own lives as well.  So what do we do?

            If we look at our text for today, Matthew records these instructions from Jesus:  "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."

            This speaks to the attitude of a person's heart.  If we are holding a grudge against someone, it's something we have to deal with.  We can't hang on to it and at the same time try to give a huge offering to try to buy God off. 

            Peter brings this home when he upbraids Simon the Sorcerer in Acts chapter 8, verses 20-23:  “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!   You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God.  Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you; for I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.”

            As Christians, we need to be genuine as we deal with others in a manner that befits the faith we profess.  What is the attitude of our hearts?  Are we mired in the gall of bitterness and held captive in the bond of iniquity?  I have often said that just because somebody doesn't act like a Christian to us, does not give us the right to not act like a Christian to them.  We cannot justify vengeance on our part in any way.

            I'm reasonably sure most of you realize that during Lent this year, we are doing a structured sermon series on reconciliation.  The resource materials we are using give us a theme, some suggested Scripture passages, and a brief explanation to get us heading in the right direction so it all meshes together.  The theme this week is "Go and Be Reconciled."  Allow me to quote the explanation, which is just this one sentence:  "Instead of accepting premature compromise or allowing relationships to wither, we will actively pursue genuine peace and reconciliation—forgiving others as God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven us, and seeking just and mutually beneficial solutions to our differences."  I don't think I could say it any better than that.           

            Paul writes in Ephesians chapter 4 verses 1-3:  "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."       

            We can see just how flat we've fallen here.  I know that I've made a miserable mess of things in this regard more times than I would like to admit.  But when we look at someone like King David, who committed adultery and then committed murder to attempt to cover it up, is also the very same person the Bible calls a man after God's own heart.  Listen to the first four verses of Psalm 130:  "Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord.  Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.  If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?  But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared."

            From the depths of despair, David knows that God has the power to forgive.  And much more than that, he doesn't keep a record of those old sins, so he won't keep haunting us with them.  In Psalm 103, we're even told that those sins have not only been forgiven, but they have been completely removed from us as far as the east is from the west.  And as we focus upon the cross this Lent, we once again hear those words Jesus speaks from the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

            As a Pastor, King David serves as a great example for me.  It's comforting for me to know that through my faith in Jesus, God forgives me, irrespective of how badly I have messed things up.  This is the Gospel message for me, and it is the very same message I share with you.  The "back-and-forth" confession and absolution we have been doing during Lent this year is something I have never experienced before, but I really like it.  The pastor and congregation are sinful human beings who are redeemed by Christ on the cross.  The forgiveness that is ours is also the forgiveness that has to be put into practice with each other.

            Every time we pray the Lord's Prayer, we ask God to forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.  By so doing, we pray that God would give us the strength to forgive others in the same way he has forgiven us.  It's impossible for us to do this under our own power; but with God's help, all things are possible.

            Today, I'm going to close with a hymn verse from the old hymnal that didn't make it into the new one, but it's one for us to keep in mind anyway:  "Help me speak what's right and good, and keep silence on occasion; help me pray, Lord, as I should, help me bear my tribulation.  Help me die and let my spirit, everlasting life inherit." (TLH 411:7).