Cultivating Forgiveness

March 31, 2019

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

You have probably heard this parable countless times over the years. I am sure there are just as many interpretations of this parable as there are preachers. Ok, that may be taking it a little far, but you get the point. Is this a story of greed, sloth, wastefulness, envy, anger? Yes! We can find all of that within the parable. Looking beyond that, the parable of the prodigal son can call us into ourselves to explore and discover where we may find ourselves in the story.

Do you see yourself as the prodigal that has all of a sudden came into a great fortune and are now looking for ways to go out and spend it? Or, do you see yourself as the older brother that appears to have come to the point where he despises his brother and is angry at his return? Maybe you see yourself as the father that welcomes the prodigal home with a loving embrace, the finest clothes, and a feast fit for royalty.

The father looks past the fact that in his culture his son shamed him when asking for his inheritance, already writing his father off as dead. The older son is disregarded by his father and feels that he has never had the same attention paid to him. When we encounter them upon the prodigal son’s return home, they are both outside of the house. They are both left searching for something and one of them finds it. Through it all, we are reminded of the grace that God is there to welcome us home.

It is possible, that you do not feel anything when hearing this parable. Maybe it does not resonate with you. What if we were to hear a modern version of this parable? Scott Higgins shares this modern day version:

Jenny grew up near Portland, Maine. In her early teenage years, she fell into a pattern of long running battles with her parents. They didn’t react too well when she came home with a nose ring. They were furious when she stayed out all night without so much as a phone call to tell them where she was. Her friends weren’t exactly her parent’s first choice.

One night Jenny and her folks have a huge fight. “I hate you!” she screams at her father as she slams the door to her bedroom. That night she acts on a plan that’s been forming for some time. Once everyone has gone to sleep, she gets dressed, packs a bag and goes into the kitchen. Opening the kitchen drawer, she rifles through her parent’s wallets. She takes the credit cards, the cash, and their bank book. She hops on a bus and heads for New York City. When she gets there, she waits on the doorstep of the Bank so she can be the first through the door. She forges her mother’s signature and withdraws $12500 her parents had in their investment account. She grabs a cab to the airport and uses the money to buy a ticket to Los Angeles, the last place she figures her parents will look for her.

She arrives in Los Angeles, and pretty soon she’s enjoying the high life – a new group of friends, plenty of booze, late nights, sleep all day, no school, no parent’s hassling her about a nose ring, let alone her experiments with sex and drugs. It doesn’t take long until the $12500’s gone and the credit cards have been cancelled.

Back home her parents are frantic. Her mom had to start stocking shelves at night to pay off the credit card debt, and the $12500 set aside for her sister’s university tuition is gone. The police are notified, the streets are searched – first Portland, and then the greater New England area. Her parents don’t know what’s happened. They fear the worst.

Meanwhile down on the streets of LA things aren’t going too well. Jenny’s soon addicted to heroin and the money she stole doesn’t go too far. She moves into a tiny apartment and starts selling herself for sex.

One day she’s walking down the street and sees a poster on the electrical pole. It’s headed “Have you seen this girl?” Below the heading is a photo of her – at least as she used to look. The poster’s got her parent’s phone number on it and asks for anyone with information to call. Jenny rips the poster down, folds it up and puts it into her pocket.

The months pass, then the years. Jenny’s been careless one time too many. At first, she writes off her sickness as just another bout of flu. But the illness persists. She goes to the free clinic to discover she’s contracted Hepatitis C and HIV. Nobody wants her now!

As she sits lonely, tired and hungry in the tiny apartment, she looks at the poster she’d rescued from that electrical pole and saved for the last few years. She thinks back to her previous life – as a typical schoolgirl in a middle-class suburban Portland family. It triggers memories of the famous family water fight one steaming summer day when she was 12; and of crazy moments dancing together; of her sister’s comforting arms when she broke up with David. “God, why did I leave?” she says to herself. “Even the family mutt lives a better life than I do.” She’s sobbing now and knows that more than anything she wants to go home.

Three straight phone calls, three connections with the answering machine. She hangs up without leaving a message the first two times, but the third time she says, “Mom, dad, it’s me. I was wondering about maybe coming home. I’m catching a flight to Portland. I’ll be at the airport about midnight tomorrow. If you’re not there, well I guess I’ll just stay in the airport until morning and then find some place to crash.”

The next day on the flight Jenny thinks about all the flaws in her plan. What if mom and dad were out and miss the message? And what are they going to do if they heard it anyway – after all, it’s been 10 years and they haven’t heard a word from me in all that time. How are they going to react when they discover I’m a junkie with AIDS? If they do show up what on earth am I going to say?…”

The flight lands at ten minutes past midnight. She hears the cabin pressure release as the door to the plane opens and she exits and heads toward the gate. “This is it. Oh well, get ready for nothing.”

Jenny steps out on to the concourse not knowing what to expect. She looks to her right and sees no one, but before she can look to her left, she hears someone call her name. Her head whips around and there’s her mom and dad and her sister and her aunts and uncles and cousins and grandmother. They’re holding a banner that reads “Welcome home”, and everyone’s wearing goofy party hats and throwing streamers and popping party poppers, and there’s her mom and dad running towards her, tears streaming down their face, arms held wide. Jenny can’t move. Her parent’s grab her with such force it almost knocks her over.

“Dad, I’m sorry. I know…”

“Hush child. Forget the apologies. All we care about is that you are home. I just want to hold you. Come on, everyone’s waiting – we’ve got a big party organized at home.” And Jenny finds herself awash in a sea of family and love that she has not known for over 10 years.[1]

Today we find ourselves in the fourth Sunday of Lent. This season of Lent, we have been talking about those things in our lives that we want to let go of so that we can begin to foster a deeper relationship with God. By letting go, we begin to cultivate areas in our lives that essentially lead to new life. A new life in Jesus Christ.

The answers for what are you going to let go and what are you going to cultivate are not a one size fits all answer. We are each on a different part of our faith journey. Some of us may even feel like we are on a different path completely. Don’t lose hope in this. No matter where we are at in our faith journey, God is present. God is present when we are greedy and want to walk off into the distance. God is present when we are wasteful and find ourselves wallowing in the mud. God is present in our anger and envy and even when we go as far to seek vengeance.

More importantly, God is present to welcome us home. This Lenten season is all about repentance, or letting go, and returning to God. May you feel the warming embrace of Christ these next few weeks as we walk towards the cross with Jesus and be prepared to encounter his suffering. For in his suffering, death is conquered, resurrection triumphs and we all will find new life.

Let us pray. Welcoming God, we are so quick at times to turn others away and not give them the time of day. May we learn from you what it means to open our hearts to all and proclaim your gospel message. Amen.  


[1] Source: A fictional story by Scott Higgins modelled on a similar story in Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace and paralleling the story of the prodigal son

Advertisements

God’s Promise of Forgiveness

forgiveness-696x395

March 18, 2018

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Every Master of Divinity student in the ELCA is required to take CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education). Usually this occurs after your first year of seminary. During CPE you become a chaplain, usually in a hospital setting, and care for patients as they encounter various health related issues. I had the opportunity of completing CPE at The Ohio State University Medical Center.

CPE is just as much a part of learning who you are as it is practicing your pastoral skills with patients and residents. One thing that I learned during my ten weeks in the program was that I could stomach many things and was actually quite intrigued by the process of surgery. I was honored by having two different patients let me be in the surgery room while they underwent surgery. The second surgery that I observed was an open heart surgery. I was assigned to the open heart surgical floor and wanted to walk with a patient from the time they entered the hospital through their surgery. Standing in the surgery room, all I could think of was this lesson from Jeremiah, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Now, I realize that this is a very literal interpretation, however, it is the heart that gives us life, and to witness it working outside of the body is an awe-inspiring experience.

God makes a new covenant with the people of Israel, unlike one that they have seen. In this covenant, God will write the law on the people’s hearts and the people will know God and sin will be remembered no more.

There is much that comes before this passage from Jeremiah this morning. We have already heard of three, if not four, different covenants that God has made with the people of Israel during this time of Lent. From Genesis to our reading in Jeremiah this morning, they have spread over many generations and millennia.

We have learned how the people of Israel, from the time of Noah, Abraham, Moses, and now to Jeremiah, have done a poor job of keeping the covenants that God has made with them. They have sinned and have fallen short of the Glory of God. As Jeremiah speaks to the people of Israel, it is no surprise that the covenant God made with their ancestors had been broken. This “old” covenant projects a God that is all powerful and shows little vulnerability. As we have heard these past few weeks, the people of Israel feared God and they would rather deal directly with Moses or another go-between. Yet, sin enters the picture and they are all left wondering where God is in the midst of their own self-loathing and denials. When they think they have followed the covenant, they quite often fall short. The people have not followed the law of God as it was given to them over and over again.

We are fools to not think that this happens today. We have violated the law many times under our own doing. From the very beginning, humankind was given the great gift of creation to care for and protect. Quite often, we fall short of our calling to care for creation. Woody Bartlett encourages us to,

Consider ways that Western humans currently exploit the creation. We walk as if with hobnailed boots on the “fragile earth, our island home.” Through a rapaciously consuming lifestyle, we overuse the earth, leading to global warming, habitat destruction, species extinction, and the general fouling of our nests. We violate the law of God given in Genesis to “till the garden and keep it,” as we threaten to undo the law of God established with Noah and all of the creatures of the earth after the great flood. (Feasting on the Word, Year B Volume 2, 127)

We look beyond one another instead of looking at each other. We fail to listen to one another’s ideas because surely we have the right answer. We are great at this in the church. Did you know that there are over a dozen different Lutheran churches within the United States because at one point or another we disagreed on various issues. If the church cannot fix its own brokenness, how can we expect the world to repair itself. We carry these arguments beyond ourselves and pit our beliefs against those of other faith traditions. Instead of learning to live together and be in conversation we put up walls and segregate ourselves.

Fortunately, God knew what would happen if the people of Israel were left to their own devices. What started in the Garden of Eden carried down to the people of Israel. The sin that pervades the life of humanity is not easily vanished and it is because of this that we receive a “new” covenant from God in the passage from Jeremiah. This “new” covenant could be a precursor to Jesus Christ. In this “new” covenant, God is the grain that dies and bears fruit.

To have the law written on the hearts of the people meant different things for different people. The desire for God, is to be in relationship with all of creation. By having the law written in the hearts of the people, it creates a faithful community that is present for one another as they journey through life. It creates a community for a people that had been broken and lost their spirit while in exile. In the law that is written on their hearts, they get to know God in a deeper and more meaningful way. God has now allowed vulnerability into the equation as God not only gets to know the people, but the people get to know God. “for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” And what is even better yet, is that God, “will forgive their iniquity, and remember sin no more.”

This is a story that we witness ourselves in Jesus Christ. We get to know the law first, and through that we encounter Jesus Christ. This is the reason that Martin Luther sets up his Small Catechism in the order that he does. We encounter the law in the Ten Commandments and find grace in the Lord’s Prayer. The promise of forgiveness that comes to us in the word’s of Jeremiah, is one that speaks to our own baptisms and the forgiveness of sins that occurs in the water. The same forgiveness that we encounter time and time again in our weekly confession and forgiveness. The same forgiveness that washes over us in our repentance.

The covenant that is made to the people of Israel and the house of Judah is one that carries over to this day. For all of creation. It is a covenant that is fulfilled for us in Jesus Christ. It is a covenant that is written on our hearts from the very beginning to the end of the age. A deep knowing that is already present within us and is just waiting for us to be open to dwelling in it.

The covenants that God has made with the people of Israel can guide us today. The covenants are promises made to the people. In these promises the past five weeks, God has promised commitment in the midst of temptation. In uncertainty and times of challenges there is a promise of new life. God has promised to be with us in community to draw one another together. In the midst of that community we are also called to repentance to experience a promise of healing. All of this culminates in the days to comes as we begin to approach the cross and Holy Week. It is in the upcoming services that we have the opportunity to walk with God and to have God walk with us. To be open to a knowing and loving God that has written the law on our hearts. It is in our hearts that we experience the light of Christ and the truth that leads us to a resurrected life.

Let us pray. Forgiving God, we come to you this Lenten season to repent of those times we have turned away from you and failed to be bold in our faith. We give thanks for being in relationship with you and for your love that beats in our own hearts. As we continue on our path in this season of Lent, may we be guided by your light. Amen

The Lord’s Prayer

Praying-Hands-over-Bible

March 26, 2017

John 9:1-41

Did you know that you were a priest?

As we continue to look towards the 500th Commemoration of the of the Reformation, it is nice to have a reminder that each and every one of us is a priest within Christ’s church. This doctrine as Martin Luther presented it, is the Priesthood of All Believers. He argued that all who belong to Christ through faith, baptism, and the Gospel shared in the priesthood of Jesus Christ and belonged “truly to the spiritual estate”: “For whoever comes out of the water of baptism can boast that he is already a consecrated priest, bishop, and pope, although of course it is not seemly that just anybody shall exercise such office.” All baptized believers are called to be priests, Luther said, but not all are called to be pastors.[i]

If we are all priests, it would make sense that we can all pray. We do not need a special degree or anything of that matter. We do not have to be perfect, nor do we have to say just the right words. However, we don’t always think like that.

In seminary, while in a group for some reason or another, everyone would be quick to decline to pray. And that is what we were going to seminary for. We would play the game where everyone touches their nose and says, “not it.” Of course, the last one to do so would be the one that was stuck praying.

In my first call, during a meeting with a member of the synod staff with the leaders of my congregation, he asked someone to begin with prayer. Three or four fingers pointed at me as the pastor, and the comment was made, “that is what we called him for.” What is our aversion to prayer?

This morning we venture into The Lord’s Prayer. It is familiar to us. I have experienced it as one thing that people retain, even in the midst of dementia or Alzheimer’s. Timothy Wengert says, “Prayer is faith breathing, and its respiration is measured by the ‘amen,’ which for Luther could only mean, ‘Yes, yes, it is going to come about just like this.’”

We pray the same prayer that Jesus teaches his disciples. First in the gospel of Matthew, in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount. Again, in the gospel of Luke, as one of the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray as John taught his disciples. We too can follow the instructions of Jesus, when we don’t know what else to pray.

While we are convicted in the law of the Ten Commandments, the Creeds and The Lord’s prayer come to our aid. The gospel boldly shines through the words as Jesus teaches them, while still pointing to the fact that we are sinners nonetheless.

Martin Luther divided the Lord’s Prayer into seven petitions, in addition to an introduction and conclusion.

Our Father in heaven

The introduction opens up with who it is we are addressing. Pretty obvious! However, it has been a stumbling block for some people. For those that have issues with the language of Father or the patriarchal image. In The Shack, both the movie and the book, God takes the personification of a black woman, and at another time a man. God is much greater than what we can label. God is the great mystery, yet ever present. In that idea, we pray Our Father…

 

Hallowed be your name.

As we learned a couple of weeks ago, we are to fear and love God, so that we use God’s name in a right manor. In that righteousness, we keep it Holy. In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask for it to be Holy in and among us as well.

Your Kingdom Come.

Even without our prayer, God’s kingdom is going to come. In our prayer, we ask that it may also come to us, here on earth. In this, we are given God’s Holy Word, and the presence of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us. The kingdom, is not something that we have to work for, it is through the grace of God that we will fully be a part of it, here on earth.

Your will be done, on earth as in heaven.

God’s gracious and good will comes to us as every evil scheme is broken. We have the hope and promise of an eternal life that comes with none of the stressors and evil that we experience in our daily lives today. In the eternal life, we have the promise that all evil will be banished. It is that will of God, that we pray to come and be with us on earth, as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

What can’t we give thanks to God for? Everything comes to us through God, and we should be thankful for everything. From the food on our table, to the roof over our heads, to our families and our neighbors that make living into community a joyous thing. It is in everything we encounter that is made possible through God the creator. We are not to take anything for granted.

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

We enter into the final three petitions, after praying for our basic human needs, of the Word of God, faith, and the Holy Spirit. In these final petitions, we see an image of what it means to live into a Christian life. Not only do we seek repentance, especially in this time of Lent, but we also should be forgiving those that have sinned against us. That does not mean we forget, but to fully live into God, we must forgive.

Save us from the time of trial.

God will not, and does not put us to the test. God does not tempt us. That is the evil that resides within our broken world. We pray that God will continue to be with us and preserve us from the evil of the world. Unfortunately, we will encounter it in some way, and it is in our prayer that we ask for protection.

And deliver us from evil.

As we come to the seventh and final petition, Luther believed that this single petition could summarize the entirety of The Lord’s Prayer. It is not just the summary of the entire prayer, it can also be seen as a summary for our entire Christian life. As we journey in our earthly life, we are going to confront evil, and as we choose to follow Jesus and receive the grace of God, it is our hope that we will be delivered from evil.

As we embrace God’s Word in our lives and heed the calling of the Holy Spirit to guide and lead us, we develop our faith in the hope and promise of the life to come. The man born blind exhibits this faith as he proclaims his belief. In his proclamation, “Lord, I believe,” his faith can be witnessed and thus shared with others.  It is in our faith that we conclude, For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.

 

[i] The Priesthood of All Believers. First Things. https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2016/10/the-priesthood-of-all-believers

Living in the Mystery

fb-share-img

It has been quite a while since I read The Shack  by Wm. Paul Young. I recall being touched by it when I first read it, and was kind of excited to find out that it was being made into a movie.

I am not going to say that either the movie or the book is the answer to many theological questions. I do believe that it has the power to relate the Trinity to people in a way that they may be able to understand. Quite often we will try to equate the Trinity to different things in our lives that come in threes; such as ice, water, steam. These analogies quite often fall flat. How can we have relationship with ice, water, and steam, or any other analogy that we may make up in our mind.

The personification of the Trinity is wonderful, as God is portrayed as a woman mostly, and a man at one time. Jesus is a relatable loving character, and the Holy Spirit is represented by a woman that seems to radiate God’s love in all she does. Together, the great I Am.

The Shack takes us on a journey of whom God could be. Does it say that this truly is without a doubt who God is? No, it does not. One line in the movie from Papa (God), is “I am who you need me to be right now.” God is present with us in everything, and may just perhaps be with us in the form that we need most at the present time. If we need a little tough love, then God is there to give it. If we need to be loved unconditionally, then God is there with love that overflows.

The question of theodicy (why does God let bad things happen) is discussed, and within a right frame of mind. God does not allow the bad things to happen. We live in a world that is full of sin and evil happens whether we want it to or not. God is present with us and weeping with us the same time that we are.

Forgiveness is a major theme of the movie and book as Mack encounters the evils of his past as well as the evil of his present as he learns to live with the death of his youngest daughter. To forgive is Christian and if more people would learn to do so, the world would be a much better place. If we would not be so quick to react, and more patient to forgive, love would grow and the gospel would be proclaimed.

Be on the lookout for other themes in the movie as well. From resurrection, to baptism, and communion. Who wouldn’t want to sit around the table having a meal with the Trinity?

I believe that it is truly worth the two and a half hours to sit in the theater and watch this incredible movie. Better yet, invite some friends to join you so that you can have a great conversation afterwards.

Sinners in a Broken World

broken_world

March 5, 2017

Matthew 4:1-11

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

When was the last time that you encountered the devil? When was the last time that you encountered evil? While Jesus is tempted in the wilderness by the devil, putting God to the test, we too could probably reveal times in our lives that we were tested to turn away from God. The temptations that surround us on a daily basis vary. What may be tempting to one of us, is easily avoided by another. Regardless of the temptation, it can lead us astray and separate us from God.

This morning we begin our journey through the Sundays of Lent. For the next five weeks we will be getting to know Martin Luther a little better through the small catechism. For some of you, these questions are familiar:

What is this? or What does this mean?

For those that don’t, these are the questions that Luther asks as he walks through the chief parts of the catechism. Perhaps, he was motivated by his children walking around the house and asking what everything was. He was probably one of the first theologians to have children and help him shape the catechism as we know it today. The catechism, or the idea of it, can go back to the apostle Paul. In Galatians 6:6, he writes, “Those who are taught the word share in all good things with their teacher.” The catechism is simply a Christian instruction on how to live a life of faith. The catechism as we know it has three chief parts: The Ten Commandments, The Apostles Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. Within these parts, Luther moves from the law to the gospel, which I will explain shortly. It is in the catechism that sponsors and parents are asked to guide the newly baptized as they grow and Luther meant for this to be a helpful resource to use. If you were not aware, the Small Catechism is printed in the Red ELW in front of you, beginning on page 1160.

As we remember the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation this year, studying the small catechism is one way to do so. And as we study it, we can think about how we can reclaim the catechism for today.

We begin this morning with the Ten Commandments. The first chief part of the small catechism. The commandments are not anything new, as we first hear of them as they are given to the people of Israel in Exodus. It is in the giving of the commandments that Moses brings the law to the people. As I said earlier, Luther starts with the Law and works his way toward the gospel in the structure of the catechism. The law is simply what it sounds like. The chief function of the law is not to show us how to get into heaven, but to show us our sin. The Ten Commandments represents the law at work in the Old Testament. Rules for the people of Israel. It points towards the sin of humanity and calls it like it is.

Martin Luther viewed all of God’s commandments in light of the First Commandment, You shall have no other gods. His explanation, “We are to fear, love, and trust God above all things,” points towards a call to faith. It is in this faith that is the heart of the matter for all of the commandments. When we lose our faith, we are more easily tempted into committing sins against God and our fellow humanity.

We easily put other things before God. We put wealth, power, material possessions, and many other things before God at times.

How often do we make wrongful use of the name of the Lord?

Do we truly take time to rest on a Sabbath? A time to be with God, away from all other worries and truly experience the deep caring relationship that God wants with us.

I am sure that we all grew up perfect angels and never despised nor angered our parents. Have we truly honored them and respected them to the best of our ability?

I am going to assume that it is most likely that no one here has committed murder. However, have you wished harm upon someone else? Have you refused help to someone in need?

Have you ever lusted for someone that was not your spouse? Jesus tells us that we can commit sin even just by looking at someone with a deep desire.

Have you ever helped yourself to something that was not yours? Even as simple as an apple on a neighbor’s tree.

Have you ever spoken badly about someone? Have you ever gossiped?

Have you longed for a car as nice as the one your neighbor just got? How about anything else that the neighbor owns?

As you see, The Ten Commandments are the law that shows us our sins. Now that we have been overcome with the law, where are we to find God’s grace? That will not come until next week as we venture into the Creed.

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus is confronted with temptations that we would at many times have a hard time turning away from. Who doesn’t long to have their deep hunger fulfilled? The thought of being invincible is tempting in more ways than one. The thirst for power is what has driven many of the world’s empires.

While the Ten Commandments certainly show us our sins, the love of God is made abundantly clear in God’s son, Jesus Christ.

When faced with temptation, Jesus is an example for us to follow. It is in his example that we witness the grace of God. God is present in the Word to feed us when we are hungry and to quench our thirst. God is present in our worship and in our service.

As Jesus stood with the Devil in the wilderness and proved that he was stronger than him, we witness the power of God to resist temptation. This is the same Jesus that will be crucified for the sins of the world. The strength that he shows in the wilderness will be reflected upon the cross as he fulfills his purpose. In this we experience the saving grace of God and salvation that comes to us, sinners in a broken world. Amen.

Be Reconciled

be-reconciled-2

February 12, 2017

Matthew 5:21-37

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

I don’t know about you, but if there was any other day that I really wanted to focus on another text, it would be today! Luckily, there are two other lessons that have been read, as well as the Psalm. While there is plenty of valuable insights to mine from Paul’s letter and Deuteronomy, I also realize that I am stubborn and know that my aversion to today’s Gospel, means that we should probably sit with it for a little while longer and see what good news it has to say to us.

Much of the gospel lesson seems to be strict instruction from Jesus, even a clarification per se of the Ten Commandments as Moses gave them to the people of Israel. While it was easy to look at the Ten Commandments and follow them, Jesus’ clarification seems to tighten the law a little more. Personally, I am left wondering, how can we expect to live up to this teaching of Jesus in our sin and brokenness.

Let us remember that the Ten Commandments were given to the people as a gift. We can all appreciate the rules and laws within our own lives that we have to follow. This is what a loving parent does for her children. She sets out rules and guidelines, certain expectations, to live by. In these rules, we are able to live into relationship with one another. By being in relationship with one another, we experience the inbreaking of the kingdom of God.

Let’s be honest though. It is not easy to be in relationship all of the time. We each have our own characteristics and personalities. We each have our own little quirks that can irritate the pet peeves of others. Yet, despite this, we need each other. We need to be connected with one another so that we can accomplish wonderful things and make a difference in the community around us. While many of us insist that we are very independent people and do not need anyone’s help, there is still a strong sense of dependency that is part of our beings that require us to work and live together.

In the midst of Jesus’ words concerning anger, adultery, divorce, and making oaths, we find a call to reach out to one another. We are called to reach out to one another in mutual respect and love, so that we may be reconciled to one another. Within this reconciliation, we must first honor the need for forgiveness. Not just an empty forgiveness, a forgiveness that brings us back into right relationship with one another. A forgiveness that welcomes God in so that we can move forward in faith.  This forgiveness is the first step towards reconciliation. In Jesus, God is revealed for us and in this we can see God’s desire to be reconciled with all people. As we work towards reconciliation, we are living into God’s intent for humanity, living into loving relationship with one another.

Sometimes we wonder why we do certain things as Lutherans. We wonder why our worship service takes on the shape that it does. We wonder about the various aspects and parts of worship. Each part has a biblical and liturgical component to it. We practice forgiveness and reconciliation every week during our worship service. Were you aware of this?

Every week after our prayers of the people, the peace of Jesus Christ is shared. It is in this sharing of the peace that we have the opportunity to seek out those that we have harmed, or those that have hurt us, and begin our steps to reconciling. We reach out our hand and offer the peace of God. It could be for those things that we know we have done, those things that we are not aware of, or those things that we have left undone. The sharing of the peace is not meant as a time to catch up on the past week. It is a time to be in relationship with one another, reaching out and sharing the peace, just as Jesus would have shared it with his disciples and everyone that he encountered. In that peace is the foundation of our reconciliation with each other and ultimately with God.

It is fitting that we do this before we come to the altar, because at the altar we are all equals. At one time in England, there was a movement to return to the church. It was known as the Oxford Movement. One member of the movement was quoted as saying, “The Holy Eucharist is the only truly democratic moment in life when we are willing to come together to the altar, offer ourselves completely, and receive in return all that we need, not just to survive, but to live, then we have experienced something remarkably different and essential.”

There is no greater time for us to come together and be reconciled with one another. As we do so in the church, let us pray that our message of love and hope spread beyond our communities. In Jesus’ message in Matthew’s gospel, we are reminded that he did not come to abolish the law and prophets, but to fulfill the law. Through him we are witness to the grace of God that is for all people throughout the world.

As you leave here this morning, who is it that you are called to forgive and be reconciled? May all of our single steps of reconciliation lead to the reconciliation of the world.