Year A Lent 5 WEDNESDAY, 29 March 2023
St. Paul’s Memorial Episcopal, Charlottesville, VA
Collect: Almighty God our heavenly Father, renew in us the gifts of your mercy; increase our faith, strengthen our hope, enlighten our understanding, widen our charity, and make us ready to serve you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment, and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council, and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”
Good evening. It is a pleasure to be back with you. My name is Rock Higgins, and I am the Rector at St. James the Less in Ashland, and I am also the Pilgrimage Lead for the Triangle of Hope. I have spoken here about that in the past. And I am so happy that St. Paul’s Memorial has three of our 13 pilgrims going to Liverpool this summer!
One of the key components of our work is Reconciliation. It is hard, uncomfortable, and life-changing work. The problem is that we have watered down what Reconciliation means.
Reconciliation is not just saying sorry. It is so much more than sorry.
Reconciliation is not tolerance. Putting up with someone, allowing them the opportunity to exist is not reconciliation.
Reconciliation is not giving acknowledgement of past sins.
It is all these things and SO MUCH MORE.
The root word of Reconciliation is fascinating. Re- means to do or have again. -con- means with or within. But then we get to -cilia. Latin from cilia, small hairs, literally eyelashes. So when we work toward reconciliation, the loose meaning is to again be friendly with another, but literally it means to again be within eyelash distance from one another. We are talking about being that close that we can see the eyelashes of, or even give butterfly kisses distance. We smell their breath and see their blemishes and they ours. It is about regaining an intimacy far beyond saying sorry. Far beyond tolerance. It means getting in close, where we cannot hide our faults.
The Triangle of Hope is about Reconciliation with partners doing the same work in Liverpool, England where their glorious cathedral is built on wealth made from enslaving God’s children. It is working with our siblings in Kumasi, Ghana, the capital of the Ashanti tribe, a mighty warrior tribe who captured their brothers and sisters and sold them to the British and others to be taken to foreign lands and never be seen again. The door at the Cape Coast Slave Castle in Ghana was called the Door of No Return.
As Romans says, “None are righteous, no not one.” [Romans 3:10] We all are complicit, Virginia, Liverpool, and Kumasi, and we all have the work of Reconciliation to do with each other and with our heritage of enslaving God’s children in the horrible practices of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
But I started with the very hard passage from the Sermon on the Mount because Jesus calls us to be proactive in Reconciliation. First he starts with our hearts, and one of the big Ten (Commandments) that we should not murder, but he goes beyond that. Not murdering is the bare minimum. If my kid came home from school and said, “Hey Dad, I did well today. I did not murder anyone! You should be proud!” I would be more worried than proud, I would expect nothing less.
But then Jesus gets to the seed that leads to murder, our belittling and “other-ing” of others calling them names and making them feel inferior, shamed, or judged. Jesus says we doom ourselves if we start down that path. God help us all! It is so much more that we all do.
I will think of the things I say when someone cuts me off in traffic. I think of the things I think when someone differs with me politically or takes a stand on a social issue. I can disagree with them, but when I make them “Other” I begin that slippery slope that Jesus warned us against.
I know for me, the canary in the coalmine, my early warning system in dealing with other people is when I begin to stop giving them the benefit of the doubt. When I notice that I double check and second guess someone, it is time for me to pay attention to that relationship. Now it may be well-deserved, but instead of dismissing them maybe I can help them be and do better. We are called to be as innocent as doves and as wise as serpents, so Jesus does not want us to be chumps. But maybe we can help people grow from where they are instead of saying that that is just Joe being Joe. That is that slippery slope again.
Don’t dismiss and “other” people, but then Jesus goes even further. “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” God prioritizes our relationships. If someone has something against us, it is up to us to seek reconciliation! They are holding the grudge, and we seek to clean the air. God says it is even more important to do that work than anything we can give at the altar.
As I John teaches: “Those who say, “I love God,” and hate a brother or sister are liars, for those who do not love a brother or sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” (4:20-21)
How do we show we love God? It is in how we love each other, even those who hate us, hold grudges against us, and maybe even find it impossible to forgive us. We seek amends and may that lead to “again being within eyelash distance of one another.” Or, rather, to be Reconciled. May God make it so in our lives. Amen