Sermon: The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany (A) – 16th February 2014 – Jane Chapman

St Alban’s Anglican Church Epping 7am, 8am and 10am

Readings: Deut: 10. 12-22; Psalm 119: 1-18; 1 Corinthians: 3: 1-9; Matt: 5: 21-27

“Go and first be reconciled to your brother

or sister and then come and offer your gift”.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of

the Holy Spirit, Amen.

All of today’s readings have something to say to us about how we do relationship: with God, with each other and with ourselves.  The Old Testament reading has that lovely image where it bids us to: “circumcise the foreskin of your heart”;  i.e. to prepare ourselves for a life made ready to be lived in the image of the God who made us.  Circumcision is the preparatory ritual to a life lived within the compass off God’s love: to walk in God’s ways; to learn of the heart of God; and to live both in concert and communion  with the One who is all love and all-loving.

The psalm assures us that ‘walking in’ God’s way is the process of keeping us within the boundaries of love.  In Corinthians, Paul assures us that growth  in relationship and life,  is also growth in God:  we do not have to construct our own growth in this relationship: Paul and Appollos have planted the seed , but it is God’s-self who holds the relationship together and will guide us in the way of love.

And so, we come in the Gospel to the part we have to play:

in response to God;

in response to each other; and

in response to ourselves.

As God’s creatures, we are invited into intimacy on each of these 3 fronts: God, other people and our own inner world.  But it is only an invitation…until we take it up and start to work with it, and in it.

Jesus reminds us today that we have a particular kind of relationship to be aware of and concentrate on:  And it is the kind of relationship that needs to be protected from rivalry and bitterness.  Thus, he bids us to repair relationship with each other, well before we approach God in acknowledgement and worship.  Indeed, Jesus wants us to go out of our way to reconcile with each other.  Only then, he implies, are we free to come before his Father’s throne.

And it’s not always easy to do that act of reparation.  God is often much easier to approach than someone who seriously gets up our nostrils.  God is reliable, merciful and ‘out-there’: no real threat.  Our “enemies” and “rivals” are dangerously and annoyingly close-by…and, of course we avoid them like the plague.  Who wouldn’t?

Well, Jesus wouldn’t…and it is the human Jesus as much as the divine Jesus who urges us into reconciliation.  ‘Reconciliation’ is an interesting word.  It comes from a word in Latin which means to “reunite with”: i.e. to reconcile is to become ‘one-with’, or, more specifically, to become ‘one-with’ again.

This command from Jesus is sometimes very difficult to respond to: all the more so if, in the process of splitting away from another person, we are – or believe ourselves to be – firmly “in the right”.  But Jesus does not deal in right and wrong: indeed, we would be in serious trouble if he did.  Jesus deals in love.

‘Love your enemies’, he says…and this applies to “neighbours” who become enemies in our minds through friction, disagreements or – most difficult of all – guilt within ourselves.  None of these things is comfortable to live with.

To live reconciled to Christ, we needs must be reconciled to and with each other…and to find the courage and the generosity to be reconciled with our brothers and sisters, we need first to be generous enough to become reconciled – more “at one with” –  ourselves.  The path to reconciliation is much more a matter of personal wholeness than it is a function of a begrudging movement towards someone who tees us off.

To put this hard commandment into practice, often I need to ask myself the question:

“What kind of person do I wish to experience myself to be?”

If I want to be hard-nosed -‘right’ all the time, I’m going to be extremely hard to live with.  Nobody but God is ‘right’ in that sense of the word.  If I want to be whole and happy – and that is the wish and the will of our heavenly Father – then ‘right’ makes no- never-minds.  It’s love that works: not always the emotion of loving but both the willingness and the decision to be loving: to be what the God who makes us in God’s image, dreams we are to be.  This – and only this – is the path to wholeness.

‘Love your neighbour’ is a tough call.  ‘Love yourself’ is a tougher one.  ‘Love God’ is seriously not a cliché:

We need to practice loving: it’s something that requires work.  God is our starting point.  Jesus is our sign-post to God.  Indeed: that is Jesus’ primary task: to make God accessible.  Once we truly know ourselves to be not only made in love, but always held in love, we can reach out for the Jesus who unites us with his Father and his Spirit.  Only then do love for neighbours and love for self begin to come easily.

It’s hard to appreciate how much work we may have to do to be loving. But it is a world’s-worth harder to live without love and a fundamental belief in the love for which God has fashioned each of us: including – indeed, especially including –  those we experience as enemies.