There are some tough teachings in the Bible but none would be as challenging as the one Jesus has placed before us today.
Jesus says: if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment;
Anger is all around us these days.
There seems to be so much to get angry about that even the smallest thing going wrong can see us explode with anger.
Anger can make us do and say things we normally would not say or do – and often it’s to those whom we love most.
We have anger stored up in us throughout the day that we hold in and then we get home and the smallest infraction sees us taking all that anger out on our loved ones.
Storing up anger does not get rid of the anger but can make it fester and get worse.
St Paul sees anger as a source of sin – not sin itself – but anger that leads us to do hurtful things to others, especially our loved ones.
In Ephesians St Paul says – “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
Paul doesn’t say – do not get angry – which is a natural human inclination to an injustice.
Paul says in your anger do not sin.
Jesus also got angry but it was how he used that anger to bring about justice.
Jesus was angry when the Pharisees criticised a sick person for looking for healing from Jesus on the Sabbath.
But Jesus didn’t respond against the Pharisees in his anger but healed the sick man.
Paul say that the devil is particularly active during our times of anger and he sees it as a foothold into using our anger and emotions to hurt others and breakdown relationships.
So Jesus knows about anger and to deal with this situation Jesus says, like Paul, to deal with anger immediately and not to let it fester: He says:
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.
Like Paul, Jesus says – deal with it immediately.
Conflict and anger becomes like a festering wound that infects others around us like a virus.
And we see that in families where anger affects not just the person who is angry but everyone around them.
We see that in the church when anger enters that it affects the entire mission and ministry of the church.
We don’t really need reminding that anger over the last Synod continues to affect the mission and ministry as it consumes all our energy and focus.
As Christians we are urged to lead the world in dealing with anger through reconciliation.
As Jesus said in our text – leave your gift – God doesn’t need your gift – he needs you to be reconciled.
Leave your gift at the altar – FIRST be reconciled.
Reconciliation is at the heart of Christian mission and ministry.
In 2nd Corinthians St Paul says -If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
And he goes on to say: We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.
God desires for us to live in relationship with him and with one another.
The nature of God is one of relationship as we worship God who is one God in three persons.
The strength of the Trinity is Unity – hence we refer to God as our Triune God – the Three in Unity.
Sadly society today struggles with reconciliation; it doesn’t have strong examples.
One only has to watch our political divide.
Social media allows us to so easily de-friend someone if we get into a dispute with them and avoid confronting our anger with them.
How do we find common ground in the midst of our differences?
Jesus came to this world to reconcile us with God.
But in that reconciliation we discover that reconciliation goes through pain and sacrifice.
God experienced pain in his reconciliation with us.
Reconciliation requires us to make the first move as we saw in Jesus teaching where the one offering the gift at the altar was told to leave the offering and go and be reconciled.
So too God made the first move for our reconciliation.
It was while we were yet sinners that Christ died for us.
We see in the parable of the Prodigal Son – a story of reconciliation between a father and son.
While the son is on his way home to reconcile with his father it is his father who was wronged against who rushes out to forgive him.
Meanwhile his older brother cannot accept either his brother’s return or his father’s reconciliation with him and his anger sees him furious and refusing to join in the celebrations which not only affected him but his father and all those celebrating.
And that’s what festering anger does – it saps all joy out of ourselves and all those in our life.
It’s really hard to make the first move in reconciliation but the longer we delay the harder it is to reconcile and the more hurt we experience.
Jesus exampled the pain of reconciliation when from the cross he asked his Father to forgive his executioners.
Forgive them Father for they know not what they are doing.
The pain Jesus experienced was both physical – the nails pounded into his hands and feet.
But it was also spiritual as he feels abandoned by God – My God, my God – why have you forsaken me?
The pain of reconciliation, as we see in Jesus’ request to his Father, is foregoing human justice.
The human need of eye for an eye.
But Jesus, when teaching on human justice says – you have heard it taught “eye for an eye” but Jesus says when someone strikes you on the cheek, turn and offer the other cheek.
Our human instinct for justice is to strike back.
But striking back never achieves reconciliation – it creates more and prolonged hurt.
Reconciliation takes the hurt and seeks a way to find forgiveness and renewal and to stop the hurt.
Anger keeps the hurt going and growing.
God could have struck back when we crucified his Son – but he chose to reconcile us to himself through Jesus.
God had previously struck back when he sent a flood to destroy all life because he had regretted creating human beings.
But his love prevented him from doing so and now the water that was once sent to destroy is now sent to save us as the waters of our baptism washes away our sin and reconciles us to God.
Reconciliation is a precious gift from God.
It’s not easy – it is the hardest thing we have to confront sometimes.
To forego our human inclination to hold a grudge – to seek retribution – to live with the pain of being hurt.
But grudges and retribution do not heal hurts.
They can masquerade it and bury it deep down where we think it is doing us no harm.
But in reality only forgiveness – giving and accepting – and seeking reconciliation can heal.
And as Christians, knowing that God himself exampled reconciliation when it was us who needed to act first, shows us the true blessings that come from leaving everything and going to be reconciled with our brother or sister.
And it is in that reconciliation where we discover the peace of God that goes beyond all understanding.