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 alter and go; first be reconciled to you brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.
“I want you to write down the name of someone who is currently driving you crazy.” That’s how I chose to begin a sermon more than a year ago. Each bulletin had a blank piece of paper inside, and after writing down the name I asked everyone to crumple it up and hold it in their hands until the end of the sermon.
The sermon was focused on Isaiah 6.1-8 and I talked about how Christians, for centuries, have been called by God to confront conflict. I said that to be faithful is to meet the outcasts where they are and show them love, that to be a disciple means a willingness to forgive people when they have done something wrong, and that to follow Jesus means having the courage to ask for forgiveness when we have done something wrong.
I concluded the sermon by asking everyone to look at the names crumpled up in their hands, and seriously consider making the first move to confront the conflict with that person. I warned everyone that it might not go well, and that it might blow up in our faces, but that the longer the conflict remains, the harder it would be to hear the living God speaking in our lives.
Like a lot of sermons, I preached it and hoped the people of St. John’s took the challenge seriously. Over the next few months I occasionally heard about what happened when certain individuals confronted the conflict in their lives, but a few people told me that it was too hard and they were too afraid to face the person whose name they wrote at the beginning of the sermon.
Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, takes the art of reconciliation very seriously: Before you bring a gift to the altar (before you place your tithe in the offering plate during worship) you need to leave; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come back to offer your gift.
I’ve often thought about what this would look like in the middle of a worship service: How would people respond if we told them to leave the church right then and there to be reconciled with the people they are quarreling with before giving their gifts to the church? Would any of them come back the next Sunday? Would anyone walk straight up to me because I’m the person they’re frustrated with?
It is easy to show up to church every week as if we have everything in our lives figured out and squared away, when the truth is that we are quarreling with people in our lives and that we don’t have everything figured out. Church, however, is the place where we learn what it means to be broken, and how God is working through us to put the pieces back together.
So, if we took Jesus’ words seriously, who would we need to reconcile with before we show up to church next Sunday?