Scripture: Matthew 5:21-37
Jesus said, "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. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.
"It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
"Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.' But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be 'Yes, Yes' or 'No, No'; anything more than this comes from the evil one."
Reconciliation is a topic on many of our minds. A fancy word that we hear in the church, but it has the very basic meaning of making peace with one another. Making peace with one another. To reconcile with one another. It often needs to happen on an individual basis for us to find peace in our own heart. Today, we hear this idea from Jesus that on our way to court we should reconcile with our brother or sister.
In seminary, I had a fabulous experience at Drew Theological School, a very diverse school. It's Methodist, and yet the faculty and students are from many different backgrounds and many denominations. And so, my experience there was quite wonderful. There were many other female students, female professors, again all the diversity that you might imagine. So, I was a little shocked when I had an experience in a small class, a preaching class, of anger - also brought up in our gospel passage. Anger towards a classmate because of how I felt he was behaving in the class. We'll call him Ben. And in the class context, both in the regular class and also in the online forum that we were required to participate in, he made general remarks about women and specific ones. At least one in my direction. Somehow, I think the word devil was involved. Whatever it was, it shocked me to my core - it was the total opposite of what my experiences had been and continued to be at Drew.
I found myself in class getting more and more angry. Of course, this is a once a week three-hour class. And any time this person spoke up I was on guard and already angry about what he might say. I did tell my professors, there were two professors in the class, about what had happened. But I said I was going to address it with Ben. Because we're all adults and I thought it was much more appropriate and more effective to speak with Ben directly. So, one day after class I approached him in the hallway. Generally, a public space. And I was really intent on not putting him on the defensive. Because I didn't know where these comments were coming from, and I didn't really feel they were directed at me. And so, I tried to use my "I statements" and share what I was experiencing and he quickly realized I had something serious to bring up. And so, he suggested we go into an empty classroom and actually have a conversation about it.
The conversation - in part because I was so concerned to speak in "I statements" saying how I felt but also aware that he needed to share how he felt - went incredibly well. It was one of the best experiences I had amid my really wonderful experience of seminary. Because he was open to sharing with me that he felt vulnerable in the classroom. He felt that he was offering a minority viewpoint and that people weren't going to respect him each time that he said anything. And I really had had no idea that this was his experience. And so, it was an opportunity for me to share how I felt and for him to apologize. And for me, on behalf of the class, to apologize that he was experiencing an environment in which he didn't feel safe and he felt on edge when he came into class. He admitted that some of his comments were really coming from that place. It was a really wonderful experience - this conversation - and it wasn't short lived. It wasn't just in that moment, but we continued to be good classmates and friendly towards one another because we had both willingly entered that space of reconciliation. We were both willing to listen to each other in that space and it didn't matter whether or not we fully the other's perspective. The ability to listen, to offer reconciliation, to offer compassion to the other person, and to be apologetic about what had happened allowed us to go forward in an entirely different way as we operated as classmates. I remained happy to see him in the hallway and in class rather than angry as I was earlier.
The subject of reconciliation which we are called to as Christians can be hard in part because it's often simplified, as Christians we are called to automatically forgive someone else. But in using the term reconciliation or reconcile Matthew is inviting us into a very different place. One that is a journey and a process and not simple. And sometimes we look at our lives and we realize that the person with whom we need to reconcile is not somebody with whom we should interact, it's an abusive situation, for example. That's true. Yet, when I met with my spiritual director on Friday, she reminded me that people whom we've had hard communication, and hard relationships, even if they've died or they're at a distance and we're no longer in relationship with them, their energy still exists within us. Maybe we're not aware of it all the time, but when we experience something that touches on that pain or hurt we recognize how much their energy exists in us and can sometimes harm or hold us back from being our authentic selves and being reconciled to one another and restored in our relationship in God as well. She encouraged me to find that space to be in communication and to reconcile with those people in my life - in the communion of all the saints in heaven and on earth - whose harm continues to live in me. She encouraged me to be in dialogue with them in my imagination and welcomed me to include a supportive person as I imagine this conversation.
So, I thought this morning I would offer a guided meditation. We did one over the summer as well. This one is specifically on the text on reconciliation from Matthew. There's often more than one person we want to be reconciled with, but I invite you as you do this meditation to think of someone specific. And it doesn't need to be the most challenging person you need to reconcile with, it could be someone who is more situational like my story of Ben. I invite you to use this time to consider who this person is for you. Again, this person may be a part of your regular life, your daily life, it may be a person from your past, or a person who is no longer with us physically but still their energy resides in you as it does in me.
If you aren't familiar with guided meditation, know that you're welcome to close your eyes or focus on a fixed point. Don't worry about getting it right, whatever happens is fine. If there's something that's blocking you feel free to make a change in your own mind to what I'm saying or invite somebody in to help the process.
The Gift of Reconciliation, Meditation 8
Take a few deep breaths to relax and center in. . . . Now get a sense of yourself being at a beautiful temple or sacred place. . . . Notice the structure, colors, fragrances, and people who are there. . . . Allow yourself to absorb the beauty, the dignity, the sense of majesty. . . . Now become aware that you have a gift in your hand. . . . Walk up toward the altar and place the gift on the altar. While you are there, standing or kneeling, consider whether there is anyone who has something against you. . . . Become aware of that unfinished business, whatever it may be. . . . Now walk back down the aisle of the temple or sacred place to go to that person with whom you do not have peace. . . .
Encounter that person and communicate in whatever way is most effective. . . . If needed, you can always ask for assistance in order to communicate. . . . Let yourself interact. . . .
When you feel ready, return to the sacred place or temple and go up to the altar. . . . Again reflect to see if there is anyone with whom you have unfinished business. . . . If so, go out again, find that person, and communicate with him or her. . . . Again return to the temple and go up to the altar. Once more become aware of majesty within this place and the sense of cleansing reconciliation. Sense God's all-pervading love moving through you. Now offer the gift you had placed at the altar and experience its being accepted. When you feel ready, move out of the temple and into your daily life. . . . Open your eyes.
The author of this book on guided meditations on Scripture calls them imagery prayer. It's really a wonderful way of being with God, and even a specific intention. You can do this meditation repeatedly before you feel comfortable speaking with the person, or at least feeling like you have in fact reconciled yourself and moved through the unfinished business. The work of reconciliation is so hard to choose to do. But it's a significant part of our call, in order that we be restored to our deepest selves, restored to God, and restored to one another. I hope you've had a chance to take one step on this journey today. Amen.
Excerpted from Opening to God: Guide Imagery Meditation on Scripture by Carolyn Stahl Bohler. Copyright 1996, pp. 74-75. Used by permission of Upper Room Books.