September 30, 2018: 19th Sunday of Trinity

Let us pray: Dear Savior, Your Church runs on Godly forgiveness. Likewise, our lives are to do the same. So, when something interferes with that construct between fellow believers, it is vital that it be rectified as soon as possible. Otherwise, true healing cannot occur. Today teach us anew the importance of that truth and cause all of us to put it into weekly practice. Amen
TEXT: Matthew 5: 23-25a: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother, then come and offer your gift. Settle matters quickly with your adversary….”
Dearly Beloved By Christ:
A couple of weeks ago I was attending our synod’s bishop’s conference. Our discussion was about spiritual preparation before communion. I asked: “How many of you have preached directly on the lesson before us today?” I didn’t see any raised hands. So, I concluded that some Sunday I would preach on this issue. Today is that day.
Our text comes from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. In it He gives a host of practical advice to believers as to how to order their lives so that they can literally be: “sweet smelling incense to God.” Hopefully, your Pastor instructed you in confirmation class about the importance of preparing your heart before communion in order to receive Christ’s body and blood for maximum benefit. Our lesson is a prime example of what to do to make this happen.
Good Lutherans, like the sainted Pastor Schulz who confirmed me, have used Christ’s words as a blueprint for helping us commune rightly. The old catechism I was raised on had this passage included under such a heading. The image is of a parishioner who is making a public confession of Christ and also offering God a public gift. But then, a sin in some form comes to mind, so the parishioner leaves the gift at the altar. He goes and deals with what’s weighing on his mind, removing it, to show that nothing stands in the way of that gift—nothing blocks or sullies its heartfelt value. In short, all sins need to be repented of and cleansed before offering a gift to God otherwise that gift is tainted. Now, the ultimate gift we offer to God each week at worship is our hearts. That means we need to actively seek to cleanse our hearts from all sin via confession and absolution. We also need to bring forth fruits of repentance as part of our offering to God. Recall Paul’s words that “our bodies are temples of the Holy Ghost.”
So, if you have wronged another, or negatively impacted their faith by something you did or said and it weighs a bit on your mind, before communing you should seek to rectify the situation. Christ here goes so far as to say: “Leave your gift before the altar” and go and fix the situation first. In other words, skip the Holy Supper until you talk to your fellow believer and repentance and forgiveness has healed both your consciences. I’ll admit that it’s hard to swallow your pride and do so. It’s easy to rationalize such life disruptions and say: “Well, I asked God to forgive me, so He has and that’s the end of it.” It may appear so to you from your viewpoint, but what about the other soul involved? How has it hurt them? What is it doing to undermine their faith? You are your brother, or sister’s, keeper. And if you don’t go the extra mile to help them when it may well be your fault, well, is that true repentance or a sham?
The recently sainted former president of our synod, the Rev. George Orvick, was a good theologian and a practical Pastor. Once, at a General Pastor’s Conference, a young Pastor submitted a question about how to handle secret sins in the church among his people. Pres. Orvick uttered a great piece of advice! “The Pastor should not play detective with his people. Enough problems will naturally come to your door without you going out and trying to find them!” How true. So, I don’t try to play detective with any of you.
That being said, I know that unchristian behavior goes on. I know that all of you are weak at various times. I know that Christians have sex outside of marriage, that Christians get drunk, that they say abusive things, that gambling addiction afflicts them, too; that family squabbles can cause deep-seated division, and that marital discord can and does block faith. I know everyone is guilty of sins of commission and also those overlooked sins of omission. So, when one party catches another in an outright lie and both are believers, hypocrisy rears its ugly head. Then, when they blissfully go ahead and commune without addressing it, the hurting soul or souls begin to question both their faith and God’s goodness. All this is background to Christ’s words in our lesson.
I’ve never had a member come to me about this issue directly, but I believe I’ve witnessed it a few times. Many years ago I had a faithful member who skipped communing one Sunday. It was totally out of character for her. She didn’t appear to have a cold or to be sick in any way. She wasn’t under any church discipline. Her track record on communing was literally every Sunday. Why did she skip that week? I didn’t play detective. But I knew that there was extended family discord that she was privy to. I knew she disagreed with hard words that were being said among siblings. So, to this day, I believe she wanted to try to rectify that before she communed. I knew the Pastor who confirmed her. I knew he would have taught her the truth of our text. Apparently, she took it to heart before communion time came around again.
Such confession is good for the soul. It’s liberating to a troubled conscience. It’s why Jesus includes this little bit of Godly advice in the Bible. For even if you have done nothing wrong that your conscience convicts you of, what about the other person involved? Putting a roadblock in the Christian highway of another person isn’t pleasing to God. So, do you want to give God a dirt-stained offering of faith, or a cleansed one?
Jesus died on the cross for all our sins—even those of hurting another and overlooking that fact. John writes: “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin.” But when we ask our Savior to truly bless us, isn’t it just plain honesty to try our best to reconcile with those we have also hurt? Isn’t ignoring that truth tantamount to cheapening God’s grace?
So, today I’ve preached directly on this issue for the first time in 34 years! I trust it will deepen your faith, understanding and appreciation of both Godly forgiveness and Godly worship. Finally, in view of God’s mercy extended to each of you, heed Jesus’ words! “Settle such matters quickly” so that God’s grace can actively preserve your soul without hindrance. Amen