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.
As a child, one of the most horrible memories I have is being in a nursery or PreK class where the threat for any misdemeanor was being placed in a bag and rolled down a steep hill. I had a big uncle who loved that punishment. Although Uncle Jim was the kindest and gentlest of men, in the eyes of a five-year-old child he was a fearsome giant. One time he lifted me high and decided it was my turn to go into the proverbial bag. What a horrible fear and a memory that lasted for a lifetime. In the end, I assisted in the burial of Uncle Jim and listened to all the accolades about him and the wonderful life he led. But he haunted me for a long time.
Mathew, somehow, is the Biblical reporter who likes to tell a story with all the gory details; constantly sharing the most extreme of circumstances in order to make a point. Mathew is the guy who wants to get his story across but must do it in a way that seems forceful or embellished. In other words, he is no different than we are. When we want people to support our view or get our point, we often resort to the extreme in providing the true but slightly exaggerated details. Thus, in the gospel teachings for today, not only are we all in peril of breaking all the set rules, we are also at risk of losing out on heaven as well. The Jesus in Mathew seems to lose his tenderness and compassion. Mathew is like Uncle Jim! However, before we turn away like those who found the teachings of Jesus too harsh, (John 6:64-66) we are compelled to look a little deeper; for Mathew may not be the eternal snob, but really the overbearing big brother who is scared for us and really wants us to do well.
My friends, at the heart of the Gospel of Jesus is a challenge for us to become transformed into change agents. For Mathew, the message of Jesus is a bold challenge or even a quiet warning to change our actions “or else”! Jesus, in Mathew’s gospel, is not your mommy giving tender words of love but is your bigger brother who demands you live up to the expectations of the family. Mathew says we can be our own best friend or our own worst enemy; the choice is ours to make.
My friends in Christ, for each of us who has experienced sibling love know behind the stern look and strong voice is a beautiful tenderness and a deep love. The call then is for us to look beyond our own needs for tenderness, affinity and cuddling and to appreciate the depth of responsibility we carry when we claim Jesus as our savior. We are bearers of Christ in the world. We are the very salt of the earth who have a colossal task and tremendous responsibility in God’s work of salvation. In other words, grow up into your faith!
Too many Christians embrace their faith casually and practice their worship without depth of feeling. We need to believe when we come to worship, we are in the very presence of God who heals, sanctifies and redeems. We need to believe we are here to experience the love of God in a unique and transformative way. A transformation which starts inside our souls and works its way out into our everyday actions and lives. It is about the Holy Spirit tangibly at work in us. Through this worship, we become witnesses to God as our actions change. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (James 1:22)
My friends, it is African American History Month, and as we prepare to remember Absalom Jones, the first African American Episcopal priest, we are haunted by his spirit of determination. His ghost still lies in a church that is yet to allow its verbal repentance to seep through to its outward actions. This hidden repentance continues to limit how much success can really occur in our black communities.
Mathew tells us that God is love. Then he proceeds to share that love must lead to reconciliation. We find ourselves in a church that speaks love without reparation as a part of reconciliation “… leave your gift there before the altar...”. Mathew is the big brother who tells the message we sometimes are afraid or too intimidated to voice ourselves.
Yet, let us not get too comfortable by pointing fingers! Change really begins and ends with us. How hungry are you for Jesus? How much do you need a savior? How tired are you of the cycle of hurt and pain? How much do you need some thing to fill the emptiness? Big brother Mathew reminds us of our true calling and real worth. Jesus, for Big brother Mathew, reminds us of our own fragile nature. Jesus, for Big brother Mathew, reminds us “never to get too big for our britches.” Too many Christians believe they have turned the corner and now have moved from hunger to provider and do so with contempt for the hungry. My friends when Jesus says feed the hungry it is not about someone else. It is you who still depend upon Him for bread and substance.
My friends, when the storms of life break upon us, my first response is fear for this church because I think I am the leader. Then Jesus steps in and reminds me “I am Jesus who calms the storms. I am Jesus who will walk on water to save my people. I am Jesus who can make something out of nothing.”
Mathew reminds us all, we are always in need of a savior. We never have enough to stop depending on the Bread of Heaven. We are never well enough not to need His healing. We are never too righteous not to need His forgiveness. We are called to constantly be leaning on His everlasting arms. So, come and eat Holy Food because we need it to sustain our very lives and our sacred souls. My friends, sometimes we don’t realize how hungry we are until Shoan looks us in the eyes and says, “The Body of Christ given for you. The Blood of Christ Shed for you.” Then you realize how hungry you really were. Thanks be to God! Thanks, big brothers and sisters, Thanks Mathew, we love you. Thank you Jesus!