“Let your light so shine before others that they might see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” From 1549 until 1979, this was the first of several sentences of scripture which were read during the Offertory in Anglican/Episcopal congregations. Growing up in the early days of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, I can remember my childhood Rector saying those words at the offertory, but it wasn’t until about five minutes ago that I realized that it isn’t one of the suggested Sentences in the “new book.” In fact, Marion Hatchett (Commentary, p. 397) tells me that our latest revision only kept two of the sentences from the tradition. Hebrews 13:15-16 has been included since the very beginning and 1 Chronicles (another favorite in the post-1928 Prayer Book days) was added in 1892. All of the other 8 biddings are new to this Book. Some, like Pslam 96.8 and Ephesians 5.2 get used with regularity. There is one, however, that I have never heard used in a congregation.
“If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there 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.” – Matthew 5:23, 24
Since all of us can think of a wrong we’ve committed against someone in any given week and since the Church can’t really afford to tell people to hold off on giving their gifts until reconciliation has occurred, this hard word from Jesus in Matthew 5 rarely gets uttered on Sunday morning, but as I listened to the Sermon Brainwave Podcast this week, it got a shout out. Someone argued that we can’t read the rules of congregational strife in Matthew 18 without hearkening back to Matthew 5. There is a natural inclination in humanity to look at the speck in someone else’s eye while ignoring the log in our own (Matthew 7). This human proclivity makes Matthew 18 very appealing. I’d much rather deal with those who have hurt me, and hopefully shun them like a Gentile or a tax collector, than to seek out those who I have hurt and seek reconciliation.
Reading Matthew 18 in isolation is tempting, but we can’t ignore that Jesus was very clear in Matthew 5. The crux of authentic community, as we’ll hear clearly next week, is forgiveness which can not be only a one-way street. Those who wish to live together in mutual affection and model their lives after the Kingdom of God have to both offer and seek forgiveness. Paul sets a lofty ideal in this week’s Romans lesson, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” But the fact of the matter is that none of us can live in perfect love and so we seek to restore relationships through forgiveness and reconciliation by reading Matthew 18 through the lens of Matthew 5. Seek to be forgiven. Seek to forgive.