Sermon by Fr. Joshua Bell SSC, 6th September 2020
Readings: Ezekiel 33:7-9, Romans 13:8-10, Matthew 18:15-20
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: Amen.
There is a little book I have at home which I was given a few years ago, called “No thanks, I’m 1662” full of cartoons around the giving of the peace. The title is from one figure in the book who clearly doesn’t relish the idea – and his response is, “No thanks: I’m 1662” – from the 1662 Prayer Book which omits the sign of peace.
Our friend might be happy with the current situation which means the shaking of hands isn’t permittable, but he would do well not to write off this part of the mass. Sometimes, the sharing of peace can turn into a babble where people not only shake hands but ask how each other are, and what the football score was, and in short the Mass can be sidetracked.
But at its heart is the commandment of Jesus: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
Before we come to God’s altar to give our gift of adoration as we receive Communion, we turn to those around us and say, “Peace be with you.” We make sure we are right with other people.
And our readings today are about being reconciled to each other. Jesus tells us that if we are in a dispute with somebody, our response ought not to be to cause a fuss and drag everyone into it – but if we can, to solve it between the two of us. We can involve one or two others as witnesses if needs be, but only if this fails should we bring it to the attention of everyone.
While the BCP doesn’t include the sharing of the peace, as a time to be reconciled to each other, it does include this introduction to confession:
YE that do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways: Draw near with faith, and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort; and make your humble confession to Almighty God.
St. Paul also tells us that all the commandments are summed up in the commandment to love our neighbour as ourself – a summary that Jesus, too, once made – when asked to say what the most important command was, in the law God gave to Israel. He said that the first is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and that the second was to love our neighbour as ourselves – and he said that all the law and prophets hang on these two commands.
Being in love and charity with our neighbours is crucial, especially for Christians. We are the Body of Christ, all cells making up one body. What does it mean if we are divided, if we are fallen out? What does it mean if some cells are opposed to other cells?
I was watching a course on marriage recently, and a question that the host suggested partners ask each other is, “Is there anything I need to ask your forgiveness for?
“Is there anything I need to be forgiven for?”
Sometimes we hurt other people without realising, and so this question can help us check in. Everyone has bickerings and fallings out with those they’re close to – it’s part of life. But fallen out shouldn’t be a default state of life – we must apologise to each other, and we must also forgive and be forgiven.
Of course, forgiveness doesn’t mean condoning what a person has done, neither does it mean allowing a person to continue causing harm. But we choose to live in such a way that this no longer defines us.
The psalm this morning tells us not to harden our hearts. A hard heart is like a wall that doesn’t let anyone in. Sometimes we harden our hearts to protect them – we think to ourselves, “If I keep my defences up, nobody will hurt me” – but all we do is hurt ourselves. We can’t let anyone in, whether to love us or to hurt us – but we also find that we can’t let any love out, either.
When we forgive someone, we soften our hearts. We let those defences down, and even if we don’t have anything to do with that person any more, it shows to ourselves that not everyone is like the person who hurt us. We can love our neighbour without fear.
So today, let us listen to the voice of the Lord, who says, “You must love your neighbour as yourself.” Let us not harden our hearts, but love each other with the same love that God shows us.