Who is your greatest enemy? Don't say Satan, that's not what I'm getting at. I mean, who is the person in this life that makes you angriest; that did something to you or caused your pain? That person who embarrassed you at school? Who lured your girlfriend away from you? Who showed you up at work and got the promotion you deserved? Who cut in front of you in line and bought the last ticket to the football game? Who is your greatest enemy?
Well, now that I've started your morning with a cloud, let me complicate this a little further with some words from Martin Luther. Luther said this, "Go into your own heart and ask yourself whether you love your enemy, whether, after he has injured you, you can feel sad when evil befalls him and whether you can feel glad again when he fares well. Ask yourself whether you feel no vengeful desire to get into his hair. One finds nothing but anger, hatred and envy among us. But the Lord Christ says, He who is angry with his brother is a murderer."
That last part sums up Matthew 5:22 our reading today and it also brings in 1 John 3:15 if you're looking for verses in your Bible to underline. He who is angry with his brother is a murderer. So, based on my introduction, does that mean you? Are you a murderer?
Anger is something we all feel, isn't it? It's often the result of feeling like you're going to lose something because of someone else's actions – a person close to you, an opportunity, a reputation, a cherished possession, or even a dream. And what do you have when you've lost whatever it was that you valued? You have your anger. You have your desire to make that other person pay for what they've done to you.
Anger is about getting what you believe is fair. It's the belief that you are entitled to justice against someone who wronged you. Now, the courts are set up to protect us when that loss crosses a line – someone physically hurts you, someone vandalizes your property, even damage to your reputation. But what about the crimes for which the courts cannot be consulted? What about crimes of the heart – cheating in relationships or getting broken up with? There's no court for that. What about people who mislead or make you false promises? There's no court for that. What about just day to day interactions in which someone doesn't treat you fairly? No court for that.
So, what do you do? Well, you make your heart the court. Remember what the Old Testament standard of justice was? An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. You love the sound of that when you're angry at someone, don't you? Well, I hope someone dumps you! Well, I hope someone cuts in line in front of you and gets your Cowboys tickets! We're all Old Testament Theologians at heart, aren't we? Literally, we are.
You know, maybe the worst thing anger can take from you isn't a possession or even a person, but it's a sense of trust. Once upon a time, you trusted easy; the world was a happy place and the sun was out every day. Not now. Oh no. That other person came and ruined it. It's his fault or her fault.
Anger can just take you to all kinds of dark places, can't it? You can spend 20 minutes in your car or lying awake at night just thinking all of the ways you'd like to get back at the person. And if you try to, it becomes vengeance. Anger is when you think something bad about the other person. Vengeance is when you actually try to take action against them.
Now the thing with anger is that there is usually one thing we forget in this little crusade of self-justice. And that little thing is that you're not perfect either. Think about that person I asked you to consider at the beginning of my sermon. What did he or she do to you? And now ask yourself, have you ever done anything like that to anyone? Be honest now. What if it was something similar? What if it was something worse? What's the worst thing you've ever done? Ever? How does it compare with the actions of the person you're angry with? Would you want God to put those things in a scale and decide your eternal outcome based on whose sin was worse?
Maybe you're not so angry now. Maybe, you remember you're a sinner too. But it's still not fair! I deserve some justice! How about something even better. It's called forgiveness. Do you pray the Lord's Prayer? Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Do you say those words? Do you mean them? Really?
Forgiveness is a gift. It's an undeserved gift. Undeserved. It comes to us that way. There is one exception to the eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth motto. Me. I give myself a pass. That doesn't apply to me. But it does. Jesus says so today. When it comes to the Law, there are no passes; there is only guilt and conviction as Mathew today shows us just how large God's magnifying glass really is.
But with Christ, there is forgiveness. There is forgiveness for the worst thing I've ever done, which actually might be not forgiving someone else for what they've done or maybe not asking for forgiveness from someone else. That's a sin too. If you haven't offered up any apologies to anyone in the past year, I'd say you have a spiritual problem. It's called pride.
But Jesus will forgive that too. He suffers for that. He endures affliction and pain for that. He sheds blood for that. He dies for that. He dies for you. And He dies for that person you can't stand who keeps you awake at night. Psalm 133:1 says, "How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity."
Think about the sacrament for a minute. It's not just between you and God. It's between you and your neighbor too. The sacrament has a vertical dimension; it has a horizontal dimension. God's gifts are like that-they go in all directions. You know, I came across an interesting quote from one of my former seminary professors this week in a commentary I was reading. Dr. Jeff Gibbs writes in his Concordia Commentary on Matthew about an ancient church practice known as the passing of the Peace, which some churches have revived in their worship. It's the part of the service where the people greet one another right before the celebration of the supper.
Dr. Gibbs says this, "The liturgical custom of the 'passing of the peace' immediately before the Eucharistic distribution is a meaningful opportunity for all in the congregation to acknowledge that the reconciliation Christ Jesus has effected in his death and resurrection must remove bitter divisions between those who commune together."
Some churches practice this ancient custom that emphasizes reconciliation and fellowship before the sacrament. What Christ gives to us, we give to one another. In this way, God is glorified. God is glorified. God is always glorified when His forgiveness is shared. We don't deserve it when we get it, but we receive it because Christ loves us. He calls us to love one another, to be reconciled to one another; to let go of pride and anger and the past; to love those who do not deserve to be loved, to love your enemy wherever you find him. That's the difference between the world's love and the love we share in Christ. In the world, you keep score. Here, there is no score to keep, only forgiveness, grace and undeserved love to be shared.
After Calvary, God turned off the scoreboard and your righteousness deficit was erased. You won't be judged by where you fall short with God. And so God also calls for us to turn off our scoreboards with one another. Now, this doesn't mean we don't have enemies any more. Our enemies are those who seek to tear us from the faith or those who seek to destroy the church or those who mock God. But we still pray for them too just as Jesus prayed for the other man on the cross who derided Him or how Jesus prayed for the people who crucified Him. Do you pray for the people who crucify you? It goes against your grain, I know. It's hard for me too. But the sharpness of God's Law is good at whittling away my resistance when I compare my sin with what others have done to me. And God's forgiveness brings me to re-examine how I feel about them and to re-contemplate the grace I have received from God in Christ. I cannot do this on my own, but with Christ, it is said that all things are possible--even for murderers like us. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Pastor Chris Bramich