Kingdom Characteristics, you have heard it said but…  Part 1 

Kingdom Characteristics, you have heard it said but…  Part 1 

August 2, 2020
Jeff Lindsay

Matthew 5:21-26

You’ve seen these words as you sign up for things online. “Click here, accept this, check this box.” And they all signify the same thing, that you have read and accepted the terms and conditions of something.

Well terms and conditions are rules by which one must agree to abide by in order to use a service. Do you really read those terms and conditions let alone plan to abide by them? I know I don’t. If we did, here are some things I found online, that we would know.

Some of us have agreed that Twitter will have rights to all our content, even if we deactivate or close our account.

Some of you have given Facebook permission to use all your photos in any capacity they want. Including in advertisements.

Netflix reserves the right to disclose all of your information to third parties should they deem it necessary. And you’ve agreed that Netflix will not be held liable if it gets hacked and your personal information is stolen.

And if you listen to your music on Spotify you’ve said you’re ok with the section in their terms and conditions that reads, “We may collect information stored on your mobile device, such as contacts, photos, or media files.” Which means that we have given Spotify access to pretty much everything stored on our phone, but were ok, because Spotify insists that your information, won’t be exploited.

Our passage for today and next week comes from Matthew’s Gospel in what is often called, the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is speaking of relationships, and after warning people about the dangers of anger in the lives of those who follow him, he adds some terms and conditions for how we then can approach God in our worship.

Remember this from our passage, “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.”

What if these were truly “Terms and Conditions” expected, to be in a right relationship with God? “To use the service.”

The service being, the experience of knowing God’s grace and forgiveness, true reconciliation.

Knowing and experiencing forgiveness, is so important in the life of faith because it is forgiveness that frees us from resentment and bitterness that hinders us from true relationships and the life God intends for us.

Pastor Catherine Ponder wrote, “When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.”

And you understand that when you say, “I can never forgive them”, you are holding yourself in a space of resentment and bitterness. And the amazing thing is that at anytime you can set yourself free through forgiveness.

It was Lewis Smedes who said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”

Jesus was very clear in his teaching. At the end of the Lord’s Prayer he told his followers, “For if you forgive others their Debts, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your Debts.”

Forgiveness of others is key to our relationship with God. There are times that you will need to forgive people who don’t even know they hurt you or haven’t acknowledged that they’ve hurt you or don’t think that they need to be forgiven.

In those cases, you forgive them for your sake, not their sake. You do that to set yourself free from the bitterness and resentment that can linger.

You and I know that when someone has been hurt or offended, it causes damage to the relationship. Our passage for today is reminding us that if we want to truly be in right relationship with God, then we need to approach God with our other relationships in order.

Let’s go back to our passage, “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.”

So Jesus’ “Terms and Conditions,” suggest that as you are offering God your worship, perhaps corporate worship or even in your private worship, your prayer time or Bible study, and you realize that you are at odds with someone, then you need to make it right, before you continue to worship.

Roger Hahn, in the Wesleyan Commentaries writes, “Worship of God is meaningless as long as we live in broken human relationships. People matter so much to God that God requires that we mend our relationships with them before we come and offer our gift to God. “

Are there times you wonder why there seems to be a barrier between you and God and why your prayers seem to go unanswered. It may be that we have some unreconciled relationships in our lives. Isn’t Jesus telling us that when we realize that we’ve done something wrong to someone, if we’ve offended them or hurt them that we need to make it right. Which in turn reconciles our relationship with God at the same time.

Jesus told a story about a family where there was hurt and a broken relationship. This happened when the youngest of the two sons asked for his share of his father’s estate, and then left to squander the inheritance. When the son returns home, because he ran out of money, he realizes that he has some work to do in mending the damage he caused in his family.

In Luke 15 we pick up the story, “So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’”

What can we learn from this son about grace and forgiveness, so that God will receive our forgivenenss?

Well first of all we must acknowledge that what we did was wrong. That we have made a mistake. This is what the son did when he said, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’

When we offer an, “I shouldn’t have said that, I shouldn’t have done that, I hurt you, I was wrong.” This is how we own our behavior because it is so important that the person we hurt, knows that we understand what was done, hurt them.

But maybe you’re thinking, “it was unintentional, I didn’t mean to hurt them.”

Well if I stepped backward in line at Starbucks and bump you and you spilled your coffee, what would I say? I’d say, “I’m sorry”. I didn’t mean to do it, but it happened, and it needs an apology, right?

And maybe you are thinking, “But if that happened to me or those words were directed at me, it wouldn’t have hurt me.” But it didn’t happen to you, it happened to someone else, so whether or not you would have been hurt is irrelevant if they were. So, we accept responsibility for our words, actions, and choices.

Of course, remember if we add a “but” to our apology it stops being an apology and often gets translated as, “I’m not really sorry.”

As we swallow our pride and say we are sorry, we next must admit we were wrong.

Going back to the story of the prodigal son, before the son returns he has this conversation with himself, “I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”

He was sorry, he acknowledged to that what he did was wrong, but he also had to acknowledge it to his father.

Now it gets really tough because it’s not just saying “I’m sorry, I was wrong” It’s also asking the person who we have hurt, “Will you forgive me?”

Hamilton Beazley author of the book “No Regrets” writes “Apologizing is making an admission that we erred, and we don’t like having to do that. It makes us vulnerable because we are requesting something, forgiveness, that we think only the other person can grant, and we might be rejected.”

The next thing that we need to do is to do our best to correct it.

My favorite example of this is in the story about a tax collector named Zacchaeus who meets Jesus and his life is transformed. In reaction to the grace and forgiveness that Zacchaeus was offered he stood up in front of Jesus and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”

Zacchaeus acknowledges that what he had done was wrong, by declaring he will correct those wrongs.

We may not have meant it, but if we have taken something from somebody, or cost somebody something, then we need to return it and make it right. It might be material or financial or it might go deeper than that. It might be that through our words, or innuendo or lack of words that we cost someone their character, and we need to do our best to correct that.

I have had on my mind the last couple of weeks a book. I mentioned it in a sermon a few weeks ago. The book is, The Hiding Place and the author is Corrie Ten Boom who was a survivor of the Nazi prison camps. She wrote, “the four marks of true repentance are: acknowledgement of wrong, willingness to confess it, willingness to abandon it, and willingness to make restitution.”

Sometimes, unfortunately, there is no correcting the wrong. The Nazis killed Corrie’s family, stole her dignity and years of her life. Those things couldn’t be corrected. We are struggling in our culture today with things that can’t be corrected because they have happened in the past. When someone has lost their life, their health or their innocence because of our actions we can’t make restitution and an apology and forgiveness won’t be the magic wand, that quickly repairs it.

Try we must though, to make it right, by listening to the wisdom of others who have a helpful perspective and acting with good intentions. Some scars may last forever but grace and forgiveness can come if we offer our regrets with sincere hearts.

Shannon L. Alder writes, “How you correct your mistakes will define your character and commitment to a higher power.”

It is essential to reflect on our character as followers of Jesus. Our character traits help us to see those places we need to give our character more attention.

Lastly is it enough to say were sorry, to ask for forgiveness, and even to offer to correct the offence, if you’re just going to do it again. The key to true reconciliation after we have hurt or pained someone is to stop the offense.

If our behavior results in someone being hurt, we stop, right? In Christianeze it is called repentance. It literally means to turn away from something.

Sometimes it takes the pain of a broken relationship to lead us to repentance. And sometimes it takes someone challenging us on our behavior to bring us to this point as well.

Remember Corrie Ten Boom, she had so much to forgive people for and still said “Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness.”

Our part of the equation is to repent, God’s part, and those whom we have hurt’s part of the equation, is to forgive. And we see that over and over again through the scriptures when we come to God and we confess to him that we are sinners, and we repent and ask him to forgive us, he forgives us. How can we do less for others?

Most of us can recite the Lord’s prayer from memory, and if not here is a reminder of how Jesus taught his followers to pray, “And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

And just in case those who heard him missed it Jesus adds to the end of his prayer this caution, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

The Kingdom of God, that all of heaven longs for, will not come without our participation. Yet we will not make the necessary changes by doing what we have always done. The values of God’s kingdom will likely not be cheered for. We will meet opposition. Critics will say we are either naïve or too pushy, but the transformational alternatives Jesus taught that we talked about this morning, can work.

Traditional commandments only remind us of what we should not do, like don’t kill. Jesus’ commandments tell us what we can do, go, admit we were wrong, say we are sorry, try to make things right, and be determined to not do it again. The church should lead, not follow, because the way forward, is by following these clear directives of Jesus.

Social unrest, income inequality, brutality, these are only the final consequences, built on the foundation of broken relationships and past evil.  Gods spirit can allow us to see truth, the real issues in our land of fear, hate, anger, greed, and envy.

Once we are willing to see the real issues, we can begin the difficult work of reconciliation, by applying the steps in our passage today.

Will we let God heal our hearts so the church, even this church, can lead the way?

Let us pray. AMEN.