It was another nightmare. Sunday morning, and I wasn’t ready to preach. In fact, I didn’t even know I was preaching until just minutes before worship. Once I was able to actually find the sanctuary, my sermon was nowhere to be found. “Guess I’ll have to ‘wing it,’” I told myself.
Then I woke up. What a nightmare!
Perhaps some of my fellow ministers can relate. For the congregants reading this article, this is an all-too-common nightmare for preachers. It’s really a derivation of the old-school “final-exam-day-but-I-didn’t-know-it-was-the-day-or-was-I-in-the-class-or-where-am-I-supposed-to-take-the-exam” nightmare. Now can all of you relate?
Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, describes a different type of nightmare: “Therefore, 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 in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).
Here I am again, just before worship, and I realize, by Jesus’ own words: “I am not ready!” Only this time, it’s not a bad dream. It’s unreconciled sin.
The unexpected twist in this nightmare scenario is that it’s not my anger, resentment, or other sin that I recognize in myself. Instead, it’s my brother, who has something against me.
How important is it to Jesus that we be reconciled to one another? Important enough that Jesus says, in effect, “Stop your worship! Leave whatever gift you would bring me, and bring the gift of reconciliation to your brother first. Then resume your worship of me, hopefully with both you and your brother coming together before me with grateful hearts.” That is Jesus’ word to all of us who are broken and conflicted with someone in our life.
By God’s grace, what could be a nightmare turns into something beautiful. Miraculous. A foretaste of heaven.
What Jesus pleads for us to do is the very thing he did for us. He knew that our hearts, minds, really our entire being, were bent against him because of our sin. Rather than waiting for us to reconcile, God came to us, sending his one and only Son to reconcile us with himself.
The Apostle Paul made it clear who should be the first one to seek reconciliation: “As far as it depends upon you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). Reconciliation should be a glorious, beautiful competition of who can get to the other person first.
Just as God reconciling us to himself was a miraculous act of God’s grace, so two brothers (or sisters) being reconciled at the foot of the cross is a miracle of the Lord. We know that miracles like these are only a work of God’s holy Word and Holy Spirit in ransomed and restored hearts.
The Church of the Lutheran Brethren, in partnership with Ambassadors of Reconciliation (www.aorhope.org), is offering training in God’s Word to anyone who struggles with unreconciled conflict. Our world is watching to see how Christians are responding to conflict in a remarkably different way. May they see Jesus. What a beautiful dream would come true!
Rev. Phil Heiser serves the Church of the Lutheran Brethren as our Associate for Ministry Support.