Matthew 5:23-26 (The Message translation)
23-24“This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.
25-26“Or say you’re out on the street and an old enemy accosts you. Don’t lose a minute. Make the first move; make things right with him. After all, if you leave the first move to him, knowing his track record, you’re likely to end up in court, maybe even jail. If that happens, you won’t get out without a stiff fine.
I plan and lead the children’s messages every week in the worship service. Just like the “adult” sermons, I try to connect these messages to the lectionary scripture for the week. This week was no exception, however it was quite difficult. As I read the scripture to prepare my heart and mind for what to share with the children, I kept coming back to those four verses you see at the top.
What I decided to do was what I thought, a simple enough message for the children. I told them that before we could collect the offering for the day, the offering that we give to God, we have to find the people that made us sad or angry and forgive them. We also have to find the people that we made sad or angry and say we are sorry. Then once we are done, we can come back and put our offering in the plate, explaining that God wants us to find peace first. I gave them a sheet for them to write or draw the end of the following statements:
“I am sorry for_____________________________.”
“I need to forgive __________________________.”
That was simple enough right? I thought it was, until I got to the steps on Sunday morning to deliver the message and I saw their faces. Those children and youth look up to me and my heart was heavy because the message that I had prepared to give to them, was not a message that I practiced myself…at least not recently. I did the lesson as planned, but not without a mirror standing in front of me.
There are many blessings that I have received from God for which I am truly thankful for and yet, lately I have chosen to spend most of my time thinking and feeling on subject of “anger”. Here I am every week, offering what I think is my best for God, yet in my heart and mind, I keep thinking about what “so and so” did to me, or I am focusing on the words that I heard from “such and such.” Then on the other side of it, I feel guilty about what I said to that person over there, or what I did to this person over here. Who do I need to apologize to?
But that wasn’t the only sermon I heard this week. I just finished reading the book Mistaken Identity: Two Families, One Survivor, Unwavering Hope by the Van Ryn and Cerak families. If you recall in 2006, a Taylor University van was hit by an out of control semi-truck and crashed. Everyone died in the accident except one person – who was identified as Laura Van Ryn. For five weeks, she was cared for by her family as she laid comatose; while in another part of the country, the family of Whitney Cerak mourned the loss of their precious daughter. There was a mistake in the identification and it was Whitney who was in a coma and Laura who was the one that died. I read the entire book and watched and read countless of interviews with the families, not once did the feeling of anger enter their minds and hearts. Not once. There was only love and grace.
I have to be honest with this process and share the fact that anger has entered my heart and mind many times recently. In fact, there were times that it took over my life. As a human, that is going to happen, but Jesus Christ spoke to me in His sermon and said, make it right….let go….heal, and until you do, don’t bring your offering to the Lord.
I took one of those sheets that I gave to the children. I am working on letting go and finding peace in the midst of the anger. I know I need to find some grace as well. It’s going to be a long road if I don’t begin to heal what’s inside my heart. There are days when the road ahead seems so long and we are not sure if we can make the journey that leads to grace. Then I think about the road that Jesus Christ took. Nobody has a road to grace as long or as treacherous as Jesus Christ did. Yet Jesus hung on that cross and said, “Forgive them.” If Jesus can do that, if the Van Ryn and Cerak families can let love and grace take over the anger and pain, then why can’t I. After all, God is waiting for me to offer my best and it’s time I start doing that.
Thank you children, for teaching me the lesson for today.