A sermon delivered by Randy Hyde, Pastor , Pulaski Heights Baptist Church, Little Rock, Ark., on February 13, 2011.
Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Matthew 5:21-37
Who said following Jesus would be easy? Especially when we find ourselves disagreeing with what he had to say? And let me ask you – be honest now – do you agree with everything that was read a moment ago, what Jesus had to say in the Sermon on the Mount?
Have any of you looked at the opposite sex with lust in your heart? Do you think that constitutes adultery? Really? Are any of you willing to pluck out your eye for having done so?
Are any of you divorced and remarried? Do you truly think that makes you an adulterer?
Have you ever been angry with someone? If so, do you think you should be charged with murder?
Have any of you ever sworn? Do you think that puts you in danger of being evil?
And have you noticed that so far all I have done is ask questions? And do you want to know why? Because I’m not sure I have any answers, that’s why.
I do know this… Despite what seems to be the harsh, not to mention black-and-white, language of Jesus, his actions speak just as loudly as his words. And if you look at what Jesus did, you are aware that he took it upon himself to reconcile people with God in a way that no one else ever has… a reconciliation that is found in forgiveness, not judgment.
Consider the woman brought to him by the religious authorities. They accused her of being an adulteress. We all know what Jesus said, don’t we? Makes you wonder if those who confronted Jesus with this little dilemma already had the stones in hand, or if they came to him with the sole purpose of calling his bluff. My guess is it’s the latter.
And then there is that little runt named Zaccheus. When Jesus came along he had already committed enough fraud for him to be put him in jail for the rest of his days, but Jesus gave him a full pardon… not because Zaccheus was willing to give the money back but because the grace that Jesus offered him is free for no obvious reason at all.
And what about the thief on the cross? It appears that last-minute mercy is just as good as mercy any other time.
Now, hold their lives up against the demands of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. They don’t come out so well, do they? Well, neither do we. Neither do we. In fact, there’s quite a disconnect, isn’t there? We’ve all, if Jesus’ words here are to be taken without any context attached to them, committed adultery – not to mention murder. We’ve all been angry, we’ve all sworn, we’ve all done those things that are less than the will of God. Frankly, if this were the only scripture we had, we’d all be in a world of hurt.
And that is why Jesus came to offer reconciliation to each of us, and yes, to demand that we be people of reconciliation. “When you are offering your gift at the altar,” Jesus says (which I take to mean every time you come to God’s house for worship), “leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”
Reconciliation is the restoration of relationships. You’ll find it on just about every page of the Bible. There may be a number of us here today who have it in mind that what these eight people have facing them the next three years is nothing much more than monthly meetings, or to be responsible for how the church is doing and where it is going. Or, we may think their primary responsibility is to serve the bread and cup when we have the Lord’s Supper. Could be that when major congregational decisions come along, they are the ones who consider them and advise the church in what we ought to do… congregational counselors, so to speak. If you are of a mindset to think in those terms, you are, of course, correct.
Except, that is, if you think that is all these folks are being called to do. I don’t think it is. I believe the heart of their role as Deacons is to be agents of reconciliation, to embody what Jesus came to be and to do. It is not that the rest of us are off the hook when it comes to that. It is that they are to model for us what it means to be reconciled to one another and to God.
Pretty heavy responsibility, huh? It is not an easy thing to do. Sometimes, it leaves scratches, if not scars.
A family is out for a Sunday afternoon drive. It is a pleasant day, and they are moving along at a fairly leisurely pace when suddenly the two children in the rear seat begin to beat their father on the back. “Daddy, Daddy, stop the car! There’s a kitten back there on the side of the road!”
“So, there’s a kitten on the side of the road. We’re going for a drive.”
“But, Daddy, you have to stop and pick it up.”
“I don’t have to stop and pick it up. I don’t have to do anything.”
“But, Daddy, if you don’t it will die.”
“Well, then, it will just have to die. We don’t have any more room for another animal at home. We already have a zoo at our house. No more animals.”
“But, Daddy, you can’t just let it die!”
“Be quiet. We’re having a pleasant Sunday afternoon drive.”
“Oh, Daddy, don’t be so mean. It’s cruel just to let it die!”
You know how it is, don’t you? It’s at this point that Mom gets into the conversation. “Dear, I suggest you stop, turn around, and go back. You really don’t have a choice.” Mom has redefined the word suggest, hasn’t she? It really means demand.
So Dad turns the car around and goes back to where he thinks the kitten might be. The kids get excited as he opens the car door to look for it. “Can we go? Can we go?” “No!” he tells them. He may have lost the war, but there’s one more battle to fight and he’s standing his ground on this one. “You stay here in the car. I’ll see about it.”
He goes looking for the kitten, and when he spies it sees that it’s just skin and bones, sore-eyed, and full of fleas. No telling how it got there. When he reaches down to pick it up, with its last bit of energy the kitten bristles, baring tooth and claw. Hisss! Hisss! He picks up the kitten by the loose skin at the back of the neck, brings it carefully to the car, and says, “Don’t touch it! It’s probably got leprosy.”
Back home they go. What had begun as a leisurely drive has turned into a mad dash to get back as soon as possible before the car and everyone in it gets flea-infested. When they get home, the children give the kitten several baths (that’s fun… ever tried to bathe a cat?), they feed it several gallons of warm milk, and then they start I on Dad again: “Can we let it stay in the house tonight? Can we, DadDY? Can we?”
“Sure. Keep it in the house, take my bedroom, take any room you want. It’s already a zoo.” In situations like this, dads are notoriously grouchy losers.
Several weeks pass. One day the father walks into the den and feels something rub up against his leg. He looks down and there is a plump, well-groomed, obviously quite contented cat. He looks around to make sure no one is watching, then leans over and picks up the cat. When the cat sees his hand it does not bare its claws, nor does it hiss. Instead, it arches its back to receive a caress, and then begins to purr.
Is this the same cat as the one rescued just a few weeks before? Can’t be the same cat. This cat is fat and happy and quite at home. But it is the same cat, only different somehow. And you and I know what made that difference.
One day, not too long ago, God reached down and touched you. God held out a reconciling hand to you. It may have been when you were sick, or had lost a loved one. You might have been in despair over the loss of a job or the loss of a relationship, or you might have been wondering about your spiritual condition. My guess is, that when God reached down and touched you, God did it through someone like these eight people sitting down here… someone who wishes the best for you, someone who has touched you with kindness, someone who thought you ought to know that God cares for you.
Now, when God did that… when God reached down to you… did you notice God’s hand? It was covered with scratches, wasn’t it?1
Being a Deacon requires the willingness to risk the scratches, if not the scars. But it comes with the territory of being a person of reconciliation. And that, above all, is what Jesus teaches us. I think I’ll end this sermon the way it began… with a question. Don’t you agree?
Lord, may we all be people of reconciliation. Bless these whom we have set apart, that they might model for us just how to do that. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
1Previous story adapted from Fred B. Craddock, Craddock Stories, Mike Graves and Richard F. Ward, editors (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2001), pp. 24-25.