July 10, 2011
The Sermon On the Mount
Life’s Most Difficult Repair
One of the many talents I lack is that of being a mechanic. That hasn’t stopped me from trying, however. Years ago I did my own car repairs, and there were many repairs needed on the cars I drove. It was easier, of course, to fix a car years ago; you opened the hood and there was the engine and almost no extra attachments. Now, when you open the hood, you can’t see the engine for all the added parts. It’s hard for me to find the oil dipstick these days.
If you remember those days you may also remember that cars had points and rotor caps that had to be changed on a regular basis. I put new spark plugs, rotor cap, and points in my car on a regular basis. You used something called a feeler gauge to ensure the points were properly gapped (if that makes me sound mechanical, I assure you I am not). When Tanya and I were dating I did one of those tune ups on my car, but I forgot to properly gap the points so the car didn’t start when I was finished. It was one time – one time – when I worked on my car and it didn’t start. Tanya remembers it differently. Whenever I mention working on a car she reminds me that every time you worked on a car it didn’t start.
Cars, if you know what you are doing, are fairly simple to fix. You, or a mechanic, diagnose the problem and fix it. You put in a new part or do whatever is needed and the car is once again running smoothly. Don’t you wish it were that easy when it came to relationships? Don’t you wish you could just diagnose what’s wrong and fix the problem and then move on? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was as simple as connecting to a computerized analyzer like they have in auto shops? Relationships, though, are much more complicated. This morning we return to our series of messages from the Sermon On the Mount and as we do we are talking about Life’s Most Difficult Repair – the repair of relationships.
Much of our sense of life is shaped by the health of our relationships. If our relationships are healthy, we generally have a positive view of life and are better prepared to deal with the hardships of life. If our relationships are unhealthy, we are more inclined to have a negative view of life and are probably less prepared to navigate the difficulties of life, as healthy relationships give us much of the strength we need to face the difficulties of life. Relationships are a continual thread through Scripture and Jesus speaks a great deal about relationships in the Sermon On the Mount. In fact, you’ll remember that in May we talked about relationships in relation to three of the Beatitudes. In today’s passage Jesus raises the discussion of relationships to an even more intense level, and by the end of the chapter it goes to what seems an almost unattainable level as Jesus challenges us to love our enemies, perhaps the most difficult relational advice ever given.
Throughout the course of my ministry a lot of my time has been given to people and their relationship difficulties. It’s marriage relationships, parent/child relationships, sibling relationship, friendships, work relationships – there are so many circles of relationships in our lives and at any given time everyone has some relationship that is struggling.
Out of my experience I want to discuss two simple points this morning, and the first is this –
Relationships don’t repair themselves.
How many of you have been driving along and the check engine light comes on in your car? How many of you just kind of ignored it in the hope it would go away? In my limited mechanical knowledge I know that cars do not fix themselves. If there is a problem, it will not go away. If your water pump is leaking, left unattended it will only get worse. If you have an oil leak, left unattended it will only get worse. There is some very insightful mechanical advice, and it’s free to you today.
When it comes to our relationships, sometimes we try to tell ourselves if I leave it alone, it will get better. If you have found that approach to work, you are either very fortunate or very naive, because relationships don’t repair themselves.
This is, I believe, one of the truths Jesus is trying to communicate to us in this passage. The way he does this is by moving to the internal aspects of relationships; that is, what are we thinking and feeling about a relationship. Jesus tells the crowd listening to him you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Jesus is drawing attention to what happens in relationships in this way – a relationship is struggling but sometimes we like create a veneer of a healthy relationship. The relationship may be struggling, but we erect an external image that all is fine even though inside we may be hurting, and or angry, and perhaps even bitter.
Jesus is saying that we can’t create an image of health and wholeness in a relationship if it doesn’t exist within our hearts. Here’s an example of how the dynamic works in a family – a family gathers for Thanksgiving dinner. One person is missing but no one says anything. Little Johnny, who doesn’t know any better, blurts out where is uncle John? Everyone becomes very quiet because they know uncle John won’t come into the same room with one of the family members, but they continue to act as if nothing is wrong.
Jesus is saying we may keep an external façade intact, treating people with dignity and perhaps even kindness – certainly not doing them any harm – while inside our hearts may be breaking or perhaps anger and bitterness are eating away at our heart and soul.
So Jesus offers the second piece of advice –
Do what you can to repair a relationship.
I can think of few things as difficult as approaching another person to seek reconciliation. How do you repair a broken relationship? You do what you can.
Jesus goes so far as to say that if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
Imagine seeing someone jump up during the offering time and you wonder where they are going, so you ask them later – because we have to satisfy our curiosity – and they say I went to seek reconciliation with someone. What would we think? Jesus makes the repair and reconciliation of a relationship a matter of great urgency. Don’t wait! he is saying.
But I say the advice is to do what you can to repair a relationship. It takes more than one person to make the effort to heal a relationship, and the reality is that some people will not respond to that reconciliation effort. You cannot force another person to reconcile.
Some people may not be able to let go of the hurt. Some people hold onto the wrongs they have suffered as a chip to cash in at a later date as a way to get some kind of revenge.
I knew two siblings once, and years before I knew them they had a terrible falling out. When I learned of what fractured the relationship I was surprised, because it didn’t seem to me to be a very important matter, but it was to them. They went years without speaking to one another, and in the course of those years they expe
rienced matters in life when they could have used the love and support of the other.
What a terrible tragedy it was, and they never really reconciled, even to the end of their lives. I’m sure each of them felt the other was at fault, and my guess is they were both somewhat at fault. But neither would reach out to the other, and their lives were much poorer because they would not seek reconciliation.
Relationships are a difficult fix, but Jesus reminds us of the importance of working to maintain healthy relationships, as so much of the richness of life and the blessings of life are found in our relationships. Is there a relationship in your life that needs tending? Is there are relationship that needs repair? Don’t delay.