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Agents of transformation

By Scott Baker

As Christians gather for worship this coming Sunday, they will encounter some very hard teachings from Jesus’ sermon on the mount. Jesus takes the Old Testament commandments and ordinances to a whole new level. For example, he says, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 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. (Matthew 5:21-24 NRSV)” Under the Older Covenant, almost all of the Ten Commandments, and indeed many of the other ordinances, are stated negatively. Meaning, “Thou shalt not…” murder, steal or whatever. Jesus tells his listeners, and by extension us who are his followers, that it’s not enough to avoid a behavior, it’s time to be proactive and go one step further.

Central to much of the sermon on the mount in Matthew’s gospel, and indeed much of Jesus’ teaching, is the supremacy of relationships. Jesus is concerned with teaching us about fostering and strengthening our relationships with, not only God, but also our fellow human beings. And one of the most powerful ways we do that is to be agents of transformation using Christ’s way of love and reconciliation to bring about that transformation. In fact, I would argue that one of the most powerful examples of the love we are called to show is seen in the ministry of reconciliation.

It never ceases to amaze me how many claim the moniker of Christian but have no idea about some of the basic tenets of the faith. An example that comes to mind happened in a parish I served. I happened to run into a parishioner I hadn’t seen in about two or three weeks. When I asked him if anything was the matter he replied, “I think my family and I are leaving the church.” Startled, I couldn’t help but to ask why. The short and long of it was another parishioner had offended him and he was leaving. I took the opportunity to listen to his concerns, and then was able to help him reconcile with the offending member of the church. When they shook hands and smiled at each other I knew all was going to be well. They parted and the man who said he was leaving called me later to thank me. I said, “Well you just experienced what this whole thing called Christianity is all about, we are to be reconcilers in the world.”

I am sure occasions such as the one I just described happen all over the place. I walked away from that encounter thinking to myself, “If Christians don’t know how to forgive one another, what hope is there?”

If the cross of Christ means anything it means forgiveness and peace. I am convinced if Christians take it seriously, we can transform the world into the Kingdom we all pray that will come, because, God’s will, will be done.

THE REV. SCOTT BAKER is the rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Franklin. Contact him at 562-4542.