Last Sunday I preached on the subject of peace, but got at it by talking about its opposite, about conflict. I suggested that peace can only come when we are reconciled to those who have hurt us (or to those we have hurt).
As I was closing out the early worship service on Sunday I reminded the congregation of that place in Matthew’s Gospel where it says, “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” (Matt. 5:23-24). I told them that I used to think that verse said, “if you remember that you have something against your brother or sister,” but it doesn’t: it says, “if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you.”
When that was explained to me in seminary I spent some time trying to think about who might have something against me, and eventually I thought of that girl I had broken up with because she wouldn’t let me buy an old ambulance. She probably had something against me. And so I sat down and wrote her a long letter, apologizing for all the times I had done her wrong (and believe me—there were plenty). I got her address through a mutual friend and mailed the letter hoping I would get back a letter full of forgiveness a few days later. It never came. Still, I was glad I had written to her, and hoped she could accept my apology.
But here I was on Sunday telling the congregation they should apologize to those people who might have something against them when it occurred to me that some of them might have something against me! Since I came to Richmond’s First Baptist Church people have been so good to me, so generous, that I’m almost sure someone has given me something I never said thank you for: a jar or watermelon rind pickles, perhaps; a tin of homemade cookies; a beautiful card. I’ve been so overwhelmed by the sheer number of people in this church that it’s been difficult to remember names and impossible to thank every one who been kind to me or my family.
So, here it is: first, a sincere apology to each of you who has been waiting for me to say thank you, and second, a heartfelt “thank you!” to each of you for your gracious gifts. Most of all, for the gift of your love, which makes even the sweetest watermelon rind pickles a little sweeter.
Blessings of every kind,