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O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
God of truth,
help us to keep your law of love
and to walk in ways of wisdom,
that we may find true life
in Jesus Christ your Son.
Yet they did but flatter him with their mouth
and dissembled with their tongue.
Their heart was not steadfast towards him,
neither were they faithful to his covenant.
But he was so merciful that he forgave their misdeeds
and did not destroy them;
many a time he turned back his wrath
and did not suffer his whole displeasure to be roused.
For he remembered that they were but flesh,
a wind that passes by and does not return.
How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness
and grieved him in the desert!
Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; 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. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.’
There is a saying which I hear used with an alarming regularity: Revenge is sweet. Every time something happens that leads us into using this phrase we are actually saying that we are feeling satisfaction because someone else has been harmed in some way. Usually we say: Revenge is sweet when we see someone who we perceive as having done us some sort of harm getting their ‘comeuppance’! Sadly, the phrase Revenge is sweet is often used by those who would describe themselves as faithful Christians. Perhaps you have said it yourself!
As faithful members of Christ’s Church, we come to God in prayer and worship on a regular basis. If asked we would say that we ‘do our best’ to live ‘good’ lives, lives that we hope will one day make us worthy of our place in God’s nearer presence. But, quite apart from the arrogance of that attitude (remember the Beatitude: Blessed are the meek …), it flies in the face of Jesus’ teaching in today’s reading.
Over many years’ experience of Church life, both pre- and post-ordination, I can confidently say that rarely a week goes past without my encountering Church members who are angry about something or the other, and very often that anger is directed at people rather than events. Despite that anger, these people still go to church every week, and sometimes more often, and offer their prayers and worship. Sometimes they even wrap that anger up in a way that suggests it is an expression of faith, rather than that which will lead to ultimate and eternal condemnation.
Most of us can say that we obey the teaching of the ten commandments. They serve as an adequate set of principles by which we can live out our daily lives. But, when it comes to anger … most of us fall very short. We like to believe that we are always right in the judgements we take, and the actions we perform. When others disagree, or follow a different path, we become frustrated and angry. That anger often finds expression in harsh words and public rebuttal. As the stronger ‘angry person’ emerges, the phrase Revenge is sweet, comes to the fore. Life goes on and resentment festers, sometimes through many generations. This is not the Christian way of life!
Jesus calls us to find the path of reconciliation, even if that means our climbing down from the moral high ground upon which we have established ourselves. Jesus attaches such importance to this that he teaches that we should make it a priority over all else we do, including our prayer and worship. Jesus asks how can we offer true prayer and worship if we are burning with anger inside?
Let us pray that we might find the blessedness of those who are meek and humble. Let us pray that we might set aside our anger and seek forgiveness rather than revenge. Let us pray that we might know the sweet joy of true fellowship rather than the earthly satisfaction of a battle won. Let us pray that we might always remember that revenge and earthly victory are those attributes which distance us from God, even if we would like to think otherwise!
Prayers of intercession
In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, let us pray to the Father.
Lord, your Son took your commandments and deepened their understanding. Transform our hearts to show our love for you by walking more fully in your ways. Grant that we may choose your abundant life.
Lord, you call your people to be reconciled and refrain from hate-filled talk. Bring healing to all places of conflict and division, and purge and renew the nations of the earth.
Lord, purify your people to look upon one another with respect and honour. Forgive our debased and vulgar abuse of our brothers and sisters. Restore us in your image and dignity.
Lord, the weight of broken relationships presses upon your people. Break the chains that oppress, and bring in your liberation. Set us free to praise your name.
Lord, you set before us the hope of life everlasting. In the confidence we entrust to you those who have died. Fulfil your promise of redemption.
May our prayers be accepted in the name of Christ, in whom alone we may be reconciled.
Prayer for the week
by whose grace alone we have been accepted
and called to your service:
strengthen and guide us by your Holy Spirit in all our work
and make us worthy of our calling;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Lord’s Prayer
Let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.