Setting Aside Bitterness and Anger

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“Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” 
                                                            Ephesians 4:31-32
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Over the last two weeks, we have watched political rhetoric at its height.  First the Republican and then the Democratic conventions presented their respective candidates and their positions with speeches, endorsements, music and balloons.  Hyperbole and attack language filled the convention halls.  And throughout these two weeks, Facebook and Twitter have been overheating with responses from people on the left and on the right.
This week, I read the words of one friend who wrote, “I hate Hillary Clinton.”  I was very surprised by his words, since we first met at church and I know he considers himself a solid Christian.  I felt his language was inappropriate for a Christian, but I hesitated to respond to him  I thought about simply unfriending him, but finally felt I had to address his words directly with him.  I wrote back to him that I was disappointed to hear a fellow Christian use the words “I hate” about a person.  I explained I was upset by his statement knowing he considered himself a Christian, reminding him that we can disagree with another person, we can hate their policies, but our Christian faith calls us to set aside all hate and anger towards persons.
My friend responded later that day in the most wonderful way.  He wrote on his Facebook page that “a friend” had called him on his language and he realized his words were inappropriate for a Christian.  He apologized for the statement, and then went on in a more reasoned way to explain his disagreement with the Clinton campaign.  And I found myself so filled – filled with forgiveness for my friend, filled with repentance for any ways I myself may have committed the same acts, and filled with gratitude that God had led me to call out my friend on his words.
There are three full months of campaign still ahead for us.  There will be many outrageous statements and efforts to demonize others by both sides of the race, Republican and Democratic.  Let’s commit to setting aside bitterness and anger, wrangling and slander and malice.  And let’s agree to call out anyone who claims the name of Christ but acts in ways that deny that allegiance, whether they are candidates, campaign workers or friends down the street.  Let’s act in ways that will lead others, on every side of politics, on every side of any debate, to see the love of God in our words and actions.  Let kindness, respect and love be our guiding principles even in the midst of disagreement.
Prayer: Eternal God, you have called us to seek justice and love kindness.  You have told us that what we do to the least, we do to you.  Help us in the coming months to see your face not only in the faces of those with whom we agree, but also in the faces of our opponents.  Give us the grace to speak with love and kindness even when we disagree.  Let us lead with love so that all the world will look and see in us the love of the God who welcomed us even when we were sinners, acting in opposition to God’s kingdom.  For I ask it in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
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A Provoking Poeple

 

Pastor’s Friday Reflection

“And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

                                                      Hebrews 10:24-25                   

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The Scripture from Hebrews is one of my favorite passages from the Bible.  But there’s always been an inherent contradiction for me in these words – “…provoke one another to love and good deeds…”  My kids are now 32 and 29, but I can still remember when my daughter was about five and her little brother knew just how to provoke a response from her, and not one of love and good deeds.  Doug knew every one of Jenny’s buttons, and he had no difficulty pushing those buttons to get a rise out of her.  He “provoked” her unmercifully, and always got a response – tears, anger, or frustration.  So when I read the passage from Hebrews, that’s the first image I see – my daughter red in the face and my son with a smug, “gotcha” look on his visage.

But as I thought about it, I realized there was actually something helpful in that image.  Doug knew Jenny’s buttons, and knew how to provoke her; I thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we knew each others good deed buttons?  If we knew how to provoke love instead of anger or frustration?  What would happen if we could interact with each other in ways that were just as provoking as my son’s when he was 2 and 1/2, but resulted in good deeds rather than crying and calling for mommy?

Perhaps that is what the author of Hebrews had in mind.  We all have a pretty good idea of the buttons that will send our neighbors into anger and frustration, but how well do we know the buttons that result in love and good deeds?  Those buttons are much more difficult to find, but they are the ones that we Christians are called to discover.  Christ understands that left on our own, the world around us is pushing the wrong buttons; it doesn’t take much to send us into that downward spiral of anger, accusation or frustration.  That’s why we have the church, a place that will help us counteract the natural tendencies of the world and move us toward love and acceptance rather than anger or hate.  Here in the church, we can encourage each other when those natural negative tendencies raise their heads; we can help each other let go of the anger and frustration that the world naturally elicits from us and instead move toward loving affirmation, forgiveness and hope.

This summer, why don’t we study each other with an eye to finding those buttons of love and good deeds, to discovering the ways we can provoke each other to living as gospel people?  It is my hope that we can encourage one another and discover that each of us has love to share and good deeds to offer that will help make our church all that God could desire.

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