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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WHO YOU GONNA CALL?

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The new Ghostbusters movie opened this past week across the nation. Thirty years after the original, a new foursome tackles the battle against the supernatural powers of chaos. Some things are different; for example, the main characters are all women this time around. But just like thirty years ago, we’ll be hearing cries of “Who ya gonna call?” all around us. And for the next several weeks, the answer will come, “Ghostbusters!”

But fictional characters in a movie can’t really change the world around us.  In this political season, we need to remember that even the President of the US and other political figures are limited in their impact.  There is only one we can call on who has the power to create in us a new heart, to model absolute love, and to change the world – the God of Jesus Christ. When our lives are out of control, when we worry that we cannot find a way forward, who else would we call but God?

Over the last few weeks we have seen violence in too many places. Shootings by police, shootings of police, nearly one hundred killed in an intentional truck crash in France, the list goes on and on. We look at the conflicts behind these acts of violence, the animosity between people based on race or religion, and we wonder how on earth we can find peaceful resolution and reconciliation. Left to our own devices, the answer is probably that we can’t. But we are not on our own. When the world threatens to overwhelm, when the obstacles seem insurmountable, who are we gonna call? We can call on the name of the Lord in prayer. We have a God who cares about us, listens to us and wants what is best for us.

So as we go forward as a church, as a nation, as a world, let’s remember that there is one we can call on who has already won the battle with sin and death, one we can turn to whose love for us is steadfast and whose power is infinite. The God of Jesus Christ is there for us, waiting for us to turn and reach out in prayer and in love.

Prayer: Almighty God, we look around us and see such overwhelming problems, and we wonder if peace and reconciliation are a possibility in this world. Remind us that we do not tackle these problems alone. You are there for us if we will just call on you. Turning to you in prayer, may we follow your will. Sensing your presence and love, may we live this day with courage and hope. For I ask it in the name of the Lord. Amen.
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The Rev. Dr. Bronwyn Yocum

In God’s Time

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“To everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1          

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I was overjoyed when my last church gave me a Kitchen Aid stand mixer as a retirement gift. I planned to start cooking once I had the time, and so after my last Sunday, the mixer was christened with flour.  Cookies and cakes began to appear on the kitchen counter.  And best of all was the homemade bread.

The first day I made bread, the taste was okay but the loaves didn’t look quite right.  They did’t seem to rise enough.  As I thought about it, I realized I may have been a little over anxious to get them made.  The directions called for me to let the dough rise for an hour, punch it down, divide it in half and put it in loaf pans.  Then I was to let it rise again until it was higher than the edge of the pan, about another hour, before baking.  I think I was so excited about making bread that as soon as the dough got anywhere near the top of the loaf pan, I shoved it in the oven, not giving it the time it needed to rise the full amount.  What came out tasted good, but wasn’t really as high or light as it could have been if I had waited the full time.  I was too impatient.

Ecclesiastes reminds us that God has a sense of time as well.  Sometimes we want to rush things along.  We don’t allow God to accomplish things in God’s time; we want it done now. I remember a woman at one of the churches I served who told me how alone she felt after her husband died.  Her friends were great for the first two months, but then they started to tell her to get on with life and stop moping over her husband’s death.  They wanted her grieving to be over in their time.  The reality is that it takes years to fully grieve the loss of a spouse.  

Too often we want to leave behind the old and dive right in to the new without taking time for reflection and evaluation.   We want to shed the old with its challenges and hurts, disappointments and concerns, leaving it behind like a hermit crab moving to a new shell. But our life experiences are not something we can shed like an old shell.  What happens to us in our lives becomes a part of who we are.  We need to acknowledge what we’ve experienced, process it, learn from it and discern how God is inviting us to move forward, incorporating our past experience into our approach to life in the future.  Where there has been success, what can we do to build on it?  Where there has been hurt, how can we become wounded healers?  Where we have failed, what might we do differently in the future?  

In the New International Version, Ecclesiastes 3:11a reads “God has made everything beautiful in its time.”  If we are sensitive to God’s time, if we refrain from rushing things and give God the time to work as God desires, then we, too, will find that God can accomplish wonders that make life beautiful.

Prayer:  Loving God, help me to live this day in your time, not mine.  Let me wait patiently for your way to be made clear; let me live hopefully, knowing that in your time all things work together for the good of your people.  Show me how to learn from every experience in my life, and to find your presence in the middle of every situation.  For I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Call to Prayer for our Nation

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If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, then I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
                                                                               2 Chronicles 7:14

This past week’s events have left many people wondering, what can I do?  Over the months ahead, there will be many suggestions and opportunities to live out our faith as Christians in loving our neighbor, no matter who that might be.  But right now, I want to invite all of my friends to unite in prayer for our nation and her people.

To that end, I invite you to take time each evening this week to pause for a time of prayer and reflection.  A National Week of Prayer began Sunday evening at 9:06 pm.  Perhaps you would pause at 9:06 each night.  If that isn’t a convenient time, select another time and commit to praying each evening.  I invite you to pray for an end to violence in our communities, for safety both for our police and for persons of color.  Ask God to intervene and raise up a way forward through which we can be united as a people.
And you may want to pray for direction from God on how you personally could act to be salt and light to the community around you, helping to find peaceful ways to strengthen community relations and ensure justice for all people.
You are welcome to pray using your own words , but if you would like some direction for your prayer and meditation, the prayers and Scripture below may prove helpful.  Let us unite our hearts and minds together in prayer, knowing that God is present, working in ways seen and unseen, to bring about a world of peace, justice and love.
 
Bron
 
1 Timothy 2:1-4
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.
 
Psalm 33 selections
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance.
From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all humanity;
From his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth – 
he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do…
We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.
 
From Alan Paton in the midst of Apartheid
O Lord, open my eyes
that I may see the need of others,
open my ears that I may hear their cries,
open my heart so that they need not be without succor.
Let me not be afraid to defend the weak
because of the anger of the strong,
nor afraid to defend the poor
because of the anger of the rich.
Show me where love and hope and faith are needed,
and use me to bring them to these places.
Open my eyes and ears that I may, this coming day,
be able to do some work of peace for thee.
 
Prayer of St. Francis
“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.”

 
And finally, from Bishop Desmond Tutu – Prayer for South Africa but just as applicable to the United States
Bless our beautiful land, O Lord,
with its wonderful variety of people,
of races, cultures and languages.
May we be a nation of laughter and joy,
of justice and reconciliation,
of peace and unity,
of compassion, caring and sharing.
We pray this prayer for a true patriotism,
in the powerful name of Jesus our Lord. 
 
 
The Rev. Dr. Bronwyn Yocum

Speaking the Truth in Love

Pastor’s Friday Reflection                                                                      image
 
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
                                                      Ephesians 4:14-16                  
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When my daughter, now over thirty, was about seven years old, she asked me one day if she could invite a new friend from school over to play.  I agreed, and a few days later she arrived home with her friend.  To my surprise, the friend was black.  I welcomed her and the two girls had a good time together.  Later, after her friend had gone, I asked my daughter why she hadn’t told me her friend was black.  Jenny looked up at me with a puzzled expression and said, “I wouldn’t tell you if my friend was blond, why would I tell you she was black?”  That brought me up against my own racism.
This week we have watched in horror as first two black men were killed by police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota, and then, just in the last 12 hours, eleven police officers were shot in Dallas, with five dead, during a Black Lives Matter rally.  The details of the Dallas shooting are still under investigation as I write this. These shootings all have one thing in common – race.  In his press conference after the St. Paul shooting, the governor of Minnesota asked, if the occupants of the car had been white, would the result have been the same. Answering his own question, he said probably not.  And I wondered, if the police officer had known Mr. Castile was a Montessori School administrator, would he have felt as threatened as he must have felt when he shot the man? Did racial profiling play a role?
Paul coined that wonderful phrase, “speaking the truth in love.”  As a society, we must examine our practices with an objective eye, recognizing where racism has been so ingrained in our systems of governance that we who are not persons of color no longer notice the discrimination.  In order for us to be a “whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament,” we have to be sure that those ligaments, those connectors, are just, fair and supportive rather than destructive.  We need to work strenuously to eliminate racism and all “ism’s” from our society.  We need to speak the truth about our society.
In the aftermath of Dallas, the good news is that most police officers are honorable people who work for the good of their community.  But the time has come for us as a nation to rise up and demand that we speak the truth in love – that some people should no longer carry a badge and gun, that racism exists and must be addressed, that justice is the right of all Americans regardless of the color of their skin.  Let none stand on the sidelines saying, this is someone else’s fight.  Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor called those who experience such visible racism the “canaries in the coal mines, whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere…Until their voices matter, too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.”  (dissent opinion in Utah v Strieff, last month)  Paul’s words take it one step further, making it clear that we are one body.  When any part of that body is unhealthy, the whole is unhealthy.  We must work together to create a society that reflects the love of God and the recognition that every human being is a beloved child of God.
Here in the suburbs, we are shielded from much of the blatant challenge of racism, but that doesn’t give us a pass on action.  Our affluence also means we are people of power, people who have the ability to demand change at a governing level – better community policing in underprivileged neighborhood, better training of police officers, body cams, community oversight, but also fair wages for police and responsible efforts to increase their safety.  Let us act within our own sphere of influence to eliminate racism.  Let us speak the truth in love to one another – not firing shots at those with whom we disagree as in Dallas, but lovingly and hopefully pointing out places where racism exists and working together to make changes.  After all, even those who are filled with racism are children of God who deserve our love, not our hate.  Speaking the truth in love, asking God to change our hearts, we can create a world that reflects the love and justice that God intends.
Prayer:  O loving God, I come to you this morning all to aware of my own biases, my own proclivities to judge people by external criteria like race.  Help me, Lord, to see instead as you see.  Let me recognize injustice when I see it; let me act to correct inequity.  Give me a heart that is both demanding of justice and filled with love as I seek to bring our world one step closer to your kingdom.  And, Lord, help me to examine myself to find those places where I fail to love my neighbor because of race or other isms.  Change my heart wherever that occurs, so that I may grow more into the likeness of Jesus Christ, who both loves me and challenges me to be better.  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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For Better or for Good?

 

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“Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
                                                            Ephesians 3:20-21

The Broadway musical “Wicked” tells the story of the land of Oz before Dorothy and Toto dropped in unexpectedly. It introduces us to two remarkable young women – one smart, fiery and with emerald green skin, the other beautiful, an airhead and very popular. The musical explains how the former woman goes on to become the Wicked Witch of the West, while the other becomes Glinda, the Good Witch. But in this version, they are both admirable.

In the course of the show, the two women sing a duet, the song, For Good. Listen to the words they sing:

It well may be that we will never meet again
In this lifetime,
So let me say before we part, so much of me
Is made of what I learned from you.
You’ll be with me like a handprint on my heart;
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine by being my friend:
Like a ship blown from its mooring by a wind off the sea,
Like a seed dropped by a skybird in a distant wood,
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
But because I knew you, I have been changed for good.

This will be my last Friday devotional. I’ll keep blogging at http://www.bronyocum.org for those who enjoy these columns. But as I come to the end of my time at Grove, I can echo the words of the two witches – I have been changed for good by you, the people of Grove Church. Your love and care for one another including me and my family, your passion for ministry and the community around you, your desire to learn more about your faith and deepen your relationship with God, all of these qualities have had an impact on me, helping me grow in my faith. I leave Grove a better person and a better pastor than when I first arrived. I know that because I knew you, I have been changed for good.

And as the song says, you will be with me, for the rest of my life, like a handprint on my heart, shaping how I live and how I believe. For the many gifts you gave me, from your affirmation of my ministry to your care during my recuperation to your wonderful and generous gifts as I prepared to leave, thank you. I hope we do meet again, but no matter what, please know that because I knew you, I have been changed both for the better and for good. I pray that you, too, have been changed for good by God’s work through me during my time at Grove. For God can accomplish through us so much more than we could ever ask for or even imagine. God bless you and keep you until we meet again at Grove’s 250th anniversary!

 

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