Sunday, 30 September 2012

Mark 9- he isn't one of us


Mark 9:38-50


New International Version (NIV)

Whoever Is Not Against Us Is for Us


38 “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.

Causing to Stumble


42 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. [44] [a] 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. [46] [b] 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where

“‘the worms that eat them do not die,
and the fire is not quenched.’[c]

49 Everyone will be salted with fire.

50 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”

Footnotes:

  1. Mark 9:44 Some manuscripts include here the words of verse 48.
  2. Mark 9:46 Some manuscripts include here the words of verse 48.
  3. Mark 9:48 Isaiah 66:24

 

 

Questions based on Mark 9:38-50-

1) Does the disciples' argument in verses 33-37 about who among them is the greatest have anything to tell us about verses 38-40?

2) When have you noticed a tendency in yourself to draw a line dividing people who belong and those who don't? Do those lines exist? If they exist how do our lines compare to Jesus' lines?

3) When have you experienced someone labeling you as belonging or not belonging?

4) Compare verse 40 to Matthew 12:30. How can these both be true? How does the context of both verses help us answer that question?

5) Consider what you believe about spiritual consequences for our actions. Are there consequences in this life and/or the afterlife? How does what you believe compare to what Jesus says in this passage?   

 

 

            One day my grandpa went to church. For some reason my Nan wasn't with him that day. So there he was in a pew at church trying to get 4 young kids to behave. It is a battle every parent who wants to bring kids to church knows. We try to keep our kids from tearing each other apart. We worry about them distracting others (though the sound of children is always a welcome sound in God's church). We try to get them to pay attention, and on top of all that we try to focus on worshipping and hearing at least part of the sermon. Well my grandpa was losing the battle when the priest spoke out from the pulpit telling my grandpa to make his children be quiet. That was the last day my grandpa ever went to church. ... I didn't hear that story from his own lips so I don't know what he thought about that event, but I'm sure he felt embarrassed, at least. Some might say, "well he must not have taken it that seriously if that's all it took for him to leave", ... He likely didn't, but that's the point. 

            There are plenty of examples of Christian leaders behaving badly that are more offensive than this. I don't think I need to give any examples. However, Christian leaders don't have a monopoly on being offensive. In our culture words associated with "Christian" are judgmental, prejudiced, close-minded, and arrogant, among others.

            My own temptation here is to explain it away. Culture has changed and so people are suspicious of authority now, that's why they talk badly about the church. I'm also tempted to disassociate myself from those who give the church a bad name. We're not like "those" Christians. They are a loud minority. They are the televangelists, and the crazy people who picket funerals. They just seem to get a lot of press ... But, of course they are my brothers and sisters too- as hard as that can be to admit to myself. I also have to admit that I have my own darkness. I've said and done things I shouldn't have. As Christians we have a lot of apologizing to do- for our own actions, and on behalf of Christians in general.

            Jesus gives us a warning in our reading today. Jesus says 42 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea."  My grandpa was a "little one". He was a little one who didn't have a firm grip on Jesus, but he was still open. He was there in a pew with his children.  He was one of the little ones Jesus spoke about. 

            On Sunday morning there are plenty of us who are hanging onto our faith by our fingernails. There are plenty of us who aren't sure what we believe anymore. There are plenty of us who are going through illness or a broken relationship, or friendship and we feel an absence of spiritual power. We have difficult unanswered questions and doubts. Some of us are just bored. And there are some of us for whom all this spiritual stuff is pretty new and we are still finding our footing.  

            There are plenty of us who are just hanging on by our fingertips, but we are hopeful. We hope to hear a word from God that will resolve our doubts. We hope to feel God's presence fill our loneliness. We hope to hear and believe that we are loved, known, and forgiven. When our faith feels fragile we are Jesus' "little one's". When our faith is new we are Jesus' "little one's".

            Some of us, though, feel pretty comfortable in a pew. We might not have it all together, but we at least feel like we are where we belong.  Jesus has a severe warning for those of us who feel comfortable here. He warns us to not cause his little ones to stumble. The word in the original Greek is actually close to our word "scandalize". Jesus warns us to not scandalize his little ones- to not cause such a severe offence that his little ones would cause someone to turn their back on Jesus. Jesus says it would better if that person tied a large stone around their neck and swam in a lake, rather than causing his little one to stumble.

            In our reading someone was using Jesus name to help someone. The person was using Jesus' name in an exorcism. I know that is a difficult word for us to hear and just pass by, but that is a sermon for another day. In our reading someone was in trouble- they were sick and trapped- and someone used Jesus' name to help them. One of Jesus' disciples, John, told them to stop because they weren't part of the in-group- he wasn't one of the disciples. John was thinking of the group of disciples as a club. You are either in or out. You are a part of this special group of people or you aren't. The in-group has special privileges. Jesus, though, doesn't think that way. He thinks in terms of which way you are facing. Is the person facing Jesus, or are they facing away from Jesus. Even if they are a long way off, it is more important that they are facing Jesus. If the person was using Jesus' name to bring healing, then it is very likely that they are facing Jesus.  John, however, was thinking of the group of disciples as a club.    

            We can sometimes do that in the church as well. Church can sometimes become a social club. It can become all about us and our friends. It's not that there is anything wrong with having friends at church, but it can never be a closed group.  That is exactly what Jesus is speaking against. A club is hard to get into. There is a membership fee, maybe there is a hazing. Maybe there is a special handshake. There is etiquette that if not followed will bring embarrassment. Jesus does not want that kind of church.  

            The Church Jesus wants is a church where it is easy to learn about him, and even meet him. If anyone shows any interest in Jesus there is to be no obstacle placed in their way. Anyone who places an obstacle between that person and Jesus would be better off jumping into a lake with a large stone around their neck.

            Now Jesus isn't counselling suicide or murder here, but he wants us to know how seriously he takes this situation. Anyone who shows any sympathy towards Jesus or his followers are to be treated with utmost respect. They are not to be tested and tried to see if they are worthy of the club. They are to be helped along. Their questions are to be taken seriously. As the church we are to be a place where we are free to question and disagree and still love and care for each other.   It is to be a place where we can search for God together. Church is where we gather and hope to be found by God. It is a place where we experiment and learn and grow.    

            I'm not sure where you find yourself on this spectrum. Do you feel comfortable here? Is this your home? Or are you just hanging onto your faith by your fingertips? Or maybe you are just beginning your journey with Jesus. Maybe you bounce back and forth and it depends on the week.

            I want you to notice how Jesus speaks to both groups and I want you hear his words to you. First, to those who are just hanging on, or those who are just learning about Jesus. Jesus speaks tenderly to you. He calls you his "little one". He will reward you for the smallest act you do to honour his name. Even a cup of water given out of care for Jesus will be rewarded. His severe warning is to protect you. It is a sign of his love and care fore you.

            To leaders and disciples Jesus says hard words of warning. To you who are comfortable and secure Jesus warns us to not place a stumbling block in front of Jesus' little one's. It would be better to go swimming in a lake with a large stone hung around our necks. For those who feel like they are a part of the in-group Jesus expects a lot. He especially expects that his little ones will be treated with special respect, dignity, and gentleness. Jesus warns us to remove all obstacles on the path to him, because there are serious consequences. Remove anything that causes someone to stumble. Even if it means removing your own hand, foot, or eye. Again, Jesus is telling us how important this is. He's not hoping for us to hack off body parts. It isn't my hand that causes me to sin, or my hand that causes other people to stumble. That is a deeper part of me. I don't cut off my hand to prevent sin. Instead, I have to carve sin out of my heart, soul, and mind- with God's help. That is where my sin is rooted. That is what will cause others to stumble by looking at my hypocritical life.        

            Why does Jesus take this so seriously? He cares about this because he cares about my grandpa who never set foot in the church again. He cares about this because he cares about people who are offended and abused by those who claim to represent Jesus. He makes a big deal out of this because the church is not a club where we get together with our buddies once per week. The church is the body of Christ. Archbishop William Temple once said, "The church is the only organization that exists for the benefit of its non-members". Maybe it's a slight exaggeration, but there is plenty of truth in the statement, regardless. The church can never be turned in on itself entirely, or it is in danger of losing its very identity.  The Church exists for the benefit of those outside it. The church exists as an expression of God's love for the creation. And God's love cannot exist only within the walls of the church. When it becomes a club it has lost itself.

            It is not our job to determine who is in or out. Our job is to create a clear and straight path to Jesus for those who want to know him better. John shouldn't have stopped the man from using Jesus' name. He should have showed him the path to Jesus. When the church remembers who it is, that is when all its brilliance shines. It is not our job to draw lines to determine who is in and who is out.

            It is as if Jesus taught his followers a dance. The dance is beautiful and joyful, and it becomes more fun as more people join in.  Some are just watching the dance. They think they can hear the music, but they aren't quite ready to dance. Some know just a few steps. Others swing across the floor as if their feet aren't touching the ground. The dance isn't just for the benefit of those who know it. The dance is for the joy of the one who invented it.     

Monday, 17 September 2012

The use of our tongue- James 3


James 3:1-12,   Mk 8:27-38

James 3:1-12

New International Version (NIV)

Taming the Tongue

3 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind,8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

 

Mark 8:27-38

New International Version (NIV)

Peter Declares That Jesus Is the Messiah

27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them,“Who do people say I am?”

28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

Jesus Predicts His Death

31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said.“You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

The Way of the Cross

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Footnotes:

Mark 8:35 The Greek word means either life or soul; also in verses 36 and 37.

 

Questions for reflection on James 3:1-12-

  1. Reflect on your use of your tongue do you use it more to build up and encourage or tear down and condemn? Do you often say things you later regret, or do people comment on how uplifted they are by your words?
  2. How does your use of your tongue affect the rest of your life?
  3. It has been said that “the tongue betrays the world that is in one’s heart”. What might your tongue tell you about your heart?
  4. Reflect on Peter’s tongue in Mark 8:27-38 and Jesus’ response. Who do you say that Jesus is? 

 


Sermon:

            When my wife, Crystal, was in grade 7 she worked on a science project with another student. The end goal was to present their project in a school science fair. My wife was a good student, but Crystal was paired with someone who didn't really have much of an academic drive. He was more interested in basketball. Crystal ended up doing most of the work and struggled to meet with her partner who rarely showed up and showed little interest in the project. Eventually the project was done and they were getting ready to present it to the judges at the science fair. The top finalists would have the privilege of presenting at the city wide science fair. Despite Crystal having a clearer understanding of the project, and despite her partner's lack of interest, the teacher chose her partner to present the project to the judges. The teacher chose the student who did barely and of the work, and who had a very limited understanding of the project. This boy was getting the same grade as Crystal and now the project was dependent on this slacker's ability to present their science project to the judges. Their grade and the privilege of going to the city science fair rested on this boy. This infuriated Crystal. She insisted that the teacher to let her present the project. The teacher responded, "I don't know what you're angry about, girls don't really go very far in the sciences anyway". Then he walked away, leaving Crystal speechless and fuming.   The family joke is that this was the moment that Crystal determined to become a Molecular Biologist. Obviously, these words had a profound effect on Crystal. Thankfully she transformed them into a challenge. But, these words very easily could have been words that crushed her into fitting a stereotype about women.
            Words have real power. The saying "sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me" might be mildly reassuring on the playground, but it is mostly not true. Words can start wars. Words can create peace. Words can start a friendship, or end a friendship. Words can create enemies. Words can bring life and encouragement, or death and depression. Words are powerful.
            Our Gospel reading (Mk 8) is focused on speech. Jesus asks, "who do people say that I am". Then he asks his disciples, "who do you say that I am?" Peter responds by saying, "you are the messiah".  In Matthew, (ch16) Jesus responds to Peter's words by saying,

 “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter,[b] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[c] will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be[d] bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be[e] loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. 
  
Peter's words evoked a blessing from Jesus. Peter's words reveal that he is speaking words heard from God. It is on the basis of these words that Peter will be the rock on which the church is founded.
            Then Peter says something else. Jesus says that as part of being Messiah he will have to suffer. He will have to be rejected by the authorities, be killed, and be resurrected. Peter responds by rebuking Jesus. To rebuke  someone is to scold them. It is to speak harsh words of correction to them. Jesus responds to these words by saying that Peter is now speaking for Satan.   A few short versus earlier Peter was speaking God's words, and in the next few versus he is speaking Satan's words. Words are powerful. We can use them to glorify God and support God's plans, or we can use them to get in the way of God and his blessing. We can bless people or curse them.
            In our epistle reading today James cautions us about our speech. It is especially important and troubling for preachers to hear, "Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly." But his words aren't just for teachers. The reason he makes a special point of teachers is that their words can have a lot of influence over the life of a community.  But of course, all of us speak words that effect people. The way parents speak has an effect on their children. The words of a trusted friend can also be very powerful. So James' words are for all of us.
            James says that our mouths are like a bit in a horse's mouth, or like a ship's rudder, or like a spark. It may be small, but it has a massive effect. A small bit in a horse's mouth can cause a charging horse to stop or change direction. A tiny rudder can altar the direction of a massive ship. A small spark can cause a huge fire.  Likewise, we should not underestimate our mouths. They may be tiny, but they can have an enormous effect. We often underestimate the power of our words.
            There are also plenty of ways we misuse our speech. We lie. We speak in ways that bring division. We speak in abusive and judgmental ways. We gossip. Sometimes we speak just for the sake of speaking- as if we are afraid of silence. Sometimes we speak in one way and act in another, which shows us to be hypocrites. 
            Sometimes our hearts are so confused we contradict ourselves, speaking in thoughtless and inconsistent ways "With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness." What does this tell us about our hearts?  Peter spoke words from God and words from Satan. Whatever we speak first comes from our hearts. Our words are like fruit on a tree. You can tell what the tree is like by looking at the fruit. James wants us to be careful and disciplined with our words. He doesn't just want us to be careful so that we protect our image. I think what he wants is for us to use our speaking carefully. He doesn't want careless speech to bring division in the community. He also knows that paying attention to our speaking is a way of paying attention to our soul. If we say something hurtful it didn't just "slip out". What has really happened is that we have shown ourselves to be the kind of person that says hurtful things.    
            So what do we do? Our words are dangerous and powerful.  Proverbs says that the one with knowledge uses words with restraint (Prov 17:27). We might be tempted to push that a little further and keep ourselves silent entirely. Some have gone this far. There are many, from the Desert Fathers and mothers on, who have decided to lead lives of deep silence. Some monks and nuns even made vows of silence.
            It is amazing and commendable in many ways. And surely it is a good practice for us to enter into silence on a regular basis, however, a life of complete silence is likely not realistic for many of us. The regular practice of silence is important though.  We live in a world where we are constantly being manipulated to buy something, or to support someone's political agenda. Sometimes we get drawn into this practice of manipulation and use our speaking in the attempt to control others. We are surrounded by noise. It is freeing to enter into silence and let go of our need to judge- to let go of our agendas and our need to control. It is good to enter silence so that we can once again hear God's voice which is often drowned out by endless chatter.     
            But, we are not made holy by not doing something. A fence post doesn't gossip, but that doesn't necessarily make it holy. If Peter would have remained silent he would not have spoken Satan's words, but he wouldn't have spoken God's either.
            Silence is an important practice, but I think the desert fathers and mothers would agree that this is only the beginning. To stop yourself from speaking hurtful and false words is just a starting point. We are also called to speak in a way that is full of love for God and our neighbor. We don't just want to keep ourselves from rebuking Jesus, we also want to name Jesus as Messiah and Son of the Living God.          
            We sometimes hear messages like this and we feel burdened by the need to act a certain way, but we often miss the grace in these kids of readings. James calls us to notice our speaking so that we can live awakened lives. How often do we say something without thinking and regret it? James' words to us are a grace from God. His teaching is good news that we can use our speaking to give life and not death.             
            As Christians, we are a part of God's mission to the world. Careless words, or false words, or divisive words can cause chaos and hurt within a community. It causes the community to be wounded and limping and leaves it unable to participate in its mission. Words have a tremendous amount of power. They have power to tear down or to build up. Just as many of us can remember a time we have been torn down by words, I'm sure most of us can remember a time we have been encouraged or built up by someone's words. Most of us remember the encouraging words of a parent, or teacher, or friend, spoken at the time we needed to hear it. James wants us to be those people. He wants us to be cautious with our speech because he knows how hard it is to keep from falling into unhelpful speech, but really he wants us to be people whose words give life.          

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Anger- James 1


James 1:17-27
1:17 Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

1:18 In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

1:19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger;

1:20 for your anger does not produce God's righteousness.

1:21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

1:22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.

1:23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror;

1:24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.

1:25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act--they will be blessed in their doing.

1:26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.

1:27
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.








            It doesn't take me long to dig into my life to find examples of anger. The other night I was making chocolate chip cookies with my two sons. We mixed up all the ingredients and the boys took turns stirring. Then we carefully placed the dough on the baking sheet and put them in the oven. The boys sat in front on the oven staring in the window at the baking cookies. I noticed that there was a sliding lock on the oven door and I thought it might be a good idea to lock it with the boys being so interested in what was happening inside. So I slide the lock over. Then the timer went off and we went to open the stove and the lock wouldn't unlock. I pulled and wiggled, but the door wouldn't budge. The lock was stuck tight. The boys stared in on our cookies that were trapped in the oven and we could smell them cooked to perfection, but not accessible. I could feel the anger welling up inside me. I was ready to get the big hammer, or push the oven down the stairs. I felt like my skin was about to turn green and my shirt would rip to shreds- Chris smash! ... I think the oven had a lock that was set to only open below a certain temperature, eventually we got the cookies, and they were even edible, though a little crunchy.
            That's a pretty trivial example. I could give more examples. There was a time a man with road rage freaked out at Crystal and started punching the van window with my son Zander on the other side. There was a time when there was a bloody fight at a youth group I was leading. A lot of the anger I see is caused by pretty trivial things- traffic, for example. People worried about being late because of traffic, or getting cut off,  or someone making a mistake. Some are less trivial- loss of a relationship, or serious illness, for example.
            There are lots of other causes for anger. Many are not as trivial as the examples I've given, but there is no shortage of examples. We live in a world with a lot of anger. We feel anger when we believe a situation isn't fair, or just. Or, anger might just be an indication that we aren't getting our own way. Things aren't being done our way, or according to our expectations. We feel anger when we can't control the situation. If we can't control the situation then we  become afraid of what might happen. That fear leads to desires for self-protection. That leads to us wanting to fight to change the situation, or run away from it.          
            The emotion itself is natural. Anger just happens, but the way we react to our anger is a choice. It is natural to feel that initial feeling of anger, but it is our choice to yell and scream or hit and throw things. Dwelling on the situation that is making us angry can also be a choice. We could choose to think about something else. Anger is given to us to highlight a situation. In that sense it is neutral, neither good or bad, but we are completely responsible for our reactions to our anger. Two people might encounter the same situation, but one flies off in a rage and the other doesn't. We have a choice as to how we react. Acting in anger can be quite dangerous.   
            The medical community has started to see the effects of anger on health. Anger causes the release of  a hormone called cortisol. In small doses it can give a burst of energy. However, higher and prolonged presence of cortisol can lead to serious health problems.  Anger has been linked to headaches, digestive problems, depression, high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and can even impair the brain's ability to think.[1]                 
            Anger isn't just bad for your health- It's bad for your soul too. Jesus says in Matthew 5:22,
"But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell."
Jesus sees anger as the seed of murder. A person who is seething with anger essentially is in the same condition as the person who is about to murder someone. The outer act of murder would never happen except for the inner disposition of anger. God's desire isn't for people who are seething with anger, while holding themselves back from murder. God's desire is for people to be filled with love who are peacemakers.
            In our Gospel reading today Jesus is saying that it is the inner disposition that leads to action that determines a person's cleanness or uncleanness, not a specific ritual. Someone who is filled with anger will have actions that flow from that inner disposition. That shows the uncleanness. Ritual hand washing before eating, does not determine the state of a person's soul. It's the condition of the heart that is the root. The action is only the flower. Unless you change the root you will always get the same flower. A rose root will produce a rose. A dandelion root will produce a dandelion. Our actions show what is inside of us. They betray our cleanness or  uncleanness.       
            There are plenty of other verses we could talk about. Jesus says in Matthew 5:43 'You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you".
            In his letter to the Ephesians (4:26, 31), Paul says, 26 “'In your anger do not sin': Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry... 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice". At first this might seem like it is allowing us permission to be angry- "in your anger do not sin". But, we have to ask why Paul is telling us to be so careful with our anger. "Don't let it last more than one day" seems like what he's saying if we take him literally. It is dangerous. It is especially dangerous if we let it seethe and become entrenched in our hearts. So get rid of it. Get rid of all rage and anger.
            The church throughout history has also given us strong warnings about anger. Some have allowed for it for the sake of justice and righteousness, but they also warn that this is dangerous ground. Usually anger is spoken of negatively. The 4th century monk John Cassian taught that anger can exclude God's Spirit from dwelling within a person, and so he forbade expressions of anger. It has been taught to be one of the deadly sins- commonly called "wrath". The Church has taught that anger interferes with prayer, clouds judgement, is dangerously self-justifying, and often leads to more sin. Some in the church even taught that all expressions of anger were sinful.    
             It's about this point that we want to defend our right to be angry. If we don't get angry people might abuse us. They will walk all over us. We want to say that our anger energizes us to stand up for justice and fight oppression. We might not want to call it anger. We want to call it "righteous indignation", because in our anger we are standing up for what is right.
            But, it's at this point we are confronted with today's reading from James.
(1:19-20) "My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,  because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires."
            We say we want our anger because we believe that it will help us stand up for justice and righteousness, but James tells us plainly, "human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires". James says we are wrong to hold onto our anger for the sake of justice and righteousness.  The root of anger will always produce a certain kind of flower. The way we protest against the injustices in the world are as important as the end. The end and the means are one. The way we protest produces a certain kind of world.
            For example, when I hear about someone abusing a child I can become really angry. So if I walk into a room where I see a child being abused my anger will motivate me to do something. But, if I'm motivated by my anger alone I will want to destroy the abuser. The victim disappears. All that exists in my anger is the abuser. ... However, if I walk in and am motivated by compassion, instead of anger, the victim will be larger than the abuser in my vision. It is also likely that I will be able to think more clearly about what to do and who to call in order to make sure the abuser doesn't abuse anyone else and that the victim is protected and cared for. ... Anger is destructive. Compassion leads to wholeness and peace.
            We might also want to defend our anger by pointing to the anger of God in the Old Testament, or the anger of Jesus in the New Testament. Without getting into a whole other sermon I'll just say that we have to be careful about saying that because God or Jesus did something that we have permission to do it. Just because God split the sea, and Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead doesn't mean we are called to do the same. We are called to imitate in some ways, but not in others. There are reasons that would allow God to act in anger justly, when we would be. God has all the information and sees all situations clearly- we don't. Also, we have to consider that God and Jesus have the moral character to use their anger without sinning. We are dramatically broken and likely don't have the character to act in our anger without sinning. Also, what we know as 'anger' might not be equivalent to 'anger' when applied to God. We often project our anger onto God and Jesus- for example when Jesus turns over the money changers tables in the temple.  There's more we could say, but that's another sermon for another day.    
            Jesus, and Paul, and James, and many others throughout the history of the church have taught us that anger is dangerous and leads to sin. So what do we do? What we don't do is repress it. Bottling up our anger is really just another way of holding onto it. What we do is that when we feel the initial anger, we stop. We slow down. We recognize the anger. We name it. Then we put the situation into perspective. We look at it in comparison to the big picture. So someone made a mistake on the road and cut you off. Have you ever made a mistake on the road? How would you hope to be treated if it was you who made the mistake? Maybe you think they were really trying to be a jerk. Why do you think that? Why not assume it was a genuine mistake? But, even if it was wilful, in the overall scheme of things is it worth getting worked up about? Why not use this as an opportunity to learn the virtue of patience? Is there any other way to learn patience except through learning to deal with frustrating situations? Remind yourself of Jesus' words. If we can learn to love someone who cuts us off on the road, perhaps we can start to learn love an enemy. This doesn't mean don't confront someone who has wronged you. By all means confront them, just not in anger.    
             When we learn to live in cooperation with God's Spirit living in us and working through us, then we can allow anger to be transformed. Like I said earlier, it's not wrong to feel that initial burst of anger, but our reaction to that initial burst is what matters. We can allow anger to rule us and we can throw things and yell and scream, or we can choose to breathe and slow down. We can recognize that we are feeling angry, but we don't have to let it rule us. We can allow it to float through our minds and leave as easily as it came, but that takes practice and it takes a continual training our minds on God. We can learn to follow God and God's way alone, which is meekness. Meekness is submission to God alone, not the bullies around us. Sometimes meekness means standing up against bullies in submission to God's will. In this we learn to be God's instruments to create peace wherever we are because we know that is the will of God.  
            As we learn to live and move in God's will,  and as we allow God to work in us and through us, then when something doesn't go our way, or something isn't perfect and it bothers us, we will be reminded that we are not God. We can give our desire to control to God. When we feel alone and afraid we will be reminded that God is always with us. When we make mistakes, or others in our lives make mistakes, we will be reminded that God knows all of it and still works through it and still loves us and them. When we see something that is unfair we can remind ourselves that we should respond, but that anger will not bring about the righteousness God desires. We live in a broken place, but God will not allow anything that he cannot redeem and bring good out of. In the end God will have the last word. Putting the situation into the bigger picture can make our anger seem quite petty, but in the moment we feel completely justified.
            Anger is a reality in all of our lives. We all choose how we react to it. The guidance we are given in the Bible about anger isn't to make life harder for us. We develop habits and patterns around anger that can be hard to break. Sometimes the ways we react are destructive. They are destructive to the people we live and work with- our friends and families- or strangers on the street. Sometimes the way we react to our anger is destructive for us. It is dangerous for our bodies, but it is also dangerous for our soul. The guidance we are given isn't to make life harder, it is to ultimately make our lives better and make the world a better place. It is about God's kingdom being established in our lives. Amen.        

Questions:
1. What makes you most angry and why?
2. What usually happens when you act out of anger (in that moment and in hours or days following)? 
3. Why does James say that human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires? 
4. What steps can you take to deal with anger in your life? 




[1] http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Anger_how_it_affects_people
http://www.help-your-child-with-anger.com/effects-of-anger.html
http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/features/how-anger-hurts-your-heart
http://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/counselloradvice9771.html
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00dsbsf/episodes/guide



For more on Anger consider the following:
The Good And Beautiful Life by James Bryan Smith (chapter 4)
Back to Virtue by Peter Kreeft (chapter 10)



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