March 25, 2013
Continuing in our evaluation of the five-part series The Bible on History Channel, Episode Four weaves story threads artfully if not completely accurately. The span of time shortens now, from hundreds of years to just two or three, the period of Jesus’ public ministry. There are some great scenes that could be used as clips for a Sunday school class, but as usual, I have some quibbles about details. Today I will explore the “ministry and miracles” (M & M) part, which appeared in the first half of the episode. In my next post, I will analyze the depiction of Christ’s last week.
The major M & M scenes covered in this episode (in this order) are these: Telling the parable of the sower, forgiving and healing the paralytic lowered from the roof, healing the leper. We see him overturning the money-changers’ tables, calling the tax-collector Matthew to discipleship, preaching the Beatitudes to a multitude, feeding the 5,000, teaching the Lord’s Prayer, and redeeming the woman caught in adultery. There is the stormy sailing on the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus walking on water, calling Peter to join him. At this point, not at the beginning of his ministry as depicted in Luke 4, Jesus reads the Isaiah 61 scroll in his home synagogue, announcing the purpose of his ministry. [This appears to be the chosen bridge between his Galilean ministry and the conflict with religious elites in Jerusalem.] We then hear that John the Baptist has been beheaded, and the political stakes are elevated.
Not a bad sampling of Jesus’ life and work!
The writers are a little coy about the conclusions people were coming to, as they see Jesus in action. Some of this is attributable, I think, to the legitimate interpretation that the people might be coming to Jesus only for the benefits: healing and food, for instance. Take the “Who do you say I am?” conversation (found in Mark 8:27-30). In the Scripture’s account, Jesus asks what the people are saying about him, and the answers range from identification with Elijah and “the prophets” to John the Baptist. These would be messengers from God to the Jewish people. But in the movie, the only answer is, “They think you are the [political] Messiah,” and the benefit would be political liberation. Or consider the stormy sea scene in Matthew 14:23-33. Jesus appears to the frightened disciples, walking on the water toward their boat. Peter demonstrates his trust in Jesus by getting out of the boat to walk on the water also. When he falters, the Scriptures say Jesus immediately plucks him out of the water with a “Hey, why did you doubt me?” As the wind dies down, the other disciples’ exclaim, “Truly you are the Son of God!” The television version has Peter sinking and almost drowning, hearing the words “O ye of little faith . . .” underwater, and then waking up suddenly on the beach with a look that says to the viewer, “What just happened here? Was this a dream?” A missed opportunity to connect Jesus to the Lord of all creation and to observe that faith in Jesus as Son of God was embraced by the other disciples, not just Peter.
I think what is happening is that the political ramifications of Jesus’ M & M are being emphasized at the expense of the theological underpinnings. Since I more closely identify with a theological approach, I am of course disappointed in the missed opportunities to make these links. There may also be an attempt to leave enough unsaid to encourage the viewer to put two and two together. However, the 21st century television viewer is much less likely to know enough background to make those connections. When the Scripture is overt in its claims about Jesus’ identity, that needs to be part of the story, don’t you think?
What I liked about this episode was the depiction of Jesus’ teaching dynamic, taking those “teachable moments” and using common elements to illustrate his points. It is highly unlikely that Jesus taught by lecture method (at least not often; maybe once), as the structure of the Sermon on the Mount might suggest. We might feel the movie-makers took his teachings “out of order,” but what is the proper order? The gospel writers themselves had different stories appear at different stages in Jesus’ life, because they were taking the great body of material they had to work with and telling Jesus’ story with it. This is precisely the task, I believe, the producers of this TV series were undertaking also.
One notable example of this was the encounter with Nicodemus, which appears in only one gospel (John) and near the beginning of his narrative (chapter 3). In the movie, Nicodemus is a confidant/assistant to the High Priest Caiaphas, and his role as skeptic turned inquirer stretches out to the last week of Jesus’ life. If this is the way it actually happened, then John’s gospel used the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus as a thematic banner. “Here is what Jesus is going to be about, as I [John] tell the whole story—‘You must be born again!’”
Another more subtle choice was to have a “Mary” appear as part of the band of disciples from very early in the story. She is never really introduced; we do not know her background, but only that she was part of the group of followers. The only quibble would be that she appears to be the only woman, unlike indications in the gospels; but kudos to the producers for subtly capturing an important nuance here, from Matthew 27:55 (plus synoptic parallels), that women as well as men were close followers of the teacher from Galilee.
With that, I will conclude this post and turn attention next to the last week of Jesus’ life, leading up to his trial before Caiaphas.
December 12, 2011
The one job I do not look forward to in December is stringing the lights on the fresh Christmas tree. I complained once too often a few years ago about wires showing, and the task became mine in perpetuity as a result. There are several aspects of the process that bring discomfort: the tree stays outside until the lights are on, for ease of access all the way around the tree, so it’s a cold job (if you can call 45° cold, which we do here in sunny California). One must hold one’s arms high for what seems an interminable amount of time. Then there’s the sap and the sharp needles to sting the effort. And last but not least, despite pre-testing, sometimes a string does not light when the tree is plugged into the electrical socket.
But I did it, and the tree is now in our family room glowing and beckoning us more deeply into the season.
The thought struck me that the normal Presbyterian life is lot like stringing tree lights. Being a light in the world, and—as we were discussing last week—a light within our own PCUSA family, is not always easy or fun. To be a light can be costly, inconvenient, tedious, or even painful. It can also be frustrating, if one goes to a lot of work only to end up with lights that do not work.
The tree lights we use have this irritating feature: if one bulb is not working properly, the whole string goes out. The biblical equivalent of this reality is mentioned by Paul at 1 Cor 12:26: “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it.” Lights go out by one of two means: veiling the light of Jesus from view, that is, hiding the good news of the gospel we believe, or extinguishing the light altogether, a more active rejection of the good news. We might hide our light because we feel intimidated into silence by a world inhospitable to the gospel, remembering that this “world” is well represented within the PCUSA itself. We might extinguish the light by disbelief or hostility toward God and his purposes for us, in the form of open disobedience to God’s Word. But dysfunctional relationships and skewed family systems will do it, too, and turn us into mere institutional survivalists. In any case, even one congregation gone rogue undermines the light-bearing capacity of the rest.
In some presbyteries, congregations, and among individual Presbyterians, the light of biblical faithfulness, obedience to Jesus, and vivid testimony of the transforming power of God is fading. And since Presbyterians hold dear the value of connectionalism, if one Presbyterian light bulb short-circuits, it has the potential for damaging the integrity of the denomination’s entire witness. This is one reason why congregations either want to take “Presbyterian” out of their name—to minimize guilt by association—or disaffiliate with the PCUSA.
But here is the Advent Call: the stresses of the present moment should motivate all Presbyterians to stay plugged in to our Power Source, reflect the glory of our risen Savior, shine brightly in the hope that sustains us, and prophetically light the way toward Christ the Lord. “Let your light so shine before people, that they will see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven!” (Matthew 5:16).
November 17, 2011
Completely unique among world religions, Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount that we are to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-48). I’m pretty sure I have my share of those who, as Dallas Willard says, “would not be sorry to learn [I] have died” (Divine Conspiracy, p. 181). I have found the following prayer to be an earnest and challenging expression of humility and gratitude for enemies. It was written by St. Nikolai Velimirovic (1881-1956), a Serbian Orthodox bishop of the last century, who is well-known to American orthodox people for his many visits and eventual immigration to the United States after WWII.
Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Enemies have driven me into Your embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to earth, enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.
Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world. Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul. Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.
They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world.
They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself
They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments. They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself. They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance.
Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish. Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a dwarf.
Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background.
Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand.
Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep.
Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out.
Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of Your garment.
Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me:
so that my fleeing to You may have no return;
so that all hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs;
so that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul;
so that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins: arrogance and anger;
so that I might amass all my treasure in heaven;
ah, so that I may for once be freed from self-deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.
Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself.
One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends.
It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies.
Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and my enemies.
A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand. But a son blesses them, for he understands.
For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life. Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them.
Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.
November 11, 2011
Using our sorting matrix from yesterday’s post our attention turns to the center column in which the following questions are asked:
1. What would Jesus do if he were in my shoes struggling with my place in the PCUSA?
• Jesus would appeal to his Father’s authority over all things. In communion with God, Jesus’ incarnational call would be reaffirmed and the power to fulfill it poured out upon him. He would continue to “meet” daily in quiet solitude with his Father, feed upon God’s Word, and rely on God for direction and instruction.
Lord, encourage me in your Spirit and fashion me in the image of your Son. Make me secure in your love and strengthened for your service. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.
• Jesus would speak prophetically to the wayward, the self-righteous, the institutionally entrenched; he would emphasize truth to liberals, grace to conservatives, and repentance to all, as usual.
Lord, let me not shrink from speaking the truth in love; give me courage and the knowledge of your truth, wisdom to recognize the opportunity to share it, and joy in repentance.
• Jesus would continue ministering to those who are spiritually hungry, in need of physical healing, desperate for relief from captivity, and confused about who he is.
Lord, help me to approach those in need with your love, transforming gospel, joyful freedom, and the sure knowledge of your salvation. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
• Jesus would challenge our misguided efforts and misappropriated resources designated for gospel ministry. Lord, help me to steward your precious resources for the most faithful impact. I resist every temptation to hoard or to gather more than I can use, and make what I do possess availability to your purposes. If there is greed mixed into my motives, root it out, so that your mission can be freely supported.Give us this day our daily bread.
• Jesus would weep in lament over the church’s capacity to self-destruct with bad doctrine, open sin, and ungodly priorities.
Lord, I lament the direction this church is going and weep for those whose faith is waning as a result. Protect me from spiritual danger, and give me courage to continue as your servant among those who do not agree with me about you and your gospel. Forgive us our sin as we forgive those who sin against us.
• Jesus would do what comes naturally in the Spirit, and take the consequences as they unfold. Jesus would be unafraid of reprisals, ridicule, and retaliation; he would keep doing his work despite the pressure from temporal powers. And if those powers turned against him, he would take it without defensiveness and let the chips fall where they may. But under no condition would he renege on his promises to God, tickle the ears of the religious elite or secular culture, or give priority to his own welfare.
Lord, lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil.
2. What would Jesus advise me to do in the present dilemma I face in the PCUSA?
• To everyone: Trust in God, abide in Jesus Christ, and draw upon the Spirit for life itself. Read, preach, and obey the Word of God, in season (when it’s easy) and out of season (when it’s not).
• To the Pharisees on both sides of the aisle: Jesus came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. “Get yourself right with me, and you will find yourself responsive not only to the letter of the Law but also the spirit of the Law.” The spirit of the Law covers the heart attitude and the mental discipline of complete submission to God’s will as differentiated from my own.
• To ministers of the PCUSA tribe: if your village is unreceptive after repeated attempts to share the transforming gospel of Jesus Christ, move on. Shake the dust off your feet and find a more receptive crowd, small group, or circle of friends to preach to. If you have exhausted the possibilities within the Presbyterian village, leave it to God’s care and go find others who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness and teach them.
• To the power-seekers: “If you want to be great, become the servant of all.” Now is not the time to assert rights we do not have, but to seek rightness with God and one another. This means being very attentive to holiness and humility, empowered by the Spirit of God.
• To “the overcomers” of Revelation 1-3: Prepare for persecution, remain steadfast in the truth, and do not compromise our faith in order to secure a comfortable and easy life. Now is not the time for lukewarm spirituality, but for passionate and radical obedience to the Way of Christ, in truth and grace.
What would happen if presbyters—from both sides of the controversies—were to exhibit the quality of heart described here? They would be people who could work together only because they were disarming their weapons under the watchful eye of our Lord. May we seek vulnerable encounters with each other for the purpose of finding a corporate way forward, knowing full well that even in the spirit of Christ we may conclude that the differences between us may lead to separation for a higher good.
Tomorrow, the “Jesus questions” in the broader corporate context: How did Jesus advise his disciples to relate to the religious powers? What would Jesus advise congregations and councils to do in the present denominational dilemma?
November 9, 2011
This week’s lesson from the Sermon on the Mount addresses the issue of retaliation. There is a word here for all Presbyterians about responding to life’s hurts in a godly fashion. Particularly in the contentious environment in which some of us are working these days, where hurts are inflicted and wrongs are perpetrated, I predict that Christ may challenge us severely.
38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.”
An eye for an eye.
Jesus harkens back to the old rule of Israel, found in Exodus 21:24, with elaborations in Leviticus 24:20 and Deuteronomy 19:21. The Law’s original intent was to prevent the excesses of a blood-feud. “An eye for an eye” was actually a moderating idea: let the punishment fit the crime and do not overdo its warrant. The old command preserved justice, and the new one can do no less, since Jesus came to fulfill the law, not abolish it.
When those folks who have the capacity at Presbytery to hurt us, and rebuke is required when they do (or when we do), then appropriate life-shaping discipline is the goal, but not revenge. In fact, restoration is the ultimate objective, according to the first chapter of the Rule of Discipline.
Do not resist an evil person.
It is not a disciple’s job to mete out his own justice. God will take care of that, it says elsewhere. Jesus’ admonition not to fight back or resist the injustices of another was demonstrated by his own conduct at his trial before crucifixion. [This is an instruction for the individual, the private citizen, not to the state, which is charged with the responsibility of restraining evil on behalf of its citizens.] Whether or not we Presbyterians ever consider another in our tribe to be “evil” is one thing; but short of that, if someone seeks to do me harm or to ridicule my efforts at Presbytery, it is not for me to punish her.
Turn the other cheek.
A slap to the right cheek was an injury to personal honor, like the backhanded slap as a contemptuous insult. Jesus teaches us to stand up to the attacker bravely and calmly, but not to “get even.” I can think of a few “moments” during congregational meetings in times past when I have been slapped in this manner (figuratively speaking); what comes naturally is to fight back or sling an insult in the other direction. But Jesus says no to that option, even as it means remaining vulnerable to hurt. What is required is Christian poise in the face of affront.
If sued, give more than the aggrieved demands.
Consistent with Jesus’ previous teaching on conflict resolution, the command is toward generosity and conciliation, short of a lawsuit. But if another wants the shirt off your back, give him your coat, too. Though it is extremely uncomfortable to pursue the question, we must ask how this teaching applies to the church property issue. On one hand, when a congregation desires to leave the PCUSA with its property, how can the presbytery refuse? On the other hand, what right does a congregation have to make the demand in the first place?
Go the extra mile for the one who seeks to exploit you.
At the very least, Jesus is saying, in one-on-one daily, non-heroic situations, be resolved to put aside your own convenience. This would seem to add weight to the hope that presbyteries would go out of their way to make sure a departing congregation is provisioned and set up for its continuing ministry.
Give to the one who asks to borrow from you.
This command refers to those situations in which one feels taken advantage of. Jesus desires that we overwhelm another person’s possible exploitation by being generous. A perfect example of this comes from Les Misérables where the good Bishop reacts to Jean Valjean’s theft of his sterling silver plates. The Bishop said, “Wait, wait, why did you not take the candlesticks as well?” Augustine notes that the text does not say, “give whatever your are asked,” but “give to whomever asks,” meaning that if persons ask us for something unjust or excessive, we do not have to give that to them, but we do have to give them something and err on the side of generosity. The $64,000 question is whether departing churches are going too far by expecting to retain occupancy of their real property and whether presbyteries are being retaliatory by requiring a congregation to vacate as they leave the PCUSA.
Jesus, as usual, presents us with some disturbing challenges. What are we to do in obedience to Jesus’ teaching, and how are we to live into our Presbyterian commitments? Is there any way in which these two demands are in tension with each other? If so, what are we supposed to do? Stay tuned.
November 3, 2011
My weekly Bible study on the Sermon on the Mount continues. This week’s topic is found in Matthew 5:33-37, on the taking of oaths. To 21st century eyes, it is a strange passage, but with a little digging into Jewish context, its message is surprisingly challenging. First, the text:
33“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”
The application of this teaching branches in two directions: swearing an oath and making promises (or vows). The two are brought together when Jesus addresses taking of oaths as a way of bolstering one’s promises. Vows were a very serious matter in Israel. It was understood that even the really dumb ones must be fulfilled, as was the case with Jephthah’s rash vow that cost his daughter her life in Judges 11.
The Rabbis had a convoluted method for “interpreting” the fine points of a vow and offered these as loopholes to the people (Mishnah, Shevuot, 3). In the movie Truman Show, Truman suspects that his whole life is not what it seems. (What he doesn’t know is that his life, contained in a made-up world, is televised 24/7 as the ultimate reality show. All the figures in his life are actors.) One clue that sets him on his quest for the truth is found in his wedding picture. His wife, he notices, has her fingers crossed behind her back on their wedding day! With fingers crossed a person supposedly invalidates a promise being made: “I don’t really mean it.”
So Jesus is exhorting here, let your “Yes” be a true “Yes”; let your “No” be a real “No.” In other words, say what you mean and mean what you say.
And you don’t have to buttress your promises with oaths, as in “I swear by the heavens that [this] is true.” If you are telling the truth, you do not have to swear by anything. And besides, Rabbis, Jesus says, don’t play games by swearing in the name of something else big and important, like heaven, earth, or yourself, because all these things are part of God’s creation. This is tantamount to swearing in God’s name (which is strictly forbidden by the Third Commandment), since it all refers back to him anyway. In this case Jesus is teaching that oaths add nothing to validate one’s statements. Does swearing with one’s lips somehow overcome a deceptive heart? No! But a pure heart with characteristic integrity requires no oath to guarantee the truth of one’s statements.
So Jesus is exhorting us to let your “Yes” be a true “Yes”; let your “No” be a real “No.” In other words, say what you mean and mean what you say. You don’t have to add anything to make yourself believable, if your character is trustworthy.
So what does this have to do with the PCUSA? Everything. All church officers answer nine constitutional questions, found in the Book of Order W-4.4003, that govern their belief and behavior as servants of the gospel. [The church does not use the word “vows” to describe these questions, but they are promises nonetheless and seal a person’s ordination for life.] Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount instructs all who answer the ordination questions to consider carefully the commitment before making it. Do not cross your fingers behind your back as you say yes to the authority of Scripture, or yes to the adoption of the Confessions, or yes to furthering the peace, unity, and purity of the church, or most importantly, yes to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Do not renegotiate the meaning of words or deconstruct the language of the questions to suit your own meaning. Despite postmodernism, the PCUSA still has a heritage and a lexicon, and words mean something. Say “Yes” or “No,” but do not mess with the intended meaning of our confessional and constitutional texts.
The whole point of truth telling and integrity is to demonstrate trustworthiness. One cannot think of a more important qualification for ministry than to be people of the Word and people whose “word is their bond.” So let the church see the kerfuffles ahead as a great opportunity to define the meaning of words, to agree to those definitions as the basis for debate or promise, and then be honest with our “yes” or “no” as to what they require.
October 19, 2011
Last night’s Bible study class (which I lead weekly) continued in the Sermon on the Mount to the topic of “Murder Management.” Jesus raised the bar on the fifth commandment, “Do not murder” to include the avoidance of anger:
21“You have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not murder,’ [that is, criminal killing] and ‘whoever murders will be subjected to judgment.’ 22But I say to you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgment. And whoever insults a brother* will be brought before the council, and whoever says ‘Fool’ will be sent to fiery hell. 23So then, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your gift. 25Reach agreement [lit. make friends] quickly with your accuser while on the way [implied: to court], or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the warden, and you will be thrown into prison. 26I tell you the truth, you will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny!”[NET Bible]
*Literally, “whoever says to his brother ‘Raca’”—that is, an Aramaic word of contempt or abuse meaning “idiot” or “empty head.”
Since anger is identified as the second stage of Presbyterian grief (yesterday’s post), and since the Fellowship of Presbyterians in August said, “We are not acting out of anger,” I thought an examination of this Word’s application is very relevant to the PCUSA situation.
First of all, to the surprise of some and the chagrin of others, I am not by nature an angry person, and my reason for activism in the PCUSA is not to foment or perpetuate anger in myself or others. Jesus warns us against anger here, because it leads to something far worse, the contempt of a brother, and if unchecked, to destruction of a person. Dallas Willard notes that Jesus is not merely concerned with the preservation of life (do not murder), but in the protection of persons (do not perpetuate anger). Both are important, and followers of Jesus must keep the safety of persons close to the heart.
For this reason, the church, our congregations, you and I must remember that there are persons within our Presbyterian fellowship against whom we must not perpetrate anger. LGBT folks claim that evangelicals’ objection to so-called gay ordination are doing violence against them. Their basis for this assessment is that they feel the objection itself, no matter how reasonably or calmly stated, is by definition a destructive influence. I obviously disagree with this evaluation, but I take it seriously and seek out ways to be gracious in personal contact with gay and lesbian friends and acquaintances. Many, many pastors give quiet, helpful ministry to all kinds of folks, as an expression of their faith in action.
Some believe, however, that anger is a necessary fuel for continued effective activism. Even conservatives have told me this, but I don’t buy it. I need only point to James’ epistle, in which he writes, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for one’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (Js 1:19f). Because anger leads to hostility and a desire to punish, it cannot be a pure motive for the Lord’s work!
Anger serves a purpose, however; it happens spontaneously, without warning, in reaction to something. We’re supposed to note anger’s presence. Righteous anger is an alert, a smoke alarm of sorts, indicating that something is not right and needs attention. There is also unrighteous anger that reacts to not getting one’s own way. That anger needs to be confessed and immediately released, with thanks to God for keeping one from falling into sin. But the purpose of righteous anger is to bring to one’s consciousness that something is wrong. In this case, we say “thank you” to the anger for doing its job, but dismiss it and not let it fester or cause us to fret or worry. Instead, we welcome it as an invitation to home in on the matter to which it alerted us. What is wrong? Where is the root of the trouble? What is my part in it? Is there something I can do to address or redirect events?
The apostle Paul admonished the Ephesians: “In your anger, do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Eph 4:26f). In other words,
Acknowledge the feeling; examine its root.
Deal with the problem; give anger the boot!
[I must have gotten this witticism from somewhere, but cannot recall the source.]
Call it what it is, and take it only for what it is worth. Conduct an examination of your conscience to identify where the anger springs: fatigue? selfishness? a genuine injustice? Then deal with the problem, which might mean personal confession, seeking reconciliation, or getting to work in a righteous way that would please God. Let go of the anger, because we do not need it in order to fix what is broken now.
Join me in praying for the PCUSA and for every encounter between brothers and sisters, that we might be wise and patient, self-aware and forgiving, as we seek God’s will and the strength to do it.
October 12, 2011
My weekly discussions around the Sermon on the Mount continue to stimulate application within the PCUSA context. This week’s topic was “The Fulfillment of the Law” (Matthew 5:17-20). Jesus taught:
17Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them. 18I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place.19So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees,you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. [NET Bible]