Rev. Joanne Blair
March 25, 2018
Matthew 5:9, Mark 11:1-10
“Don’t get mad, get even.” We often laugh when we hear this quote (and its variations), as it’s often heard in comedy settings. But this quote, attributed to Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. and used by his sons, Jack and Bobby, actually speaks to wrath. Many of us have heard, and perhaps used, this quote in our daily lives.
As I was searching for the person this quote is credited to, I came across a book by the same title—its full title being, “Don’t Get Mad, Get Even… the Big Book of Revenge.” It’s described as: “More than 200 utterly satisfying ways to get revenge on the fatheads who make life that little bit less worth living every time they get out of bed.” Last published in 2006 and now out of print, you can still get it on Amazon through third-party sellers … and the going price is a mere $558.10. And while I’m sure (at least I hope!) that people bought the book for a grin and a giggle, I just couldn’t find the humor in it.
Anger, is a normal emotion. We all feel angry at times. Anger can allow us to recognize and respond to injustices toward ourselves, and in the world. It can motivate us to seek solutions… and encourage us to heal damage.
But anger left unchecked is not only unhealthy, it can be dangerous and destructive. It can turn in on itself, feeding on itself until it distorts our sense of right and wrong …. and it can turn into wrath. Wrath transcends anger and turns our agenda to hurting and bringing pain to those who hurt us … or those whom we fear have the power. Dante called wrath a “love of justice perverted to revenge and spite.” Wrath is considered one of the “deadly sins” because it leads us to work for vengeance instead of love.
And, as with the other sins we have examined throughout this series, there is an antidote: being a peacemaker.
“Blessed are the peacemakers…” Notice that Jesus did not say “peace-lovers, or peace-hopers, peace-dreamers or even peace-prayers”, … he said the peacemakers. Too often in our world, we associate “peace” with the absence of war. In the 1900’s, 292 peace treaties were signed. So far in this century, 39 have been officially recorded. Do we live in a peaceful world? I think not. Certainly not the kind of peace Jesus is talking about. And in our personal lives, when we settle an argument, we say we have made peace. But have we? So often we harbor bad feelings, even resentment, and carry that baggage with us. Is that really peace?
When Jews greeted each other, they would say “Shalom” – one of my top five favorite words in the Bible. We all know that Shalom means peace … but do we really understand the scope of it? This big simple-sounding word means health, prosperity, fulfillment, freedom from trouble, harmony, and wholeness. They were wishing each other the full presence, peace, harmony and prosperity of all the blessedness of God. It’s a beautiful word.
The Greek verb that “peacemakers” comes from means “to do, or to create.” It is an energetic word demanding action and initiative. A peacemaker is never passive … their very being is always active in the making of peace.
Matthew 5:9 says “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” The original Greek translates, … “they will be sons of God.” The reason I bring this up, is that there is a difference in intention. We are all God’s children, and the use of the word “sons” does not leave we women out of the blessing!
But “Children of God” means being part of the family. “Sons of God” was used to mean not only a part of the family, but also those who share resemblance to their heavenly Father. Those who actively participate in God’s mission of peace … in Shalom. Jesus is saying that as we become peacemakers, we will be recognized as the sons and daughters of God who share in God’s name and God’s mission. Indeed, we are all God’s children … we are all part of God’s family. But are we all peacemakers? Are we all sons and daughters of God? Peacemaking, true peacemaking, is a divine work. And Jesus is the ultimate peacemaker.
On this day, Palm Sunday, we celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. On that first Palm Sunday, the crowds lay down their branches and cloaks, and spread them on the street before him … literally giving Jesus the royal treatment. They had heard about his miracles and regarded him as the leader who would deliver them from the Roman Empire’s domination. Quoting Psalm 118, and seeing the prophecy of Zechariah fulfilled, they rejoiced as they welcomed their new King. Jesus would now free them from oppression. Now things would be the way they should be! But Jesus himself came profoundly-- yet quietly … proclaiming the peaceful reign of God.
New Testament scholars Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan remind us that there was also another procession that day. As Jesus came from the east, a Roman procession came from the west. As Jesus came on a donkey in peace, the other procession came with horses and weapons. As one came for deliverance, the other came to ensure oppression. As one came in peace, the other came in threat of violence.
Jesus could have retaliated, but he chose not to. There are a lot of things Jesus could have done, but he came with an agenda. There are those who see Jesus as being meek at this point … he was not. Matthew 5:5 of the Beatitudes says, “Blessed are the meek…” One way to define meekness is “strength under control.” We often think of a meek person as someone who is passive and lets others take advantage of them. This was not Jesus. Biblical meekness requires strength … a lot of strength. Biblical meekness requires control … a lot of control.
Jesus had both … and he was incredibly proactive.
Those with Biblical meekness trust in God, commit their way - and their ways - to God, and wait for God. Sounds like the makings of a peacemaker, doesn’t it? “But sometimes I just get so angry,” we say. Well, there is a place for anger. Anger at injustice. But there is no place for wrath. “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord.” What we are called to do is make a place for Shalom. We all have dozens of opportunities every single day to make peace in our world. But we need to be sensitive enough to see our opportunities, and close enough to God that we will choose to do so. It is then that we become not only God’s children, but also sons and daughters of God … reflecting God’s likeness.
And so, the challenge is to ask ourselves, “What can I do this week to be a peacemaker? What can I do to be a reflection of God’s Shalom?” As we enter into this most Holy Week, may we focus on what is known as the Peace Prayer of Saint Francis.
Let us pray:
Lord, make me an instrument of your 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;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Rev. Dr. John Judson
March 18, 2018
2 Samuel 13: 1-2, 7-19
Matthew 5:8; Philippians 4:4-9
You saw it. You heard about it. You have to have it. It is the 208-in-one tool that will allow you to take apart and put back together a Boeing 777. And it fits in your pocket. You saw it. You heard about it. You have to have it. It is the two-pound burger with a pound of bacon inside. You can just taste it melting in your mouth. You saw it. You heard about it. You have to have it. It is the i-phone twenty. Not only does it search the internet and make phone calls. It thinks for you and makes your coffee in the morning. You saw it. You heard about it. You have to have it. It is the self-driving sedan that has 400 horsepower, goes 167mph and will gives you a massage on the way to work. You saw it. You heard about it. You have to have it. Then you get it and suddenly, it is just a tool, a burger, a phone and a car. You wonder why you had to have it. You have buyer’s remorse…but wait there is something else. You see it. You hear about it. You have to have it. Ever been there…even a little? Well if you have then you have had at least a mild case of Lust.
I realize that most of you, when you heard that the sin of the week was lust, were probably expecting me to talk about sex. And that would make sense since most dictionary definitions imply that lust and sex are inseparable; and all of the reference material I use to prepare my sermons focuses on sex, and nothing more; and that so much of what we read in the Bible about lust seems to have to do with sex. Yet, lust is about far more than sex. In fact, excessive sexual lust is only one of many symptoms of lust. Think about how we use the word. People lust for power. They lust for wealth. They lust for fame. They lust for sex. With that in mind, how then should we define lust? Since you asked, here is my definition. Lust is the desperate drive to be complete. Let me explain.
All human beings are born incomplete. What I mean by this is that all human beings are born with a need to be in communion with God and neighbor. We have this place inside of us that can only be filled by authentic love and relationship. We can see this in the second creation story when God says of Adam, it is not good for man to be alone…and not simply because he can’t load the dishwasher correctly. It is that we are created to be complete only in community. Unfortunately, all of us, to some degree or another never find ourselves completed. So, we hunt for those things that will accomplish that task. The problem with this is that, to paraphrase country singer Johnny Lee, we go looking for completeness is all the wrong places. We look for it in sex, in material possessions, in experiences and so on. What happens when we don’t find that thing that completes us is that we become more and more desperate, and lust is born. It becomes this insatiable craving for completeness. And unfortunately, this desperate desire not only leaves those who have it unhappy and incomplete, but it leaves behind it a wake of pain and destruction.
This understanding of lust is at the heart of our Old Testament lesson this morning. The characters involved are Amnon and Tamar. They are step siblings. Amnon “falls in love” with his step sister so much so that he becomes “ill.” This my friends is not love, but lust. It is a desperate desire to be made complete. Somehow Amnon believes that if he can “have” Tamar, that his life will be full. The problem is that she does not share his lust. The result is that Amnon, with the help of a friend, devises a scheme so that he can have Tamar. When she refuses, his lust causes him to rape her. The results of this horrific act are first, that Amnon becomes disgusted with Tamar because his rape of her did not complete him, and Tamar’ life is destroyed because she is no longer a virgin and so cannot marry. This is how lust works. It focuses on an object. Obsesses over the object. Gains the object. Then is deeply disappointed when the object does not fulfill their longing for completeness, which leads to the object being discarded. Lust leaves the one lusting unhappy and the thing or person, lusted after, abandoned and used up.
We might think, that after almost three thousand years, we would have learned to deal with lust. Unfortunately, rather than learning to deal with it, we have learned how to use it. We have learned how to use lust to make money. The pornography industry has learned how to use sexual lust to sell magazines and videos. The food services industry has learned how to use it to draw us in to eat food that is probably not the best for us. The smart phone industry uses it to sell the latest phone that is probably not much better than the one we have now. In fact, Apple is worried that lust for their phones may be running out. And Kia has Emmerson Fittipaldi driving his car, with tires smoking with a 365hp engine, hoping that our car and speed lust will draw us into their dealerships. And in the end, these lusts lead us to be unhappy, disappointed, in debt, with poor health and often with broken and shattered relationships. All of this leads to the question, how do complete ourselves and leave lust behind?
The answer is that we become those with purity of heart. Blessed are the pure in heart Jesus says, for they will see God. In our culture, to speak of purity often brings up an image of some holier-than-thou, glowing figure dressed in white, who never has any fun. Purity in Greek has a very different meaning. It is more closely linked with the idea of purifying something by removing the impurities that are in it and adding beneficial ones to it. You can think of it as what we do with water. We floc it to separate sediment, then we filter it and then we purify it while at the same time we add fluoride to it to make it ever better. This is a good way to think about Jesus’ use of pure. The pure are those who are in the process of ridding themselves of the objects of their affections that do not complete them, while at the same time filling themselves with those that do. They are intentionally moving their focus away from non-life completing “things”, and back to those attributes and virtues that allow them to connect with God and neighbor, thereby finding completeness; namely those things that Paul writes about in his letter to the church in Philippi. He writes, “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”
Lust is out there. Lust is in here (in us). It is the result of being incomplete human beings. But you and I have a choice as to how we let it drive our lives. We can give in to it and find ourselves continually disappointed and unhappy. Or we can begin purifying our hearts by removing the objects of lust and replacing them with the virtues of God, and in the process, seeing the love of God filling our lives and moving us toward completion. That is my challenge then, to ask ourselves, how are we working to purify our lives that we might be made complete and whole in Christ?
Rev. Dr. John Judson
March 11, 2018
Matthew 5:7; Luke 12:13-21
How many of you here this morning saw the movie Finding Nemo? For those of you who never saw it, it is a movie about a Clown Fish, Nemo, who gets separated from his family, and the ensuing adventure as Nemo’s father goes in search of him. It had everything that a movie ought to have. It had comedy. It had drama. It had great characters. It showed us what bravery and loyalty look like. It even had a happy ending. But the best parts for me were the sea gulls, as they zipped around the screen saying…and you can say it with me. “Mine, mine, mine.” This was one of the best parts because it not only reminds me of how gulls sound, but it also reminds me of the way our children once sounded. “It’s mine and you can’t have it.” It was then the first image that came to my mind when I began to think about greed; people who went around saying, “Mine, mine, mine.” But the reality is that those gulls are not greedy. They are hungry. Rather than greedy they are needy. And when they are full, they stop saying, “Mine.” I’ve never seen a gull, take more fish than they need, fill up a cooler with them and then keep other gulls away. They only take what they need. Greed is different.
I define greed by using a three-part test. Greed is when people say “Mine, mine, mine” over something that they do not need, do not appreciate (or are not appreciative of) and do not share. All three of these are necessary for greed. What this means is that all of you gear heads with classic cars are safe, because even though you don’t need that hemi-cuda in the garage and you don’t share it, you do, or at least I hope you do, truly appreciate it. But, back to greed. We can see all three of these factors at work in our Jesus’ story for the morning, which by the way, Jesus told as a story of greed. First the farmer does not need all the grain that the ground produced. He could spend the rest of his life trying to eat it and he would never get through it. In fact, Jesus’ audience would know that so much grain would probably rot before the owner could eat it. Second, he was neither appreciative of, nor did he really appreciate his grain windfall. If he were, he had would have joined his fellow Jews out in the fields during the Feast of Booths, and given thanks to God. All he could think about was what to do with it. There was no sense of gratitude or even accomplishment. Finally, he did not share it. Again, to fully appreciate his not sharing, the Jewish Law was very clear that one was to share what one had with widows, orphans and the poor. To not share with the multitude of the poor was a sin. This was greed at its worst.
Some of you here this morning, might wonder why this is such a big deal. After all, who does greed hurt? The answer is that greed is a sin that hurts not only the person who is greedy, but others as well. Greed affects the greedy person by isolating them from others. All that matters to them is themselves and what belongs to them. If they connect with others, they might have to share, and they cannot bear to do this. Walls are then created to keep other people out. By keeping people out, the greedy become less and less human and begin to simply be what they possess. For those of you who have ever seen or read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is the perfect example of how greed isolates. He has great wealth but he is all alone. Greed also affects others. We live in a world of great need. People are hungry. People are thirsty for clean water. People need housing. People need so much. What greed does is that it takes what might be shared with others and keeps it locked away. This is the image of the man building better and bigger barns. Rather than selling some and giving alms to the poor, or giving away the grain to the hungry, he keeps it all for himself, and others suffer. Greed is a sin that cuts both ways. So how do we turn things around? The answer is to be merciful.
Jesus tells his friends that, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.” This may appear to be a bit odd because we usually don’t associate greed and mercy. Sometimes when we think of mercy, we think of the “mercy rule” in sports where when one team is so far ahead of another that they stop the game, so the losing team is not totally embarrassed. Sometimes we see mercy as what a judge gives to a defendant. Rather than sentencing someone to harshest penalty the judge shows mercy and lightens their sentence. While both hint at what Jesus is referring to here, there is another aspect of mercy that comes to us from the Psalms, and that is mercy refers to God showing mercy by giving human beings things they cannot earn or provide for themselves. God gives us this creation. God gives us love. God gives us forgiveness. In our story this morning we see mercy being extended to the farmer in that it is the earth that gave him the crop. Jesus’ listeners would know that the farmer did not provide the rain, or make the original seed, or probably even work the fields. That would have been done by others. The farmer had been shown the mercy of God, but in his greed failed to pass that mercy on. But the gift of God is that when we show mercy, we reverse the curse of greed in two ways.
First, when we show mercy we leave isolation behind. When we show mercy by sharing what we have as God shares what God has created, then we become connected with those with whom we share. The walls between us and them come down allowing us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Second, when we show mercy, we offer to others what they cannot earn or provide for themselves, and in so doing make a difference in the lives of others. Greed is left behind and mercy becomes a way of life. And by so doing we open ourselves up more and more to the mercy that God shows to us. Returning to A Christmas Carol, we see what happens when Scrooge begins to show mercy. He reconnects with his nephew and family, and Tiny Tim gets his surgery. Mercy wins and greed loses.
How can we do this? How can we learn to show mercy? How can we leave behind the words, “Mine, mine, mine”? The answer is to say, “Ours, ours, ours.” For those of you who are history buffs, this is not socialism or communism. This is a way of understanding what we have is the result of the mercy of God. To say what we have is, “ours” is to say it belongs to God, it is ours on loan, and it is for the benefit of others. In the other words, the “our” in ours, is God, us and neighbor. By thinking in terms of “ours” we begin to be those who show mercy in all that we do and with all that we have. My challenge to you for this week then is to ask yourselves, “How am I seeing all that I have as “ours” and not “mine”?
Rev. Dr. John Judson
March 4, 2018
Matthew 5:6: Philippians 2:12-13
Finally, we have a sin that we don’t have to worry about, Sloth. I say that because if there is any civilization that is always busy, it is ours. We work hard. We play hard. We power-nap. We give 110% if not more…not sure how that is possible but we do. Half of us do not use all the vacation we are owed and as a nation we give up nearly 650 million days of vacation. We are driven to do well and to do better than the person next to us. Sloth? We don’t have time for sloth. And in terms of hours worked in a year, well we are only 17th, which is due to so many people working part time. So, we need to get going and become number one…work, work, work people. I know that we like to think of whatever the youngest generation coming up as being slothful; that they do not know how to work. But that has been happening since time immemorial. The reality is that we are a hard-working, hard-driving people who spend less time that people in other Western nations stopping to smell the roses, or even to notice them on the way to whatever the next “thing” is we need to do. I suppose then that we could just let sloth go, except…except we can’t, because it has nothing to do with laziness and everything to do with our inner-lives.
The sin of sloth is not about being lazy. It is not about not going for all the gusto. It is a spiritual disease. One way to describe sloth is that it occurs when we go into spiritual retirement. Spiritual retirement happens when we decide that we have learned all that we can learn, that we know all that we can know about this God stuff, so we no longer need to bother trying to grow in faith and faithfulness. We have been to church, check. We’ve prayed, check. We have tried to make the world better, check. We’ve learned all we can learn, check. We’ve done all that we can do, check. Time to kick back, relax and go into spiritual retirement. And, so long as I stay busy it is all good. This is why Paul warns his readers that they are to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. He senses that it is easy for Christians to go into spiritual retirement, to believe that as long as they have professed Jesus, then all is well and nothing more needs to be done. He insists instead, that they ought to continually be at work, living their faith. Even so, this still raises the question of why does Sloth rate a place in the top seven sins. Sure, we are to be working on our lives of faith, but is spiritual retirement all that bad?
The answer is that spiritual retirement leads to spiritual starvation, which ultimately cripples our very humanity. It leads us to becoming no more than empty shells of what God created us to be. One way to think about this is to consider how we maintain our physical existence. We do so by eating and drinking. We know that we need to consume carbs and proteins, fruits and vegetables and an occasional cheeseburger. We know that we need to stay hydrated. We need to drink enough to keep our body going. The same is true for our souls. For if we believe scripture, there is more to us than our physical existence. There is an inner life of the soul. This needs to be fed as well. And it is fed through what the church has called the means of grace, or spiritual practices. These include things such as worship, prayer, service, fellowship, scripture study; actions that allow God to fill us with God’s presence and power. It is in these actions that we are made into the people God created us to be. The gift of God, as Jesus tells us, is that if we hunger and thirst for God’s presence, we will be filled.
Jesus puts it this way, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled. To be clear here, we ought to recall that righteousness is not self-righteousness. It is not about becoming somehow morally better than everyone else. Righteousness here means living in right relationship with God. It means staying connected to God and living as God desires. It means taking in the love and grace of God and giving it away to others. The only way we can do that then, as Jesus says, is to hunger and thirst for it. We are to not only know that we need this spiritual nourishment, but we are to desire it. We are to remember, as I said a moment ago, that as surely as food and water nourish our physical selves, our connection with God nourishes our inner-selves. And so, when we desire these things, Jesus tells us that we will be filled. We will be filled with the love of God. We will be filled with the presence of God. And rather than end up like the writer of Ecclesiastes who could find no meaning and purpose in his life, we will find ourselves continually challenged with new opportunities to love God and neighbor.
This morning we are given a wonderful opportunity. We are given the opportunity to be fed both physically and spiritually at this table. In the bread and cup, we see, touch and taste Gods love for us. We connect with God. As we pass the elements from one to another we connect in community with others.
My challenge for you then on this morning is this, to ask yourselves, how am I hungering and thirsting after God such that I am filled and made fully human again?