Saturday, August 8, 2009

Anger and Attitude Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Below is the draft text for tomorrow morning's message at First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City. It calls for a serious attitude check.

Billy stood defiantly at one playground and looked up at the bully with a tear in his eyes and shouted out; “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It was one of those phrases we almost all learned in our childhood. It sounded good at the moment, but sadly it was not true. The sticks and stones might have bruised an arm or a leg for a day or two, but some of those words hurt. They sank deep into our hearts and deep into our souls.

“You’re fat”
“You’re stupid”
“Whites Only”
“You’re not smart enough to do that”
“You’re a bad kid”
“That’s a man’s job”
“You’re retarded”
“No dogs or Mexicans allowed”
“Zit face!”
“You’re too short”
“You’re just a girl”
“You’re a geek”
“You’ll never be one of us”
“You’ll never amount to anything”
Or as I heard a mother say to her young daughter in a department store, “no dear, let’s look over here, those dresses are for the pretty girls.”

Have you had someone utter one of those words your way? You can probably tell me who it was and where you where when it happened. Sticks and stones can break my bones – but those words – they can linger and shape how we see ourselves and how we see each other. Sticks and stones can break my bones – but words can break my heart.

Paul understood that the words we use and the way we treated each other mattered. When he wrote to the church in Ephesus he wanted to help them understand that they were suppose to treat each other and those in their community differently than others because of what Christ meant in their life. They were suppose to strip off the anger and the attitudes that led to broken relationships and broken hearts. He wanted much more for them. He wanted them to understand that God wanted more for them – and for us. He wanted them to claim the kind of attitudes that would lead to authentic relationships with each other and with God. Paul speaks directly;

4:25Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26"In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27and do not give the devil a foothold.

28He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. 29Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

Paul begins with a simple point of truth > dump falsehood - speak truth. Truth seems to be the easy casualty of frustrated conversation. If the truth does not fit the need, we watch people twist it and turn it until it is no longer recognizable. A fragment of truth becomes the fodder for rumor – the whisper of gossip– the tool to sabotage one another. Paul wants them to understand that if they want to move past the bounds of broken relationship then they had to learn to speak the truth – not a shaped truth, or a half truth, but the truth. Speak truth because we are inseparably tied together – we are one body – we belong to each other.

Paul then turns to anger. 26"In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27and do not give the devil a foothold. One of the things I have come to appreciate about the Internet is that it lets me peer into the writings of people who I might otherwise never have encountered. One of those I have come to appreciate is Dr. William Loader from Murdoch University in Australia. When he hears Paul talk about anger, he reminds us that when anger is “uncontrolled or buried or allowed to build up or fester, is destructive both for the person and for others. Anger gets transferred to others, sometimes immediately, sometimes after long periods of build up until it is explosive and out of proportion. Or it gets swallowed, even forgotten, and we live in a state of self-directed anger, a recipe for depression and a form of self harm.” Medical research tells us that inappropriate anger can not only have profound impact on our relationships, but chronic anger can also impact our health leading to heart disease, diabetes, and other health problems.

Paul wants it clear that an unresolved inappropriate anger could destroy the sense of community that was to define the young church. It could also do significant damage to their witness. He wanted them to deal with anger and conflict before the sun went down. He did not want anger and conflict to become the seedbed of hatred. He comes back to this theme again in verse 31, 31Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Inappropriate anger turns simple conflict in to a boiling part of hatred and destruction, Anger seems to define some people. They live lives of rage, dumping their anger on anyone within reach. This kind of anger is emotionally abusive and tragically reeks havoc on almost every relationship it touches. Anger and bitterness, slander and malice lead to the kinds of words that break hearts and break lives. It is the kind of attitude that seems to give people permission to demean and dehumanize others. Paul wants it clear that this is not the way of Christ. 29Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Our task as a family and a community of faith is to become the kind of people who build people up, not tear people down. We are to be the kind of people who lift people up, not push them down. We are to lift our voices for the people that other people want to keep down.

The impact of unresolved inappropriate anger is so apparent that there has been an historical temptation to misinterpret this passage and define any act of anger as sin. This is not what Paul was talking about. When we witness Jesus turning over the tables in the temple, we see an angry Jesus. “’Be angry but do not sin’… refers to a righteous anger, being mad enough to do something about the injustice.” For Jesus, his righteous anger emerges from seeing the corruption of the temple. The sacred temple that was set aside for worship and prayer, had become a place of religious and economic manipulation. The very people who were supposed to lead them exploited those who came seeking the face of God. It was an injustice that had to be dealt with.

Sometimes we need to follow the example of Jesus and claim a righteous anger - sometimes we need to stop standing on the sidelines and get angry. When the conversation on immigration becomes littered with racist language – it is an injustice that has to be dealt with. When we watch the poor being exploited or the voiceless ignored – it is an injustice that has to be dealt with. When we see children hunger or abused – it is an injustice that has to be dealt with. Paul tells us; "In your anger do not sin". There are moments when it is time to get angry and to move from the sidelines and let our voices be heard.

In a breath Paul moves from the “do not” language that calls us out of our selfishness and claims the kind of proactive language that calls for us to look more like Jesus. 32Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. 5:1Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. This change in vocabulary is no accident. It moves the reader from a focus on the kind of behaviors that separate us – that break relationships and break hearts to the kind of behaviors that draw us closer together and closer to God.

Paul begins; be kind, be compassionate, be forgiving. These are great words to hear but so often hard to live out. It is easier to claim selfishness. It is easier to focus on ourselves; to focus our wants and our needs. It is easier to feel the rise of self-righteousness and blow other people away for getting in our way. It is easier to judge to judge than to forgive. But we are not called to what is easier but to be loving and forgiving. Paul wants us to know that there is a model for this kind of forgiveness. It is found at the feet of the one we claim to follow and call Lord and Savior. Hear again from William Loader; “The Spirit wants to bear the fruits of love in you and through you. Fundamental to all of this is forgiveness. It means giving, not holding oneself back and holding something against people. Let it go, embrace them; God embraced us.”

Paul gives them, and us, another picture to help us understand. 5:1Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children. I can remember watching my children do what I did and saying what I said. As I stand here a thousand moments run through my mind. Some make me laugh. Others bring me great joy. As their father who loved them, I became a model for how they thought they were suppose to act. It is a daunting task as a dad. I did not want to do or say anything that I thought would be bad for them. Paul told the Ephesians, if you want to know what it looks like to have the right heart and the right attitude, then try to act like what you see God doing. Live lives of love – that build each other up, the draw you closer to each other and to God. It will not be easy. It will demand some major life adjustments. It will demand that we be willing to stand up, speak up, love each other, forgive each other, and sacrifice for each other - just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

So, its time to take an attitude check. Our witness for God and relationship with each other on how we do. What do you say to each other and about each other? Is your anger a righteous anger that lifts people up or anger born in bitterness and rage that tears people down? Do you choose to whisper about others or speak out in behalf of others? When someone acts in a way that you do not approve of, is your choice judgement or forgiveness? It’s a tough test. It calls us to open our hearts, our lives and our mouths for others. The right attitude for living is found in the loving, forgiving, and sacrificing way of God found in Jesus. Our world is hungry for these kinds of people.

  1. Loader, William, “First Thoughts on Year B Epistle Passages from the Lectionary,” Pentecost 10.
  2. Davis, Jeanie Lerche, “Seeing red is bad for your health,” available online at http://www.webmd.com/news/20000421/anger-health-effects on August 5, 2009.
  3. Referenced at http://ministrydepot.com/sermons/2009/07/ephesians-4-25-52-pentecost-10-b-be-angry/ on August 8, 2009.
  4. Loader, William, Ibid.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Bread, Water, and a Work of God John 6:24-35/Exodus 16:4-12

Hong Kong is one of Beth and my favorite cities. Several years ago we had the opportunity to spend several days there. The city caught me a bit by surprise. It seemed to be abuzz with life and movement 24 hours a day. One of my favorite moments occurred on a side street beside a night market. Seemingly out of nowhere characters from a traditional Chinese operatic drama emerged from the shadows of the shop stalls and scene began. The colors of the costumes were dramatic and the reoccurring clash of the cymbals would seem to strike when I least expected it. While I could not understand the dialogue the dance like movements and the rise and fall of the tempo drew me in. I stood there captivated and amazed.

For many who witnessed Jesus performing miracles it was much more like a show than something of religious significance. Remember that this was the pre-technology era. There was no radio or television, no DVDs, mp3s, or computer games to entertain them. Jesus was the best show in town. For many in the crowd Jesus was like a grand magician that brought them thrill after thrill. One this day he healed those consumed by leprosy – on another day he helped the blind to see. They watched him cast out demons and now, in the hours before story told in our focal passage – they had their stomachs filled as part of the feeding of the 5000.

With the rise of the sun they realized something had changed. Jesus and his disciples were gone. The crowd wanted more. So, they set out to find Jesus. They got in their boats and crossed the lake to Jesus’ home base, Capernaum. Can you imagine the small fleet of fishing boats setting out on a fishing expedition for Jesus.

They found Jesus, but Jesus understood why they were looking for him. They sought Jesus to fulfill their expectations. They sought Jesus to entertain them. They sought Jesus to meet their needs, to fulfill their wants, to give them what they wanted – what they expected – what they believed they were entitled to. They sought Jesus for a lot of reasons. But, none of the reasons were what Jesus had in mind. Jesus told them, “You are not looking for signs to point you toward God. You are but looking to fill your stomachs and fulfill your expectations. You need to look for more! Don’t waste your time working for food that will only fill your stomachs for a moment; look for the food that endures – eternal life.”

The crowd was curious. “What must we do to perform this work of God?” they asked.

“This is work only God can do – your task is to believe in the one he sent to you,” Jesus answered.

“So, what trick are you going to do – what kind of sign are you going to offer us so we can believe?” they asked. “After all, Moses gave our ancestors bread from heaven to eat in the wilderness to strengthen their faith.” Jesus knew the story for Exodus. It was a vital part the Torah. He was also a part of the story. Earlier in our service we heard how the people of Israel wander the desert and came to a moment of crisis. They would perish without God’s provision. God heard their cry and respond. He provided meat in the morning and manna – bread from heaven – every evening. Jesus understood something that the crowd did not. They would perish is they did not receive bread from heaven. “It was not Moses,” Jesus replied. “It is my Father in heaven who gives the true bread of life.”

“We want that kind of bread,” they responded. “Give it to us.” I imagine they thought they were in for the same kind of feast as the day before. I imagine they were waiting for the fish and the loaves to be passed out. I imagine they were waiting to see another miracle performed before their very eyes. The waited, the watched, and they listened. Over the hum of the crowd Jesus spoke.

“I am the bread of life,” Jesus said to them. “Whoever comes to me will never be hunger and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

Just a few blocks from here there is a factory that produces fresh bread. Some mornings the smell of baking bread fills the air. The wonderful fragrance promises that we you will stop by you can pick up a loaf of bread that fill your stomach and satisfy your hunger. Jesus wanted them to know he was not talking about a momentary hunger fix, but about something that would fill the depths of their soul and meet their heart need to be in a real relationship with God. The miracle they were looking for was not found in a basket of fish and loaves – but stood before them – as the work of God, ready to redeem them.

While we come together this morning representing a wide diversity of languages and cultures at heart we face the same issue. So often we are like the crowd and come seeking Jesus to fulfill our wants and meet our expectations. Like the crowd, we are tempted to come seeking Jesus wanting a religious show that will lift us up and encourage us to press ahead for one more day. If we are not careful, in our effort to meet our immediate wants we cheat ourselves from the work of God that can sustain us for much more than a moment, or a day, but for all of eternity.

Jesus waits for us with the promise of a bread that will fill us – a living water that can sustain us – a work of God that can transform us. It is about allow God to a work in us that changes everything. For some in this room, that work of God is the work of redemption and grace that makes you a child of God. For you, the bread of life and the living water is the way to forgiveness and way to eternal life. If this is your story, I pray you will claim the bread from heaven and the living water today.

But the promise of the bread of life and the living water is not just the way of salvation – it is also the way to a life with God and life through God that can shape every moment of every day of our life. It beckons us to come to Christ and allow him to change our priorities from the desperate dash to meet our desires and expectations to a life focused on letting God work in us and through us. It is about ceasing being consumed by the immediate and allowing God to call us to those things that are greater – those things that are forever. It is about letting go of the chase for stuff that can only bring us joy for a moment, to a way of living that fills the whole of our lives with hope and joy. It is about moving from being people who come to God looking for a religious show and becoming people who become an ongoing work of God. It means having the emptiness and the frustrations that so often claim us replaced with the wholeness that God offers.

The crowd came seeking Jesus. They came with their expectations in tow. They came wanting to see a grand miracle – to see Jesus fill their stomachs with fish and loaves. Jesus did not want to just fill their stomachs. He wanted to fill their lives. He wants to fill our lives. Let’s not settle for less. The miracle of the bread from heaven expressed in Jesus awaits us.
While we come together this morning representing a wide diversity of languages and cultures at heart we face the same issue. So often we are like the crowd and come seeking Jesus to fulfill our wants and meet our expectations. Like the crowd, we are tempted to come seeking Jesus wanting a religious show that will lift us up and encourage us to press ahead for one more day. If we are not careful, in our effort to meet our immediate wants we cheat ourselves from the work of God that can sustain us for much more than a moment, or a day, but for all of eternity.

Jesus waits for us with the promise of a bread that will fill us – a living water that can sustain us – a work of God that can transform us. It is about allow God to a work in us that changes everything. For some in this room that work of God is the work of redemption and grace that makes you a child of God. For you the bread of life and the living water is the way to forgiveness and way to eternal life. If this is your story, I pray you will claim the bread and the living water today.

But the promise of the bread of life and the living water is not just the way of salvation – it is also the way to a life with God and life through God that can shape every moment of every day of our life. It beckons us to come to Christ and allow him to change our priorities from the desperate dash to meet our desires and expectations to a life focused on letting God work in us and through us. It is about ceasing being consumed by the immediate and allowing God to call us to those things that are greater – those things that are forever. It is about letting go of the chase for stuff that can only bring us joy for a moment, to a way of living that fills the whole of our lives with hope and joy. It is about moving from being people who come to God looking for a religious show and becoming people who become an ongoing work of God. It means having the emptiness and the frustrations that so often claim us replaced with the wholeness that God offers.

The crowd came seeking Jesus. They came with their expectations in tow. They came wanting to see a grand miracle – to see Jesus fill their stomachs with fish and loaves. Jesus did not want to just fill their stomachs. He wanted to fill their lives. He wants to fill our lives. Let’s not settle for less. The miracle of the bread from heaven expressed in Jesus awaits us.