St. Matthew’s Sermon 03-04-2018


St. Matthew’s Sermon 03-04-2018

Lashing Out

Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, John 2:13-22

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God. Amen

We are now well into the season of Lent; a time of preparation for Easter when we will celebrate Christ’s resurrection; his glorious victory over the finality of death.

As a part of our preparation we may fast for 40 days; remembering Christ’s 40 days in the desert between his Baptism and the beginning of his ministry. And, in addition to some form of self denial, it is hopeful that we will spend time in self reflection; time to look carefully, critically, at ourselves as followers of Christ with the purpose of discerning whether or not we are truly doing the best that we can at living as Christ calls us to live.

In my own personal search in this particular Lenten season, I came upon some reading that lists six suggestions for things we might consider in a mode of self-reflection; they are…

          Am I sharing gladly what I have with others, especially the stranger and the poor?

Do I have a gracious and patient attitude with others, especially those who irritate me?

Is it time for a change or a growth in my Bible study and the way I view my faith?

What are the lurking problems, which still plague me?

Am I as thoughtful and forgiving of family as others, or do I take my frustrations out on them?

Do I speak up for the maligned and oppressed, or do I remain silent in order to remain popular?

These, of course, aren’t the only questions we can ask of ourselves in the spirit of Lent, but they are good ones; each one cannot be truthfully answered with a simple yes or no, they require thoughtful self-examination.

Am I sharing what I have, am I doing it gladly, am I sharing enough, am I sharing all I can?

Am I gracious and patient, even with those who irritate me?

Is it time for me to change and grow?

What does still plague me? (That’s a different question than “Does anything plague me”? which also needs to be asked)

Am I thoughtful and forgiving to everyone around me; do I take my frustrations out on anyone?

Do I speak up against injustice or do I seek my own peace in remaining silent?

As fate would have it, just this week my self-examination was challenged in a big way.

I’ve been in this place with you a few times before, when I’ve been compelled to talk to you about my reaction to something in current events. Once, that I recall, was when I saw the news report of hateful people picketing our beloved Bethany Children’s Home for accepting illegal immigrant children to their care while awaiting deportation proceedings. Another was when my dear friends were directly affected by discriminatory legislation that forbade employers to extend medical coverage and other benefits to same-sex partners in North Carolina.

This time I won’t bring the details of the incident into my message (only because that’s not the topic I’m going to address and I don’t want to distract from that). Let me just say it was something said by a public figure that raised my ire, caused me to lose my composure, and lash out in a very unreserved way. And that, the fact that I lashed out as I did, is the topic for today.

After that tirade I did experience some feelings of “morning after regret”; I thought about apologizing to those who may have witnessed it; maybe even retracting it. It wasn’t what I said that I felt badly about, it was the way I said it; the harsh, even hate-filled language that I used in conveying my anger and disgust that caused me to feel regretful. And that threw me into some serious self-reflection in the context of the second question in my list; the one that asks “Do I have a gracious and patient attitude with others, especially those who irritate me”?

I felt that I had failed yet again. As hard as I try to imitate Christ’s love; for God above all else, for neighbor as self, even for enemy; I failed.

That is how fate would have it. But then came how The Holy Spirit would have it as I opened up the Lectionary Gospel reading for today and read these words

In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” [And] His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

Now, I had some challenging thinking to do… Jesus, who calls us to love God and neighbor and, even enemy, lashed out; he made a whip and lashed out with that and he also lashed out with his tongue! So was I wrong to lash out as I did; to not be gracious and patient? Or was I justified in doing what I did, saying what I did in the way I said it?

I looked over my list again and this time was caught by the thoughts in the last question, “Do I speak up for the maligned and oppressed, or do I remain silent in order to remain popular”?

Now I noticed that there is tension built into this six question list, especially tension between being gracious and patient and speaking up for the maligned and oppressed; serious tension! And here, I was reminded of a valuable lesson; one I’ve learned many times before but was in need of relearning many times as I did again this week. That lesson is this; somewhere between the extremes is the Christ-like place to be.

In this example, there is the extreme of nothing but grace and patients that allows the evil of this world to exist and to grow unencumbered on one side; while on the other side is the extreme of beating down all those who malign and oppress which allows no room for grace and patience nor reserves of energy for love of God and neighbor.

In this example, and in all of life’s situations, we are living as Christ calls us to live when we are within such tension; immersing ourselves in the uncomfortable space between the extremes; allowing ourselves to be stretched as we resist being fully anchored to one side or the other yet, simultaneously allowing ourselves to move a little one way or the other according to the need of a particular situation; and always struggling to be where God needs us to be when God needs us to be there.

It’s not easy, it’s not comfortable, sometimes it’s down-right painful; but it’s where Christ calls us to be when he says “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

Amen

 

Exodus 20:1-17
20:1 Then God spoke all these words:
20:2 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;
20:3 you shall have no other gods before me.
20:4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
20:5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me,
20:6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
20:7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
20:8 Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.
20:9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work.
20:10 But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work–you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.
20:11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.
20:12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
20:13 You shall not murder.
20:14 You shall not commit adultery.
20:15 You shall not steal.
20:16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
20:17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Psalm 19
19:1 The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
19:2 Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.
19:3 There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;
19:4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
19:5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
19:6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hid from its heat.
19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the LORD are sure, making wise the simple;
19:8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eyes;
19:9 the fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
19:10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.
19:11 Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
19:12 But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults.
19:13 Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.
19:14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25
1:18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
1:19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
1:20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
1:21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.
1:22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom,
1:23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
1:24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
1:25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

John 2:13-22
2:13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
2:14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.
2:15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.
2:16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”
2:17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
2:18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”
2:19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
2:20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?”
2:21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body.
2:22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.