Last Sunday, I gave a message in our Vulnerability series on anger. At first glance, anger and vulnerability seem to be strange cohorts in our emotional lives, but digging a little deeper shows how vulnerability helps us express anger in a healthy way.
Here are a few highlights and the link to the podcast. https://rcctulsa.simplecast.fm/69
- God is big enough to handle whatever emotion we feel.
- Emotions aren’t bad, they are a part of being human
- It’s not actually anger that trips us up, it’s how we navigate it.
- Practicing vulnerability in our anger means being willing to go make things right….sooner than later.
- There is a relational cost to allowing our anger to fester.
- Sometimes anger masks the real emotion we are feeling.
I can hardly watch any news channel for more than 10 minutes these days. It’s as if opposing views have dug in their heels and are entrenched on one side of our polarizing social and political climate or the other. The polarization only increases when an assumed Christian position becomes enmeshed with a particular political view. My fear is that for Christians, we have allowed this political coloring of our worldview to short-circuit some of our most sacred ideals.
As a pastor, here is the question I keep coming back to: “What am I called to do?” When a person or group are being maligned or mistreated for whatever reason, how does my response reveal the way I have been taught to live out my faith? When vulnerable, powerless people cannot find relief in their circumstance, how does my faith inform my response, regardless of my political view? So, in light of these questions I continue to wrestle with personally and in conversations with some folks who agree, and plenty who disagree, here are a few things I humbly offer for us to consider:
We are called to be peacemakers. This goes for inside and outside the church. We are exhorted in Ephesians 4:2-3 to always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. Several times in Paul’s letters to churches, he pleads with those embattled with each other to work out their conflicts so that their light in the world would not be diminished. I have been so disheartened by the way words have been used as weapons in social media and online platforms. I can’t even express how strongly I believe that the apostle Paul would be feverishly blogging, preaching and challenging us to bind ourselves to each other in peace today.
As Jesus travels toward Jerusalem in Luke 19, he laments: How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. I think his sadness is twofold: they will miss out out on peace pouring into their lives and flowing out into the lives of others, because they have become blind to what peace really looks like. We of all people should understand this way to peace, but who is going to miss out on experiencing that peace because we have become blind to what real, tangible peace looks like?
We are called to welcome and care for the stranger. This includes the vulnerable orphan and widow, as well as our perceived enemy. It doesn’t mean we roll out the welcome mat for obvious danger to overtake us. But, we have all at some time labeled a group or person as our antagonist when in reality, it’s just that we have allowed our differences to become divisive.
Over and over again in scripture, God challenges his people to hit the reset button on who we say is out that he says we should welcome in. There are two incredible women in Jesus’ family tree who were strangers and outsiders. Rahab the prostitute was a Canaanite who likely ran a brothel and came from a people group who were a source of constant conflict with the Israelites. Yet, she took an enormous risk to hide Israelite spies, and helped them escape, which basically saved their lives. Ruth came from a family that worshipped other gods and when her Jewish husband died, she was told to go back where she came from, but then was welcomed because of her loyalty to his family. I can’t shake the similarity with those Iraqi translators and support staff who have risked their lives to help the U.S. in combat, and who now need to be welcomed to the safety of U.S. soil.
In the early church, Peter initially would not welcome the Roman officer Cornelius because he was considered a pagan worshipper, yet God speaks to Cornelius’ heart directly and assures him his prayers and offerings on behalf of the poor have not gone unnoticed. And Jesus kind of shocks his listeners when he throws down the challenge that by welcoming or rejecting strangers, we could very well be welcoming or rejecting him–because he identifies with the one who needs help, not the one who wants a pat on the back for having more undeserved power or resources.
We are called to do something. Too often, the Christian pilgrimage has become a static exercise in going nowhere. But, believers in the first century were called people of The Way for a reason. They made extending peace a way of life toward everyone they met, even though they were often in danger and even gave up their lives for it. God invites people to come to him when they are weary and burdened, restores them, and then tells them to go so that others will also be invited to come. It breaks his heart when we think it’s our job to edit the guest list.
So, doing nothing and arguing that millions of innocent, endangered people are not our problem seems in direct conflict with God’s heart. The scriptural opportunities to be a peacemaker and extend welcome in this humanitarian crisis are everywhere and none of them can be categorized by any political leaning: give financially, offer resources, acknowledge hidden prejudice towards Muslims, break bread with people who believe differently, advocate for the foreigner, the child and the oppressed, be a good neighbor by helping a refugee get their life started in the U.S. Doing something may look different for each of us, but doing something in any way that demonstrates God’s unfailing love is the way we are called to live.
It’s possible to walk alongside Jesus and miss all that he has to give. Of all the people crowded around him in Luke 8:40-48, we only see one person experience life change, and that was the woman who knew she needed the healing he offered. She didn’t get caught up in the mental game of whether she was good enough, or worry about if people would look at her action as scandalous. She just simply reached out her hand to touch the hem of his garment, trusting that it would be enough. What she got from a momentary brush against an inch of Jesus’ clothing was a healing of body and soul. What he gave her was her life back.
That’s what happens when we allow ourselves to be fully and wholly loved. It’s one thing to know about God’s love, talk about how wonderful it is, and even sing about it in Sunday songs and hear about it in a message—but when we take that step of faith and actually open ourselves up to that Love entering into our physical and spiritual selves, it literally transforms everything from unhealthy cells to emotional brokenness to raw, daily struggles.
Have I just been walking alongside Jesus and missing all he has to give?
Is there a physical or spiritual brokenness that continues to plague my life?
If I were in that crowd the woman found herself in, would I be ready, and possibly even desperate enough, to extend my hand and touch the hem of Jesus’ garment?
Is today the day to start being loved?
Last night I had the privilege to listen to 380 fourth graders perform for a Veterans Day celebration. Something about children’s voices lifting up a song can cut through all the polarizing rhetoric and divisive crap of recent politics to remind us of what is really important. I was so thankful to see a beautiful mosaic of our country’s multiethnic identity on the stage of my son’s school–all singing words of liberty and patriotism. I prayed that each student and their families felt the immutable truth of what they sang.
In light of all that has transpired in our country this week, and even over the last few months, the words of the songs hit me afresh and I realized how much of our identity and hope as a nation is embedded in the lyrics of our most cherished patriotic music. I am also fairly confident that the message of these songs probably runs deeper and extends wider today than when they were first sung. We have figured out a lot of important truths about freedom since we became a country. But, as this year has shown, we still have much to wrestle with and figure out.
As I listened, different phrases popped out to me and seemed to come together in my own hopes that unity, understanding, and freedom find their greatest expression in how each of us chooses to embody them each day with our words and actions towards our fellow Americans and our world. This is my prayer in honor of Veterans Day and the challenge they give us to join in the precious and hard work of freedom:
My country tis of thee, may we let freedom ring not just in pledges and songs, but in how we humbly care for the one shackled by poverty or injustice.
Sweet land of liberty, if God shed His grace on thee, may we recognize how extending that grace anew to one another can mend thine ev’ry flaw.
This land is your land, as much as it is my land, and that is our good, crowned with brotherhood, if we are willing to wear the crown and walk with our brothers and sisters of different colors, faiths and histories.
Some say, “this is my country, land of my birth.” Some say, “this is my country, land of my choice.” But all our souls are rooted deeply in the soil on which we stand.
So, let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me, and you, and this one land that we have been given to have and hold.
lyric excerpts taken from: My Country ‘Tis of Thee by Samuel Francis Smith, America the Beautiful by Katharine Lee Bates, This Land is Your Land by Woody Guthrie, This is My Country by Don Raye and Al Jacobs, and Let There Be Peace on Earth by Jill Jackson Miller and Sy Miller.
A prayer that reminds me faith and love are not to be compartmentalized in our lives. My prayer is to be fully in Love so that I can love fully…
Nothing is more practical than finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way…
Fall in Love, attributed to Fr. Pedro Aruppe
There is a 6 chapter book in the New Testament that is actually a letter from a man named Paul who did a complete 180 degree turnaround in his life after encountering Jesus. He wrote this letter-which would seem quite long to us-in an attempt to help a small house church in the town of Galatia not get lost in a list of rules and cultural prejudices.
So, if you are far away from the people you desperately need to get a message to, and the only means of communication is a courier who will travel by foot for a few weeks to deliver your message, you want to make sure you say everything on your heart, right? Most likely.
This letter is rich with challenges, inspiration and reasoning for why following the way of Jesus is all together different than any religious belief or secular life path they have experienced before. In the midst of so much cultural angst we are experiencing in race relations today, as well as the ethnic & religious xenophobia that has taken hold, these words resonate a truth that I would love for people of all belief systems and political opinions to take to heart:
There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:28 NLT
Here is what stands out to me. In this short sentence Paul addresses 3 cultural areas where the most profound relational gaps exist in his day:
- ethnicity and religion
- societal class systems
- gender roles
It’s a broad statement concluding an entire segment where he is trying to convince them to let go of assumptions that all people who follow Christ must conform to one group’s way of believing and living. It’s also a critique that this one way has some deeply flawed values needing correction.
Whether you follow the way of Jesus, or are a person of faith or not, I feel like these are words to live by in our global world! My faith tells me that these are the walls of prejudice, inequality and separation that have been broken down and we don’t need to, shouldn’t want to build them back up!
I hope to continue to take my cue for living into this kind of understanding and vision from a word of wisdom dated approximately 1968 years ago!