Sunday, August 30, 2009

13 Pentecost

August 30, 2009

James 1.17-27; Mark 7.1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Ah, conviction. And by conviction, I mean—being convicted. That’s probably what we are feeling as we hear this Gospel for this morning. That list Jesus lays out is a pretty strong and straightforward one. And most of us can feel pretty confident we’re free and clear for the most part. After all, most of don’t steal, don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, aren’t purposely wicked, are deceitful, don’t slander

A few we might not really understand: avarice (which is just another word for greed)? licentiousness (which just means immorality, being immoral)?

And folly? What’s so horrible about folly?

But then, there are a few we find might actually hit home a bit, such as Envy and Pride. For me, these two are the two that stumble me up the most. These are the two of this whole list that I struggle with and fight against and try to overcome in my life.

What it is especially apt about this morning’s Gospel reading is that Jesus takes these ugly things we are capable of doing and uses them to engage fully the Pharisees and the scribes.

He takes their condemnation of him about cleanliness and keeps the conversation going regarding cleanliness. He simply takes the conversation up a notch.

You are worried about what defiles the hands. I am concerned with what defiles the heart.

The heart, for Jewish people of Jesus’ day, was truly the center of one’s being. From the heart everything emanated. The heart directed the mind. It directed our thoughts. If your heart was pure, then you were pure. If your heart was evil, then you did evil. Because where your heat leads, your actions follow.

But one we could easily add is “anger.” And if we did, then this would win the prize with me.

Now most of you know me as a pretty laid-back kind of person for the most part. I don’t seem to fly off the handle very often. I don’t think there have been too many people who have actually seen me completely lose it with anger.

But recently I have been finding myself dealing with a strange anger that I have had within me for I don’t even know how long. It doesn’t always explode to the surface (which can either be a good thing or a really bad thing). But it’s there and everyone so often I am forced to confront it.

When I do, I find myself experiencing anger in all its force. Anger is all consuming. When it boils up form within, all other senses seem to shut off—or it shuts them off. It rages and roils and knocks me—and anyone else around me—around, and in the midst o it, I find I am not only angry, but almost scared by my anger.

Which only, of course, leads me to our reading from James for this morning. This past week, our reading from James been a special scripture that I have lived with:

“…be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.”

Anger is something that needs to be confronted and dealt with. It needs to be systematically phased out, because it is like poisoning in our systems. It destroyed us and those around us. And, as James says, “anger does not produce God’s righteousness.”

If we think about our heart as the center of our being—as the center of ourselves, we find that anger truly does poising the heart and there fore the whole system. When we harbor anger in our hearts, we are a salve to anger. And if we are slave to anger, we can let love flourish. And if we cannot let love flourish, God cannot come and dwell within us. We block out God and we block out the Kingdom of God.

Anger does not help the Kingdom break through into our midst. We are not helping build up the Kingdom when anger rules us.

So, these words of James speak strongly to us this morning. “be quick to listen, be slow to speak” We know how speaking sows the seeds of anger. And if we’re speaking, we are not listening. And sometimes, when we listen, we find that anger can be defused.

“Be slow to anger”.

I have come to conclusion that, like despair, anger is simply not an acceptable Christian response. Like despair, which squeezes out all hope, anger squeezes out hope and love. It is simply impossible to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves when we are filled with anger, when the storms of anger are raging within us. Anger prevents love. It stifles love. It kills love.

So, listen to James. Use his words as your own personal motto. Let his words speak in you. Let love squeeze out anger from your life.

And banish from your heart—the center of your very being—anything that prevents love from reigning there. Banish from it those vices—both easy to banish and difficult to banish—so that pureness can exist there. An if you do, God’s love will settle upon the very center of your being and give you a peace that no anger can destroy.

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