September 2, 2018

Proper 17

Song of Solomon 2: 8-13; Psalm 45 1-2, 7-10; James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

The Rev. James M.L. Grace, 8:30 am service

In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  AMEN.

            “You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” James 1: 19-20.

            If you are coming to church today because you need to hear a message.  This perhaps may be it.  Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. We have so many reasons to be angry, don’t we?  So and so did this to me.  They don’t understand how I feel.  Bob is a lousy co-worker.  Sue is a lousy wife.  And on and on and on. 

            The anger we carry often expresses itself in resentments.  I want to explain the meaning of that word, resentment.  Now if you put the word “re” in front of something it means to do something again.  As in remember or repeat.  The other part of that word resentment is the second half, sentment, which comes from the Latin word sentir, which means to feel something.  So the word resentment literally means to feel again.

            Each one of you has a part of your brain that is a resentment machine.  When you get up in the morning and you start playing all your resentments, over and over again.  “No one at my work respects me.”  “That priest at the church doesn’t understand a thing about me.”  “My sister doesn’t care about me at all.” Blah, blah, blah.  Now tell me – do you think God can get through to us with all that garbage in our minds?  You bet not. 

            As long as you hold on to your resentment and your anger you won’t hear God say a thing.  You have to let it go, and it has hard.  It is painful.  But when you let go of your resentment and anger, you begin to hear God’s voice.  I am slowly learning to do it, and it is changing my life.  I will give you an example. 

For the last seven months, the church staff has prepared for our annual Bishop visitation, which we have assumed, would be September 9 – which is next Sunday.  On Tuesday of this week, we learned that the Bishop would in fact be coming today, September 2.  Surprise!

            Now if that’s not an opportunity for resentment and anger to settle in, I don’t know what is.  Who made this mistake, and why didn’t we find out earlier? That was what the garbage in my brain was telling me initially, and I had to stop it right there.  No one set out to do this intentionally, it was just a mistake. Things happen, it’s okay.  I wasn’t angry, I wasn’t resentful.  Now I guarantee you that the me from a few years ago would have been.  Oh I would’ve gotten real angry.  Instead I had serenity.  I had peace.  I was not disturbed.  This had nothing to do with me.  This was God – I can’t explain to you the feeling of peace and serenity that I had in any other way.  The outcome of knowing that God was present with me and leading me, well that meant that I could pause.  I could listen.  I didn’t need to speak.  I didn’t need to be angry.

            What a gift that is.  What useful information that is to know that we have a God that we can entrust everything to.  That God will meet our deepest needs. That is so important, and yet, I forget that all the time.  I hear the message that God is leading me and leading you through this life, and I believe it and I know it, and then something happens, the phone rings, a news headline appears on my phone, and then that security, that knowledge of God’s consistent presence, it vanishes.  And I forget.  How frustrating that is to me. 

            Elsewhere in the passage from James we hear verses 23-24, which read: “For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.”  I don’t know about you, but those verses describe me perfectly. 

            In a few weeks I am going camping with some close friends for a week in the Pacific Northwest.  For that week I won’t have access to a mirror.  I don’t know about you, but when I go for awhile without looking at myself in the mirror, I forget what I look like.  That first glance at myself in a mirror after a week-long trip is always surprising.  Is my nose really that big? Wow – I forgot. 

            In the ancient world, mirrors were not common as they are today.  A mirror was state of the art – something that only the very wealthy had access to. Most people lived their lives not knowing what they looked like, as they never had mirrors.  How easy we forget – not only my appearance after time away from a mirror – but how easy I forget God’s reassuring message of abiding love.  That is why I go to church – I need to be reminded of this good news.  I need to hear, and hear again, the message that there is a God much larger than I, that will make all things right, if I surrender everything to God’s will.  I cannot hear that message enough. 

            Return to God again and again.  Once a week is not enough.  Pray daily.  Start your day with meditation, and you will suddenly realize that God is doing for you what you cannot do for yourself.  AMEN.