Foundry UMC

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A Stubborn Passion

August 6th, 2017

A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC, August 6, 2017.

Text: Ephesians 4:25-5:2 

 

 

Is it OK to be angry?  Is it acceptable to express anger? 

 

In our reading today from the letter to the Ephesians we hear, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.”  This epistle was written in the first century of the Common Era.  I doubt we’re surprised that the quandary of anger management has been around from the beginning; it’s not likely to go away anytime soon.  Anger is a stubborn passion in human life.  It is part of the deal.

 

I know from experience there are folks around who feel it’s wrong to get angry.  But the scripture today says, “Be angry.”  It doesn’t say, pretend you aren’t angry, it doesn’t say, play the martyr and bury your anger, it doesn’t say, ignore your anger so that you don’t have to deal with it.  It says, “Be angry.”  This may be stating the obvious but it is very important if we are to begin to understand what our Christian faith has to say to us about this very real, very stubborn part of human experience.  Anger is part of our life.  Let me be clear at the outset: This verse is NOT biblical permission to go around indiscriminately spewing anger.  The letter to the Ephesians is trying to help the early churches learn how to live the new life in Christ together.  In order to live together in love and peace, it’s imperative that we attend to our anger.

 

Often, anger is a second emotion, preceded by pain, vulnerability, frustration, or grief.  Insofar as this is the case, anger can be for us a helpful sign, like the impulse of pain we feel when we touch something that is too hot, our anger can alert us to something deeper within us that needs some care and attention.

 

Furthermore, if we never get angry, then that is itself a telling sign—do we really care about anything?  Is there nothing we can see in ourselves, in our relationships, in our world that makes us angry?  If this is the case, then we need to pay attention to that for sure, because it is likely pointing to the fact that we are either mightily depressed or terribly apathetic, neither of which is good for us or for anyone else.

 

So…“Be angry.”  These words remind us that being angry can be a sign that our hearts and minds are rightly attuned to injustices or problems; or can be a sign leading us to self-care.  “Be angry.”  These words allow us to give ourselves a break from beating ourselves up for feeling anger.  These are good things.  But I, for one, don’t want to hear these words.  I don’t want to be angry.  I don’t want to acknowledge my anger.  I don’t want to deal with it; I don’t want to have to name its source.  I have my reasons for feeling this way—and maybe you feel the same for your own reasons.  Maybe you grew up in a household that was full of rage; perhaps you were taught by example not to show your anger or to talk about it; maybe you’re afraid of the sheer force of your anger if you were to let it out; or maybe you can’t bear to admit the reason or circumstance that causes you to be angry.  Maybe you are guilty about your anger because it comes up in your role as caregiver to a partner, parent, or child.  Wherever or however you find yourself when you hear the words, “be angry,” the bottom line is that there is both comfort and challenge in them. 

 

A big part of the challenge comes in the line that follows, “Be angry, but do not sin.” 

I am convinced—and I believe that this is the point of the admonition to “be angry”—that the only way to be angry and not sin is to be mindful of our own anger—this means that we have to do exactly that which I do not want to do.  We have to learn to recognize when we’re getting angry, to be attentive to our anger, to reflect on it, to sit with it, to get to know it. Ugh.

 

Don’t we know, after all, that uncontrolled, buried, festering anger will do damage to others and to ourselves?  Unmanaged anger can get projected onto other people, it can build up and then blow up way out of proportion and, when turned inward, can lead to depression and all sorts of other self-destructive things. 

 

While we may know all that, many of us don’t know how to attend to our anger gently, with love; we don’t know how to express our anger creatively, in ways that will build up instead of tearing down.  Iona Senior Services is a wonderful, local organization that supports people as they experience the opportunities and challenges of aging.  A recent post on Iona’s blog provides such helpful information for managing anger.[i]  While the post is focused on anger that arises in providing care for a loved one with dementia, the tips are so helpful for any occasion when we find ourselves needing to manage our anger with love.  The first two are all about self-awareness: recognize the signs of anger (shortness of breath, muscle tension, getting red in the face, raising your voice, etc.) and become aware of the ways you express your anger (aggressively, passive aggressively, passively, etc.).  The blog goes on to provide some suggestions for healthy ways to manage anger once you’ve begun to identify it.  I commend this resource to you. 

I also highly recommend the work of Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh who teaches both how to be aware of our anger and how to hold it gently.  Over the years he has offered retreat to Vietnam veterans.  He tells of one American commander who lost 417 of his men in a single battle on a single day and had been unable for twenty tears to get past his anger.  Another man had out of anger taken the lives of children in a Vietnamese village and had lost all sense of peace.  Thich Nhat Hanh taught what he calls mindfulness, which is simply sitting and watching one’s breath come and go and looking after one’s anger, seeking neither to push it down nor erase it but to attend to it, to offer it affection and care.  It was a way of giving the anger both space and boundaries so that it could be touched and felt and recognized and healed.  When we are angry, he writes, we are not with ourselves.  We are thinking about the one who makes us angry (that can be another person or ourselves) and thinking about the hateful aspects of that person: his/her betrayal, rudeness, disregard, meanness, cruelty and so on.  Instead of attending to what is in us we spill out what is in us on the other.  And the more we attend to the other, the more the anger grows.  We have to come back to ourselves and look inside.  Like a fireman, he continues, we have to pour water on the blaze before we look for the one who has set the house on fire.  The simple practice he offers is this:  ‘Breathing in, I know I am angry.  Breathing out, I know that I must put all my energy into caring for my anger.’”[ii]

 

And so we learn that in order to be angry and not sin, we cannot allow our anger to be forgotten, ignored, or buried.  The admonition to not “let the sun to go down on our anger” is, I think, not only a reminder to attend to it today, but also that anger allowed to move into the dark, out of the light of our attentiveness, can grow into something ugly and destructive; it opens the door to “the devil,” to that power that feeds on negativity and on harbored resentment.  When left alone, our anger can feed in us a self-righteous, judgmental attitude that is incapable of seeing the other as lovable or a person of sacred worth; this breeds hatred and division—the devil smacks his metaphorical lips!—what a feast!  But when held lovingly in the light of our consciousness, we are able to identify our own weaknesses, our own pain, our need, indeed our own tendency to make mistakes that cause others to be angry or hurt.  This self-awareness helps us to have compassion, not only with ourselves, but also with the one with whom we are angry.

 

God shows us what it looks like when righteous anger is expressed not with vengeance, but with love.  We see it in the prophets whose hearts broke and whose voices raged on behalf of God’s disappointment and grief over the brokenness and injustice and forgetfulness of Israel.  And we see it most clearly in Jesus Christ who had every reason to be angry at us, but whose love for us was more stubborn than our refusal to love him back.  And so he got angry at the ways that we hurt each other and ignore God, but he did not sin.  His stubborn passion was love.  That love, freely offered to you and to me is what feeds us, it fortifies our hearts to be able to love ourselves and other people enough to attend to our anger. 

 

A poetic prayer entitled “Holy Anger,” includes the line, “let anger be the first note in love’s ascending scale.”[iii]  Loving attentiveness to our anger can be the beginning of healing, the first glimmer of a sacred calling, the birth of greater love of ourselves, of others, of God.  So let your anger, whatever it is, be the first note in love’s ascending scale.  You might be surprised at what happens—in your relationships, your thoughts, your own heart—when you’re in tune with the love of Christ.

 

[i] https://www.iona.org/manage-anger-caring-dementia/?bblinkid=55569581&bbemailid=4586880&bbejrid=344310322

[ii] Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, 1998.

[iii]Thomas H. Troeger, “Holy Anger,” Copyright and reproduced at The Living Pulpit.com by permission of Oxford University Press, 2000.

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Repenting from America’s Unforgivable Sin

July 30th, 2017

A sermon given by Rev. Jim Bear Jacobs on Sunday, July 30, 2017 as part of our 2017 Outstanding Preachers series. 

 

Text: Matthew 12:22-32

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The Work is Yours To Do

July 23rd, 2017

A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey as part of Foundry's Outstanding Preachers series on July 23, 2017. 

Scripture: Luke 3:1-6 & 10a

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Now is the Time!

July 16th, 2017

A sermon preached by Bishop Tracy Malone (read more about her here) on Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 and John 1:1-5, on Sunday, July 16, 2017, as part of Foundry's Outstanding Preachers series.

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Faith Trip or Power Trip

July 9th, 2017

A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC July 9, 2017, the fifth Sunday after Pentecost.

Texts:  1 Samuel 16:10-13, Mark 4:26-34

 

There’s a reason a tiny Albanian woman has become a modern icon of what it means to follow Jesus.  This simple, common, unlikely woman, remembered and revered around the world as Saint (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta, once told her superiors, “I have 3 pennies and a dream from God to build an orphanage.”  Her superiors chided her saying, “With 3 pennies you can’t do anything.”  “I know,” she said, smiling, “but with God and 3 pennies I can do anything.”  The Kin-dom of God is like that...it’s like someone actually listening and watching for God’s leading, committing to work for that dream, taking whatever little resource they have, together with all the love they can muster and trusting God to do the rest.  //  Reflecting on the circumstance of this morning (travel woes! Bishop Hoshibata’s flight canceled!) and this middle of summer time when so many people are traveling, it made me think about travel and all the various trips we take.  This morning, I want to talk about two different trips:  the faith trip and the power trip. 

 

We often talk about our lives of faith in terms of a journey.  The Christian journey is all about trying to follow Jesus; and Jesus is all about living and proclaiming the Kin-dom of God.  Unfortunately, many folks have the reaction Mother Teresa’s superiors had at the invitation to get on board the journey of faith and are none too sure about life in the Kin-dom.  It is, after all, a bit of a hard sell when you stop and think about it:  you’re going to have to convince people to offer all they have to the work of God’s love and then put their trust in God instead of their own strength, skill, or wealth; to leave what they think they know for sure; to receive new eyes—a double eye transplant—that will make them see things from a very different perspective than they’re used to; to sacrifice and be inconvenienced for the sake of caring for others; to get on board a kind of metaphorical “bus” with a lot of other people (many of whom they don’t know and some of whom they don’t like); and to submit to a path that will take them on a life-long journey whose destination is known fully only by God.  Woo-hoo!  Who’s ready to take that trip?!

 

If we decide to take the journey of faith however, Jesus is the one to follow—our greatest tour guide for the faith trip.  Like his ancestor David before him, he was the least obvious or likely person to lead us into the Kin-dom.  He was a nobody from a town nobody had heard of unless they’d had some reason to go there—like the Kiefer, Oklahoma of Palestine…and yet this simple, common, unlikely man, went about telling stories and drawing crowds in the thousands.  By modern standards, he certainly could have used a good Press Secretary or marketing strategist.  His message wasn’t always clear.  He spoke of the Kin-dom in terms of what it is “like.”  Frankly, his parables raise more questions than they answer.  It’s as though Jesus wants people to engage the mystery that is life in God’s Kin-dom—and we sophisticated modern folk know that in this world we need to simplify and clarify the message if we want anyone to hear it.  These days, we are bombarded with 6,000 messages a day (according to one scholar). Soundbites are what we want…there’s no time for mystery.  There’s no time for what we don’t understand or can’t know.  We don’t want to know what something is “like” we want to know what it is.  And we certainly don’t want to wait.  We want what we want and we want it…NOW.

 

And yet the Word we are given from—arguably—the best faith trip tour guide we’ll ever get is found in little throwaway passages of an ancient text…The Kin-dom of God is like some old farmer who scatters seed, seed that could be used now to feed his family through grinding and leavening, but instead is sown into fallow fields…trusting that the harvest will come.  The farmer doesn’t know how it happens, but his act of sowing and trusting brings forth the crop that can feed not only his family now, but many families for months and months…  The Kin-dom of God is like that seed…it sprouts and grows…the farmer who plants it doesn’t know how but believes that the harvest will come…and the harvest does come.  The Kin-dom will grow…it is a mystery, but insofar as faithful folks plant seeds of love, mercy, and justice, the harvest will come as sure as the sun rises, as sure as flowers bloom every Spring.

 

Jesus says that the Kin-dom of God is like the small mustard seed that grows into a shrub with large branches that birds can nest in…a small seed that, if not planted dies alone…but when planted invites and sustains a whole ecosystem…and, of course, anyone who knows about the mustard plant knows that, when planted, it just seems to take over where it is not wanted, that it tends to grow out of control, that it tends to attract birds within cultivated areas where they are   not particularly desired.  That’s what the Kin-dom of God is like, like the smallest grain of trust or hope or kindness dropped into the hungry soil of the world, that then brings about growth that cannot be easily managed…growth that attracts life that isn’t welcome in more “cultivated” gardens.  It is a mystery, but it seems that God insists on—depends on—small things, small acts, seemingly insignificant choices to bring growth and life and sustenance into the world.  It seems that the Kin-dom of God requires that there be a willingness (enough faith in God) to let things grow a bit wild and to let that growth disrupt the order we so desperately want to manage and control.  A smile or a helping hand offered to a stranger can ripple through the world beyond your wildest imagination…20 bucks can get someone an ID and that will change their  life…the chaos and confusion of change (in our personal lives or in our church)—can bring about a new vision, a new vitality, a new space to support those whom others might deem “unwelcome” and “unwanted.”

 

The Kin-dom of God is where the journey of faith wants to take us…it is where following Jesus will lead us.  And to go there does not require or encourage naïve optimism or blind, uncritical thought.  To have faith doesn’t mean you don’t have questions or that you never doubt; rather it’s to simply take a step…to be willing to get on the path, to step onto the “bus”… The faith trip is NOT easy… Any teachers here today?  (Parents?  Others?) Ever had one of those days when you feel like it’s just not working?  Like they’re just not getting it and probably never will and don’t seem to care?  Ever wonder why you bother and knock yourself out?  And yet you continue to plant the seeds, to do the work, to offer your best, trusting that maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow—and maybe not even in this life—but trusting that the harvest WILL come.  No, following Jesus into the Kin-dom of God isn’t easy.  Those who engage the mystery of life in God’s Kin-dom will be working against the odds; they will put their very lives on the line for the sake of love; they will offer their own, seemingly insignificant gifts and small acts to the work of God; they will persevere even when they cannot see the growth or result they desire; they will risk disrupting the status quo; they will not discount or overlook the small things or the “little people”; they will be caught off-guard by the sheer numbers of those who need shelter and sustenance and who therefore flock to their sprawling, unruly branches.  And here’s the other thing:  those who engage the mystery of life in God’s Kin-dom will be tempted to abandon the faith trip in order to board the competition’s very well-funded and slickly advertised tour:  the Power Trip.  That’s the Trip in which you don’t have to trust God—because you are in the driver’s seat; it’s the trip in which you can live in luxury and bring as much baggage as you want; the power trip is one on which you don’t have to care about anyone else, you don’t have to be inconvenienced or bothered, you don’t have to be generous, you don’t have to be patient because you’re promised that you can have whatever you want when you want it…and after all, you’re worth it.

 

But the Kin-dom of God is not found by being on a power trip… The Kin-dom of God  is like a seed carried on the wind of the Spirit and planted in the soil of hope…the journey into the Kin-dom of God is full of twists and turns and questions and struggles…and perhaps one of the greatest mysteries is that through the centuries, folks just like you and me have been willing to get on board…because in our heart of hearts we know that within the confusion and pain and uncertainty of our lives and of the world, hope is found in God’s promised harvest…because in the deepest recesses of our souls, we cling to the words of Jesus that invite us to defy hopelessness and to believe that nothing will serve the interests of those around us, the planet, or our own selves better than to step on board that crowded, unruly bus that takes us only God knows where.

 

 

 

 

 

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