Tuesday, August 16, 2016

16 August 2016
“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.” (Matthew 5:21-22, NLT)
 “[love] does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” (1 Corinthians 13:5-6, NIV)
“for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20, ESV)

            Good morning. Today we begin looking at six examples of Jesus’ deeper interpretations of the Law. Here we see what Kingdom life looks like in our day to day lives. This is where we demonstrate God’s better way. That Jesus begins with anger is no accident. Anger-or more accurately, the heart attitude that produces anger-is the antithesis of the second great commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. Scripture has loads of things to say about anger, from one end to the other. This very brief meditation will consider Jesus’ threefold progression of anger to insult to contempt in terms of why they are displeasing to God and what they say about what is pleasing to God.
            A quick Google search of anger reveals that it is often a ‘secondary’ emotion; that is, it is usually brought about by the presence of some other, primary emotion. I should also say here many others claim anger as a primary emotion. This is a matter for psychologists to sort out and way beyond our scope. I mention it because I believe Jesus recognizes anger as an outward sign of an inward condition or attitude of the heart-the primary emotion, if you will-precisely what we have discussed in the Beatitudes.
            The underlying causes for most anger are many and varied: fear, jealousy, envy, pride, arrogance all contribute. We are angry because we did not get our own way. We are angry because our neighbor has something we do not and we have not yet learned to rejoice with him over his good fortune. We are angry because we have been insulted or slandered or falsely accused and we feel the need to defend ourselves, to restore our good name. We are angry because we fear change, we fear being ignored or being irrelevant or misunderstood. We are angry because we fear growing old and losing control or being young and having no control to lose. We are angry because we think God is doing a poor job governing His creation. The list is endless. These are trust issues. We overcome them by knowing God better, by allowing ourselves to be known by Him. We learn trust by learning God.
            Conversely, we set ourselves up as more important than others because we do not understand our place and importance before God. We all bear the Imago Dei; we all owe our very existence, the length of our days, to God alone. If God has gifted one person more or another one less it is His sovereign right to do so; who are we to argue or question? This is the definition of meekness and humility-knowing our place; before God and in His kingdom. Understanding our brother’s place and our sisters’ place too, by the way, and accepting that as coming from God as well. Understanding that God is God and we are not.
            Jesus’ words in v.22 show a progressive deterioration in attitude, from anger to insult to contempt. Insult is bad because it amounts to character assassination, which is the moral equivalent of murder. How many of you have seen a fellow parishioner become angry over some perceived slight or disagreement and engage in a quiet, subtle campaign against the pastor? The underlying idea here is that words carry great and lasting power; they are after all expressions of the heart. Our words reveal how we have set ourselves up as greater, more important, even morally superior to another one who could very well feel the same way about us. To paraphrase James, our insults do not demonstrate God’s point of view.
            Anger leads to insult which leads to contempt. Contempt is the worst, the attitude which promises extreme judgement. Why? Because contempt does the most to tear someone down. Contempt, like character assassination, is the moral equivalent of murder. Contempt goes beyond merely elevating oneself above another; contempt says a person loved by God, made in His image, is worthless and will always be worthless. Contempt goes beyond not seeing the Imago Dei to not seeing at all; short of murder it is the ultimate denial of rights. Contempt does not just say I am superior; contempt says you are nothing and you will always be nothing.  
            One more thing (there is always one more thing). All that we have been discussing here comes down to this-we must learn to think about and treat others the way God thinks about and treats us. God continually seeks us out to redeem us, to continually restore His image in us (because we continually need restored) and to return us to fellowship with Him. God sees what we can become-what we will become when we allow Him to have His way with us. We must strive to do the same with others. Contempt says you are nothing. God says you are glorious, you can be anything you want. Let me show you how. This is how we glorify God.
            I had hoped to go a little (a lot, actually) farther today, but anger seems to have taken on a life of its own. So, tomorrow we will look at how the beatitudes provide the antidote-the proper orientation of the mind and heart-to anger, insult and judgement. Anger, like all emotions, is a follower-it follows what we think. The antidote is to change our thinking-to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, as Paul says. Today, one practical step we can take is to make this an Ephesians 4:29 day-“Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” This applies especially to Facebook and twitter posts. Let today be a day for building one another up. Let today be the day we strive to recognize the Imago Die in those God sends our way.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and then fellowship of the Holt Spirit be with you all this day. JRG

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