- STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OCTOBER 3, 2021
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
Call to Worship Psalm 133: 1 & 2 & 134: 1 & 2
How wonderful, how beautiful, when brothers and sisters get along!
It’s like costly anointing oil flowing down head
Come, bless God, all you servants of the Lord!
Lift your praising hands to the Holy Place and bless God.
Lighting of the Christ Candle (The Light of the World is Jesus)
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
You are united in a relationship of perfect harmony and love.
You are the source of all life and the place where all the threads of life are woven into the whole.
You have loved us with a sacrificial love.
You desire to be one with us
and you desire us to be united in you.
You call us to love as you have loved.
We confess that while we are able to love, our love is not pure.
It is tainted by hatred and anger.
In pride and justification, we cling to these feelings which create divisions between ourselves and others.
We do not reflect your harmony. Light and peace do not define our relationships.
We think of someone now from whom we are divided, asking your forgiveness. Show us how to bridge those chasms.
We are not people who gather with joy and awe to celebrate together.
Too often we come with ill thoughts of others. There are people here we dislike and avoid.
We think of someone now whom we do not treat with kindness, asking your forgiveness. Teach us to love.
We remember those who are part of your body, gathered here today, at home and throughout the world. Help us to be one in your Spirit.
Help us to love one another so others will know that we are your people and be drawn to you.
Accept our gift of worship today. May we lift you up and exalt your holy name. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon Ephesians 4: 25 & 30 – 32
In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other.
Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart.
His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself.
Don’t take such a gift for granted.
Be gentle with one another, sensitive.
Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.
Hymn: Come Now is the Time to Worship
Prayer for Illumination
God of Peace, send your Spirit as we listen to your word and examine our hearts, so that we may love one another and be a witness in your world. Amen.
Acts 2: 43 – 47
Ephesians 4: 26 – 27
John 13: 34 & 35
Hymn : A New Commandment
Message: Being the Church: Harmonious
These days, rage is all the rage. Listen to the titles of these recent articles from a variety of journals: “Soothing advice for mad America”; “It’s not just you: people really are angrier these days”; “Pandemic Rage: why everyone is so angry”; “Living in a big “anger incubator”; “Why do I hate everyone?”; “Why some people are cruel?”; “Why everyone on the internet is an …” The writer then uses an anatomical term to express his own hostility – it seems he missed the irony. But many would agree the internet is a venomous place. As the joke goes, “I always thought I had anger problems and was anti-social but after spending time on social media, I’m apparently well-adjusted and normal”. So, what’s fueling all these articles? Covid, of course, has people fearful, tired and on edge. Domestic violence and public conflicts are increasing. People are worried their civil rights are eroding. People are impatient for change and want to “tear down the whole system”. People try to correct social injustice with anger and violence as if hatred can heal hatred. Society seems to be in a pressure cooker ready to explode. And the church can fall into the same pit. Toward the end of his sermon on forgiving your enemies, the preacher asked the congregation, “how many of you have forgiven your enemies”? About half held up their hands. He repeated the question. Since it was past lunchtime, this time about 80% held up their hands. He then repeated his question again. All responded, except one small elderly lady. “Mrs. Jones?” inquired the preacher, “Are you not willing to forgive your enemies?” “I don’t have any.” she replied, smiling sweetly. “Mrs. Jones, that’s very unusual. How old are you?” “Ninety-three”. “Oh, would you please come to the front and tell us all how a person can live ninety-three years and not have an enemy in the world.” Mrs. Jones made her way to the front, faced the congregation, and said, “I outlived the old hags.” We are a long way from the idyllic honeymoon period of the early Church.
Listen again to Luke’s brief description of that early community: “Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met. They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.” When we read those words, we often focus on the statement “they sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources”. We wonder if the early Church was a communal organization like the Branch Davidians. Apparently not – they still owned homes where they ate together. However, sharing resources with the poor was highly valued and widely practiced. When all we hear is that one detail, we miss a lot. This was a group of people overcome with awe at the great wonders and signs done among them and through them. They lived in harmony, worshipping every day, and eating together. Every gathering was an exuberant, joyful celebration. They praised God. The result of this lively, happy praise was that people liked what they saw and joined them.
Does that describe most churches today? I wish it did. Might it explain why many churches are closing? I hope it doesn’t. But, we’re a long way from harmonious. Denominationally, the PCC has spent that last 30 years in conflict. The tension, anger, and verbal abuse – from both sides – at recent assemblies has been jarring. We are divided. From time to time, congregations are so conflicted, Presbytery needs to mediate. Often, it ends not with reconciliation but with someone leaving. More often in congregations (and I include clergy in this), anger is expressed as annoyance, impatience, catty comments, lashing out, pushiness, control, sulking, avoidance, suspicion, factions, envy, criticism, gossip, triangulation, and leaving. Now it’s easy to feel insulted and defensive by a list like that. Or you may be wondering: who’s she talking about now? No one likes to think they are not nice people. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” Everyone one of us can be less than harmonious, supportive, and joyful. Anger is not foreign to any of us.
St. Paul gave the Ephesian Christians peculiar advice, “You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge.” (Ephesians 4: 26). Or “Be angry, but do not sin.” (NRSV). You do well to be angry. Anger isn’t our enemy. It isn’t evil. It’s just a feeling. Anger is an appropriate, God-given response to personal violation. We may feel a righteous anger when others are violated. Sometimes though anger becomes our primary feeling. Sometimes we’re angry at other people or situations. Sometimes we’re just angry and need something to direct it towards. I used to know an angry man who was very hard on his son. The son told me that after years of hurt he realized, “It’s Wednesday at 4 p.m. and Dad just needs someone to yell at”. Some people react with anger to insignificant slights. Some people cannot control their anger and lash out in violent ways. Among church goers, anger is often a small, unkind comment that diminishes someone in the eyes of other people. Recently, I read a church webpage article and the forum afterwards. The article was on kindness. One man wrote, “Thanks. This reminder is so needed today when we are all tempted to respond first, think later. Then, just as a critique and not criticism, have you noticed how many typos there are in your content? I’m just trying to help a brother out.” Obviously, he didn’t think first. And he wasn’t being helpful or kind. Sadly, he was so busy analyzing and criticizing lesser, temporal things that he missed the word of God. The point of the article was lost on him. But he was right about one thing: we need to think before we speak or act to avoid sin. We need to ask ourselves: Is my motive to help or hurt, to build up or just get noticed, to encourage or show my superiority? Is this the best time and place? Is it necessary? In what will this comment be constructive? Am I calling out the worst in people, or bringing out the best? Am I creating harmony and joy?
Paul is clear that anger should not be expressed as sin, revenge, or “payback”. Revenge may be setting property on fire, or physically attacking someone. More often, it’s a deliberate plan to injure another person emotionally or socially – to bring financial ruin, destroy their relationships, harm them professionally, embarrass them publically, or sabotage their dreams. It can also be that small act of rudeness which negates another person. When someone (or something) bothers you (or me) that much, you need to ask what that’s about, because the anger is in you. When someone irritates us, we could see it as an opportunity to stretch our ability to love. You might “do well to be angry” but it’s not okay to act out our anger in negative, divisive ways that hurt others. This is easier said than done. A woman complains to her doctor about her husband’s volatile anger. The doctor suggests, “Anytime you think your husband is about to get flip out, go to the kitchen, pour yourself a glass of water, and swish it around your mouth until he calms down.” The woman is puzzled but agrees to try it. 2 weeks later, she reports to her doctor, “Your suggestion worked like a charm. Anytime my husband became angry, I just swilled the water around my mouth, and he calmed down. How does a glass of water do that?” The doctor replies “The water does nothing. It’s keeping your mouth closed that does the trick!”
Anger normally rises in response to something – an action, comment, difference of opinion, or irritation. We need to be self-aware so we’re not contributing to a volatile situation. A man comes runs to the doctor shouting, “Help, I’ve been stung by a bee!” DOCTOR: “Don’t worry; I’ll put some cream on it.” Man: “On the bee? How will you find it?” DOCTOR: “No, I’ll put some cream on the place you were stung.” MAN: “Oh! It happened in the garden.” DOCTOR: “No, which part of your body did the bee sting?” MAN: “My finger!” DOCTOR: “Which one?” MAN: “How do I know? All bees look the same.” All of us have had frustrating conversations which lead to impatient responses, or intense conversations in which we “poked the bear” to get a reaction. We need to be aware of not angering others.
However, no one is responsible for the feelings or behaviour of another person. We are accountable for our own actions. Because we are set free in Christ, we can make choices for good. Harmony with others is only possible when we’re at peace within ourselves. From time to time, we all feel vulnerable, lonely, frustrated, crabby or outraged. What do we do with those painful feelings? First, recognize them. Pause and pray, asking God to calm you and give you a spirit of grace and harmony. You may need to talk to a friend, your minister, or a counsellor. We all need help sometimes. If your anger has spilled out on other people, take a step back, change the topic, leave the room, take a break, or apologize. Recognize anger can be a springboard to build up, bring healing, or change circumstances. Years ago, I allowed my neighbour to bring her child to my home to be baby sat by my sitter. I asked for nothing – she paid the sitter. Then, letting her know well in advance, I quit work to stay home with my kids. She was livid and unleashed her anger on me. I suggested she hire the same sitter to come to her house. I got another wave of anger because that would increase her utility bills (she and her husband were both professionals with good incomes). Finally, I said, “I can’t believe you’re speaking to me like this after the favour I’ve done for you”. She left angry. Later her husband called and invited us over because he didn’t want the relationship left in a destroyed state. We talked, forgave, and reconciled. Anger can be worked through. Harmony can follow it. For this reason, Paul advises us not to remain angry. When we stay angry, the bitterness grows until we become angry people controlled by anger. The devil gets a foothold and won’t let go. He pulls at us, until we fall into his clutches. In the last couple years, I’ve been blessed reconcile with my cousin. We lost touch because of a family rift which was especially hard on my cousin who was an only child. The other day asked if she had any sermon ideas. Without knowing what I was preaching on, she wrote, “In a world and time where anger and hatred prevail, if we all just took a ‘leap of faith moment’ to speak our truths and forgive, the outcome is often healing and peace we never thought we’d see”. Anger doesn’t need to win. Harmony prevails when we’re committed to understanding, listening, and forgiving.
The early Christians give us an example of a church in harmony. They show us that loving one another as Christ has loved us is possible. Their love began with awe for God. Awe is a form of gratitude and praise. They were caring. They were joyful. They were open. Harmony can only happen when we’re willing to accept people as they are, to let go of unimportant slights and to forgive the important ones. They were people of praise and celebration. In an unhappy, angry world, people are desperate for harmony and joy. May Christ’s church once again be the place where they find it.
Silent Prayer and Reflection
God of peace, we bring you are gifts. We know they mean nothing if we do not have love for one another. We know they will not produce goodness for your kingdom if we do not love one another. Use us so that the gifts we bring will bear fruit for your kingdom. May others be drawn to Christ through us, his Church. Amen.
Hymn : Brother Sister Let me Serve You
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession
Today, Lord, we give you thanks for your Church, the Body of Christ, your hands, feet, and heart in our world today.
It is a wonder for us to think of your church throughout the world as Christians gather in
Ontario, Nigeria, China, Scotland, and Argentina.
in city and country, in suburbs and slums,
in sanctuaries and buildings,
under trees and by streams of water.
Your people gather to praise you, Lord,
in English and in Portuguese,
in Arabic and Korean,
in French and in Russian.
We gather to worship you and bless your holy name
with organ, guitar, and drum,
with violins, harps, and videos.
We worship you with our voices,
with song and with silence,
with dance and with prayer.
There is much need in our world and your church is not without needs.
We pray for people who are persecuted for their faith remembering those who praise you from jail cells, those who pray for peace as they face death, those who will never deny you or forsake you to save themselves.
We pray for those whose families and businesses are threatened and who are unjustly taxed.
Give them peace and strength
Help them to know that they are not alone.
We pray for those who have grown dull in their faith and have put you on the back burner of their lives, rekindle the flame of your Spirit within them.
We pray for those who work diligently to provide for the needs of others and to help their congregations continue to function. Bless their efforts and commitment.
We pray for those who are watching their congregations die and do not know how to turn things around.
May they be reborn from above by the power of your Holy Spirit.
We pray for clergy who feel the weight of responsibility to keep their congregations together in these hard times. This is your church Lord. The church you love more than we ever could. Make us one. Give us strength. Give us harmony so that others may witness your love in action and come to you.
We pray for those people who praise you.
hope amid despair,
strength in times of weakness,
justice in situations of oppression,
courage in the face of fear,
life amid death.
We are the people who call you Lord, and we pray on behalf of all creation, until the day comes when
everything that breathes, gives you the praise and glory due to your holy name,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Hear us now as we pray with Christians across the globe saying…
Hymn: Saviour Like a Shepherd Lead Us
Invitation to Mission
Christ has given us a new commandment
To love one another as he has loved us.
We go into the world in harmony with one another,
So, they will know we are Christians by our love.
Benediction May the Triune God bless and keep you. Amen.