Transcribed from the sermon preached August 9, 2015
The Reverend Max Lynn, Pastor
Scripture Readings: Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2, John 6:35-39
Norman Vincent Peal says, “Each of us has a big piece of the Good News deep within ourselves – the fact that with God’s help we have what it takes to meet all upsetting situations and react creatively to them. Practice creative anticipation, the power of positive expectations and have the confidence you can draw the best, not the worst to yourself.”
A big word on the street is respect. According to this understanding of the law of respect, if someone disrespects you, you have to respond, you have to put them down or knock them back. You cannot just let them get away with it or then you will have no respect… people will not respect you and then more people will treat you bad. I believe this is a lesson coming primarily from prison culture. With so many people in prison, there are a lot of people getting a prison education. The prison education says, if someone pokes you in the eye, you poke them back. With no hope or long term goals, it is all about the immediate context. What people don’t realize is getting sucked into short term trouble divests us from achieving long term success and respect.
The problem of course is that there may be many many times in our lives when people will do big or small things that may feel disrespectful to us. And, of course, there will always be someone bigger or more powerful who can disrespect us and get away with it. Does that then mean that they are the definers and bankers of respect? Wouldn’t it be nice to have our own stable sense of self-respect, so that no matter what anyone else did, we respect ourselves? Internal-respect or self-respect is integrity, a stability of focus, the ability to keep the eyes on the prize despite how other people may try to distract us.
This automatic reaction to negative stimulus, to someone who calls you a name, or excludes you, or bumps you or in some way threatens you is one of the big problems many people have. Our goal often switches from some productive thing to getting even. We may even stick around in a situation that we would have long left had we not allowed ourselves to be distracted. Maybe we are going to a party to meet some girls and now we are face to face with smelly boys. Maybe we could be moving on to a healthy work environment, but we stick around to add to the unhealthiness of the work environment we are already in. A lot of times people who may be jealous might do something mean just to drag us down. Their attempt to disrespect us is an attempt to get us to focus attention on them.
The gut level reaction we get when our button are pushed is almost always related to fears and painful moments from our childhood. There are holes in the development of our self- esteem, places where we were hurt and where the love which protected and kept us safe faltered. Then as we face situations in our adult life that trigger reminders of that pain, we have a knee jerk reaction. We allow our anger to turn us to sin, to be mean and fight. Or we allow anger to shut us down, to make us give up or shut up or run away when God would have us stand strong and go forward toward the prize.
It is virtually always the case that when we have a knee jerk angry reaction that the pain we feel is related to something painful earlier in life. We weren’t good enough, strong enough, smart enough, good looking enough, fast enough, cool enough, big enough and we were criticized, disagreed with, nagged, slighted, scolded, disregarded or ignored, falsely accused, devalued, distrusted, disapproved, rejected and we hungered and thirsted for respect and love, and it hurt.
Now the interesting and frustrating thing about emotional buttons is that we tend to be drawn to people who push our feel good buttons. Our feel good buttons are similar to our feel bad buttons in that they come from our unconscious childhood experience and tend to arise in the same reactionary fashion to outsider influence. And it is super common that those who are good at triggering our feel good buttons are also good at triggering our feel bad buttons. This means the people we are drawn to are also likely the ones who are best at driving us crazy angry.
Not only does having our buttons pushed often trigger a gut level, childhood reaction, it also will tempt us to hold onto it, to not let that anger go. So our breakfast conversation or a work issue bugs us as we go to bed, and then when we wake up, and on and on we go. I find that the more likely we are to hold onto our anger at someone else, the more likely the issue at hand is about our own self-esteem, the anger and forgiveness we have toward ourselves. With a weak self we give others the power and authority to make us feel bad about ourselves.
Now Christianity has the best antidote to this problem of anger and rage. It is quite simply that for all those things we fail at, Jesus forgives us and loves us anyway. To the extent that we are programmed to give others authority to make us feel bad about ourselves, we update our self-esteem by allowing the son of God to forgive us and love us and empower us with the Holy Spirit. Now the Holy Spirit is about love, the Holy Spirit is love, so as God gives us the Holy Spirit we love ourselves, and thus undistracted by the negativity of others, we love others too. This is the bread of heaven that keeps us full of life giving confidence and strength.
If God loves us, and we are thus permitted and empowered to love ourselves, we can evaluate incoming information not by how it triggers our anger, but by how it furthers the will of God for our lives.
I got back from the Peace Corps and was accepted to seminary and came under care of the presbytery. One of the requirements was a psychological evaluation. One of the criticisms I got from the psychologist was that I dressed casually. I had not worn a tie. Now that pissed me off. First off I had just gotten back from Guatemala where people felt blessed to buy second hand American castaways. When people came to Church, they came in clothes Americans had thrown away. Second off I had just gone out and purchased the clothes I wore to the interview. They were brand new. Third, I was supposed to get into the ministry because I had spiritual depth, not because I had the money or fashion sense to please a materialistic psychologist and committee. I was super angry that this committee with power over me was judging me. I was angry at their power and angry at their judgmental attitude. They should be able to let go of the issue of how I was dressed. The interesting thing is that I couldn’t let it go. I angrily said to my counselor, “I can’t believe they are so hung up on a tie.” And my counselor said, “Are you not also hung up on the tie? If it shouldn’t be a big deal to them, why is it a big deal to you? You have got to pick you battles. Do you want to live and die at the battle of Tie Hill?
I wanted them to forgive me for not wearing a tie; could I forgive them for judging me on my looks? The question changed my whole perspective and gave me power. If the minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was to prove his or her worth by being like Jesus, then I could have the power of love and forgiveness that was ultimately greater than the committee’s power to give and take away job and vocation. I could be a Christ like minister whether they ordained me or not. By the grace of God, the power was mine. As Christians, the question switches from focus on the others ability to judge or forgive toward God. Then God gives us the power.
Then as God gives us the power of love, we can funnel our energy into what is useful for building up. Anger can be helpful. Some of us have a problem allowing anger to burst out of us too often, while some are so terrified of anger they try never to admit that they feel it. Anger helps us understand when something is not right. It can help us to move toward positive change. The key is to direct our anger not to tear down, but to build up. The same goes for criticism that is directed at us. If the shoe fits, wear it. If it doesn’t let it go. When we can listen to someone else’s criticism without getting defensive, we can often use it to help us grow into better people. It is interesting how those professors who I remember most fondly were not necessarily the nicest or easiest. After giving me a D on my first paper, my English 101 teacher heard me say I would pay a typist to finish my paper and spell check and edit, so she made me handwrite all my papers. I was angry and I felt like it was unfair for her to require me alone to handwrite my papers, but I would bet I was her most improved student that semester. I am still a lousy speller, but I did learn how to write.
People, who can both receive and express criticism well, tend to be the most successful people. Why? Because they get along with people and then the people become a team, they learn from and build each other up.
Paul is talking about the church in this morning’s passage. The grace of God in Christ is the bread of life which nourishes us both as individuals and as a community. God is love and forgiveness, through Christ empowers us with a sense of self worth and self respect that is not dependent on the whim of public opinion. In Christ, we listen and give critique to help each other and the community mature and grow.