Monday, August 27, 2012

"Proper 14"

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

As those of you who are on Facebook are no doubt aware, the past week the media has been abuzz with the curfuffel over Chick-fil-A. The CEO said in an interview that he was “guilty as charged” on opposing the rights and safety of gay people. This was news to no one. So interviews were sought for responses, and various “liberals” and gay persons were naturally repulsed and advocated boycotting Chick-fil-A: which many of us had been doing anyway. Those people who supported his views tried to make it a “free speech” issue, and went en-masse to eat there and have their pictures taken, ostensibly to support his rights, which were not being challenged. That some would agree with him was also not surprising; what was surprising was that those people – our own friends and family members – would come out and make such a public statement on our Facebook feeds that agreement his views was more important that being in relationship with us: that they would sell us for a chicken sandwich.

In today's Epistle, Paul writes, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.” That has been extremely hard for me this past week. I have been angry as I've gone to bed each night. But I don't wish to make room for the devil!

Paul says in the first line, “let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors.” The Chick-fil-A-ers would no doubt say that's exactly what they were doing: speaking the truth. But I would first ask, along with Pontias Pilate: What is truth? The mediævals saw this question as an anagram of its own answer: Quid est veritas? Est vir qui adest. What is truth? It is the man standing here. Jesus is The Truth. Although “What Would Jesus Do?” is a modern meme, it is a very biblical question. After all all, as Paul continues, “we are members of one another-” and we share that membership in Christ.

It seems to me that Jesus was always secure in his relationships. Unlike many of us, he didn't let his interactions be coloured by fear, deference, or hedging, so as not to say something that might upset someone. He always spoke his Truth in a respectful dialogue with anyone who was interested. Those who were not interested in dialogue, he called out- sometimes in very colourful terms. But he never attempted to suppress their own views, and he never used force to get his way.

In today’s Old Testament reading we also have a story of broken relationships and no communication. To summarize the backstory: David’s son by one wife, Amnon, raped his sister by another wife, Tamar. Tamar went to her brother Absolom and told him what happened, and Absolom went to David. But David’s response was, essentially, “Boys will be boys!” Finding this an insufficient response, Absalom killed Amnon, and fled the country. Time passed, and Absolom returned to the area, but still wouldn't talk to his father. Instead he began forming a rebellion. David ignored this as long as possible, and then finally had to let his captain, Joab, put it down. "But," he said, "deal kindly with the young man Absalom." Well, Joab killed Absalom as soon as he had the chance. The sun went down on anger, communication ceased, and a family was destroyed. To late, David lamented, "Oh, Absalom my son, my son! Would God that I had died instead of you!" It is interesting to note that “David’s Greater Son” did die instead of those that rebelled against him - and thus brought healing to broken relationships.

Looking back to the Epistle: “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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” What would Jesus do? He would be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving. I saw a quote recently, though I can't remember who said it, that “Holding on to anger is like drinking poison, and expecting your enemy to die.” The behaviour that Paul recommends is not just for the sake of others, but for our own sake.

So, being kind and forgiving, how did Jesus effect his “victory”, and how do we do so in him? According to the Prophet Isaiah, “By his stripes we are healed.” The exhibition of his wounds did more to strengthen his allies and confound his enemies than any argument could. So likewise, we ought to speak the truth, exhibit our pain and woundedness, but refuse to fight. (Now, this is not to suggest that we ought not individually to leave an abusive situation if we may, for then we certainly ought to.) On a public scale, though, this is what I believe Paul is telling is us is the appropriate response. It is not flamboyant, and it is certainly not easy. But we must remember, that it is not flesh and blood behind the offenses. And so, without anger, we must forgive others, as we hope God will forgive us.