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Sermon for Sunday 12 August 2018

FIRST READING 1 Kings 19:1-8

1Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” 3Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. 4But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” 5And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” 6And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. 7And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” 8And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.


PSALM Psalm 34:1-8

1I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall ever be in my mouth. 2I will glory in the Lord; let the humble hear and rejoice. 3Proclaim with me the greatness of the Lord; let us exalt his name together. 4I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me out of all my terror. 5Look upon him and be radiant, and let not your faces be ashamed. 6I called in my affliction and the Lord heard me and saved me from all my troubles. 7The angel of the Lord encompasses those who fear him, and he will deliver them. 8Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are they who trust in him!


SECOND READING Ephesians 4:17-5:2

17Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20But that is not the way you learned Christ! — 21assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. 25Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and give no opportunity to the devil. 28Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. 1Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.


GOSPEL John 6:35-51

35Jesus said to {the crowd}, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” 41So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 45It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me — 46not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”



A friend of mine came to work one day with a bad limp. Noticing this, I asked him what had happened. The man replied, “Oh, nothing. It’s just an old hockey injury that acts up every once in a while.” Now knowing this man was from the south where football and not hockey is the local pastime, I was surprised at his answer. “I never knew you played hockey,” I said. The man explained, “Oh, I didn’t play hockey; I hurt it last year during the Stanley Cup play offs. I lost five hundred dollars on the final game and I put my foot through the TV set!” There are times when anger can tempt us to do some pretty dumb things.
You may have heard about the man who spent 3 1/2 hours enduring the long lines, surly clerks and insane regulations at the DMV. On his way home he remembered he needed to stop at a toy store to pick up a gift for his son. He brought his selection, a baseball bat, to the cash register. “Cash or charge?” the clerk asked. “Cash,” the man snapped. Then apologizing for his rudeness, he explained, “I’ve spent the afternoon at the DMV.” “Shall I gift wrap the bat?” the clerk asked sweetly. “Or are you going directly back there?” We’ve all been there, haven’t we?
I don’t necessarily mean the DMV. But we’ve all been in situations when things were so aggravating that we aren’t sure what to do with the pent-up rage. Paul addressed this very emotion in our lesson for the day from Ephesians when he wrote: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (4:30-5:2.) This is such an important passage today for the divided, angry world in which you and I live.
We have red states and blue, white people and black, middle class, the poor and the ultra-rich—we have a bad habit in this country of putting people into categories and we seem to be drifting farther apart. And in dividing ourselves up, we seem to be pitting one group against the other. It’s as if we can’t seem to agree on anything, and when we do, we still find a way to disagree for fear of giving in to the other person. However, here’s something that we all can agree on: Bitterness, rage and anger can be very dangerous emotions.
Who here recognizes the name Rudy Tomjanovich? Tomjanovich was an NBA basketball player who was seriously injured and could easily have been killed by a punch thrown in a game by a fellow basketball player named Kermit Washington. In a book titled simply The Punch, John Feinstein tells the story of that tragic incident. On December 9, 1977, during an NBA game between the LA Lakers and the Houston Rockets, a scuffle broke out between several players at mid-court. Washington, who played for the Lakers, saw Tomjanovich running toward the altercation. Not knowing that he intended to break up the fight–Tomjanovich had a reputation around the league as a peacemaker–Washington hit Tomjanovich with a vicious roundhouse punch. The blow, which took Tomjanovich by surprise, fractured his face and left Tomjanovich unconscious in a pool of blood in the middle of the arena.
The punch nearly killed him and resulted in severe medical problems that ultimately ended his playing career. Tomjanovich’s life was certainly shaped by that moment in a variety of ways, but “even more so, probably, this incident has shaped Kermit Washington’s life. He will forever and perhaps primarily,” says John Feinstein, “be known as the man who threw that punch.” Though Washington had a good reputation off the court, he couldn’t escape the notoriety that flowed from that act of anger and violence.
Washington and his wife instantly became ostracized from many in their social circle. They had a two-year-old daughter, and Washington’s wife was eight months pregnant with the couple’s first son at the time of the punch. His wife recalls that she and the children were treated like outsiders after the incident. Her obstetrician refused her service because she was Washington’s wife, and her friends asked her what kind of person Washington was that he could commit such an act. Kermit Washington went on to have a solid NBA career, but he will always be remembered for that momentary lapse of judgment, when he nearly ended a fellow basketball player’s life. Bitterness, rage and anger are dangerous emotions. Unfortunately, such displays of destructive emotions are becoming more routine in our society.
We used to be able to assemble peacefully in this country to protest. But now it seems the opposing side gather at the same time and violence is usually the result. I read about two shoppers in a supermarket who got in a fistfight over who should be first in a newly opened checkout lane. An airline flight returned to a major American city after a passenger was accused of throwing a can of beer at a flight attendant and biting a pilot. One father in an eastern state beat another father to death in an argument over rough play at their sons’ hockey practice. A high school baseball coach in the South turned himself in to face charges that he broke an umpire’s jaw after a disputed call. All these events were reported by USA Today over the span of just a few months.
“Bad tempers are on display everywhere,” wrote reporter Karen S. Peterson. And who can doubt that it’s true? The media is constantly reporting incidents of road rage, airplane rage, biker rage, surfer rage, grocery store rage, and rage at youth sporting events. This has led scientists to say the United States is in the middle of an anger epidemic. What we need to understand is, this epidemic rattles both those who study social trends and parents who fear the country is at a cultural precipice. The question many are asking is, where will it all end?
Human beings are practically the only species on earth emotionally capable of killing their own kind simply out of anger. If any evidence were needed of man’s fallen nature, this is it. When “bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander” take control of us, we’re not only less than the angels, we are less than animals. Who among us has not seen a normally intelligent, responsible human being act like an absolute idiot when out of control with rage? What’s happening to us? Is there any hope that the bitterness and violent acts will end anytime soon? Even in our personal lives we see the damage caused by bitterness, rage and anger.
Joel Chandler Harris was a writer in the late 1800s. He grew up on a plantation in Georgia listening to African-American story-tellers. He collected these folktales and published them under the pseudonym of an African-American story-teller named Uncle Remus. These folktales were entertaining and often filled with great wisdom. Many regard them as racially insensitive. They are chiefly criticized for being too passive when it comes to the subject of slavery in the old South. And while this criticism is valid, it would be sad if these wonderful African-American folktales disappeared from our culture.
One of the best known of these tales was that of Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby. In this tale, Br’er Fox thought Br’er Rabbit was feeling too good about himself. So Br’er Fox decided to cut him down to size. Br’er Fox took a lump of tar and some turpentine, put clothing on it and constructed what looked like a tar baby. He placed his creation in the middle of the road. When Br’er Rabbit came along he addressed the “tar baby” amiably, but received no response. This irked Br’er Rabbit. He made two more attempts to get a response out of tar baby. Still no reply.
At this Br’er Rabbit was furious and he let his temper get out of control. He took a punch at tar baby’s jaw. And, of course, his hand got stuck in the soft tar. This made him even angrier. He punched with his other hand. Of course, it got stuck too. Then he kicked the tar baby with both his feet and, of course, they also became hopelessly stuck. He was now totally helpless just as Br’er Fox planned for him to be. Br’er Fox threw Br’er Rabbit and the tar baby into the briar patch where, with much pain, Br’er Rabbit got loose. Hopefully this taught Br’er Rabbit a lesson about controlling his temper. Bitterness, rage and anger can be very dangerous emotions.
A group of medical students, years ago, were tested for hostility by Dr. Redford Williams, professor of psychiatry and psychology at Duke University. Twenty-five years later, those with low hostility scores had about one-fourth the risk of experiencing heart disease than those with high hostility. When looking at death from all causes, only 2 percent in the low hostility group died in the years following those tests versus 13 percent in the high hostility group. Bitterness, rage and anger are dangerous to those who have offended us, but they do at least as much damage to us as well.
One of the saddest outcomes of our inability to control our rage is the damage it can do to those closest to us. An article titled “Saving the Family,” in Newsweek magazine describes the American home as the most dangerous place to be, outside of war and riots. To justify their statement, the author of the article cites these alarming statistics: Thirty percent of all American couples experience some form of domestic violence; two million couples use lethal weapons on each other each year; 20% of all police officers who are killed in the line of duty are killed in answering calls regarding family fights; it’s estimated that 6 to 15 million women are battered in the U.S. each year–probably the highest unreported crime in the country. Even in a much less violent level, relationships are damaged when we let our emotions get out of control.
Author and business speaker Ken Blanchard gives us a humorous example of the effect of anger in his own life. He says that when his son Scott was a senior in high school, he used to cause problems by parking his truck in the driveway of their home. Ken always told Scott to park the truck out on the street. Nobody could get in or out of their driveway because Scott’s truck was big enough to go to war.
One day, Ken came home to find Scott had not only blocked the driveway with his truck but had left and taken the keys to the truck with him. Ken was furious. Three hours later, Scott showed up and Ken was waiting for him. He stormed out of the house right toward Scott and let Scott have it. He didn’t leave Scott in doubt about what he had done wrong and how he felt about it. As Ken was walking back to the house, Scott raced after him and followed him into the kitchen. Scott said, “Dad, you forgot the last part of the reprimand, you know, the part about ‘You’re a good kid, I love you and this is so unlike you.’
In spite of himself, Ken cracked up laughing and they hugged each other. Ken Blanchard writes, “Scott never left his truck in the driveway again and I got better at reaffirming at the end of a reprimand.” Then Ken adds, “Tell the other person how much they mean to you. Let them know by your words and actions that they are cherished. Praise them for what they do well.” The reality is, most of us are not like Dr. Ken Blanchard. We’re not as graceful in defusing a situation in which we’ve lashed out at a family member as he is. And we continually hurt those closest to us. The question is, is there any hope for us–those of us who have difficulty with our anger?
St. Paul writes, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” “Follow God’s example.” That’s the only answer to “bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander.”
Remembering how God accepts and forgives us when we do wrong is the surest way to let go of our anger when the actions of others disturb us. Jesus, God’s own Son, hung on a cross, and is a testimony to the way God deals with those who disappoint Him. We need to follow God’s example and, with His help, let go of our anger and determine to deal with all people with His example of love before us.
A news reporter named Aaron Aupperlee once told a story about an angry man named Chris Simpson. After the loss of his first child, Simpson had a lot of bitterness, hatred and anger built up inside. To demonstrate his anger Chris, a 38-year-old garbage man and former Marine, joined the white nationalist movement and had the words “PURE HATE” tattooed across his knuckles.
One day Chris and his family watched a Christian movie titled “Courageous,” and Chris began attending church. One month later he was baptized and became a member of the Body of Christ. “Any kind of burdens I carried before, I let them go,” Simpson said. “There’s no need to carry things that happen in the past. I forgave all those who wronged me and asked forgiveness from those that I have wronged.”
By the grace of God, Chris Simpson was able to leave his bitterness, rage and anger behind. One sign of the change that occurred in his life is that he’s going through the Freedom Ink Tattoo removal program. They are helping him take the word HATE off of his hands as God has taken it out of his heart. You and I are not white supremacists, but sometimes we let bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander enter our lives.
In closing I’d like to share with you something that happened not long ago; I know I’ve shared it with some of you already. Terry and I were coming home from Asheville about a month ago driving along I-40. This side of Morganton was a construction zone and the speed limit was 55 MPH. The only lane available was the left lane. Near the end of the construction zone a 1-ton pickup was coming up the on-ramp. I clearly had the right of way and he clearly had the yield sign. We met at the merge point and he wasn’t slowing down. By the time I realized he had no intension of yielding he had forced me from the asphalt surface into the grass to avoid a wreck. Apparently, this angered the other driver because he tailgated me the remaining mile of the construction zone.
There was a mini-van in front of me so I couldn’t speed up and traffic cones to the right so I couldn’t get out of his way. As soon as I could move over I did. The individual pulled alongside and since I couldn’t see in I have no idea if he was “waving” at me or not. I slowed further so the individual tried to once again force me off the road. After slowing again, he finally drove on. Why would anyone purposely try to wreck two vehicles when they were clearly in the wrong? The answer is rage.
We know such emotions are dangerous to our well-being and to the well-being of those around us. So why do we allow it to control our actions? Paul gives us the answer to dealing with our bitterness, anger, slander and malice, we need to pray for the ability to follow God’s example. When we do, God will give us the desire and ability to show kindness rather than anger, love rather than hate, forgiveness rather than bitterness. God sent His only Son as our example. “Walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

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