Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 67; 150, Esther 3:1-4:3, James 1:19-27, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
Fire and brimstone. Hellfire and damnation. Pulpit pounding and Bible thumping. These (mostly) unfair representations of the Christian church persist for a reason. As with any group, angry voices are generally the loudest voices, and the loudest voices are the ones people hear and remember. We can blame the media for neglecting our daily efforts to feed the hungry, while focusing attention on headline-grabbing events where rabid protesters chant “God hates f(ill-in-the-blank)s” but we also have to acknowledge Christianity’s self-inflicted reputational wounds.
James tells us: “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” He also says “If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.” Quick to listen. Slow to speak. Bridled tongues. Basically the opposite of the behaviors our culture reinforces.
Practicing our religion does not mean getting angry when others don’t feel compelled to support or observe it with us. The Gospel doesn’t sound like good news when our message is effectively: “The freedom and joy I find in Christ are so great that I will socially, politically, and legislatively force you to comply with and enjoy it.” Anger is a bully, and we can’t bully someone into knowing Christ’s love. We can’t (and shouldn’t) even bully all Christians into believing exactly the same things.
What we can do is stand firm in love, however we understand that. It is absolutely possible to hold fast to our convictions without attacking those who challenge us. Tone matters: to many people, it may say more about us than our actual words do. Listening to our opponents and enemies isn’t the same as endorsing them. It may even open a door for us to face some unpleasant truths about ourselves.
When we stand firm, let us tilt our ears to listen. When we shout for justice, let us shout from atop a mountain of love. When we reveal sin, let us blanket it in the hope of reconciliation. Good news delivered in an angry voice is merely noise.
(For further thoughts on today’s reading from Matthew 6, see Keep It In The Closet.)
Comfort: Anger is exhausting; you can let it go.
Challenge: This week make an effort to hear what people are saying without trying to formulate a response while you listen.
Prayer: Loving God, teach me when to speak and when to remain silent. Amen.
Discussion: What angers you so much you can’t hold your tongue?
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