In the name of our Loving, Liberating, and Life-Giving God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
This week I was fortunate. A friend of mine repeated to me what another friend said to her. It wasn’t a secret, or gossip, or disbelief. What was passed on to me was something that ended up being an impactful ministry to my friend.
Our other friend told her she’d noticed that when something made her mad, or, in her words, “disrupted her peace,” she realized it was either something she should let go of, or something she could learn from. When her peace was disrupted, there was either something to let go of, or something to learn.
You may have heard similar advice if you know someone who is difficult for you to deal with. It is said that what makes us dislike dealing with some people is that we see something in them which we don’t like about ourselves. If that is the case, we have the opportunity to do one of two things. Either discover ways to have compassion for what is going on in the person, or take a lesson from it. If a personal quality in someone else bothers us, then it probably also bothers other people when we do the same thing.
In either of these instances there is an opportunity to learn about an aspect of civility – or to learn how to make yourself more loveable.
Why would it be important to improve our civility and mind our manners? How could doing this transform our lives? Consider how the incivility among people in our culture is spiraling in a negative direction. The intensity of our polarizations and disagreements have some how convinced us that treating each other without respect is acceptable, even the right thing to do. This is damaging the fabric of our society. What used to hold us together for the common good is being torn apart.
Being offended by one another is an unending negative cycle. Returning offense for offense is not the thing to do.
The apostle Paul gives us some wonderful riffs on love. We heard one as our epistle reading today. Another is found in the twelfth chapter of Romans, verses 9-18.
“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
When we are uncivil, we are doing the opposite of living peaceably with others. About negative things in our lives, such as anger and pain, Richard Rohr says that whatever we don’t transform, we will pass on to others. If we transmit our pain instead of transforming it, we perpetuate it from generation to generation. Loving our neighbor includes not passing our pain on to them. We can be alerted to opportunities to transform our lives when we find ourselves feeling offended.
If we can do something other than easily being offended by our neighbor, then we will be promoting civility. As we do this, it is easier to love because when someone isn’t getting offended or feeling defensive in response to our taking offense at them, we are happier and more loveable.
Let me give you a simple example of how something like this played out for me recently. I was making my Christmas card list when I realized a good friend and I had fallen sadly out of touch. I always included them on my Christmas card list, but I wasn’t sure when I had gotten one in return. Instead of being offended and refusing to send them a card, I sent them a card, and in it asked, “Is there something between us which is keeping us from being closely connected?” In a matter of days I received a note of love and reassurance. They’ve been busy (like everyone else)! We have since reestablished our connection, and I am so grateful.
I’m willing to wager that at least fifty percent of the time we get offended, the offending party doesn’t have any intention to offend us. We have to get out of the habit of being offended and give the people around us the benefit of the doubt instead.
Our gospel reading today illustrates harm that can be done by taking offense. The people of Nazareth got offended at Jesus. They identified him as one of their own, yet he was saying things which amazed them. They might have gotten offended by him in several ways. One way was for them to ask, “Who does he think he is?” Another way they could respond is to expect Jesus to do especially mighty and numerous deeds for them since this was his hometown. They were waiting for the benefit of knowing him to come their way. When Jesus did not deliver miracles or healings it could well be because their belief in his god-like abilities was based on greed and wanting something for themselves rather than being based in faith in who he was. They were offended at him.
What could the people of Jesus’ hometown have gained if they had lovingly, curiously welcomed him home? What if they told him how good it was to see him and listened to what he had to say? They could have had a firsthand, genuine account about the love of God and how incredibly personal God’s love is. God was manifest in someone they saw grow up and who they knew well. God, the creator of the universe, had chosen to dwell among them. What if they had welcomed him with open hearts? How much more could they have intimately understood the love of God. The transformation of their lives was derailed by taking offense at Jesus.
Here we can look back at our other lessons of the day which reinforce this message. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he writes about civility and how to love one another. “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.”
If this passage of Scripture alone doesn’t make you want to share love everywhere you go, then reflect on what God has to say to the prophet Jeremiah:
“… I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”
God admonishes Jeremiah for thinking so little of his own abilities and tells him to trust God to give him the words when he didn’t know what to say. Just like us, if we find ourselves being wildly offended, and we don’t know how to behave, we have only to trust God to show us how it is to be done.
When we begin to change our response to our neighbors, our lives will be undeniably transformed by love.
Remember the advice: When our peace is disrupted, we are to ask ourselves if the cause of our disquiet is something we should let go of, or something we can learn from. Making yourself more loveable and loving your neighbor will change your life forever. AMEN.
The Rev. Dawn M. Frankfurt
January 30, 2022
St. James Episcopal Church, Wichita, KS