Dear Friends in Christ,
One of my mother’s iconic lines she uses to reference people with whom she has a disagreement is “…(so and so) drives me to insanity!” I’ve always smiled when she said that in my presence and my delight at her vexation made her even MORE insane! In fact, her response to provocation is no greater than anyone else’s…she just tends toward over-reaction in the verbal department – a family malady that, unfortunately, did not pass me over!
Driven to insanity or to “distraction” (her other delightful reaction) is a personal, family and funny characteristic of my mom that I love. However, when such reaction indicates anger leading to the alienation of people in the church it’s a problem. Paul wrote to the Corinthians love “is not irritable” which actually means that the one who loves is not easily provoked to anger by others.
The church is full of people who provoke us to anger which is partly their fault and partly ours. People say things and do things that quite properly make us angry. But when that emotion transitions into an action that separates us from others the church is wounded by party-spirit, division and, ultimately, dysfunction.
What’s the solution? First, it is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, Whose indwelling of our lives yields the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control, Who can so fill our lives that anger will not necessarily lead to alienation of brothers and sisters in the Church.
Secondly, knowing that anger can lead to division in the church we all must be on our guard against allowing it to have its way. If we are angry about something and, particularly, with someone we must make every effort to ensure that such an irritation gets handled personally and completely with a spirit of honestly, openness, forgiveness and love…there’s no other way. When people come to me who are fuming over something that someone has said or done the first thing I ask them is “What does that person have to say to you in response? Oh, you haven’t gone to them? Well, I can’t help you until you first go to them!” It makes some crazy-mad at me but there is no other way (c.f. Matthew 18)!
When I was a pastor in Oklahoma, in addition to my responsibilities at my Caucasian church I was the pastor/moderator of 4 Native American churches to which I ministered about every 6 weeks. It was on a Saturday afternoon that I received a call from a man in one of the Choctaw churches who told me that his mother had died and he wanted to bury her in the tribal graveyard. However, the man in the congregation who maintained the small cemetery and also dug the graves would not allow the woman to be buried in the graveyard. In fact, the grave digger was guarding the gate to the cemetery with his rifle. Obviously, no one was getting out AND it was just as obvious that the woman in question was not getting in!
With the slightest bit of inquiry I learned that the deceased woman had, decades earlier, slighted the grandmother of the gatekeeper who, from that moment on, held a grudge against the now deceased woman and her family. The deceased woman and this man’s grandmother were divided, the families were divided and the small Native American congregation, I soon learned, had chosen up sides and it was divided, too. With a bit of negotiation through the use of a translator the gatekeeper put down his rifle and, eventually, picked up his shovel before the Oklahoma sun and heat did its work on this poor, deceased woman who, meanwhile, lay in state in the back of a beat up old pickup truck, awaiting her final destination.
To the church of Corinth Paul wrote that love is not provoked by the anger of others AND “…it is not resentful” or does not keep a record of wrongs. In short, love does not hold a grudge. In my 33 years at Beverly Heights I can honestly say that, with one notable exception, I am not aware of anyone keeping record of wrongs done against them and it is that kind of love for one another that has held, and continues to hold our congregation together.
However, in the singular case where an individual held a grudge against another member of the church (unjustifiably in my judgement) and was unwilling to be reconciled that split had an impact, not only on the congregation but on the reputation of the church in the Pittsburgh community. The grudge-holder went to be with the Lord, self-justified in his own mind but, fortunately, justified in Christ, and the other member of the church, who did everything for resolution possible including responding to a sermon on reconciliation by walking to the other person during the worship service’s closing hymn – to no avail – was also justified in Jesus Christ, but saddened by the fracture. That fracture is now healed as the two, together, stand around the throne of the One Who died that this ultimate and eternal reconciliation might take place!
Once again, it is the Holy Spirit of the God of love Whose fruit in us is love, that makes it possible for us to love one another without being provoked by anger and not keeping track of wrongs so that we as a church might continue to enjoy a unity in Jesus Christ for which Christ died in order for us to have it.
Fill us with that divinely inspired love, Holy Spirit; fill us now and fill us always!
Faithfully in Him,
Posted on Fri, July 6, 2018
by Bethany Thomson filed under