Back in August of last year as I was picking up a few things at Whole Foods I heard a commotion…as I turned the corner into the dairy section I saw what the fuss was all about. It was a full-on mask fight. A customer getting into it with a WF employee not wanting to wear her mask while the poor girl told her that if not the woman would have to leave the store. It was awkward, tense and bitter. The whole store was on edge, people heads down just trying to get their things and leave.
• It’s one thing to experience tense, angry arguments as an observer.
• But it is even more anxiety inducing and stomach turning to know you might have to face it at Uncle Larry’s this Christmas, or at your company party or neighborhood gathering.
It might be about masks, or vaccines or politics or race or religion or conspiracy theories but you know it’s coming. It might get ugly. You know you’ll be holding your breath and walking on eggshells.
May I make a proposal that might preserve your family and friendships and keep you from losing your mind?
To “calm the chaos” – title of this sermon series.
But before I share my proposal I want to start with the world in front of the text…our world…let me offer some thoughts as to how we got here to the new American civil war.
The world in front of the text
3rd week of March – friend forwarded an article to me.
• The article was a word to organizations and businesses facing the pandemic
Leading Beyond the Blizzard: Why Every Organization Is Now a Startup
By Andy Crouch, Kurt Keilhacker, and Dave Blanchard
“The coronavirus is not just something for us to “get through” for a few days or weeks. We need to treat COVID-19 as a cultural blizzard, winter, and beginning of a “little ice age” — a once-in-a-lifetime change that is likely to affect our lives for years.” Andy Crouch, Praxis Journal
Part of what is causing the discord and rancor between us is we got hammered by this new ice age…once in a life time change…we’re all struggling with.
• This happened to us in the middle of an already inflamed cultural storm of racial hostility, political disgust, religious deconstruction, climate change horrors, social media anarchy and conspiracy madness.
Jamelle Bouie in NY Times article quoted a character from the horror film The Thing to describe our wariness and weariness:
“Nobody trusts anybody now, and we’re all very tired.” Kurt Russell in The Thing
And one other thing…this may be why Uncle Larry is so the way he is and why you may be the way you are…
Anomie – a condition caused by the uprooting or breakdown of norms. Loss of anchors…breakdown of scaffolding that holds us up.
So, all this to say, in the world In front of the text, our world, …we need permanent, new, different strategies to navigate relationships for the foreseeable future.
- And we need to come up with something before the office Christmas party or the neighborhood gathering or, yes, Uncle Larry’s annual family soiree.
So here’s my proposal – get ready to write this down.
Shut up. That’s it…my sermon in the tiniest of nutshells.
Or if that is too intense for you…
Bite your tongue.
As we navigate this new social ice age of grievance and fear I propose that we learn to “Stand still in a patient humble way.” Richard Rohr
That’s my proposal but let’s dive into the world of the text to see whether my idea has any merit.
Galatians 5:13 page ______
The world of this text…this piece of correspondence between the early church leader Paul and a group of churches in a region he had visited a year or two before.
• He wrote it to try to confront a controversy circulating among the churches – if you decided to follow Jesus you also had to commit to the Mosaic law.
• As you’ll see in Vs 5 Paul’s summary judgment on the controversy…
5 So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.
But…look ahead to Vs 13 – interesting side road off the main topic
13 For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. 14 For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[c] 15 But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.
So that got my attention esp. V 15
But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.
• It’s likely that the controversy had stirred up a lot of anger that led to some significant rage. Not the words Paul chooses:
o Biting (with the teeth), devouring, destroying (annihilate)
• That’s a chilling warning and all too real and reminds us why the trip to Uncle Larry’s can be nerve wracking.
So does Paul have a solution? Let’s go on…
16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. 18 But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.
19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear:
(now instead of reading this whole list of nasty things that come from our sinful nature I am going to ask you to focus on just 5 words and phrases that are more to our point today)
sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these.
Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
Let’s step back and I’ll summarize what we’ve seen so far. You and I have a choice when we face people with whom we have a grievance or dispute:
1. Bite, devour and seek to annihilate them with hostility, quarreling, outbursts of anger, dissension and division.
2. Respond to them with love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Now here is what I want you to see about this list…every one of these characteristics are things you display without ever opening your mouth.
They are things you display, even when you are on the receiving end of a tirade, without ever opening your mouth.
Exhibit joy with smiles, happiness and warmth.
Display peace through a calm and poised posture.
Practice long-suffering by staying in the room.
Be kind with your facial expressions.
Do good by giving them the space to vent.
Be faithful by not shutting down the relationship.
Be gentle with a soft presence.
Show self-control by not reacting.
Even love which at times includes action and words mostly is silent…
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13: 1-8
In other words, as you face those people who want to pick a fight…shut up. Yes, you will want to strike back. Yes, you’ll want to run from the room pulling your hair out. Yes, you’ll feel the urge to share with them what you know, because if only they could understand then they would get it. Don’t do those things. Shush.
Smile and listen as you sip on your egg nog…and allow your kind silence to do its thing.
“Stand still in a patient humble way.” Richard Rohr
It will take everything you have to do this. It will grate on you. It will feel like a grave injustice to “let them get away with their nonsense.” But, my friends, I see no other way forward. The wall grows higher by the day. The wounds of broken relationships get deeper. We are at a cultural and familial breaking point.
So let’s try something different. Before we go to the family thing or office party or Whole Foods…
1. Settle down
2. Be mindful of how you are feeling
3. Pray for help and direction - Vs. 16 – be directed by the spirit
4. When you get there
a. Display a gentle wordless peace
b. Stay in the room with loving self-control
c. Stand still in a patient humble way
And mostly – shut up and be kind.