Sermons

September 17, 2023

Proper 19A – George Yandell

From the Exodus reading – Israel is saved by a tsunami that God uses to kill all the Egyptian warriors and their armaments. God was angry that pharaoh had enslaved and mistreated the Hebrew people for generations. We are created in God’s image, so anger comes naturally to us.   Anger and forgiveness are two poles of human nature. The one, anger, is a natural human emotion. Some child psychologists think it’s anger at not getting our way as one- and two-year-olds that creates distinctive, innovative character in adults. How we cope with our anger makes us either disciplined or despairing, self-blaming or other-blaming. Anger drives much of our behaviors throughout life. One mentor of mine said that anger is a resultant emotion- that the primary emotion is fear, and very often anger rises unbidden out of our fears.  

Forgiveness is an acquired attitude of action. Where anger happens, it comes unbidden into us, as do all emotions. Forgiveness is a learned behavior, learned at great price. Forgiveness requires sacrificing anger and pride, and accepting others, and God, in humility.  

Is it any wonder that so much of human energy is devoted to getting even? You and I spend ½ of our tax dollars helping our country prepare for revenge. We have defensive weapons and systems that keep our capability for revenge as high as possible. Anger is a defensive emotion. It helps animals survive when threatened. The Medieval Church labeled anger as one of the 7 deadly sins. The emblem for anger in the middle ages was the wolf. Being angry is hard enough, but when it grows and festers, it eats away at our souls like a starving wolf. A person consumed with anger it not capable of forgiveness.   

Forgiveness has been called a God-like trait. “To err is human, to forgive divine.” In truth, forgiveness means rising toward holiness in daily living. The effect of one human forgiving another is almost unbelievable. Human forgiving, reconciling ourselves to others, comes as close as we can to the compassion Jesus lived out.   

Today’s gospel describes in graphic terms the effects of forgiveness, and of unreconciled anger. In response to Peter’s question, “Lord if another member of the church sins against me, how often shall I forgive?” Jesus tells the parable of the unforgiving servant. Jesus contrasts the responses of two figures in the story, the secular ruler and the first slave. The ruler cancels a debt of $10 million in today’s economy.   

The slave then encounters another who owes him $100, and treats him legally, but without forgiveness, and then in turn the first slave is dealt with harshly because of his unforgiving actions. Jesus shows that forgiveness cannot be compromised without undesirable consequences.  

In Matthew Jesus demands that we think of forgiveness as a life and death proposition. “Should you not have had mercy on your fellow, as I had mercy on you?”   The learned behavior of forgiveness is never easy. It demands that we pay a high price, as did the ruler. Learning forgiveness, forgetting our anger, humbles us. It’s the path that builds up the spirit of God within us, and within our communities. Forgiveness and showing mercy are the highest activities of human aspiration. They spring from hearts yearning to love God fully.  

I believe forgiveness has 3 stages. 1) Accepting my anger with another and identifying it. I have to know what I’m feeling in order to channel my emotion in disciplined loving. Robert Hughes in his book The Culture of Complaint says “I must hold no one else responsible for my failings but me.” 2) Putting myself in the other’s place. Often, if I use my imagination about someone I’m angry with, I discover that my impatience, frustration or rage is triggered by his rage, and I can begin to empathize with him, and figure out how to care for him in spite of his anger. 3) GO to the person I’m angry with, tell him, and ask to talk about it to work out reconciliation. This is the hardest step- last week’s gospel demanded it, though- do you remember? Forgiving someone from my heart demands face to face reconciling. Forgiveness shrinks the egos of both the forgiven and the forgiving one and allows room for Christ to expand within us and within the communities in which we operate.

Richard Rohr has said, “The most amazing fact about Jesus, unlike almost any other religious founder, is that he found God in disorder and imperfection—and told us that we must do the same or we would never be content on this earth.”  

The parable and the words of Jesus indicate that the faith community is to express forgiveness freely and continually, over and over, without ceasing. Forgiving is not just not punishing; it is a positive, powerful, transforming action.  

Forgiveness always works. Even if I seek out someone for whom the problems between us don’t allow him to accept reconciliation now, I have opened a door, and I can go on in life without the unfocussed, unhealthy anger and guilt dragging me down. That’s the good news- our Lord is incredibly, recklessly merciful, and forgives all our debts. Our task is simple- we must learn to sacrifice our pride and our desire for retribution in order to live as forgiven partners with Jesus.  

September 10, 2023

Proper 18 – Bill Harkins

Good morning and welcome to each of you! Grace to you and peace on this 15th Sunday in Pentecost. The texts given to us today can be challenging in a number of ways. If we understand sin as somehow “missing the mark” in relation to one another—a definition based on a Greek archery term—then we quickly understand that we are all in need of grace, because no one among us is perfect. We all miss the mark at times. The Good News is that we hear in this text an invitation: right now, as we are, we can do the good, hard, messy work of looking at ourselves as members of the Body of Christ, and this includes people who are every bit as difficult as we are. Any good 12-step program has a variation on a theme of acknowledging that, often, the things that most bother us about other people—the ways others “miss the mark” can be the very things we don’t like about ourselves; those things, that is, that most need our attention in the form of what Carl Jung called “shadow work.” And the ultimate goal of wrestling with these things is reconciliation—with our own shadow selves, and with one another and the world. As Christians, we believe that Christ is reconciling us to God and to one another… an outward and visible sign of a grace. Even church conflict can be an opportunity to practice reconciliation; it can be sacramental.

Continue reading September 10, 2023

September 3, 2023

Proper 17A – George Yandell

What’s in a name? From early childhood, I was told ‘George’ means ‘farmer.’ Now no offense to anyone who farms, but I was a city boy, and I didn’t like thinking my name meant ‘farmer.’ The only farms in E TN I’d visited were dirty, the farmers’ lives were tough, there was manure everywhere, and they smelled bad to me. Only later, when I began to study Greek in seminary, did I find my name ‘ge-or’gos’ meant also ‘gardener, vinedresser, husbandman.’ So I began to realize a deeper significance to my name. And now I’ve come to love growing herbs, tending plants, getting dirt on my hands. (And you know preachers are known for how they can spread the manure.) I guess I’ve come full circle.  

In the early history of the Hebrew people, the name for God was ‘El.’ One of the first conversations I had with a man named Elroy, was about his name, which can mean ‘child of God.’ Beth-el in Hebrew means ‘house of God.’ From the time of Abraham, about 2000 BCE forward, the Hebrew people called God ‘El.’ Ancient times. Then around 1250 BCE a most intriguing change happens. The Hebrew people began to call God a new name. How and why?  

The Hebrew people migrated from Canaan to Egypt @ 1650 BCE. You remember the story- Jacob’s 12 sons sold Joseph into slavery. He was carried to Egypt, rose to become Pharaoh’s second-in-command, and then gave sanctuary to all his father’s and brothers’

Continue reading September 3, 2023

August 27, 2023

Proper 16 A – George Yandell

As we read the Exodus lesson, it’s important to realize that a lot of time has passed from last Sunday’s reading. In that reading from the end of Genesis, Joseph embraced his brothers who had sold him into slavery in Egypt. Joseph was the last of the line of remarkable patriarchs chronicled in the Genesis pre-history of Israel. Joseph, Pharaoh’s right-hand man, is long gone. The situation of the Hebrews in Egypt has deteriorated. They are being oppressed by ruthless taskmasters. The Pharaoh is anxious because the Hebrew people are reproducing at a fast rate. Male infants are to be eliminated at birth because the Hebrew population is growing so large.   

Rabbi Jonathan Sachs pointed out in a Jerusalem Post article in 2010 that the story of the midwives Puah and Shifra in the Book of Exodus is “the first recorded instance of civil disobedience, [setting a precedent] that would eventually become the basis for the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Shifra and Puah, by refusing to obey an immoral order, redefined the moral imagination of the world.” History’s proud line of social activists and conscientious objectors can trace their source back to these righteous midwives’ stand against the powers of their day. The Talmud states, “It was the reward of the righteous women of that generation that caused Israel to be redeemed from Egypt.” [This paragraph adapted from “Synthesis: A Weekly Resource for Preaching”, August issue.]  

The intervention by the midwives was key.

Continue reading August 27, 2023