First United Methodist Church
November 20, 2022
Rev. Lauren Hall
A Fireside Chat
When assistant football coach, Red Dawson, of the Marshall University Football Team went on a recruiting trip instead of accompanying the team back to Huntington, West Virginia, he avoided being killed along with the rest of the coaches and team when their plane crashed on November 14, 1970. He survived, but he was angry.
He was angry at the Head Coach for making the decision to fly home instead of taking a bus. He was angry at the pilot for not landing the plane safely. He was angry that the university decided to rebuild the football program. He was angry that they asked him to coach again. He was angry that he wasn’t on the plane to go down with the team. He had a lot of reasons to be angry. But he wasn’t really angry. He looked at the young men he coached as sons, and the loss of these players took a huge personal toll on him. Anger was just the way his pain and grief expressed itself.
I think there is a reason that Paul includes anger in his list of the works of the flesh – “sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy,[a] drunkenness, carousing, and things like these” – and warns that those who live this way will not inherit the kingdom of God. In the following verses from Galatians 5:22-23 he states, “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.”
It's interesting that pain and grief are not mentioned in either of these lists, and yet Jesus spent the bulk of his ministry addressing the pain and grief evident in the people he encountered, offering healing and compassion almost every place he went.
Let us pray:
Lord, you have given us many words to consider this morning. As we read and meditate upon these words, by the power of the Holy Spirit, open our hearts and minds to your message and may the word take root in our hearts, that we may be fruitful bearers of God’s wisdom. Amen.
Last weekend I hit a deer while I was driving on Michigan Street. When it first happened, I had a lot of reasons to be angry. My car was damaged, and I would be dealing with costly repairs, which won’t even be scheduled for a couple of months because the repair shop is backlogged with other jobs it has to do. If I had organized my life a little differently, I would not have been there at that moment, if Trinity didn’t have a digital sign that took my attention off the road for that instance, maybe I wouldn’t have, etc. etc. As I said, I had a lot of reasons to be angry. But in the midst of it all, I realized that the deer was ok, that my air bags did not deploy, that my car was drivable, that I was ok, and that my insurance would pay for the damages (even if I do have to wait awhile for that to happen). My life was disrupted, but only for a little while. Of course I’m a little frustrated by the whole situation, but I don’t have to be angry. God has given me many reasons to be thankful, and as long as I remain focused on those things, the negative aspects of this situation won’t influence me as much.
Most of us have to face crises and life circumstances that are much more complex than running into a deer with a car. But I think Christ calls us to remain Christ-centered in all things – the big ones and the little ones – so that when we do experience a major disaster in our lives, we can face it knowing that Jesus Christ is Lord, and allow Christ to guide our thoughts and reactions.
Today’s scripture takes us to the cross – it takes us to those moments when, just before his death Jesus offered salvation of the thief who was being crucified beside him. The entire crowd mocked him, jeered at him and made fun of him. They doubted that he was the messiah because he couldn’t even save himself. But Jesus revealed something of himself in this moment. As he welcomed the thief into the realms of heaven, Jesus spoke truth to power. In that moment, as he awaited his own death, Jesus did not give in to the ones who called for him to hate. That’s powerful, isn’t it?
Have you ever thought of how things would have turned out if Jesus had, in fact, reacted to the jeering and accepted the challenges and saved himself from the cross? The rulers would have perished in their blindness and the first criminal would have been right, and there would have been no hope. But Jesus did die on that cross; he was raised after the third day; and he now stands at the right hand of God. And now, because of that act of sacrifice, we have life.
I think we need to be careful not to become like the people described in our gospel. Anger has the potential to distort our reality to the point that we no longer reflect Christ’s likeness. I’ve been haunted this week by the news stories of the murders in Virginia, Idaho, and Delphi. There is so much anger and hate in this world, and more and more people are resorting to violence to resolve their issues. I wonder what it takes to get to the point that you would want to kill another person. Sometimes I feel like these types of things wouldn’t happen if everyone was better at communicating compassion – the outpouring of love that occurs when we truly claim Jesus Christ as Lord.
Today is Christ the King Sunday. It’s the last day of the liturgical year and the day that we officially declare that Jesus is Lord. Lord of who? Lord of you. Lord of me. Everything that we do, everything that we say, every reaction we have, every judgment and decision we make should in some way reflect the outpouring of God’s love personified in Jesus.
One of the things that I have come to understand about Jesus is that he does more than just remember us as he reigns in his Kingdom. He loves us. He loves us and he shapes us and he prepares us to be responsive to the people who are most vulnerable. Because that is Christ’s call for us – to love as Christ loved and to live as Christ lived, which means that we don’t have to wait for a future with Christ – we can live it now by making Christ Lord of our lives and living a life grounded in love, sacrifice and faithfulness.
Next week we will turn our gaze toward the cradle as we begin Advent and reflect on the Sacred. We are going back to the beginning of the story. But we know the end of the story as well – we see the cross before us and we know that our own end is wrapped up in this child’s destiny.
Jeremiah promises the coming of a new and good king in the line of David. Christians know that this promise is ultimately fulfilled in the coming of Jesus, whose name means, “God’s salvation.” In the life of Jesus, we see that God does not save by “fixing” our circumstances, but instead saves by reordering our lives as a new king reorders life in a kingdom. We are led into a new relationship with God. The next step is for people and communities who are renewed from within to move out to change the world.
Living a life under the Lordship of Christ is different for each one of us. But we can be unified in our mission as we come to understand Christ’s love.
I’m not ready for this year to end. There is so much more that I wanted for 2022 – so much I wanted to accomplish and so much more I wanted the world to accomplish. But, according to the church calendar, this coming Sunday is the last Sunday in Year C. Year A begins on November 27 – or the first Sunday of Advent. It is a time of transition, change, and hearing the story anew. Am I ready? Are we ready? Are we really ready to be the people of faith that God calls for us to be? The scripture today reminds us that being faithful does not mean giving in to those in power in our world. In fact, it probably means the very opposite. Being faithful means accepting that the way of Jesus is very different than the way of the world. Jesus promises us that a new world is coming, a new year is coming, a new way of life – based on love, sacrifice, and faithfulness – is coming. The question is, are we ready?
Let us pray:
Merciful God, let us open our hearts and minds to the power and presence of your Holy Spirit. May your Spirit be here, leading us toward a more mature faith, nurturing our hope and embracing us in love. Lord, remind us that the Scriptures proclaim to us of God’s abiding and forgiving love. Remind us that you have called us to be peacemakers. Our world is so divided and troubled. Now we need your great and worthy guidance to take up the message and practice of biblical peacemaking. May we be persons of redeeming love and reconciling peace. In the name of Jesus, our risen Lord and Savior. Amen.