Provoked

    Nov 15, 2015

    Preacher: William (Tex) Culton

    Detail:

    Friday night was 9/11 for Paris and France. We all remember that day and the feelings we all encountered. I don’t have to describe them for you. The French are now in the throes of those emotional and spiritual reactions to this unwarranted assault on human life…as if some lives are less worthy of breath than others.

    It is horrible and though reasons are given to account for these immoral murders. There are no excuses for taking precious life that God will accept. God understands the minds and hearts of the murderers and according to Jesus can forgive them.

    I speak of forgiveness here because I have to believe in it in order to keep from falling victim to HATE. Jesus said, “You have heard it was said to those of ancient times, ‘you shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.” Mt. 5: 21-22

    To hate has the same effect on you as murder. It is an emotion that, if followed, leads to hell. The only cure for it is forgiveness. But I’m not ready emotionally to talk about forgiving our enemies because I first have to find a way to keep from hating them. (I call them my enemies even though they haven’t harmed me because I believe that I am connected to all people through God’s love for all people and they have killed. They have broken a sacred covenant and usurped God’s sole right to judgment.)

    Kendel asked what I was going to say today in response to these acts of terror. My simple answer was “I don’t know.” I don’t understand what could make someone act this way. I condemned them as cowards who would shoot people who had no weapons to defend themselves. I said that there was no reasoning with them because what they do is beyond reason as I understand it. What can I add of any value to the rhetoric that has been going on constantly since the incident? It is not a dialogue because it is entirely one sided and I don’t expect a dialogue for some time.

    I was angry that this horrendous act of violence was setting my agenda for a Sunday worship experience. And I felt inadequate to the task of addressing it in a meaningful way that would not be outside of God’s purpose for our lives. I hesitate to further incite already tried emotions. In truth, I would like to avoid this topic altogether, but God won’t allow that from me today.

    Provoked:

    The very title of today’s sermon which was chosen Tuesday was God’s way of directing my heart to what I am to encourage you to do as you consider the position you are going to hold toward the world’s situation.

    Seek a way to keep from hating. I know that it is a very strong emotion and difficult to control, but it is exactly what drives the radicals who kill in order to terrorize. They are not seeking to make us fear them. They are trying to get us to hate them. They are trying to convert us and they don’t even know it. They think they are trying to scare us enough to leave them alone until they are strong enough to kill everyone who does not accept their ideology. But I see them doing everything they can to get us to hate them as they seem to hate us (by us I mean anyone who is not them)

    When I try to council folk in difficult relationships, I remind them that they cannot figure out what is going on in the other person’s head and to spend their energy trying to figure them would lead them nowhere. They had to understand themselves and take care of their own feelings before they would be emotionally available to healing.

    How often have you said, “You’re driving me crazy!” or “You make me so mad?” We use the crises, or the other person’s behavior as an excuse to act in ways that will do us more harm than good…no matter how good those acts may feel when you commit them. We are totally responsible for our own feelings which lead us to act in appropriate or inappropriate ways.

    Today’s scripture is about provocation. And what struck me as remarkable were Paul’s words in Hebrews, “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” This is the opposite of the provocation of Peninnah in 1 Samuel.

    Provoke means to excite or stir up. To call forth; cause. To enrage, offend!

    The definition of Peninnah’s provocation is to offend. Hannah felt terrible that she could not have children. Her husband loved her and told her that it didn’t matter, and in fact wondered why his love was not enough for her. Hannah believed that God had closed her womb and when Peninnah reminded her of this, she was provoked to shame. She would become so depressed that she couldn’t eat. She believed the criticism imposed on her by her rival (the other wife of Elkanah, her husband), and so allowed her emotions to blind her to the truth that she was loved by God no matter what.

    “The Lord had closed her womb!” If a woman could not have children, it was seen as a curse from God. It was the common belief of the day. Not one that is still believed, because we know that the rain falls on the just and the unjust. Things happen that are not our fault. But our feelings can drive that idea clear out of our minds.

    Hannah was praying at the Temple near Eli, the chief priest. Out of her distress she prayed and wept bitterly, but made a vow. If God would grant her a son, she would dedicate him to the Lord as a Nazirite. (He would not drink wine nor intoxicants, and no razor would touch his head.) She would give her son to God if he would open her womb.

    While she prayed this way, Eli observed her and thought she was drunk! She was praying silently; only her li0ps moved, but her voice was not heard.

    This provoked Eli to speak in defense of the sanctity of the Temple.   “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself?”

    Hannah defended herself by sharing her feelings. I’m not drunk, I’m troubled and filled with anxiety. I am not worthless! Those last words are telling. She was declaring her worth, which to me is an indication that her prayer had already been answered.

    Eli’s reaction was to offer her the blessing of the office of his priesthood. It is what ministers do today when we declare that God hears every prayer, even those uttered in anguish or anger. Even those we don’t understand.

    “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made him.”

    Hannah’s emotional state changed almost immediately. Her countenance was sad no longer. She ate and drank and knew her husband and had a son whom she named Samuel. (I have asked him of the Lord)

    When we take responsibility for our feelings and share them with God, we are led, by the grace to God to a place of understanding and peace.

    Eli could have written her off and dismissed her in anger, for he was angry, but when he understood her situation he was provoked to love. He gave her a blessing! And she was free to love herself and her husband and that love bore fruit.

    I have been provoked by the actions of murderers who kill in the name of God. I am angry and wonder what feeling is driving my anger toward hate.

    I think it is the shame of helplessness. That should not cause shame, but it does in me. It reminds me of the helplessness I felt as a very young boy, adolescent and man before the disease of alcoholism that consumed my parents. I thought my prayers were ineffective, and that led to considering myself a failure. Of course it is far more complex than I have stated it, but I recognize the feeling that was triggered by the events in Paris. So to cover the shame (and there is no shame, only a feeling of shame that is a lie) I let my anger go and begin hating enough to wish for the total destruction of the culture that produced those radicals.

    I don’t have to get graphic here, but my imagination knows no bounds when it comes to revenge.

    I don’t have to condemn the murderers, they are condemned by their actions. I have to look to the state of my soul and keep from hate so that I am available to respond according to God’s will. Then I have to figure out what Paul meant when he said to consider ways to provoke one another to love and good deeds!

    I know how to provoke to anger. But to provoke to love?

    I suppose we do that by sharing, honestly, our own feelings (which means knowing what they are) and by loving the other through our good deeds toward them.

    I will seek to love all people as children of God. I will seek to forgive others as I have been forgiven my sin. I will pray that the world sees that they have crucified Jesus 127 times and wounded him 350 times. And I will try to utter the prayer that Jesus did from the cross, “Forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.

    And I will try to know what I am doing all the time, recognizing my responsibility for my own feelings and turning from sin.

    I am not sure what to do in response to such disgusting acts of violence, other than destroy those who poison minds, using religion to provoke to hate. But you can’t kill hate with hate. They have declared the most heinous of sins, holy. I cannot allow myself to become in any way like them.

    To hate will cause us to let fear rule our reason. We will become over-protective of everyone dear to us and we will endorse the loss of so many freedoms in order to feel safe. But there is no safety except in the knowledge (faith knowledge) that we are loved by God and God will bring to justice (whatever that justice may look like) those who “drink offerings of blood” as the psalmist writes. Our spiritual work is to stay close to our God of Love and provoke others to love and God will keep us from the “pit”

    I pray with the psalmist for God to show me the path of life and for the courage to follow it.