May 17, 2020

                                                                              Rev. John Watts

                                                                              Nampa First UMC




Matthew 7:1-3, 7-12


There are a lot of people working from home these days.  And a lot of them have cranky children at home with them.  Here’s an example of a cranky child.  Her name is Lola.  It’s bedtime, and Lola does not want to go to bed.  As you will see, she wants to watch Dora.

(YouTube: Lola’s Tantrum)

That could have been me about two months ago when they decided to cancel March Madness.

When small children get cranky, there’s usually a good reason.  In Lola’s case I’m pretty sure she was tired, even though she never would have admitted that.  Babies will also let you know with  crankiness when they are hungry.  Sometimes, but not always, they will let you know when they have a diaper that needs changing.  It’s not hard to diagnose the reason for crankiness in a small child.

Some of those same reasons apply to adults.  There’s that acronym HALT, which stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.  Any of those can make us cranky, so before our crankiness does some real damage, it’s a good idea to HALT and attend to the self-care that is needed.

Maybe you have noticed another reason many adults are in a foul mood these days.  I have an acronym for that, too.  CVC:  Corona Virus Crankiness.   I’ve seen it in others.  I’ve seen it in myself.  It’s a tense time for us all.

A mom was in line at the grocery store.  Her little girl was sitting in the shopping cart.  The mom was wearing a mask and had been trying without success to get her little girl to wear one, too.  But she kept taking it off, and the mom kept putting it back on.  It was a battle of wills, and the mom was losing.  By the time they were waiting in the checkout line, the little girl was having a meltdown.  Everybody was watching.  But the mom did not once lose her patience.  She said, “Calm down, Jessica.  It’s going to be OK, Jessica.  We’ll be home soon, Jessica.   We’ll do something fun then.”

Another shopper, a safe six feet behind her, spoke up.  He said, “I just want to tell you, I couldn’t help but notice.  Everybody is so stressed out these days, but not you. You have been so patient with your daughter, Jessica.”

The mom said, “Thank you, but you don’t understand.  I am Jessica.”

Today we return to the Sermon on the Mount.  The word “cranky” is not used by Jesus, not even once.  But he does use the word “anxious.”   He asks, “Why are you anxious?” (Matthew 6:28).  We just read 8 verses today, but the section we are looking at is longer than that.  Matthew 6:25 through 7:12. The title I am giving to this section and to this sermon is, “What Makes Grown-ups Cranky?”

First, anxiety.  Which means pretty much the same thing, but not quite.  We might say anxiety is one cause of crankiness.  Anxiety about the coronavirus has certainly contributed to our crankiness.  All the changes, all the uncertainty, all the worry, all the fear.  You just can’t get away from it.  But really you can.  You can go outside on one of these beautiful spring days and realize that there is more going on in God’s world than the coronavirus!

That’s what Jesus told those anxious people listening to his sermon to do.  Go outside.  (Actually, that wasn’t hard because they already were outside.)  Look at the birds.  Look at the flowers.  Look at the green grass.  It’s a beautiful world out there.  It’s God’s world.  God takes very good care of it.  So what makes you think God won’t take very good care of you?

Then Jesus gave us a prescription for anxiety.  Not Zoloft or Xanax.  More powerful than any drug.  “Seek first [God’s] kingdom and [God’s] righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).

Which is not what we usually do.  What comes first for us?  Whatever we are stressing over at the moment.  Our fears. Our worries.  Our problems.  Our responsibilities.  Our hopes.  Our plans.  Our habits.  Our agenda.

Then we get stuck.  Something isn’t going right.  So that’s when we bring in God.  That’s when we invite God to swoop in and rescue us.  And when it doesn’t quite work that way, then we really get anxious.  Then we really get cranky.  It’s a problem of priority.  When we tack God on at the end of a long list of things that matter to us, nothing goes right.  Because the order is wrong.  When we put God first, everything else falls into its proper place.

 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.

That’s the way life works best.  God comes first.  Then and only then is there room in our lives for everything else we care about.  Maybe you’ve seen it illustrated like this.

(YouTube:  Put the Important Things First)

God first.  Other important things next.  Then the necessary things.  Finally, the extra things.  C.S. Lewis said, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in.  Aim at earth and you will get neither.”  We get anxious, we get cranky, when we forget God.  So seek God.  Trust God.  Love God.  Give God your worries.  There is a peace that passes all understanding when we do that.

The second reason we grown-ups get cranky is judgment.  Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1).  Judgmental people are cranky people.  Cranky people are judgmental people.  When we don’t feel good about ourselves, we criticize others.  We see their faults so clearly.  We can’t see our own.  It’s actually funny, though it’s pretty much impossible to judge others and laugh at ourselves at the same time.  But if anyone can get us to laugh at how ridiculous this is, it is Jesus.

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is a log in your own eye?  You hypocrite!  First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5).

We forget that Jesus was a stand-up comedian.

One thing that I am noticing as we find our way through this coronavirus pandemic is a widening gulf between the haves and the have-nots.  It was wide to begin with.  But most of those who have lost their jobs had lower paying jobs to begin with.  They were living paycheck to paycheck.  When the paychecks stop coming there is an immediate crisis.  Those who have been able to put away some savings have a safety net.

And when it comes to the virus itself, we’ve heard that people of color have been dying at a rate much higher than their percentage of the population.  The reason isn’t race.  The reason is poverty and the underlying health conditions that so often go along with poverty.  It’s easy for the wealthy and the healthy to get smug and self-righteous.  “We’ve taken care of our health.  We’ve taken care of our finances.  Too bad you haven’t.”  An attitude like that means we are infected by something more serious than COVID-19.   And more deadly, according to Jesus.

One of the many cancellations in our area was the Northwest Leadership Institute that was supposed to happen at the Cathedral of the Rockies last March.  Same time as March Madness.  The plan is to bring back the same speakers next March.  One of them is Father Greg Boyle.  You will want to go hear him.  He works with a population that any of us would have a hard time not judging.  Gang members in Los Angeles.  Most people consider them beyond redemption.  But not Father Boyle.  He started something called “Homeboy Industries.”  They provide job training, helping these young men leave the gangs and start a new life.

He says he made lots of mistakes as they were getting started.  One idea that they had to scrap early on was “Homeboy Plumbing.”  Turns out people were not eager to have gang members working in their homes.  But overall it’s been a huge success.  It’s an amazing story.  It was possible only because some people who loved Jesus were willing to move past their judgment and take a chance on love.  Father Boyle says this:

Here is what we seek – a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.

The third reason grown-ups get cranky may be the main one.  We forget how much we are loved.  Jesus tells a story.  Kind of a strange story.  It’s about a father and a son.  The son is hungry.  He’s at the age when he trusts his dad for everything.  He asks for bread, but his dad thinks it would be funny to give him a stone.  Maybe he would break a tooth on it.  Hilarious.  Or the son asks for a fish, and his dad hands him a snake.  Wouldn’t that be hysterical?

I was old enough to know better when my family was eating at a restaurant.  My brother, four-and-a-half years younger, had a big mound of horseradish on his plate.  He asked me what it was and I told him, “mashed potatoes.”  He loved mashed potatoes.  He took a big bite.  He never did get even with me for that one.

No dad and no brother, other than me, would treat someone you love that way.  And God loves us a lot more than our dads and a whole lot more than our brothers.  We are loved.  But we forget that.  And it makes us cranky.  Worse than that, it makes us mean.  It makes us act out in all kinds of hateful and hurtful ways.  Like the young men Father Boyle works with.  He has a great TED Talk by the way.  As I was watching it, I was reading the comments below.  There was one with the name Robert Candido.  I’ll read it just the way it was written.

I believe I first seen father Boyle at central juvenile hall when I was facing an attempted murder in 1991.  I walked in homeboy industries in the year 2000.  They helped me remove my gang affiliated tattoos.  I ask god to take over my life, and my process started.  I now reside in Utah with a beautiful wife, three kids, and two granddaughters.  Thank you father.

Life begins not the day you are born.  Life begins the day you realize how much you are loved.

I copied this down from the TED talk.

All of us are called to be what Alice Miller calls enlightened witnesses – people who through your kindness and tenderness and focused, attentive love return people to themselves.  You don’t hold the bar up and ask anybody to measure up.  You just show up and you hold the mirror up and you tell people the truth.  You say, “You are exactly what God had in mind when God made you,” and then you watch people become that truth.  You watch them inhabit that truth.  And no bullet can pierce it, no four prison walls can keep it out, and death cannot touch it . . . Sometimes you have to reach in and dismantle messages of shame and disgrace that get in the way, so that the soul can feel its worth.

Did you recognize that last line?  It’s from “O Holy Night”.   It’s about the night Jesus was born.  “’Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.”

These gang members have some strange names.  Nicknames I’m pretty sure. I can’t imagine naming a baby Puppet or Youngster.  They knew each other when they started at Homeboy Industries. They worked together in the silkscreen factory.  They knew each other and they hated each other.  It was something in their past that was deep and personal.  But as Father Boyle had seen so many times, it’s really hard to hate people once you get to know them.

One night, Puppet went to the store.  He took a shortcut home through a dark alley and he was confronted by ten members of a rival gang.  Ten against one.  They beat him badly.   Even after he was lying motionless on the ground, they kept kicking his head.  By the time he reached the hospital, he was brain dead.  The policy of the hospital was to wait 48 hours before removing life support.  This gave Father Boyle the opportunity to go to the hospital and anoint him with oil, say a prayer, and administer last rites.  When he got home, he got a phone call.  It was Youngster, Puppet’s co-worker in the silk screen factory.  He said, “Hey, that’s messed up about what happened to Puppet.  Is there anything I can do?  Can I give him my blood?  He was not my enemy.  He was my friend.”

Love is stronger than hate.   That’s not always obvious.  You might not think that’s true, until you realize how much you are loved.

So Jesus gives us these three reasons for our crankiness.  Anxiety, judging, and forgetting – forgetting how much we are loved.  And the amazing thing is that the antidote to each of these is right here in the same Sermon on the Mount!

The antidote for anxiety is putting God first.  “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.”

The antidote for judging is self-examination.  “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”

And the antidote for forgetting how much we are loved is to love.  It’s the Golden Rule, which is the last verse in this section of scripture.  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

In other words:  Dismantle messages of shame and disgrace that get in the way, so that the soul can feel its worth.


We get cranky, God.  Especially lately.  You understand.  Sometimes we’re just having a bad day.  That happens.  We need to give grace to ourselves and grace to others.  But God, we also need to listen to what Jesus is teaching us here.  Because sometimes our crankiness needs to be addressed and can be addressed, with your help.  As we begin this new week, three things, simple and doable.  You need to come first in our lives.  We need to care about our own faults more than the faults of others.  And God, we need to know, not just in our heads but in our hearts, how much you love us and how powerful your love is.  In Christ our Lord,  Amen.