October 13, 2019

                                                                              Rev. John Watts

                                                                              Nampa First UMC

 

 

HAVE THIS MIND:  CHANGE THE WORLD

Matthew 5:38-48

The fourth in a series of four.

 

An old man was reviewing his life.  When he was young he

had been something of a revolutionary.  He was impatient with gradual progress and with those who told him that change takes time.  His prayer back then was, “Lord, give me the strength to change the world.”  But nothing changed.

Then he reached middle age.  He realized that he had lived half his life, maybe more, and as far as he could tell he had made no impact on the world at all.  So his prayer changed.  He prayed, “Lord, give me the grace to change all those who come into contact with me, especially my family and friends; then I will be satisfied.”  But his family, his friends, all those whose lives were so terribly misguided, stubbornly resisted all his best efforts.

Now he was an old man.  He was very much aware of his  mortality.  Soon his life on this earth would be over and what would there be to show for it?  So he prayed a new prayer.  “Lord, give me the grace to change myself.”  Then he said this: “If I had prayed that prayer from the start, I would not have wasted my life.”

This is the final sermon in our “Have This Mind” series.  This

old story about that old man is a good summary of what we’ve been talking about.  The change we want to see in others, the change we want to see in the world, depends on change in ourselves.  Mind-set change.  Other people matter like I matter.  It’s easy to say that.  It’s hard to live that.  Because selfishness runs deep in human nature.

If you’ve been following the news at all for about the last three weeks, I sure hope you take a mental health break now and then. Take a walk.  Read a book.  Watch some baseball.  Anything to get away from all the partisan mud slinging.  It was bad before.  It is much worse now.  The already extreme tension in our nation has been ratcheted up.  The vitriol can’t get much worse, can it??

Some of you might remember I preached a sermon on civility a couple of years ago.  It was in response to the growing incivility in our nation.  But listen to what Arthur Brooks says about civility and tolerance:

Those standards are pitifully low.  Don’t believe it?  Tell people, “My spouse and I are civil to each other,” and they’ll tell you to get counseling.  Or say, “My co-workers tolerate me,” and they’ll ask how your job search is going (Love Your Enemies, page 12).

 

Civility is too low a bar.  Way too low.  What we need is something more revolutionary.  More subversive.  More biblical.  We came here to hear what Jesus has to say, didn’t we?  Well, here it is:

Love your enemies.  Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.  When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves (Matthew 5:44).

 

Our true selves, our God-created selves, were created to love.  Even our enemies.  So “have this mind.”  Have this mind-set.  The mind-set of Jesus.

And yes, this is counter-cultural!  This whole series has been about living your life in a way that runs contrary to the way pretty much everyone else seems to be living.  But Jesus was counter- cultural.  Over and over in this fifth chapter of Matthew he says, “You have heard it said . . . but I say to you.”  This is something new, something different, something radical.

  1. K. Chesterton said it like this:

Christianity has not been tried and found wanting.

It has been found difficult and not tried.

 

Today I am challenging you to try what we’ve been talking about in this series, difficult though it may be.  Be counter-cultural.  Here is today’s takeaway:  Stop complaining about how bad things are in the world.  Start doing your part to change the world.

Before we go any further, there is a word we need to understand.  An ugly word. Understanding this word is necessary if we are going to understand what is going on in our world today.  And what we can do about it.  The word is “contempt.”

It comes from the Latin “contemptus” which means “scorn.” Here is one dictionary definition:  “The feeling that a person or thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn.”  Here is another definition:  “Anger mixed with disgust.”

It’s not just anger.   It’s worse.  If you are angry with someone, you care enough about the person and the relationship to express your anger.  Anger says, “I care about this.  I care about you.”  Contempt says, “You disgust me.  You are beneath caring about.”

John Gottman teaches at the University of Washington.  He is

a noted authority on marriage.  He has interviewed thousands of married couples.  After one hour of watching them interact with each other, he is able to predict with 94% accuracy whether that couple will divorce within three years.  How is he able to do that?  He looks for telltale signs of contempt.

Here are a few: sarcasm, sneering, humor that is hostile or demeaning.  And worst of all:  eye-rolling.

When he sees these signs, it tells him that these two people, people who supposedly love each other more than anyone else on earth, are effectively saying to each other: “You are worthless.”  John Gottman calls contempt “sulfuric acid for love.”

If you want to see contempt on full display, go to YouTube and call up one of the 2016 debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  These debates were masterpieces of eye-rolling, sarcasm, mean humor, and sneering derision.  It’s been three years now.  I don’t think that marriage is going to last.

It would seem that our country has become addicted to political contempt.  And neither side of the divide has a monopoly on this.  Both sides are guilty.  Be honest.  Are there certain faces that appear on your television screen that make you feel disgust?  Not just anger, but contempt?  You are a kind, tolerant, reasonable person usually, but not when you see that face or hear that voice.  Does anyone come to mind?

And here’s where it really gets bad.  Our contempt toward certain people can morph into a contempt toward the people who don’t share our contempt toward those same certain people.  One in six Americans stopped talking to a family member or a close friend after the 2016 election.  We had people in this church who stopped coming after the 2016 election.

In 1960, the year of another hotly contested election, 5% of Americans said they would be disappointed if their child married someone from the other political party.  By 2008, that number was up to 20%.  That’s when it started to skyrocket.  Our best estimate today is that two out of every three Americans would be disappointed if their child married someone from the other political party.  Republicans feel a little stronger about this than Democrats, but not by much.

In 1824, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to Henry Lee, half-brother of Robert E. Lee, in which he said:

A difference in politics should never be permitted to enter

into social intercourse, or to disturb its friendships, its

charities or justice.

 

In 1861, with our nation teetering on the brink of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln said this:

We are not enemies but friends.  We must not be enemies.  Though passion may have strained, it must not break our

bonds of affection.

 

Some are calling what we are in the middle of right now a “Cold Civil War.”  And many are wondering if our enmity will ever end.  Is it even possible that we will ever again be friends?

The venom of contempt is very much in our bloodstream.  But there is an anti-venom.

Love your enemies.  Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.  When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves (Matthew 5:44).

 

Arthur Brooks had written his first book, Who Really Cares?  It was about charitable giving.  He was very proud of the book.  He heard from a lot of people who really liked it.  But he also heard from some who didn’t.  Including one person whose e-mail began:  “Dear Professor Brooks, you are a fraud.”  What followed was a very lengthy, very personal attack, not only on his ideas but also on him.

So how do you respond to something like that?  Arthur Brooks decided he could ignore it.  That would probably be best.  But it was hard to ignore something like that.  Or he could come up with a clever, biting insult.  That would be the most fun.  Or he could take the time to refute everything this man said in order to destroy him.

He wasn’t sure which of these three approaches to take, and as he was mulling this over, an unexpected thought came to him.  At least the guy read it.  He read every word.  So rather than ignore or insult or destroy, he decided to thank his critic.  He wrote something like this:  “I realize you hate my book.  It took me a long time to write it and I truly appreciate that you took the time to read it and paid such close attention to every detail.”

Fifteen minutes later a second message from this same guy popped up.  But this time it was friendly.  The contempt was gone.  It wasn’t that he suddenly liked the book.  It was that he suddenly liked the author of the book, because he had taken his e-mail seriously and responded in a nice way.  Do you see what happened here?  By not responding in kind, Arthur Brooks had broken the cycle of contempt.  He had administered the all-powerful anti-venom (Love Your Enemies, chapter 1).

It goes back to what we’ve spent four weeks on now.  Other people matter like we matter.  We may hate their opinions.  But we don’t hate them.  We love them.  We love our enemies.  That was the mind-set of Jesus.  It was counter-cultural.  It was revolutionary.  And the revolution is meant to continue through his followers today.  “Have this mind that is yours in Christ Jesus.”

So next time contempt is directed your way, break the cycle.  Be a Christian.  Be a grown-up.  Don’t be like you were when you were a child, fighting with your siblings in the back seat of the car.  “He started it!”

Who cares who started it?  Contempt is not an invitation to respond in kind.  It is an opportunity to put into practice the faith you profess as a follower of Jesus.

Love your enemies.  Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.  When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves (Matthew 5:44).

 

You can be a breaker, a bonder, or a bridger.  Breakers drive people apart.  Breakers are well represented in both of our political parties.  Breakers respond to hate with hate.

Bonders are not haters.  They are not fighters.  They are peace lovers.  They are content to form relationships within the group in which they are most comfortable.

Bridgers leave their comfort zone.  They cross the lines that have been drawn to separate.  They respond to hate with love.  They have been changed from the inside out, and therefore, they can change the world.

There are plenty of breakers and bonders in the world today.  We need more bridgers.

I have another video for you.  This time it isn’t two grownups acting like children and wrecking each others’ car.  This time it is two children acting like grownups.  Acting like bridgers.  Two second graders on the first day of school, named Connor and Christian.

 

(YouTube:  Connor and Christian)

 

Did you notice the name of the little boy who reached out his hand?  His name is Christian.

Christianity has not been tried and found wanting.  It has been found difficult and not tried.  So as we close this series, I challenge you to try it.  Try the way of Jesus.

Love your enemies.  Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.  When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves (Matthew 5:44).

 

You will have opportunities this week.  Plenty of them.  There will be rude people.  Mean people.  Thoughtless people.  People you know very well.  People you’ve never met who will appear on your television screen.  People you have never seen before and mayl never see again.  You can take the bait and be rude, mean, and thoughtless back to them.  Or you can break the cycle.  You can try the way of Jesus.

Or maybe there is someone you know who sees the world in a way that is not at all the way you see the world.  You could probably have a good argument with each other.  But you probably have avoided each other because you really don’t want that argument.

Go to that person this week, not to argue, but to listen.  To learn.  To understand.  To understand this person’s point of view, but more importantly, to understand this person.  Who they are.  Why they see the world so differently.  Where you might even need to reconsider some of your assumptions.

Consider it missionary work.  Missionaries are ordinary people with a vision of a better world.  That vision is so important to them, they want to share it with you.  So they knock on your door.  And you pretend you aren’t home.  But some open that door and listen and decide they are interested.  That’s the way it works.  But you don’t have to go door to door to be a missionary.

Whenever we leave church on Sunday morning, we are entering mission territory.  Some churches have a sign people don’t see when they arrive but they can’t miss when they leave.  It is facing them as they head home.  It says “Entering Mission Territory.”

There are many people out there who know very little of the mind of Jesus.  They will be expecting you to treat them the way they are used to be treated.  Vehicles to use, or obstacles to blame, or irrelevancies to ignore.  They will be surprised when you love them.  When you treat them as people who matter like you matter.  And it will change the world.

 

God we need to confess something.  It has happened so many times we have lost count.  We come to church and we are convicted that there needs to be a change in our lives.  And nothing changes.  We’ve made a promise.  We’ve made a commitment to you.  But it stays here in the sanctuary as we go our merry way and return to our same old habits.  So we need to ask your forgiveness.  We are stubborn.  We are selfish.  We are part of the reason this world never seems to change.  O God, we’re going to speak some words out loud right now.  And as we go through the week, we pray that you will bring these words back to us, as you give us opportunities to put these words into practice.  Just two sentence prayers:  First, God, let me break thecycle of contempt.  All together:  God, let me break the cycle of contempt.  And, God, give me the mind that is mine in Christ Jesus.  All together:  God, give me the mind that is mine in Christ Jesus.  In Jesus’ name,  Amen.