As I was praying over next weeks gathering of the Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends I ran across my friend Leonard Dow’s facebook post with his sermon title for next Sunday “Angry Christians Serving a Compassionate God” based on Jonah 4 and I felt a stirring in myself and queries arise. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story of Jonah, Jonah was asked by God to go to the city of Ninevah, the capital of the Assyrian Empire that had slaughtered and enslaved the northern kingdom of Israel and call for their repentance. Jonah was not amused with this request and was angry enough to head in the exact opposite direction. How could he go and even give those hateful people the chance to receive God’s mercy?
As I prepared for Yearly Meeting, read the behind the scenes e-mails, heard the wailing and gnashing of teeth, the strategizing, and the anger I found myself getting caught up in it. I didn’t post or make snarky comments but I began to seethe in my soul as one side or another tried to score points. Jonah went to Ninevah because God forced him to and there are many people heading to Yearly Meeting with a sense of being compelled to be there. It feels to me like this year’s meeting of the Religious Society of the Friends of Jesus is shaping up to be more like the Religious Society of the Friends of Jonah and God is challenging me to participate differently.
There is a lot of anger under the surface and some of it is indeed righteous anger. The question for all of us is: Will we allow our anger to overcome our allegiance to Jesus? Will we allow our anger to lead us to sin against our brothers and sisters? I am hearing a lot of talk about severing ties or cutting off relationship and I have to ask myself if the ways I am interacting are just a prettied up version of me telling those who disagree that they can take themselves to good ol’ h-e-double hockey sticks where they belong. We pretty it up a bit with terms like “the dustbin of history” or “turn them over to God to deal with” but I know what is really going through my mind. Is that what I really want? Is that truly what we are called to desire for each other? For anyone? That is what Jonah honestly and openly desired for the people of Ninevah and I have to wonder if sometimes I do not desire the same thing in a less honest more hidden way. Do you wonder the same thing with me in the silence of your soul? Do you sometimes despair that God’s work in us, conforming us to the image of his son, will never be done?
We have a choice this year Friends. We can walk in the Spirit of Jesus or the spirit of Jonah and I ask you the same question God is asking me: Which choice will I make? I know which one I want to choose. Maybe you can help hold me accountable to walk in the Spirit of Jesus because the one thing I am sure of is that I sure can’t do it alone. Can you help me live out Paul’s words to the Ephesians?
25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin” : Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:25-32 (NIV)
Maybe we can find that elusive way forward if we commit to helping each other live in the Spirit of Christ and set that list in verse 31 to the side. I waver between hope and despair that this is possible. It feels like I am on the world’s crummiest roller coaster! Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends, I beg that we strive our hardest to prove the voice of despair wrong.
With much love and travail, hope and despair,