Twice. In one week.
The first time it was the incident of the grass can. In all the years we lived in Watertown, I had never missed a pickup of our garbage or cut grass. I would put the cans out between 7 and 8 in the morning, and take the empty cans back to the garage in the afternoon. Like clockwork.
But one afternoon when I went to put the cans away, I saw that grass was still in the green can. I checked my neighbor’s green can. Empty. They missed me. How could they have missed me?
I could have let it go, there was still room in the can for another week, but I decided to call, to point out the error of their ways. The gentleman on the other end of the line patiently listened to my complaint, then asked for my address. After a brief time, he came back with the news that the green cans on our street had been picked up at 6:40 that morning. I had forgotten about the new previously announced schedule. I managed a thank you as I quickly hung up. Yes, it was someone’s fault, just not the someone I expected.
That was Wednesday. The following Sunday it rained. When the rain stopped, I decided to go for some ice cream. As I drove to my destination, I noticed at least three yards being watered by sprinklers. I thought to myself, I don’t understand why people don’t turn off their sprinklers when it is raining. How dumb.
On Tuesday morning, I woke up to another beautiful rain. I looked out my window and saw that the sprinklers, my lawn sprinklers, were watering the back yard in unison with the rain. I forgot to turn them off the night before, even after hearing the forecast for rain. How dumb.
There is this word from James in the New Testament: “You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (James 1:19)
I was quick to speak, quick to judge. Twice in one week. And those are the times I remember.
For what purpose? To make myself feel better? “I might not have it all together, but I certainly am not as bad as so and so.” I build my righteousness on the back of another child of God.
James continues, “If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.” (James 1:26)
And more. “How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.” (James 3:5b-6a, 9-10)
Yes, James, this ought not to be so. But too often, it is. And with our technology and the various social media platforms, we can attack another child of God without taking responsibility for our words, without even looking into the person’s eyes and seeing their tears.
One of the more discouraging discoveries for me is to read posts on social media written by people I know, people who bear the name of Christ, who now write horrible words about other people. I find myself asking, is this who you really are? Has it all been an act?
We can scream at another child of God, call her names, threaten her, because “we would never do something like that.” We can damn a whole community of people or judge a religious faith because someone in that community or someone of that faith did something terrible.
But most of the time, it is simpler, closer. Most of the time it is about the words we speak to our spouse or our children, a neighbor, or someone in our own community. The harsh words come easily. Contrary to James’ admonition, we are slow to listen, quick to speak, quick to anger.
God forgive us.
I was watching a Christian news show. The host was talking about some war in some far away place, and then he turned to a reporter on the scene. The reporter said, “Terrible situation here, but, of course, we know that God is in control.”
I remember yelling back, “People are killing one another and God is in control? You have got to be kidding. God is in control?”
We are not puppets on a string. We make choices. We don’t simply make mistakes, we choose. We don’t just stumble, we decide. We are accountable for our words, our lives.
There is an old Good Friday hymn, “Ah, Holy Jesus,” which includes the words . . . “Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee? Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee. ‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee; I crucified thee.”
I tend to lean Lutheran, so I will close with a quote from Martin Luther, who said, “A Christian is free, subject to none. And a Christian is the most dutiful servant of all, subject to everyone.”