Read Ephesians 4:25-5:2 and 2 Samuel 18:5-15, 31-33 here
Do you recognize this screen?
Chances are if you do recognize this screen, then you have watched movies or TV shows on Netflix, and you probably also know about binge-watching.
Binge-watching is the practice of watching multiple episodes of a television program in rapid succession, typically by means of DVDs or digital streaming. This means watching the episodes of a series back-to-back, something we can do now because we don’t have to wait for them to air on TV, we can watch them all whenever we want, even years after they first aired.
Whatever your opinion about binge-watching, the reality is that 75% of us do it, and if you’re under 35 the number goes up to 90%.
The company that is largely responsible for this cultural phenomenon is Netflix. What’s really amazing to me is how much a little company that started back in 1997 renting movies through the mail has become such a major influence on our culture, so much so that the term “binge-watch” has now been added to the dictionary, and in 2015 the Collins Dictionary even chose binge-watch as their word of the year.
Now I have to confess something. As some of you already know, I have only just recently discovered how addictive binge-watching can be, and we, my husband Rob and I, are now more than half-way through binge-watching a TV-show that went off the air more than ten years ago, Gilmore Girls. We are normally pretty careful to be consistent about our sleep patterns, but Gilmore Girls so often ends its episodes with cliff-hangers. Now we will stay up late to keep watching, and we say things like, “We’ll just watch one more episode,” and then we end up watching two or three….or four or five.
I’m telling you this for two reasons. One is that it’s important to see how much what seems small can have a huge impact on our culture and on our lives. The other is because we all have things going on in our lives, things that are hanging around on the inside affecting how we live on the outside.
I thought about Gilmore Girls as I was reading Ephesians 4, our text for today, because there are many story lines in the show in which people have held on to past hurts that are influencing their current behavior. For example, Loralei, who is in her thirties, is continually at odds with her mother because neither one of them can let go of what happened between them when Loralei was sixteen. And Luke, the one who owns the diner, is often grouchy with people because he’s still hurting and angry because of grief from his father’s death more than ten years ago.
The reality is, not just in Gilmore Girls, but also in real life, we’re all dealing with something. We all have hurts and pain in our lives, whether physical or emotional. The people in this room, in our community, in all the places we go.
- On any given day, 15,112,098 people in the United States are living with cancer.
- 5 million people will deal with being laid off from work.
- In the time it takes for this worship service, 6,316 people will learn of a loved one’s death.
- 6438 people will have had a car crash in the last 24 hours.
Those are just a few of the types of things that are affecting our lives. We’re all dealing with something. We can’t tell just by looking, but whatever is going on inside of us continues to affect how we respond to one another.
That’s why our text for today is so important. The advice that we get in Ephesians 4 sounds so simple. These are things we learn as children. But these are lessons we keep relearning in new ways as we grow and as our lives change.
This letter to the Ephesians is Paul’s letter of love and encouragement to the church he founded in Ephesus. He had stayed with them for three years (Acts 20:31) and knew them well, and he wanted them to continue to grow in their relationship with God in Christ and with one another. So in the section we read from today, Paul talks about the things that could get in the way of those relationships. The obstacle that gets the most attention in this section is anger.
Anger is a normal emotion, but if we don’t resolve it, or let go of it, it hangs around and festers and causes trouble. So here in Ephesians Paul tells us to:
Be angry, but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger. (Ephesians 4:26)
Not letting the sun go down means not letting your anger hang around into the next day. Deal with it today.
Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice. (Ephesians 4:31)
Notice that it says to get rid of bitterness, wrath, anger and WRANGLING. Are you a wrangler? I guess that means that any of you that have livestock are really in trouble, because the Bible says no wrangling. You’ll just have to leave your horses and cows to fend for themselves. (Not really. It’s the other meaning of wrangling – arguing.)
In our Old Testament reading for today we see the result of some deep-seated anger. The passages we read in 2 Samuel are the end of the story of Absalom, a story that begins back in chapter 13.
Absalom’s story is full of drama, almost like a soap opera, or a Shakespearean tragedy. Absalom’s father is King David, who is said to be:
- The greatest of all kings. (2 Kings 14:3, 1 Chronicles 14:17)
- A man after God’s own heart. (1 Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22)
But David also has his faults, and is just as famous for the mess he made with his affair with Bathsheba. (2 Samuel 12:1-15)
David had several wives and many children. David’s second son Solomon also became a great king, and so we know him the best. But there were other children. David’s firstborn son was Amnon. Amnon fell in love with his half sister Tamar, and forced himself on her. Absalom, who was Tamar’s full brother, was furious. David did nothing about it, and Absalom held on to his anger. It hung around and festered, and two years later when Absalom saw an opportunity for revenge, he killed Amnon.
Fearing the consequences of his actions, Absalom fled Jerusalem and stayed away for three years. David missed Absalom, so David’s right-hand man Joab arranged for Absalom to come back to Jerusalem. But Absalom was not allowed to see David. Absalom was back in town, but not back in favor.
Absalom needed Joab to get him an audience with King David, but Joab wouldn’t even talk to him, so finally Absalom set fire to Joab’s fields. He got Joab’s attention! Joab finally arranged for Absalom to be reconciled with David.
But Absalom wasn’t just looking for family harmony. He had designs on the throne. He staged a coup and took over as king, and now David had to flee Jerusalem.
But of course, many were still loyal to David, so he had spies and allies who helped him to fight back. And though David is old, and has let his children get away with murder, he is still a brilliant military strategist. He rallies the troops and lays out the plan. On the day of the big battle, David wants to go join his men in the fight, but they convince him that he needs to stay back.
That’s where we pick up the story in our reading today, as David is sending them out to fight Absalom’s army. David tells them, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” (2 Samuel 18:5)
Absalom, riding on a mule, gets his head caught in a tree. It’s kind of hard to imagine how that even happened, but something like that actually happened to me the one time I went horseback riding. The horse was being ornery and dragged me under a low tree branch and almost knocked me off.
Joab finds Absalom hanging there, takes advantage of the situation and kills Absalom.
It’s not entirely clear exactly why Joab decided to kill Absalom, especially since David had said not to.
- Maybe he thought David had gone soft in his old age and was making bad decisions that Joab needed to fix.
- Or maybe he was still angry that Absalom had burned his fields.
My impression of Joab is that he was the kind of guy who would think killing Absalom was the best solution for protecting David and Israel.
But Joab forgot that family is still family.
When David gets the news that Absalom is dead, he is devastated, and cries out:
“O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33)
Despite all that Absalom had done, even though he had killed his brother and betrayed David, still David wept for him.
David, who was called “a man after God’s own heart” is in this scene a reflection of how God is with us. Though we mistreat our brothers and sisters, and betray God and turn away from him, God still loves us, and weeps for us.
David says, “Would that I had died instead of you.” Jesus showed us God’s great love by doing exactly what David wished he could do. Jesus died for us, so that nothing in our past or present or future could get in the way of us knowing God’s love. And God’s love has been poured into us through the Holy Spirit, so that we can love others with that same love. (Romans 5:1-5)
The Holy Spirit binds us together as the body of Christ, and as we discussed a few weeks ago when we looked at the first chapter of Ephesians, the Holy Spirit seals our adoption into God’s family. We’re all connected and we’re all family. When one of us hurts, we all hurt. And when we hurt each other, we do what Ephesians 4:30 tells us not to do.
“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” (Eph 4:30)
We cause the Holy Spirit to grieve, to be sad, whenever we get in the way of the Spirit’s bond, whenever we do the things that divide us and get in the way of our relationships. The Holy Spirit binds us together, and we get in the way of that when we hold on to our anger and bitterness, and when we lash out at one another, causing someone else to hurt. God is grieved when we hurt each other, especially because when we do, we are also turning away from him.
One study of people who used to attend church but don’t anymore shows that nearly four out of every ten non-churchgoing Americans (37%) avoid church because of negative past experiences in churches or with church people. That makes me sad. The hard truth about that is that we are all involved in that in some way. Our behaviors impact one another. Our words and actions make a difference.
Everybody is wounded somehow. We can’t tell from the outside. Sometimes we can, but more often we can’t.
In the Bible we read about people putting on sackcloth and ashes as a sign of mourning or repentance. It was a sign of being humble before God. It would also serve as sign to the people around them that they were in distress and needed to be handled with TLC (tender, loving care). In more recent history, those in mourning after the death of a loved one would wear black clothing, or just a black armband. It used to be the custom that a widow would wear black for two years, and in some cultures they would wear it for the rest of their lives.
We don’t follow these customs anymore, but if we did, I wonder how many of us would be sitting here today in sackcloth and ashes? We are all dealing with something, and so we need to be gentle with one another, and we need to keep working on letting the Holy Spirit help us. The way we do that best is through prayer, so today in your bulletin I’ve included some ways to pray using our reading from Ephesians.
They begin with something we can pray every day and throughout the day:
God, be in all my words and thoughts and actions.
And then more specifically:
- Show me how to resolve and let go of my anger and bitterness. (Eph. 4:26-27, 31)
- Guard my lips so that no unhelpful talk comes out my mouth. Help me to say only what is encouraging and helpful for building up the body of Christ. (Eph. 4:29)
- Help me to be kind and forgiving. (Eph. 4:32)
- Make me more like Jesus, and help me to love others with the same self-sacrificing love that Jesus has for me. (Eph. 5:1)
Remember at the beginning of this message I pointed out how much what seems small can have a huge impact on our culture and on our lives. Not grieving the Holy Spirit means that’s we’re there for each other, giving each other grace, and tender, loving care, no matter what’s going on in our lives.
May this be a place where people can come and be honest about what’s going on inside them, as if they were wearing sackcloth and ashes, and find grace and peace and comfort and strength as together we grow to be more and more the people Jesus calls us to be.
 https://www.businessinsider.com/how-netflix-invented-binge-watching-2016-6 Also, though others have entered the market, Netflix still has the biggest share. https://techcrunch.com/2017/04/10/netflix-reaches-75-of-u-s-streaming-service-viewers-but-youtube-is-catching-up/