Pastor Ben Cachiaras had conversations with two friends recently. One friend told him he had given up listening to the news, because it just made him so angry and he did not like the dark things that were happening inside him. Another friend said he was giving up Facebook because, although he liked keeping in touch with family and friends, there were so many others around him yelling over the internet.
“We live in an age of rage,” Cachiaras told the virtual congregation. “Christians are caught in the middle, and when we try to hold up Jesus, winsome and beautiful and good, society teaches us to scream and punch. We don’t know how to be kind.”
Cachiaras gave the homily for the morning devotional service at 9:15 a.m. EDT Monday, Aug. 24, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. His homily title was “The Separation of Church and Hate: Behave with CIVILITY.” The scripture text was Colossians 3:5-15 (NRSV) —
“Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things — anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all! As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.”
The world is on fire with political disagreement. “Everyone one of us carries two buckets. One is red, one is blue, and they don’t stand for the political parties,” he said.
The red bucket is filled with gasoline. “Do I need to explain what happens when you throw gasoline on a fire? Whoosh. The blue one is water and it provides a ‘sssh’ sound, a calming effect like peace, gentleness, wisdom, graciousness, civility,” he said, drawing out the “s” sounds in each word.
There is already more heat than light in our conversations; there is endless denigration and shaming, and respectful dialogue has been replaced by fire bombs.
“Christians (forget) their identity and let the Bride of Christ — the church — become a burnt offering,” Cachiaras told the virtual congregation. “Which bucket do you bring? If you are pouring gasoline — stop it!”
He continued: “Gasoline hurts people, escalates anger and increases anxiety. Such behavior is inconsistent with who Jesus is. It hurts the church and grieves God.”
The blue bucket can pour out civility, not just politeness. It helps people to be good, decent citizens, creating a world where not everyone agrees, but the disagreement is neither hateful nor hurtful.
Cachiaras said Paul’s letter to the Colossians shows Christians how to talk to and treat other people. Christians have taken on a new identity in Christ. “Paul was talking to a diverse group of people — Jews, Greeks, slaves, free — but they were all brought together in Christ. Bring the blue bucket to the fire, clothe yourself with love that binds all in perfect harmony.”
He said to the congregation, “We should grieve when Christians mirror the ugliness of the world and not the winsomeness of Jesus. We look like jerks.”
Christian civility is built on the idea that every human is made in the image of God and should be treated with high regard and respect. “God cares when human dignity — through slavery, sex trafficking or homelessness — or the planet are trampled. We have to say, ‘Enough is enough.’”
Many people call their anger righteous, but Cachiaras said for anger to be righteous, it must be from love. “This is not personal offense in this situation. When God intervenes, it is always intertwined with holiness. God’s righteous anger and ours must flow out of love and faithfulness, not just getting our way. God always pulls people together, reconciling them.”
Ad hominem attacks by Christians toward other Christians only makes Jesus look less appealing. When one Christian blogger attacked another personally, not just disagreeing with his ideas, a third blogger wrote, “You Christians are so stupid. I thought your Jesus was better than that.”
Cachiaras said, “The third writer wanted nothing to do with their Jesus and might never be able to say ‘my Jesus’ because he was driven away. Frederick Buechner, spiritual writer, said, ‘Kindness is not holiness, but it is close.’”
He closed with a story about comedian Sarah Silverman who, when attacked on social media by a man who called her vile names, reached out to him and through their conversation and other friends’ help, got him therapy. There was reconciliation between them.
“That’s radical, counter-cultural and way cooler than throwing gasoline on the fire. She brought the blue bucket. This looks like Jesus and what he calls us to do. Kindness is not holiness, but it is close,” he said.
The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, vice president of religion and senior pastor at Chautauqua Institution, presided at the service from the Hall of Christ. Chautauqua interim organist Joshua Stafford played “Piece for Musical Clock (1792),” by Joseph Haydn, for the organ prelude on the Tallman Tracker Organ. The hymn was “Blest Be The Tie That Binds,” sung by guest artist Amanda Lynn Bottoms. Stafford played “Prélude,” by Louis Vierne for the anthem. The organ postlude, played by Stafford, was “Pieces for Musical Clock (1772/1793),” by Hayden. This week’s services are sponsored by the Alison and Craig Marthinsen Endowment for the Department of Religion and the Daney-Holden Memorial Chaplaincy.