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Angry man at Costco provides a lesson

A recent news article covered the violence and anger increasingly prevalent on airplanes.

There were more than 3,400 reports of “unruly” passengers on flights. As travel rebounds, there are increasing numbers of confrontations fueled by alcohol and hostility to mask mandates.

One passenger hit a woman holding an infant amid a dispute over a window shade. Another stomped on a flight attendant’s foot after the power outlet at her seat wouldn’t charge her phone.

Our daily news highlights example after example of conflict fueled by anger and rage. The pandemic is surging, spreading rapidly among the unvaccinated. One side is angry, refusing to take the vaccine. Another group who stood in line for the vaccine can’t understand why others won’t take the lifeline.

For me, what is remarkable is the degree of anger, passion and frustration on both sides. It seems that everyone is talking passionately, and no one listens.

Recently, I was standing in front of Costco waiting for the store to open. The man behind me was wearing a mask. I asked him if masks were required. Big mistake. He immediately started shouting theories as to why he would never take a vaccine and that progressed to a long litany of complaints about the election and current politicians, and then he talked about an airliner that crashed near New York but was really shot down by a Chinese missile.

I thought about sharing my own opinion, but it was obvious he would not listen and would likely become angrier. I found myself praying for the doors to open… soon.

The most important witness we have as individual Christians and as the church is the gift of God’s amazing grace provided in the person and example of Jesus Christ. Our witness is in how we live out a life of grace in our daily lives. The Bible certainly has a lot to say about this subject.

• Ephesians 4:32 – Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

• Luke 23:34 – Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

• Mark 11:25 – But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.”

• 2 Corinthians 2:10 – When you forgive someone, I forgive them, too. And when I forgive whatever needs to be forgiven, I do so with Christ’s authority for your benefit.

The disciple, Peter comes to Jesus and says, Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Seven times? (Mat. 18:21)

Common teaching in those days, if someone sins against you, forgive once or twice but on a third time, all bets are off. Peter went way beyond that for good measure. Jesus responds not with 490 as if you would count to 490 and then let them have it. Jesus responds with forgiveness must be unlimited, infinite, neverending.

Throughout life, we will have an infinite number of opportunities to apply forgiveness. Someone will offend you or you will offend someone else. People will passionately argue with you or you with someone else. That is part of life. The question is: “How do we respond?”

Jesus talks about a king who forgives someone a million dollars only to have that same person browbeat a fellow servant over $20. The king finds out and throws the scoundrel into prison to be tortured until he repays the debt. What is often left out or forgotten is the last line, “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive from your heart.”

Torture literally means to stretch someone on a rack until the pain is unbearable. A vicious word. Lack of forgiveness will result in torture for you, not the one who harmed you. Learning to forgive is about your health and your wellbeing.

Our churches and our faith are not taken seriously because we Christians are not all that different from the world around us. We seldom model Jesus, living a life of grace and many of us even now are in the torture chamber of anger and unforgiveness.

Two lessons stand out:

1. Focus on the full extent of God’s forgiveness of you. It is unconditional. Remember your wrongs, your deserved punishment and visualize Jesus saying, “I forgive you.”

2. Deal directly and honestly with any resentment you have toward others and ask God’s help to begin the process of learning to forgive, completely and openly.

I confess that forgiveness is hard for me. But I also believe a life of grace is our best tool to go into an angry and deeply divided world recovering from the ravages of a pandemic.

To be effective in our outreach to our neighbor, we must learn to love the red and the blue, the vaccine takers and the vaccine deniers, those on the far right as well as those on the far left.

To my angry man at Costco, I pray to be a better witness of the grace and love of Jesus in all circumstances.

REV. LARRY E. DAVIES can be reached at larrydavies@vaumc.org.