How many of you have watched the television show, Cheers? For eleven seasons, from 1982 to 1993, Cheers was one of the highest-rated shows on television set in a bar with a mishmash of characters came every day after work: an alcoholic ex-pro baseball playing bartender, know-it-all postman, semi-unemployed accountant/painter/interior decorator, abusive cocktail waitress, and strong independent female manager. This comedy showed us people who care about each other, who accepted one another in spite of their many failings and frailties and idiosyncrasies, people who shared an emotional bond, who were committed to one another. Just listen to the Cheers theme song:
Making your way in the world today
Takes everything you’ve got;
Taking a break from all your worries
Sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came;
You want to be where you can see,
Our troubles are all the same;
You want to be where everybody knows your name.
Isn’t that what we all want? People who care about us? People who are glad when we show up? People who will support us and stand by us in the bad times? People who will accept us instead of criticizing and judging us? People we can just be ourselves around?
I want that. I need that. And so do you. So do we all.
Well, I’ve got good news for you. Good news and bad news. The bad news is that Cheers was pretend. It wasn’t real.
The good news is that it can be real. The good news is that there is a place where that kind of community can and does exist. And that place is the church and In The Garden.
- That’s the kind of place
that the church should be,
the kind of place the church can be,
the kind of place that Jesus Christ intended His church to be.
You and I know that too often, it’s just the opposite. We have to recognize that when many people think of an accepting, loving, supportive, place to be real, to just be themselves, they are more likely to think of an AA meeting than a church.
But, we want church and In The Garden to become the kind of place where lives are radically changed by the love of God flowing through His people in their relationships with one another. And as we become that kind of a church; the world will notice. When strangers walk through that door, they will sense that something is different here; when they go home, they’ll say, “I want that”. They will want what we have, and eventually we will be able to tell them that what we have isn’t a “what” at all.
It’s not a “what,” it’s a “who”, Jesus Christ, living in us and through us.
A new command I give you:
Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35)
Let’s look at what the Scriptures have to say to us about relationships:
Therefore . . . clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:12-14)
What does this tell us? All of us will, at some time, find our fellow humans to be less than ideal. We may not like:
- The way we talk,
the way we think,
the way we look,
the way we eat,
the way we manage our time.
We could all probably pick out someone in this room and find something about them that we find offensive, irritating, or disagreeable.
So what do we do?
Do we just pretend that they aren’t that way? Do we pretend that it doesn’t bother us?
Relationships are hard, but that’s what makes them interesting. Life is filled with things that bother us and that are problems for us – things we might wish we had answers for. We wish we knew how to deal with “difficult people” to how to deal with emotions such as anger. But relationships can also be very rewarding. What makes them rewarding is working through the difficulties and coming out with a new friend or acquaintance, another child of God.
As you go through life you’re going to find some people simply rub you the wrong way. Some people are just going to be difficult for you to deal with. Maybe they have done something to hurt you – or maybe they continually do things that hurt you – or maybe they don’t do anything specific — but there’s something about them that gets under your skin. How do we deal with those people who rub us the wrong way?
We simply choose to overlook it. We choose not to make a big deal of it. We choose to graciously tolerate one another in spite of all the things we find irritating. And if that grates on our last nerve, then we live with it. We accept that irritation, as our problem, rather than theirs.
And – believe it or not – – there will be times when you find that you – even likeable and friendly and jolly you — rub someone else the wrong way – or that you – yes even you – might be a difficult person for someone else!
What do we do then?
1. First, we choose not to grumble against them or gossip to our friends about their flaws.
- You’ve done that, haven’t you? We all have. It’s a bad habit that we all share. You may not tell the person what you don’t like, but you tell your wife, your husband, your best friends, and then everyone else you talk to. Well, that’s wrong. It’s hurtful. It turns others against them. It may make us feel better temporarily, but it doesn’t build anybody up; it only tears them down.
2. Second, we choose not to keep picking at them to change the things we don’t like.
- We don’t try to be a one-man crusade to improve them. We do not take it upon ourselves to better our fellow humans by continually pointing out the many ways in which they fall short of perfection. Instead, y the power of the Holy Spirit, we choose to treat them with compassion, kindness, patience, gentleness, and love.
3. Third, we choose not to judge them. We choose not to arrogantly become their judges, as if it were our right to evaluate the quality of their lives.
- God is the only Judge of the world.
There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you–who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11-12)
Only God has the right, and only God has the ability, to judge. We can’t see the heart of the other person.
4. Fourth, we give thanks. Instead of focusing on all the things we don’t like, we thank God for them.
- We thank God that He chose them in spite of their flaws, and that He also chose us in spite of our flaws. We thank God that He is in the process of changing them, and us, into people who someday will reflect Jesus Christ in all His glory, without flaw or defect of any kind. And we give thanks that, contrary to everything we deserve, and on account of nothing good or worthy in ourselves, God loved them, and us, and called us to Himself, and made us together His sons and daughters in Christ, to live forever with Him.
And when we give thanks like that, we’ll find that all the things we were so upset and exercised about, all the things that we found so irritating and objectionable, all those things will fade to insignificance. And we will be left standing before God, awestruck and amazed that He would loves each and every one of us.
And that he commands us in John 13:34:
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34).
Love is not just a soft and cuddly feeling, it is a tough commitment that overcomes negative feelings. We are commanded in 1 John 4:7-8:
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love (1 John 4:7-8).
Getting along with others – dealing with difficult people – dealing with folks you may not really want to deal with — is not always be easy, but is possible. It happens when we make an effort to love that other person. Let the love of God rule in your heart, and people will less likely rub you the wrong way – or be the kind of person you don’t want to deal with.
And let’s make In The Garden a place where ‘everybody knows my name’.
Let us pray:
Merciful and loving God, be with us as we meet those who irritate and anger us. Help us to remember that we are all your children – your beloved children. Remind us to love others as you have loved us, and guide us into relationships which show the glory of your Kingdom.
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 30 December 2012 and 13 January 2013 (in two phases)