Saturday after Ash Wednesday
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing. And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.
All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith.
Grace be with you all.
Sonny, Contentious Parishioner
I will call him Sonny, because it’s best not to speak ill of the dead. He was, I believe, a man who probably went through life with the help of medications. I often supposed when he was at his most difficult he was off his meds. I may well have been wrong about that. Most of the time, he was bearable in that way one can handle a thorny person, who is not being excessively biting in his running commentary on the lives of others.
Having met one of his parents and one of his siblings, I had some insight into what influences shaped his life. Others less charitable would refer to him as an odd duck. He did not suffer from a lack of intelligence nor lack a modicum of social graces in the right setting. There were those who respected the man for how he had made his living. His best assets were his wife and children, who tended to soften some of his rougher edges when he was with them in a crowd. But the man reserved his most acid-tongued remarks for his pastor. When he would let loose with what, I suppose, he considered his word of admonition in the presence of others, they would often be shocked by his tone and accusatory rhetoric.
There are those who live to be contentious in churchly matters. Some are game players, who delight in the sport of it. Some are working out their Daddy or Mommy issues especially when their parents’ vocation was in the church, and there remain very old hurts. Some need a place to feel important, and they decide to bring that hole in the soul with them to church whenever it suits them. Some, like Sonny, feel it their call to take their pastor down a notch or two, lest he get too full of himself. I suspect that at the root of Sonny’s bitterness was a kind of envy of his pastor’s call.
I was a much younger pastor when I had Sonny for a parishioner. Looking back, I could have handled Sonny differently. I could have ignored Paul’s word to Titus about not getting caught up in arguments and taken a layer or two off of Sonny’s hide, but that would have been wrong. I could have spent hours and hours trying to soften Sonny, but, by the time I knew him, he was already set in his ways. Others acquiesced to Sonny’s worst spirits, but that only fed his need to dominate. I greeted Sonny each time I saw him and made small talk to acknowledge him. But when Sonny was at his worst, I would simply disagree with him and walk away before I lost my cool. I was not sorry to be rid of him when I took a call.
There are men and women like Sonny in every congregation. They need our prayers, and they need our resistance to their bad behavior. Just as cancer cells must be isolated and removed, so the very malevolent behaviors Paul describes to Titus must be exorcised from the Body of Christ.
Thank you, Father, for those who can disagree without being disagreeable and those who seek the well-being of your Church. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Put four pennies, nickels, or dimes in a bowl or box today to help to provide food for the local food bank to share with the poor.
Pastor Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.