|6:00pm||La Nativité du Seigneur, Messiaen|
Sermon preached at Mattins on the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity (10 September 2017) by Reverend Canon Tricia Hillas, Pastor
The Canon Pastor explores the feeling of resentment and how we might deal with our own resentment.
O God, thankful for the gift of your Word, open our hearts and minds to hear your word to us. Amen.
‘In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move’ wrote the irreverent and insightful Douglas Adams.
Human emotions, such as anger and joy bring light and shade to life. They, as much as intelligence and aptitude, underlie art, music, creativity, endeavour, research and development.
Robert C Solomon, a Professor of Philosophy wrote:
‘We live our lives through our emotions and it is our emotions that give our lives meaning. What interests us or fascinates us, who we love, what angers us, what moves us, what bores us – all of this defines us, gives us character, constitutes who we are’.
Some emotions are of course more life-giving than others. Some like envy, spite, vengeance and resentment are ‘double edged’; being remarkably self-destructive even as they are aimed at bringing down other people. Inspired by our reading from the book of Jonah I’d like to focus on one, resentment.
It’s been said: ‘Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.’
Cue Jonah, waiting outside the City of Ninevah, nursing his resentment and anger. Resentment towards his people’s enemies, the Assyrian empire, and Ninevah its capital; anger towards God who had shown mercy towards the Ninevites.
He rages: “I knew this would happen…I was right all along…I know you God, that you are gracious, merciful, slow to anger, steadfast in love…and it’s just not fair!”
so Jonah withdrew to his make-shift shelter. But God was not done with him yet.
In his tirade Jonah had said to God ‘take my life away from me, for it is better for me to die than to live’.
More than a dramatic flourish, perhaps Jonah was right… to live with deep resentment is to slowly die.
Resentment’s sarcasm, cynicism, hostility and distain for others; the paralysis of slights, the sense that life and others are passing us by, the inexplicable feeling of despondency mean that resentments’ effects can be devastating to relationships, well-being, growth, trust, self-confidence and identity.
The consequences for individuals, workplaces and between people can be severe.
Anonymous advise that resentment is one of the greatest threats to recovery, so several of their 12 steps involve identifying and dealing with it. For AA this means acknowledging one’s own part in resentment and praying for its removal.
I’d like to suggest 3 responses when dealing with our own resentment:
Firstly, asking ‘why?’ What pain, injustice, frustration or disappointment is feeding our resentment, and starting to address these deeper issues. Sometimes we need others to help us consider the ‘why?’ Even the Pope calls on such outside help sometimes.
Secondly, bringing it before God, aware that this may invite consequences. Jonah addressed God with his anger and resentment –there is a place for furious prayer – but when we think we have silenced God, God may not have finished with us.
For God invites Jonah to consider a different perspective – to see the city and its inhabitants through divine eyes.
Psychologist James Messina explains that key to dealing with resentment is to develop a new way of looking at past, present and future life, highlighting the significance of our capacity for choice in this.
Kemal Pervanic, a Muslim survivor of the notorious Omarska concentration camp, set up by Bosnian Serb forces in the early days of the Bosnian war and now works for reconciliation could have settled for resentment, instead he says: “I didn’t decide not to hate because I’m a good person. I decided not to hate because hating would have finished the job they’d started so successfully.”
Thirdly, finding the courage to risk changing. Resentment and hatred can offer a distorted sense of security through the familiarity of the pain they bring. It requires courage to exchange our embrace of them for the unknown of life without them. And to do so consistently.
The story of Jonah ends with him still outside the city; God’s question hanging in the air.
We never know how Jonah responds; what happens next for Jonah – how his story ends.
But we do have a choice about how our own stories might end…
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us, evermore. Amen.