The Wolves Within

A Holy Ditch

Rev. Alan Claassen

Romans 12:9-23

Matthew 16 21-28

On the blessed Blessing of the Animals Sunday we enjoyed together two weeks ago I shared with you a story attributed to St. Francis. It was the story a village that was being terrorized by a wolf. St. Francis is said to have struck up a deal with the wolf. The wolf would stop eating the pets and little children of the village if the townspeople would simply leave a bowl of food out on their doorsteps for the wolf to eat each night. St. Francis’ plan worked.

I have another wolf tale for you this morning, called…

The Wolves Within

An old grandfather told this story to his grandson who came in to him with anger at a friend who had done him an injustice, “Let me tell you a story, said the grandfather.

“I too, at times, have felt a great hate for those who have taken so much with no sorrow for what they do; but hate wears you down and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking a poison and wishing your enemy would die.  I have struggled with these feelings many times.”

He continued, “It is as if there are two wolves inside me; one is good and does no harm.  He lives in harmony with all around him and does not take offense when no offense was intended.  He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way.  But the other wolf? Ah! The littlest thing will send him into a fit of temper.  He fights everyone, all of the time, for no reason.  He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great.  It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing.”

“Sometimes it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit.”

The boy looked intently into his grandfather’s eyes and asked, “Which one wins, Grandfather?”

The grandfather smiled and quietly said, “The one I feed.”

This morning’s passage from Romans is about choosing which wolf within us we are going to feed. Feed with our thoughts, habits, and actions.

This morning’s Gospel passage is about the inherent difficulty that may well arise within our world when we say that we have chosen the path of non-violence, and non-violent resistance. For Jesus himself paid the ultimate sacrifice, giving away his very life, by proclaiming that we should feed our enemies and not seek to destroy them.

Which wolf do we feed with our thoughts, habits, and actions?  The one that one is good and does no harm, lives in harmony with all around him and does not take offense when no offense was intended or

. the other wolf who fights everyone, all of the time, for no reason.  He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great.  It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing.”

The one we feed is the one who wins.

Paul makes it very clear in Romans which one we are to feed. Let love be genuine. Bless those who persecute you, repay no one evil for evil, and never avenge yourselves. Nothing could be clearer than what is listed in these verses.

There are those in our world today, in our American religious and political spheres today that claim to people of Christian values. They seemed to have skipped this passage.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. For evil response to evil only creates more evil. It make take years or decades but and violent response to evil brings about more evil.

But that wolf within that is quick to temper, quickly says that non-violence is wimpy, can’t work, an the poor need to find their own way out trouble, they found there own way into it. And we ourselves may read this passage and simply out of the kindness of our best hearts may say, it just can’t be done. It’s too difficult, I may get hurt.

Which brings to mind for me the stories of two women and three quotations by a WWII Veteran.

The two stories exemplify not only the practice of peace as outlined in this passage in Romans, they also reveal what made it all possible for Paul the Apostle to call the early church to this very vision. And that is a deep sense of belonging.  Belonging to a community. Belonging to God. Belonging to family. Belonging to Christ who ends all sense of separation between people. No east or west, no gentile or Jew, all children of God. All brothers and sisters, including golden retrievers and hermit crabs.

These two women are familiar to you all very much I am sure.

Rosa Parks story and Miles Horton’s Citizen Ship Schools. Rosa Parks learned her self-acceptance and all peoples through her participation in these schools which included all races studying together.

Cindy Sheehan story. A mother of a Iraq War Veteran killed in action galvanized the peace movement by simply asking to speak to the President.

Now we all know that Cindy Sheehan has had to go through a lot of threats and misrepresentation. This is carrying her cross. Not hiding it. Not staring at it. Not running from it. Carrying it. Moving forward. Being pulled forward. Why? Because she belongs to her son, and she belongs to everyone mother, father, family who has a loved one serving in the military. She belongs to this country and she is speaking for many of us.

But some are not listening or hearing.

To love enemies, to love people that we disagree with or are angry with means talking with them. Listening, speaking. Searching for that place of mutual belonging.

And speaking out when that sense of connection to one another has been broken.

What would it sound like for a President to think like this? Which brings me to my quotes, actually said by a former President of the United States.

“There is no way in which a country can satisfy the craving for absolute security, but it can easily bankrupt itself morally and economically in attempting to reach that goal through arms alone.”

          “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.”

 “There can be no enduring peace for any nation while other nations suffer privation, oppression, and a sense of injustice and despair. In our modern world, it is madness to suppose that there could be an island of tranquility and prosperity in a sea of wretchedness and frustration.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower

There is something deeply satisfying quoting a veteran, a Republican, a former US President in a sermon dedicated to exploring what makes for peace.

One of the things that I most appreciate from the Romans passage is the verse,

“Hate what is evil. Love what is good.” I can be angry but I must temper how I may express my anger. The “wolves within” story said it well, “He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way. The right way is a very powerful way and it is a way that breaks the cycle of violence without getting rolled over and playing dead. It means speaking out against those who take more than they need at the expense of the poor. It means sometimes getting in trouble for doing the right thing, even to the point of risking security, comfort, and life itself. Do it anyway.

There is one other verse in the passage from Romans that I want to lift out before closing this sermon.

“If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all.”

So far as it depends upon you.”

I am reminded of a quote I heard at a Conflict Resolution Workshop that we had at Cedar Hills UCC. It comes from the Dalai Lama.

He said that each one of us should ask ourselves this question,

“What can I do to preserve the beauty and wonder of the world, and,

What can I do to eliminate the anger and hatred in the world?

in that part of the world which I touch?

          What can I do to preserve the beauty and eliminate the anger and its root causes

in that part of the world which I touch?

          This statement encourages us to ask and to affirm, what can I touch? Not what can’t I touch, but what I can touch? It empowers us into action rather than the despair of being overwhelmed. It asks us to be clear about that which does depend on us. I think it also encourages us to allow ourselves to depend on others sometimes, too.

          Our sphere of influence begins right here, and within in our homes, and at the check out stand and coffee shop.

As members of the United Church of Christ our touch reaches around the country and world through the offerings that we give to special offerings such as Neighbors in Need, which is coming up next month.

          And as members of a democratic country our touch extends all the way to Congress and the White House.

What can I do to preserve the beauty and eliminate the anger and its root causes

in that part of the world which I touch?

          To eliminate anger and hatred and its causes in the world means beginning right where I am, where we are.

          It means reconciling relationships that I have, that we have.

          It means praying for those relationships we cannot reconcile and blessing both parties to God’s care.

          It means doing some small act of love, whether that be at the transitional shelter, the Red Cross, or in your own home.

          It means asking for help when you need it, and offering it when you have it to give.

          It is a new year for Lake Oswego United Church of Christ. How we act during these days and months ahead, in the part of the world that we can touch, will affect this church for years to come.

          How shall we go about eliminating anger and preserving beauty in this place? How shall we build a community that serves the community? How can we let people of this community know that there is a place such as this that welcomes everyone and is beginning a new journey into freedom?

          In this passage from Romans Paul has some words of advice for us that will help us feed the good wolf.

          As Eugene Peterson translates it in The Message,

          Love from the center of who you are, don’t fake it.

          Don’t burn out: keep yourselves fueled and aflame.

          Be inventive in hospitality.

          Surprise your enemies with goodness.

We do this out of gratitude for all that God has given to us. We do this because we are aware of all that Jesus Christ has done for us.

Let us, explore the possibility, so far as it depends upon us, to live peace, to love genuinely, to hold fast to what is good.

And may both wolves within us, lay down together.


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