"Be angry but do not sin." First part’s easy anyway.
Below is the text of August 12th’s sermon for Springdale Lutheran. The texts are below the sermon, and were captured at http://bible.oremus.org.
Grace to you and peace from the Triune God.
I really don’t have a problem being angry.
I kind of like it.
And I think I’m pretty good at it.
I learned it well from my father, and I still sit at his feet, actually, to learn many tricks of the tirade.
Now, I am not talking about petty, capricious irritability, nor am I speaking about impetuous temper flares.
I am talking about deserved contempt, withering and grounded critique, righteous indignation.
It’s especially fun when I’m feeling all of the above and I write letters. Penning an epistle when I’m hot under the collar comes so easily to me. The words seem to fall out of the air, the quotes appear to me as if in visions, the rhythm of the phrases is as forceful as their point.
It is then and almost exclusively then that I use my titles: The Rev. Dr.
So it’s with great relief that I read Ephesians and hear that I get to be angry.
Did you hear that?
It’s o.k. to be angry.
It’s in the Bible.
You, too, can be justifiably ticked!
We just can’t sin.
It’s an important detail.
But for the moment, let’s stick with anger.
And as far as anger goes, let me be clear: I’m not being rhetorical about anger. I’m not setting anger up to mock it and knock it down.
There are things about which to be really angry.
The word we translate as “righteous” is, in Hebrew, tzadek. It means, wonderfully, to be “properly aligned.” Joseph Sittler, a late Lutheran theologians and patron saint of all of us who crave to be one, explained it more or less like this: if your car drives over a bumpy Jerusalem road, the axels get all bent out of shape, you get it into the shop, and then you go out for a kosher bite to eat. After a while you check back in and hear from the mechanic, thankfully, that the car is “tzadek” again. It was out of alignment, and once fixed is properly aligned, which means that it drives straight again.
And so righteous indignation is anger that is properly aligned.
You have a right to be justifiably ticked.
IF, that is, you have aligned yourself with something that is itself righteous.
Which gets to the whole “Be angry but do not sin” piece of that text.
Your anger is reflective of something. It is reflective of a standard, a guide about what is right and good, and what falls short of right and good, and whether there is some culpability about the gap between these two.
Your anger reflects your values.
Your anger reflects your God.
And your God can be righteous, and your God can also be, well, unrighteous. Recall that God said not that there are no other gods, but that we shall have no other gods. There are choices. And our choice of God directs our sense of peace, and our sense of anger.
Gods that call us to worship self-protection, self-security, self-aggrandizement at the expense of others more vulnerable, will be angry when they are threatened..
But the God of which the Bible speaks is a God of a community built on, what does it say again in Ephesians? Kindness, tenderheartedness, forgiveness, and sacrifice.
The Bread Cycle in which we sit these days also suggests that our God has a passion for feeding the hungry, too.
God seems somewhat obsessed with the care of the Other, in other words. The well-being of the One Who Is Not Me.
It is interesting, it seems to me, to see what ticks people off these days. There is a phrase I’m hearing often: “First World Problems.” I’ve suffered a lot of those in recent days: a new couch that was delayed by several months, a fence that was delayed by several months, a way-delayed repair due us by a tree company after they busted our fire pit during their work.
Our fire pit!
I got angry. I don’t know how righteous it was, but I got angry.
And then there’s the whole Chick-Fil-A Event of last week: people lining up to demonstrate, as a friend of mine said, their Christian righteousness on the basis of whether they eat or don’t eat at some fast food chain. Angry people dressed up as chickens. Now there’s something to take seriously.
And in politics, people have moved beyond angry and into reactionary.
Each of these expressions of anger have varying degrees of sinfulness, because they are bound up less in the care of God’s community as God sees it, and more in our own petty agendas and wants.
So when Scripture tells us to be angry but don’t sin, it catches our attention.
Who hasn’t felt anger?
Not least of all toward the self?
Anger is o.k. It is acceptable in God’s sight. It, like pain, can be a sign that something is wrong.
But two things:
1. It is key to check our anger’s alignment. Is it, or is it not, properly aligned? Is it, or is it not, in keeping with the sorts of things that tick God off: hunger and poverty and oppression and isolation and self-absorption and haughty spite, for example?
2. Is it expressed with love? I am utterly convinced, to the degree that I don’t know what a person could say to me that would dissuade me from my conviction, that that depth of one’s love for the other is demonstrated most when deep anger is at hand. Nowhere, I believe, can one see whether the profession of love is to be trusted and is true, then when two or more are so angry that they want to spit, but don’t.
I’ve always found comfort when, in John’s gospel, we hear that Jesus commanded us to love one another.
He didn’t say that we have to like one another.
It is not the proper place, here in the pulpit, in order to make my point, to name all the people whom I don’t like, and to list all the righteous reasons why I don’t like them.
But it is the proper place to say, here in the pulpit, that there are a whole heck of a lot of people I don’t like, and I most probably unrighteously am of the mind that God doesn’t like them either, but that that’s neither here nor there because our calling, according to Ephesians, is not about liking them, but it is about loving them by avoiding wrangling with them and speaking evil of them and maliciously slandering them.
Because when we do these things out of anger, we sin.
Instead, our anger is to build them up. To call them back to righteousness.
To remind them of their right God.
You can do that in anger. There are good reasons to be angry. Sometimes somebody needs a holy holler, a righteous what-for.
Jesus was not just meek and mild, let us remember. He was known to throw around a few healthy insults (next congregational meeting, when a few are annoying you to no end, you try calling them a brood of vipers and see how far you get).
Good Friday was a source of anger and pain for God.
Make no mistake.
But Easter is the source of reconciliation for us.
That empty tomb is a reminder that God’s final word is not condemnation, not judgment, not exclusion, not separation.
It is not everlasting anger.
It is not Good Friday.
It is reconciliation, it is rapprochement.
It is righteous alignment with the risen Christ.
We’re called to be ambassadors of it even now. Ambassadors of righteous indignation, and of righteous reconciliation.
And please leave the chicken outfits at home. Significantly more effective without the chicken outfits.
1 Kings 19:1-15
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” 3Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there. 4But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” 5Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 6He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. 7The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” 8He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.
9At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 11He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 15Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram.
1I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad.
3O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.
4I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.
5Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.
6This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble.
7The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.
8O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.
9O fear the Lord, you his holy ones, for those who fear him have no want.
10The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
11Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
12Which of you desires life, and covets many days to enjoy good?
13Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit.
14Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.
15The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry.
16The face of the Lord is against evildoers, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
17When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and rescues them from all their troubles.
18The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.
19Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord rescues them from them all.
20He keeps all their bones; not one of them will be broken.
21Evil brings death to the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
22The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.
Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2
25So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not make room for the devil. 28Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. [36But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; 38for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.” ]41Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
I am angered when I see others blithely going through life, not being angry when there is too much that is broken and in need of repair. Where are the stewards of this age? There. Thanks for letting me vent.
I saw not a single chicken feather in that vent. Maybe even a feather of the Holy Spirit, even. Yes. John of Patmos would applaud. Be cold or hot, already, but I can’t abide the lukewarm! Go in peace, be righteously ticked, brother Martin.
amen, Anna! I had the sermon just for Sunday evening, and I talked a little about being angry — and how sometimes it’s wrong NOT to be angry. But I liked the way you developed the whole thing.