Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Interim Pastor
Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Sermon January 31, 2016
3Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 4Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
“FROM THE BEGINNING - ANGER”
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
Now the deadly sin of anger is one with which we probably all struggle with. Is this not so? I start with the assumption that whoever said sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me – must have lived among deaf mutes. “Careless words can do untold damage; one word may destroy even a sublime love. Anger may not always cause a deep wound, but it (may) leave a residue of hatred in the end, and a desire for revenge.” (The Seven Deadly Sins Today – Henry Fairlie)
Is it a sin to become angry? Of course not! We just heard Jesus get angry with those who were hoping him to accuse him of disobeying God’s law by healing on the Sabbath. And – here’s the thing – was it against the Torah to heal on the Sabbath?
Well, that depends on who is interpreting the Bible passages. The Pharisees interpreted the Torah – the first five books of the Bible – in excruciating detail. For instance, one could carry something on the Sabbath – as long as it weighed less than a dried fig. A person could help heal someone in danger of death but not someone not in danger of death. “Excuse me, sir, are you in danger of death or can we delay your healing until tomorrow?”
It was all crazy – and most Jews at the time of Jesus – did not worry about all the Biblical minutiae taught by the biblical literalists of that time and place. And here’s the deeper truth Jesus was proclaiming: the Sabbath is the day when people are supposed to help do God’s work so God can take the day off!
Think about Sabbath in this way, brothers and sisters! One way of seeing that Sabbath is as the day we take over for God and do God’s work: healing others, helping others, showing compassion for others. This notion of the Sabbath has been long lost! It was lost at the time of Jesus. It is still lost to us today! And, yes, Sabbath is a day of prayer and worship and rest - but it is so more than prayer and worship and rest!
But back to the question: is anger a sin? No – if Jesus could get angry – then I can get angry. If Jesus could get angry – then you can get angry. So I give us all permission to get angry. But there is a caveat and it comes to us from our Brother Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. And what is this verse? “Be angry but do not sin.” (Ephesians 4:26)
Okay – so what might this mean? To get some answers, let us look again at the whole notion of sin. Hear these words from the South African theologian, Albert Nolan, from his engaging book, God in South Africa: “Sin is not a very popular word today. It conjures up visions of punishment and hell and produces neurotic feelings of guilt and seems to be chiefly a matter of sex. I wonder if there is any other word in the Christian vocabulary whose meaning has been so completely misunderstood.”
Sisters and brothers, to help us understand what Nolan is saying let me add something from the moral theologian Dick Westley’s Morality and Its Beyond: “…the opposite of sin is grace. Grace is the word we Christians use for our intimate union with God, and sin is the word we use for the rupturing of that union and of our being alienated from God … (God loves – the sinner manipulates.) To the degree that we use or manipulate others for our own interests, we are in sin.”
Westley goes on: “God realizes God’s power in intimacy and dialogue. The sinner attempts to dominate others through force … God is truth and God calls us to truth. The sinner is a deceiver. So sin can be described as dominating, manipulative deceit in our relationship with God and with one another.
So – with this understanding of what sin is – let us ponder how we might get angry without sinning. The sin is not with the reaction of anger. Sin lies with what we do with anger. If we throw a temper tantrum, if we injure someone physically or psychologically, then we are guilty of sin. Sin arises when we hurt ourselves or others. There is a malicious element involved.
Are there times when we should get angry? Yes, of course, there are! When we see injustice, when we see bigotry, when we see useless destruction, we should respond with anger – just as Jesus did in our preaching text as well as when he chased the money changers from the Temple.
I recall the anger I felt at the Berlin Wall (before its destruction) and the anger I felt at the concentration camp at Dachau and the anger I felt at the nuclear testing site north of Las Vegas. If I had not felt anger at such places, I could be sure something important was missing inside of me.
Anger is not a sin. It’s an essential and healthy emotion. If we were taught to deny it or suppress it, we were taught wrongly. As Pastor Bill Hybels notes in Making Life Work: Putting God’s Wisdom into Action: “Because we don’t realize there are better options, most of us choose one of two ways to deal with feelings of anger: either we bottle them up or we spew them out …
“Bottlers are usually operating from the distorted belief that any feelings of anger are bad. Many bottlers were not allowed to express anger as children.” (This was the case for me. Any angry outburst from me would be met with an angry outburst from my mother or father.)
But – bottling anger doesn’t work very well. Again from Wybels: “Burying anger is a lot like … burying toxic waste … Bottled-up anger always leaks, and when it does it poisons our bodies, our minds, and our relationships ... (and) Many people who try to bury anger end up pouting.
“The opposite of a battler is a spewer. These people have no problem admitting or accessing their anger and no problem letting their anger fly. When it comes to expressing anger, they act like a burst dam … The writer of Proverbs was well aware of the damage spewers can do, both in terms of the harm they cause others and of the destructive patterns they set in motion.”
(Quote from Proverbs): “Make no friends with those who are given to anger, and do not associate with hot heads, or you may learn their ways and entangle yourself in a snare.” (Proverbs 22:24) There you have it! Anger, sisters and brothers, is an indication that something is wrong. It’s like the warning light in your car! It’s frustrating when the “check engine” light comes on – but when it does – it is always wise to pay attention to it. Anger is like that.
Yet we live in an age given over to anger. As Henry Fairlie writes in The Seven Deadly Sins Today: “We live in an age of wrath. It can be found in the terrorist, the kidnapper, the hijacker, the looter, and in the clenched fist of the demonstrator … We have given Wrath its license by elevating a concept of individual and human rights that is flagrantly misleading. Any felt need or desire for anything that one lacks but someone else has, is today conceived to be a right that, when demanded, must be conceded without challenge. And if it is not at once conceded, the claimants are entitled to be angry, just as a child might be thought to be entitled to be angry if (the child) is not allowed to play with a bone china plate that belongs to the parents.”
Brothers and sisters, if we become a society where every felt need or desire is perceived as a right, then anger will indeed prevail. It will infect all our souls and make us waste our days raging against every misperceived injustice. We will spend our days being constantly offended at imagined slights and imagined injuries. Evil grows more steadily within us the more we allow indignation to gnaw away at our souls. As I recall reading somewhere: “There is much more evil born into our world by people taking offense than by people giving it.”
So what might be antidotes to the poison of badly expressed anger – to the deadly sin of wrath? (One antidote: developing a deeper appreciation for beauty. Beauty may be a helpful antidote – I read recently a novel that said the only sin is to ignore beauty --- violence of our city streets may come from a lack of beauty --- the soul without beauty becomes destructive – James Hillman. Art Institute – favorite painting?).
(A second antidote): Give up the need to be right and to prove the other wrong – helpful to add “I could be wrong” after everything we say in a strong way. (A third antidote): the belief in entitlement. We believe we deserve special treatment – that we are entitled to special treatment.
Without the Holy Spirit in our lives – it is nigh unto impossible to be angry but not sin! End with a few thoughts from an old acquaintance of mine, Alain Richard, from his book, Roots of Violence in the U.S. Culture: Truth: “Nobody has the whole truth. No culture has the whole truth. (No religion has the whole truth.) Each one sees and serves only a part of the truth.”
One must “accept the risk to suffer rather than to impose suffering on others.” Sisters and brothers, is this not what Jesus did? Let us do likewise! Let us “be angry but do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.” (Ephesians 4: 26-27) And also an important message from James: “You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” (James 1:19-20) Amen!