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Righteous Anger

As I said before, I don’t generally preach about the Pauline Epistles.  This isn’t due to my ambivalence about Paul–it’s mostly due to the fact that Paul tends to preach fine on his own; he mostly doesn’t need my help.  (In fact, he’d probably object to it.) Paul’s letters are essentially theological discourses connecting the basics of the Jesus story with concrete experiences or problems in the life of the community he addresses.  So sermonizing on them today is slightly redundant, I feel.

However, we have now entered what feels like Week 75 in the Great Johannine Ode to Bread, and at this point, I will take whatever opportunity arises to talk about anything from the pulpit besides the benefits of carbs.  (Side-note: what does the writer of the Fourth Gospel have against the gluten-intolerant, anyway?)

So, last week, I held forth about the occasional benefits of anger.  Enjoy.

Rev. Megan Castellan

August 12, 2018

Ordinary Time, Proper 14

Ephesians 4:25—5:2

  • Bless your heart as a common expression in the South
    • Denotes pity, scorn, possibly outright shaming, but all in a socially acceptable way.
    • You disapprove without disapproving.
  • There is no similar expression in the Midwest.  Closest one can come is a lengthy silence, and the suggestion that you, yourself, have failed.  Coupled with ANOTHER lengthy silence.
    • Basically, there’s really no socially acceptable way to express disagreement. It is not done.***
  • Similar to the case for many of us, in Church, I suspect.  
  • For here there is a rumor that to be a Christian is the same as being ‘nice.’ ‘Agreeable’
    • That the 11th commandment is to Be Nice at all costs, come what may.
  • I think this was based in a good place—surely the heart of being Christian is to love one another.  But over the years, we have seen the command to love be turned into a command to be polite, to be nice….And that is a very different thing. 
  • So today, as we read the letter to the Ephesians, the instruction to Be Angry, but do not sin, might take you by surprise.  It did me.  
  • The writer (we don’t think it was Paul, but it was someone claiming to be Paul, and people back then didn’t stress about copyright the way we do.) is writing a group letter to the newly-formed church in Ephesus, in what would become Turkey.  
  • Ephesus at the time was at the crossroads of several major shipping lanes, so people from all over were passing through, coming and going, and here, a new church had sprung up.
  • The letter then is basically a Welcome to Christianity! Here’s What You Can Expect! pamphlet.
  • The other letters deal with specific situations or controversies—usually Paul is telling someone why they’re wrong, or trying to solve some theological muddle.  Here, the writer is just trying to explain what a person might want to know if they were just starting out and getting their bearings.  What the church was for, what salvation looked like, how to relate to others, those sorts of things.
  • Basic Church 101
  • And of course, in any community of people, especially different people, from different places, with different expectations, there will be conflict.  So are the new believers supposed to just pretend like everything is fine?  Nope.  “Be angry, but do not sin.  Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.”
  • In other words, have disagreements, but dont’ let them run the ship.  Don’t let them fester.  And don’t let your anger control you, or force you to do something you regret.  
  • But anger, in and of itself, does not seem to be a problem.  At least not when it is controlled.
  • It’s worth noting of course that Jesus seems to have gotten angry a fair amount. 
  • There was that time he got mad at those selling things inside the Temple, and he chased them all out.  
  • There was that odd time he got mad at a fig tree that didn’t have figs on it, so he cursed it. 
  • We definitely know he ranted against the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of his day, and looking at the language he used (whited sepulchres! Blind guides!) he was probably pretty angry when that happened.
  • In contrast to the mild-mannered Jesus of hazy paintings, really, he got fired up a fair amount.  
  • But what’s interesting about Jesus’ anger is a few things:
    • 1. that he never directed his anger towards anyone else’s harm.  He got mad at people, and occasionally at things, but he did not hurt people.  
    • 2. He was made angry consistently by injustice.  
    • Jesus becomes angry at the religious leaders when they don’t live up to their own words; he becomes angry in the Temple when he sees people being taken advantage of
    • Jesus becomes angry when he sees injustice that hurts people
    • One way to understand anger is what emotion results when a boundary is violated. So, when someone breaks one of the understood rules, hurts someone else, violates that boundary, then anger is that feeling of frustration that results when we witness that. 
    • in that sense, i would say that there are situations where anger is called for.  
    • We are called to be angry when we witness the helpless being hurt, when we see the meek being trampled, or the rights of the poor being taken away. 
    • When we see that the justice of God is still a long way off, we are right to be angry. 
    • Some situations surely call for it.  There are times when politeness and niceness won’t cut it. 
    • Then, the question is what to do with that emotion? It can be scary, especially for those of us raised in a world where anger was discouraged at all costs.  
    • Anger is fine, but we cannot let it rule us. 
    • It is a momentary reaction, but not a trustworthy guide. 
    • Anger, channeled improperly, usually turns into resentment and bitterness. 
    • The thing we have to remember is that anger at injustice is prompted at the beginning by love. 
    • love of others. Love of the world. And hope that things could be better. 
    • Anger can flash in the moment, and provide momentary motivation, 
    • But our core must always be this love. Because this love tempers our actions, and centers us on God’s path for us and for our world. 
    • In the end, anger is not capable of bringing us to Christ. Love is. 
    • So we must allow our anger to point us back to this love, and not distract us from it.  We must use our anger as a warning and a messenger, and not as a way of life. 
    • Anger that stems from love and returns us to love; anger that ultimately inspires us to fight for all God’s children—this is a righteous thing.  
    • The path of Love that Christ calls us to doesn’t just ask us for niceness or politeness.  There are times in our broken world where, in order to reckon truthfully with what is happening, anger is called for.
    • But, in the model of Jesus—so anger at a situation, at a system.  Not at a person, and not leading to violence or hatred.  Anger as an inspiration to further work for the wellbeing of all. 
    • Its the anniversary of the events in Charlottesville, where members of the neo-Nazi and white supremacist communities killed a woman who had gone to spread a message of love for all people.  Surely, anger at her death is justified.  
      • But let that anger move us to work for greater love for all God’s children.  Let that anger move us to work for an end to hatred and an end to white supremacy.  And let that anger remind us that the path of division and bigotry ends only in death, whether it be physical or spiritual.  

And may we use our anger as the gift that it is to walk together further down the path of Christ’s love.

***ETA: This was what I said at the 8am.  However, a wise parishioner reminded me afterwards that there IS in fact a Midwest equivalent of sorts: a tight smile, and saying “Awwwwwww” then pausing for maximum effect.  The subtlety of Midwest scorn is unparalleled.  It should be studied.

About megancastellan

Episcopal priest, writer, wearer of fancy shoes.

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