Let me tell begin with Pastor Miles, a controversial figure. His supporters described him as an enthusiastic and spirited speaker, but his critics called him angry and overly emotional.
In his congregation there was a really sweet, calm lady who spoke softly and never got excited about anything. But Pastor Miles’s sermons were usually a little much for her, and often she would say to him after the service, “Now, Pastor Miles, you need to calm down.”
One Sunday after a spirited sermon on racism the woman pointed a finger in Pastor Miles’s face and said, “Pastor, don’t you know that good news and anger don’t mix together?” Pastor Miles protested, “But if even Jesus got angry. One time he got so mad he threw the money changers outof the temple.” The woman replied, “Yeah, I know, but that’s one thing I don’t like about Jesus!”
A lot of people don’t like that kind of Jesus –knocking over tables and screaming, going into a full-blown rage consumed as he was, “by the zeal of the Lord,” as John would explain years later by quoting prophet Isaiah. We don’t like it because many of us are uncomfortable with any expressions of anger, let alone in Jesus.
Aren’t we taught to be nice? Never raise our voice, always keep in control, wear a smile. In fact, good manners require that we handle our anger by letting our stomach get tied up in knots and by looking the other way and making believe we have no problem when there is a problem. After a while, when the bomb eventually explodes, and we all get badly hurt, we regret not having dealt with our differences the moment they began to show in our emotional radars.
It seems to me that this “good manners” attitude may not be as Biblical as we say it is, that it is more of a cultural value that may well go against what God would love to see in his children. After all, the Bible is a book about angry people and about a God who quite often loses his temper.
In the Old Testament we find many references to the “wrath,” or extreme anger, of a loving God — maybe living a true life means at times that we will display wrath? Remember that moment when Moses came down from the mountain carrying the Law and he found his people in the valley below worshiping a golden calf? Moses threw the tablets to the ground, breaking them in many pieces, and then he ground the golden calf down to fine powder, poured it into the people’s water and made them drink it. “His anger burned hot,” says the Bible.
And what about most of the Old Testament prophets? Quite often they had anger in their hearts.
And what about Jesus? — Yes, Jesus too! Jesus was clearly angry when he turned over the tables and chased the money changers out of the temple. But also, when he cursed the fig tree and when he called the Pharisees and the Scribes snakes and whitewashed tombs, which occurred quite often.
There are in the Gospels several incidents where what Jesus feels is described as plain “anger.” Just an example, this “incident” we just read about in the Gospel of Mark (3:1-6), about a man with a paralyzed hand who comes across Jesus in the synagogue – and Jesus heals him, yet la crème de la crème of the religious establishment accuses Jesus of healing on the Sabbath, of breaking God’s law.
And Jesus gets really mad at them, for God does not stick to a pre-established, rigid agenda when someone needs healing.
During our Lent Bible study, we discovered that Jesus’s ministry was, to a great extent, a ministry of relentless confrontation with folks who felt threatened by his message of grace – the same folks who would crucify him. If Jesus got angry, and if God can at times be called a wrathful God, then it seems that getting visibly angry may not always be sinful.
Let me explain — there must be some good that can come out of heated, angry encounters – wont’ you agree? There are times when anger can help us change for the better. It wasn’t until our black communities here in America became enraged with the Jim Crow laws and this country took to the streets in protest that major civil rights legislation was enacted.
Sometimes it takes one spouse to get angry and stand his or her ground before any changes get negotiated in a marriage – you know that.
Anger can be a powerful tool for change. The key, my friends, is discerning, and training ourselves to be crystal clear about what to grow angry at, and how to process that anger. Maybe the most honest daily prayer we can offer to help us deal with our anger is to pray, “Lord, help me to love what you love and hate what you hate.”
Friends, whether you like it or not, anger can’t be avoided – we all know that. It runs so deeply in our DNA. To live in community means we get angry along the way, because things aren’t always done exactly the way we would like them to be done. People say or do things that hurt us, and we say or do things that hurt someone else –and we all make enemies.
Sometimes is just the tone of our voice — at least eighty percent of our day-to-day conflicts are caused by the way we say a word. The problem is anger tends to escalate to the point of becoming sinful. In this destructive, dehumanizing sense, anger is a very dangerous business, and it must be handled with care. “Handled with prayer,” Jesus would say.
Jesus once said that whoever is angry with his brother or sister is liable for judgement. Whoever insults his brother or sister saying things like, “You fool!” and meaning it, has one foot in Hell! To yell and to scream at those we are angry with is the first step in the escalation of anger. God wants us to become peacemakers, and peacemaking takes guts and restraint.
One of Nelson Mandela’s closest friends, himself in prison for more than twelve years during the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa, said: “There are those times when we need to remember Jesus standing up to all the anger that has ever been poured out in this universe. Yet Jesus opened his arms big and wide, and he took it all in, he took them all in, he took us all in. He suffered all, and with an iron-hard-will strengthened by the anger he felt towards all this injustice, he showed cosmic restraint. He let the cycle of violence end right there. He could have cried out for an army of angels. Instead, he said the only thing that could offer the only hope of turning all these enemies into human beings and maybe even into friends of God — “Father, forgive them.”
Unresolved anger, my friends, is de-humanizing and deadly — it closes us off from others, it hardens a part of our own heart. But forgiveness is life-giving, creative, it opens us up to others. When someone is angry at you, remember, beneath every angry face is a hurting soul. Always look for the hurt and help them heal it.
And when you are angry with someone, don’t deny it. Use your anger – work with it constructively.
And never forget Paul’s words in his letter to the church in Ephesus: “Be angry, but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger and do not make room for the evil.”
A few months ago, I heard a sobering story. A man was being tailgated by a woman who was in a hurry, and when he came to an intersection, he hit the brakes to avoid a sudden red light. The woman behind him went ballistic — she honked her horn at him and yelled and gestured her frustration in no uncertain terms.
While she was in mid-rant, a policeman taped on her window. To make the story short – she was taken to the police station, searched, fingerprinted, and put in a cell. After a couple of hours, as she was released, the arresting officer said, “I’m very sorry for the mistake ma’am. I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, using bad gestures and bad language and then I noticed the ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ bumper sticker, the ‘Choose Life’ license plate holder, the ‘Follow Me to Sunday School’ window sign, the Christian fish emblem on your trunk. So, I asked myself, could this “Christian” woman be the owner of this car? So I naturally assumed you had stolen the car.”
Friends, the world gets pretty tired of people who have Christian bumper stickers on their cars, Christian fish signs on their trunks, Christian books on their shelves, Christian stations on their radios and TVs, Christian jewelry around their necks, Christian videos for their kids, and Christian magazines for their coffee tables but don’t actually have the life of Jesus in their bones or the love of Jesus in their hearts.
What about us? Next Sunday we’ll further explore this topic – anger — and consider some practical steps for transparency and conflict resolution, and, above all, what it means to learn to welcome forgiveness.
In the meantime, let’s try to remember before God, in our hearts, someone who is angry with us, someone we may be angry at – and let us pray for his or her secret hurt.
Let us pray for discernment – let us ask the Holy Spirit to show us what we can do to bring about reconciliation. To claim for ourselves and for the entire world that same attitude we can see in Jesus Christ, who loved us and will love us to the end, regardless.