STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH JULY 26, 2020
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
WORSHIPPING AT HOME TOGETHER
Call to Worship Psalm 30: 4, 5 & 12
All you saints! Sing your hearts out to God!
Thank him to his face!
He gets angry once in a while, but across
a lifetime there is only love.
The nights of crying your eyes out
give way to days of laughter.
I’m about to burst with song;
I can’t keep quiet about you.
God, my God,
I can’t thank you enough.
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
We praise you Lord, for you are good. Righteousness and justice are the foundations of your throne. You rule the world in fairness. We know that we deserve your wrath. We are proud and haughty, quick to judge by our own standards and merciless to those who irritate us. No matter how much we provoke your anger, you pour out your grace to us.
You are forgiving. You came in Jesus to be the final sacrifice, dying for our sins so that we can be reconciled to you. We do not deserve such grace. We are bitter people who hold on to our anger. We seek revenge against those who hurt us. We hold grudges. No matter how we disappoint you, you wipe the slate clean and give us another chance.
You are abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you. We do not deserve your faithfulness or your kindness. We are cruel to others. Sometimes we humiliate them to their face. We are quick to join in a juicy bit of gossip. We tear down the character of another by the things we imply. We suspect the worst of others, when really, we’re projecting our own sinfulness onto them. No matter how much we break your heart, your affection for us doesn’t change.
Forgive us. Transform our hearts so that we will be more like you. Help us to love, as Jesus loved us.
As we worship today, help us to remember that where two or three are gathered in your name, you are there. Make us aware of your presence and of the presence of our church family. In the freshness of this moment, let us love you with our whole being and let us love our neighbour as we do ourselves. May we bring you glory in our words, thoughts, and actions. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon Psalm 145: 8 & 9
God is all mercy and grace—
not quick to anger, is rich in love.
God is good to one and all;
everything he does is suffused with grace.
Prayer for Illumination:
Righteous God, we welcome your Word that has the power to save our souls. Let us be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger, so that we will be doers of your Word and not merely hearers. Amen.
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny” (Matthew 5: 21 – 26 NRSV)
“You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill. “This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God. Or say you’re out on the street and an old enemy accosts you. Don’t lose a minute. Make the first move; make things right with him. After all, if you leave the first move to him, knowing his track record, you’re likely to end up in court, maybe even jail. If that happens, you won’t get out without a stiff fine. The Message
Exodus 20: 13
Ephesians 4: 25 – 32
Anger management classes are all the rage, these days. A woman recorded her journey with anger, “I wasn’t looking for an anger management class; when my friend gave me a phone number for one, I lost it. I went to my doctor. He got angry with me and said, ‘That’s it, the gloves are coming off!’. Compared to him I cope with my anger well. When I’m angry at one of my sons, I scrub the toilet – with his toothbrush. One day, my husband found a box in my closet with 3 knitted hats and $60,000. I explained that when I’m angry at him, I knit a hat. He felt smug that in 30 years of marriage, I’d only been angry 3 times. Then he asked about the money and I explained, “That’s the cash I’ve made selling the other hats”. I went on Reddit (an on-line discussion forum) to see if I do have anger issues; from what I read, I’m normal and well-adjusted. In the end, I realized I don’t have a problem. The problem is the stupid idiots around me.”
Angry people are everywhere. We find them in Walmart, the grocery store, walking down the street or waiting in line. They’re angry at home, school and yes, even in church. They’re all over sites like Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter. They’re angry if the government doesn’t do enough for society and they’re angry if the government regulates society. People get angry when others don’t agree with them; and those people get angry right back. People are angry at family members, friends, colleagues, and authority figures. Angry drivers have their own category – road rage. What on Earth are we all so angry about?
Last week in our passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declared he hasn’t come to discard The Law but to bring it to it’s fullness. In the next verses, which we’ll unpack in the coming weeks, Jesus gives us a more concrete picture of what love in action looks like. He reminds his listeners of the Commandment, “you shall not kill”. When we look at that Law in light of the other 613 Laws, we see that it really means we are not to murder another human being. The Law allowed for capital punishment. In the 10 C alone, the breaking of 8 of them incur the death penalty – idolatry, blasphemy, stoking a fire on the Sabbath, rebelling against parents, pre-meditated murder, adultery, kidnapping and perjury (not to mention the whole messy hair thing). As well, killing for the purpose of animal sacrifice was a necessity. Killing an animal to eat was a normal practise. Killing in battle was also acceptable. The Hebrew Scriptures are filled with stories of wars fought to get and keep “the promised land”. Even so, murder was not condoned. For most of us, not murdering someone isn’t that hard (a little tempting at times, but nothing we can’t handle). It’s one most of us manage to keep. Phew! But wait, Jesus continues, “I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder”. Oh, oh…
But before we explore what Jesus meant, we need to look at the big picture. There is a such thing as righteous anger. Throughout scripture we read of “the wrath and anger of God”, born of frustration with the rebellious Israelites. God is angry when Israel is faithless. God’s anger is also stoked when he witnesses injustice. Then there’s Moses smashing the first tablets of the 10 C, when he comes down the mountain to find his people worshipping a golden calf. Jesus, himself, overturned tables and smacks a whip in the temple. All are examples of righteous anger. We are meant to be angry when we see abuse and neglect. We should be angry at the injustices in society – when some people are treated worse than others because of skin colour, religion, sexual identity or social status. We should be angry when systems are biased, or our leaders are corrupt. Such things should infuriate us. As well, on a personal level, anger, like all our feelings, is a gift from God. Just as we feel fear when we’re in danger, or gratitude when we’re blessed, anger is the emotion that rises up to tell us our boundaries are being violated. We feel appropriate anger when someone humiliates us, abuses us, or takes advantage of us. These feelings are good, in that they allow us to care for ourselves with a controlled, assertive anger by saying no, walking away, going to court, or confronting the individual with the aim of reconciliation, etc. Martin Luther spoke of the “anger of love”, an anger that stands against what is harmful while stopping short of harming the perpetrator; an anger that seeks justice for the victim, while avoiding undue punishment of the violator; an anger which “hates the sin, and genuinely loves the sinner” (which, let’s not kid ourselves, is much harder to do than it sounds). So, if these forms of righteous, healthy, and loving anger are permissible, about what anger was Jesus speaking?
Unfortunately, there are many forms of anger left. Often anger is expressed by an individual in one or more of the following ways:
- the uncontrolled “tantrum” of the overwhelmed born out of feelings of powerlessness, hopelessness, and frustration.
- retaliatory anger, which in it’s positive form is an instinctual response to attack but in it’s negative form is that purposeful vengeance which “is a dish best served cold”.
- the self-righteous, judgmental anger of the morally superior who react to the perceived short comings of others in the name of justice.
- aggressive, physical anger, which is the rage of an entitled abuser, who might physically attack someone, break or throw things.
- volatile anger or a hair trigger, which controls others by causing them to walk on eggshells for fear that the outbursts will escalate to violence.
- verbal anger which is emotional abuse taking the shape of furious shouting, threats, ridicule, sarcasm, intense blaming, or unconstructive criticism.
- chronic anger which is a constant, on-going resentment or hatred towards others, circumstances, or oneself.
- passive-aggressive hostility which avoids owning and expressing feelings of anger, and so evades healthy confrontation, uses sarcasm, silence, and mockery, and leaks resentment by not cooperating.
- self-abusive anger which is shame-based. Feelings of hopelessness, unworthiness, and humiliation are internalised and expressed by way of negative self talk, self-harm, substance use, or an eating disorder. This person may lash out at those around them which then increases their sense of self-loathing. There is also a tendency to “punish” another by sabotaging or hurting oneself.
If you’ve ever lived with an angry person you know the deep damage that the inappropriate expression of anger can do. A young man I know who grew up with a volatile father said, “It took me 25 years to figure out it wasn’t me; it was Wednesday at 4 p.m. and he just felt like yelling.” A woman I know was so terrorized by her parents, she learned at a young age not only to “be good for Mommy and Daddy” but to do whatever anyone else wanted her to do – she suffered repeated sexual abuse. Even as an adult she is unable to stand up for herself. Another person lived with her mother’s verbal abuse, internalized the shame. Her life was marked by depression. Those who are physically abused relive the horror of those experiences throughout their lives, being damaged in spirit as well as in body. Jesus was right when he said that anyone who is angry is guilty of murder. Anger kills the soul.
Jesus focused on two forms of anger. Both involve verbal expressions of anger. “Raca” which is Aramaic for “an idiot” is an insult to the intelligence of another person. How quickly we can judge and dismiss another person as “an idiot.” In doing so, we take away their voice, because what they have to say isn’t worth hearing. This is an attitude of contempt. It may come from a superior view of one’s intelligence, but contempt is also a temptation when one is well born, holds a prominent position, has money and material wealth, or even beauty or talent. It is rooted in the sin of pride. “More” is a Greek word from which we get the word “moral”. To call someone “a moron” is not so much an attack on their intelligence as on their character. Whenever we gossip, besmirch someone’s reputation, lie about them, imply they are immoral, untrustworthy, or “less than”, we not only place ourselves above them, we negate their personhood, telling them they are of no value. In effect, we murder them. The story is told of a young scholar coming from his rabbi’s house, feeling rather good about his academic success. Passing him on the street, a shoddy looking man greeted the student. Instead of saying hello, the young man said, “You Raca! How ugly you are! Is your whole family that ugly?” The man replied, “That I don’t know. Go and tell the Maker who created me how ugly his creation is.” Rebuked, the young man went away knowing his pride had caused him to sin.
Jesus drove home his case by describing the punishment that awaits the angry abuser. You will be “hauled into court”, in other words a day of judgement awaits you. While few people are taken to civil court for being angry or for what they say, in the courtroom of heaven such crimes aren’t missed or taken lightly. A judgement is coming. Pride, arrogance, anger, and abuse will not be judged lightly – they’ll be tried in the same court as murder. And the punishment is equally extreme, “You will be liable to the hell-fire”. The Jews of Jesus day took their image of hell from the valley of Gehenna outside of Jerusalem. In scripture, Gehenna is translated as hell or hellfire. This was the site of the ancient rite of infant sacrifice to the pagan god, Molech. This made the site repulsive to the Jews and “ritually unclean” according to The Law, so it later became the perfect place for a garbage dump, as garbage was also “unclean”. The garbage was incinerated so the area was always smouldering. Whether Jesus was threatening his listeners with actual “hell-fire” or not, he was certainly threatening them with eternal punishment and negation. Just as they negated their neighbour, so they would be declared to be as worthless and polluted as the garbage in the dump. Killing their neighbour’s soul with anger would result in their own eternal death.
Jesus had his own “anger management” program. It consisted of controlling one’s anger, actions, and tongue. If one should fail in that regard, (and Jesus anticipated we would), they were to make things right. In the 12-step programmes one is encouraged to owning up to what you did, apologizing and making amends. Likewise, in the confessional of some denominations, one seeks forgiveness through confession, contrition, and repentance. I recall a man who had hurt someone deeply. He refused to swallow his pride and apologize. He defended this position by quoting out of context Psalm 51:4, “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight”. He argued we can only sin against God, so we can only apologize to God. But Jesus is clear, it’s not enough to get things right with God. One cannot truly be right with God if one isn’t right with one’s neighbour. As the Talmud says, “The Day of Atonement does atone for the offences between man and God. The Day of Atonement does not atone for the offences between a man and his neighbour, unless the man has first put things right with his neighbour.” It shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus takes this one step further. He teaches that atonement does not atone for the offences between a person and God unless the person has first put things right with his neighbour. Jesus suggestion is that we not even think of or pretend to appeal to God’s grace by bringing a sacrificial offering unless we’re first right with our neighbour. Reconciliation with God goes hand in hand with being reconciled to our neighbour. We are to seek out the person we’ve injured with our anger as soon as possible and resolve the incident. We do this by taking responsibility, paying back a debt, returning a stolen item, promising not to repeat the violation, fixing what is broken, telling the truth, treating the person with dignity, letting go of our anger and grudges. We are to seek peace and harmony in our relationships.
Unlike the woman at the beginning of this sermon who took no responsibility for her anger, Jesus new “law” demands just the opposite. We please God when we manage our own anger and live at peace with others. As Paul sums up, “Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life. Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart… Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.”
Questions for Reflection
When did you last encounter an angry person? When were you last inappropriately angry?
Do you feel responsible for your anger?
When have you expressed righteous anger? When has your anger protected you from harm? Are you able to express “the anger of love”?
What are your “go-to” styles of anger? Whom have you hurt? Did you own this action or justify it?
How do you negate others?
Is there someone with whom you need to reconcile? Do you need to reconcile with yourself? How is that broken relationship impacting your relationship with God?
Are you quick to reconcile or do you harbour and feed your anger with self-pity?
Offering: Lord Jesus, we give you our lives. We don’t want to give you empty offerings or meaningless promises or shallow acts of worship. We want our gratitude to be genuine and our love for you to fill our whole beings. May we show our love for you through the love we show our neighbour. May we be as patient and forgiving towards others as you have been with us. Amen.
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession
Good and Generous God,
In Jesus Christ you came to us, promising us life in abundance.
We give you thanks today for the abundant gifts we receive in him:
Assurance of your love day by day.
Mercy when we recognize our own failings.
Renewed hope when things seem bleak.
Peace that comes when we trust ourselves to your eternal keeping.
These are the gifts that matter, O God, so for all the times we experience these gifts we thank you.
Caring God, the world is going through challenging times this summer.
We pray for all whose lives seem empty of joy:
Because plans have changed, and friends seem far away.
Because hearts are filled with loneliness and boredom.
Because sorrow and grief rise up each day.
Support each person we now name with your abundant compassion:
Tender God, so many things must be rearranged because of the pandemic and what it has revealed.
We pray for those whose lives are empty of purpose:
Because they are without work.
Because they face discrimination and are devalued in our communities.
Because they have made poor choices and cannot find a way forward.
Support each one we now name with your abundant mercy and show them signs of hope:
We remember before you in silence those who lives are empty of peace and hope:
Because they struggle with illness or disability.
Because they are powerless in the face of violence.
Because bitterness rises up and patterns are difficult to break:
Support each one we now name with your abundant courage:
We are weak people who quickly give in to our anger and hold grudges.
We pray for:
All those we have wounded.
For those with whom we need to make amends.
For those who are quick to anger and who hurt people physically, emotionally, and spiritually
For those who do not know you.
Support each one we now name with your abundant Spirit of re-birth.
There are many loved ones for whom we have concerns:
Those who are ill.
Those who are in grief.
Support each one we now name with your abundant healing power.
Spirit of peace and promise come into our world to create new possibilities for every person. Good and generous God, fill us with the energy and compassion of your Spirit to reach out to those facing tough times and to reconcile with those whom we have hurt. May we become the gift we have received in Jesus for it is in his name we pray, saying…
The Lord’s Prayer
Invitation to Mission
We go from here to engage the world by living in right relationships with others.
Showing patience, extending compassion, and offering forgiveness,
we lift others up in the love and grace of Christ.
May the Triune God bless and keep you. Amen.