Sermon August 9, 2015
Ephesians 4: 25-5:2 What About Anger? By June Fothergill
An elderly lady was well known for her faith and for her boldness in talking about it. She would stand on her front porch and shout “ Praise the Lord” Next door to her lived an atheist who would get so angry at her proclamations she would shout, “ There ain’t no Lord.”
Hard times set in on the elderly lady and she prayed to God to send her some assistance. She stood on her porch and shouted “ Praise the Lord, God I need food. I am having a hard time. Please Lord send me some groceries.”
The next morning the lady went out on her porch and noted a large bag of groceries and shouted < “ Praise the Lord.”
The neighbor jumped from behind a bush and said, “ Ha, ha. I told you these was no Lord. I bought those groceries. God didn’t”
The lady started jumping up and down and clapping her hands and saying, “ Praise the Lord. He not only sent me groceries, but he made the devil pay for them. Praise the Lord.”
Can anger lead us to do the right thing? Aldous Huxley once said, “ You shall know the truth and the truth shall made you mad.” ( p. 143 1001 Quotes..) Sometimes anger at injustice or evil can be a motivation for positive action. Yet, too often anger just leads to trouble and harm
In his autobiography Number 1 Billy Martin told about hunting in Texas with Mickey Mantle. Mickey had a friend who would let them hunt on his ranch. When they reached the ranch Mickey told Billy to wait in the car while he checked in with his friend. Mickey’s friend gave permission for the hunt but also asked Mickey to shoot is old, sick mule for him. When Mickey came back to the care he pretended to be angry. He scowled and slammed the door. I’m somade at that guy, he won’t let us hunt. I’m going out to his barn and shoot one of his mules.”
He ran inside the barn and shot the mule. As he was leaving though he heard two shots. He saw that Martin had taken out his rifle too.
“ What are you doing Martin/” He yelled.
Martin yelled back, face red with anger, “ We’ll show that son of a gun. I just killed two his cows.”
Anger is an emotion all of us feel at some time or other. How do we deal with it in a way that will lead to positive outcomes rather than hurtful ones? The section of letter to the Ephesians we read today looks at this question. We don’t know exactly what the troubles were in the early churches, but apparently they too struggled with what to do about anger. So what does this passage teach us about anger?
1. It says- “Be angry”
Interestingly, it tells u to acknowledge our anger. Anger is real, it is part of the human condition that we feel anger when our needs are threatened or denied. Anger can be a source of information about the unmet needs of ours other’s lives. If we are only resigned to the evils of our day, we will never do anything about them, but if we get angry, we just may.
2. The exhortation continues, Be angry but do not sin. In other words- find ways to control your anger. Don’t let the sun go down on it, don’t let it make space for the devil to work
Anger is a messenger that we can listen to and learn from about the needs and truths of our own needs and those of others. When you begin to feel the heat rise, your heart race, your agitation inside- this is not license to hurt or abuse others or to be hurt or abused ourselves. Taking time to cool off makes sense, but not so much time that anger festers or grows. Controlling anger means to find ways to deal with it in constructive and helpful ways.
Often times we deal with anger in ways that are not helpful to us or our relationships. There are lots of ideas about whether it is good to express or vent ones anger or not. As an extrovert I have discovered that talking about my anger helps me to realize I feel it and to listen to what it might be telling me about my situation. Therefore I need to have trusted persons who are willing to listen to me sometimes and not get too worried about my fretting. Other folks maybe benefit more from taking time alone to cool off and reflect alone. Still others need to find a safe way to let off steam through exercise or a sport. The point is to pay attention to our feelings of anger/ agitation and find a safe way to become calmer and able to reflect upon our anger. To listen for the message it has for us.
What do I mean by a message? Anger often indicates that you have a need that is not being adequately addressed, or that you are hurt in some way. When we listen to our anger we can often discover more about that need or hurt. When we do, we can choose to address it.
Consider an old Cathy cartoon. Cathy is a single woman reflecting on her life . She says, “ I told my boss Mr Pinkley I’d work late for the fifth night in a row because everyone else was busy.. they have spouses… they have children.. I have no one… I will save you.”
Then the next frame, Cathy scowls and says, “ Two months later I realized I should have told him my time is no less precious and that I was sick of being taken advantage of.”
I laugh at Cathy because I too tend to only realize after the fact that I am angry about something. I need to remember Ephesians wisdom that is it not good to let anger fester overlong. Listening to our anger is not the same as feeding it or letting it fester. It is rather a way to think about what we have been feeling and try to understand what we need. The same is true for dealing with others who are angry. We can choose to listen for what the need is behind the anger.
I was surprised by someone’s anger the other day at our meal. She had been talking with me about her cancer treatments and how she had survived them despite sleeping on the concrete. Then suddenly it seemed to me- she got all angry and left the table. Later I remembered and realized she had too, that she had tried and been turned down for a conestoga hut. She was angry because her need for safe shelter had not been met.
Anger is an emotion we all have. Learning to control it, to listen to its messages for us and dealing with it in a timely manner all help us to choose healthy, life giving, instead of sinful actions.
3. Ephesians also tells us that we need to tend to how you talk. “ Let no evil talk come out of your mouths” ( vs. 29) Sometimes anger can lead us to talk to another in ways we regret. Ephesians reminds us to think before we speak, to take the time to formulate ways of speaking that will build compassion and increase understanding. I have found that the ideas of Non Violent Communication most helpful in this regard.
For example this week I felt anger toward my sister and her husband. I talked to my sister on the telephone but of course I didn’t realize I was angry until I hung up and started talking to Jim about the conversation. In times past I might have left it at that- ranted at Jim a bit and then let it go. But I realized that I had another choice, I could use Non violent communication to share with my sister what I had observed about the situation, how I felt ( upset) and I what I needed and requested . I chose to do this because I love my sister and her husband and I want our relationship to be honest and loving. So, I calmed down, thought about it and called her back. I think that dong that we both understood each other better.
I think that , even when dealing with anger we can learn ways of communicating that will as Ephesians says, “ only [say] what is useful for building up as there is need so that your word may give grace to those who hear.” (vs. 29)
4. Finally, Ephesians exhorts us” Don‘t grieve God, who has made you his children, marked you for redemption.” And believes that we can “ be imitators of God as beloved children and live in love as Christ loved us.”
Ephesians reminds us that God grieves, is saddened when we chose to deal with our angry feelings in ways that harm and hurt others or ourselves. God looks at the warring madness of our world with sorrow. Yet, it is the sorrow of a cross that also offers forgiveness and a new start. It is sorrow that believes in us- that with the love of Christ in our lives, we can grow in love.
When we decide to follow Jesus, to have his love in our hearts, to accept his forgiveness for our lives, we are made anew. We are able to live as God’s children- following Jesus example. The core of this example is forgiveness. No matter how much anger we may experience in our lives, as followers of Christ we are invited to live toward forgiveness. Why? Because in Christ Jesus we are all forgiven. We may have had troubles with anger in the past, we may have even hurt others or ourselves, but in Christ we have forgiveness of our past, our sins. We can learn a new way to live. A way based upon the love and forgiveness we have received.
Surely as we turn to Christ for guidance, for inspiration, for energy, we will be able more and more to put aside the bitterness and contention that uncontrolled anger can bring and find ways to grow in being kind and forgiving and tenderhearted.
With Christ as our model and the source of our love, we have a new way to look at anger. We are able like him to be angry at the injustices of this world and yet be a source of healing a hope. In the gospels there is a story about Jesus being angry. ( Mark 3: 1-5) The synagogue leaders didn’t want him to heal a crippled man on the sabbath but even though their hard heartedness grieved him and made him angry he healed the man.
At the beginning I asked- Can anger lead us to do the right thing? When we listen carefully to the needs anger is indicating, when we learn self control, when we pay attention to how we speak and when we let Christ be the leader of our hearts and action. Then anger at injustice or evil or unmet human needs can be a motivation for positive action. We have Christ as our model for how to build each other up with forgiveness and compassion. The world may be angry and full of war, but in Christ we can learn to live another way. A way in which our anger fuels acts of love and compassion to meet the needs we see with the resources we have been given. To join together to make this world a better place!