Pastor Jim presented this sermon at Resurrection on February 13, 2011, the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany. The text is Matthew 5:21-26, from Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
A key word for today is “anger.” We all know that anger can cause all sorts of problems for us in our lives. I suspect that some of us here are better able to handle our angry feelings than are some others. It intrigues me that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus takes the time to address this topic of anger. It tells me that the folks in his day needed some divine words of counsel in order to confront a very serious practice.
Our Sunday school children today also have a lesson on anger. Two of the questions the teachers of our children in grades 4,5 and 6 are asking are these:
· What’s a way we can take the time to talk things out with someone before it gets out of hand?
· Why do you think God cares about how we treat each other?
The Sermon on the Mount could be called “Lifestyle in the Kingdom of God.” I take that to mean that followers of Jesus are expected to behave in way that honors God’s ways and not the ways of the world. So, what is the place of anger in honoring God or dishonoring God?
The Hebrew word for anger is used 455 times in the Old Testament. 375 of these refer to the anger of God. Yes, God gets angry. That tells me that anger in itself is not a bad thing. Certainly not bad since we know God gets angry.
Jesus got angry at times too. One example is found in Mark 3 when Jesus became angry at some Pharisees who severely criticized him for healing a man with a withered hand. They said he was “ working on the Sabbath.” He told them they were not interested in life but in death. Mark ends this episode by writing that these Pharisees went out and began to plot how to kill Jesus.
St. Paul writes “be angry but do not sin.” There are things in this life that must raise the ire and frustration and passion of people of faith. Can you think of some practices that really irritates, even angers you?
· The exploitation of young women and men by the businesses that exploit sex in our community?
· Knowing that a child is killed by gunfire somewhere in the U.S. every 2 hours?
· The million abortions per year in this country by folks who consider their pregnancy a nuisance or a compromise of their lifestyle?
I’d like to think that each and every one of us here, if we really thought about it, would indeed become angry about such evil in this world. I truly believe Jesus would applaud such anger and further expect us to do something about it.
What kind of anger does Jesus attack in his Sermon on the Mount? It is “selfish anger.” Anger that cares not for others or the good of the community or the honoring of God. This is anger that neither seeks nor allows reconciliation or making things better, but exists solely to make one feel righteous in his or her own feelings of being hurt or offended. Such feelings lead not to life, but lead to death in many ways.
Someone has called Jesus’ words in this sermon “some of the most difficult to accomplish they have ever seen from a religious authority.” Today, Jesus compares someone who is angry to a murderer. He says both will be judged the same way.
What? Did Jesus really say that? Is he serious? Being angry is as serious as murdering someone?
Do you remember the lessons we learned from Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms? The fifth commandment is “you shall not commit murder.” Luther helps us see that plotting and taking one’s physical life is not the only sin addressed in this commandment. “Many people, although they do not actually commit murder, nevertheless curse others and wish such frightful things on them that, if they were to come true, they would soon put an end to them…We need to have a patient, gentle heart, especially toward those who give us cause to be angry, namely, our enemies.”
The eighth commandment is “you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” This is the commandment that seems to get trampled upon every day in our lives. Luther writes, “God does not want our neighbor to be deprived of his reputation, honor, and character…This commandment forbids all sins of the tongue by which we may injure or offend our neighbors.”
What is it about us human beings that prompts anger and often times unhealthy and hurtful responses to our anger? Is there something built into us, in our brains that make us act this way? The answer is “yes.” A simple way of understanding our brains is to say that it is divided into three parts. The first is the Reptilian brain. It is automatic response that has evolved over the eons in human beings. We don’t even have to think about it. It has helped human beings survive. I touch a hot stove and instinctively my hand lifts up.
The second is the Mammalian brain, or the emotional center. It regulates emotions such as joy and sorrow, love and hate, play and seriousness. It’s overall role is to connect the rapid reaction of the Reptilian brain to the slower thinking brain, called the Neocortex. The Neocortex is the part of the brain that I think Jesus is addressing in the Sermon on the Mount, though no one knew back then about the three parts of the brain. The cortex brain allows us to evaluate danger, think through different responses, and choose what we will do. Mature persons use this part of our brain to think about options and figure out the best way to respond. We Christians are called upon to use this part of our brains to honor God and decide courses of actions that will promote harmony and neighborliness.
Let me end with a true story about anger and a better way to handle one’s anger. There was a pastor who had a chronic problem with anger. His wife and young son had often been subjected to his wild outbursts of temper. The little boy would often hide in a closet and trembled during his father’s explosions of anger. The pastor and sought and received counseling. He asked a group of friends in a prayer fellowship to pray for him, that he might gain control of this destructive anger. Slowly, God began to change him at a very deep level. One day he faced a real test of his changed temperament. He had a hobby of collecting model trains. He happened to find a 50th Anniversary Lionel train in mint condition. The price was $400. He really couldn’t afford it, but his wife, knowing how much he wanted it, juggled the budget a bit so that they could buy it. It became the jewel and prize of his collection.. Proudly he displayed it in the hobby room above the carport.
One day his little boy was playing with the train and accidentally spilled paint remover all over it. It was ruined. The little boy burst into tears, anticipating the awful explosion that was sure to come. His father came to see what was wrong. When he sized up the situation, suddenly there was unleashed within him an awful battle. But he did not explode as he had done so often before. Instead, he took a deep breath and didn’t say anything for a moment or two. Then he said to his son, “The train was very important to me, and we are both sorry about the accident. But I want you to know that you are more important to me than all the trains in the world” He embraced his son. They both wept, for different reasons. They experienced the kind the peace of God’s grace.”