A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

Anger Management Sermon on Ephesians 4: 25-5:2 August 8, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on August 8, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

1 Kings 19: 4-8
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6: 35, 41-51
Young Friends message

When I was in fifth grade, my military family was stationed on Guam. It was not the most stress-free environment for a 10-year-old. Living on an island in the middle of the Pacific, in the middle of the Cold War, isolation from family, basic supplies rationed, lack of many amenities that one takes for granted on the mainland, disease was common, and even school was very different. We went to school off base, in a building that had concrete walls, tin roof, louvers instead of windows, no air conditioning, the door to the classroom opened straight to the outside, and families took turns providing a box fan for the classroom. The school property had been clear cut out of the jungle, so finding a jungle critter in your classroom or desk was not uncommon. Yes, kids are resilient and yes, I was a hyperaware, perfectionist, intuitive kid who was very stressed out. So basically, this personality you see before you today in a child. It was not good times for anyone in my family.

One day we were taking a test in my fifth grade classroom, and there was a breeze coming through the louvers that repeatedly blew my paper off my desk. After about the fourth or fifth time, I had had it. I snapped. I took my paper, tore it up into little pieces and stomped over to the trash can and threw them away, muttering under my breath with each step. My teacher, Mrs. Lucio, was stunned. Needless to say, my parents were called in with the concern that perhaps I needed to learn a little anger management. I remember being made to do a research paper on stress. I’m not sure that helped. But it did make me aware for the first time in my ten short years that stress was a thing and it was not a thing I was handling well. And this was when my dad introduced me to running. Unfortunately, what my ten-year-old self took away from that experience was that anger was bad, something to be pushed away, and a cause of shame. I spent a lot of years in my life thinking that I wasn’t allowed to be angry, which ironically, made me angry. It really hasn’t been all that long in my adult life that I’ve reconciled that anger is an ok emotion, just as all our emotions are neither good nor bad, but just are. What’s important about our emotions is how we act or don’t act on them. Or as theologian Father Richard Rohr says, “pain that isn’t transformed is transmitted.” Hurting people, hurt people.

What I also didn’t learn until I was an adult, is that anger is a secondary emotion. Anger often masks other emotions such as fear or sadness. Anger is a response to any other emotion. Anger can seem less vulnerable than admitting your sad or scared. Anger is part of our armor that we hope protects and separates us from what is sad or scary. It’s also one of the phases of grief. Clearly, I wasn’t angry at the wind or the test. I was grieving that my life wasn’t what I was used to living in the US. I was moving through the phases of grief, the shock of a different culture, the denial that I couldn’t force my life to be the same, anger that I couldn’t control anything, bargaining wasn’t even a possibility for my young self, and yes, eventually some acceptance that there were gifts in this phase of life too. This wouldn’t be the last time I moved through these waves of grief, and I have learned to recognize them a bit sooner. And I have learned to recognize when others are grieving. That recognition of someone’s grief allows my anger to be transformed and can lead me to come to the comfort and aid of others. Anger can be transformed.

There’s a lot of anger in our society right now because we’re a grieving society. And it’s ok. We have a lot to grieve, I would affirm. We’re going through the stages of grief around a virus, racial injustice, economic stress and more. So, we’re angry. We’re angry at the people denying the virus and the science. We’re angry that some people are willing to bargain their own convenience over the health of others. We’re angry that people aren’t willing to care for and love their neighbor. We’re angry at the exposed wealth and equality gaps. We’re angry at the death toll. We’re angry that we can’t even grieve, come together as a community for support and love the way we are used to.
So. what do we do with our grief: with our shock, denial, anger, bargaining for what can’t be, and get to some reconciliation or acceptance of what is? I don’t have a prescriptive plan for you such as five ways to deal with your grief or an anger management program. I don’t think a research paper will help this heart problem. But here’s what I do know: we are created in God’s image and called to imitate God our creator. You might recall from the biblical witness that God gets angry too. And we don’t have time today to dig too deeply into some of those traumatizing and problematic stories, and yes, the Flood narrative is difficult, the plague of the killing of the first born is horrific, the exile stories are puzzling, and my intent this morning is not to deal with the paradox or gloss over it but simply to say yes, those are hard stories and yes, God’s anger is real. I would offer that perhaps even God recognized that God’s anger wasn’t always handled well. But here’s the good news for us on imitating God: For God so loved the world. God’s anger always kindled greatest when we were harming each other, not loving each other, and separating ourselves from one another and ultimately God. But God never stopped loving us or creation. God never gave up on relationship with us, God didn’t use anger as an armor to separate from us. God’s anger was transformed by God’s love. God’s love for us moved God past anger, to covenants with God’s people over and over. God sent Jesus to be the final promise of never letting us go. And yes, Jesus got angry too, flipping over tables and systems that harmed people. God never tolerates oppression, harm, separation, or evil. Never. So, when we are admonished to imitate God, we are to love the world, both humanity and creation, with tenacity.

We are to take our anger, our grief, and allow the Holy Spirit to transform us to act out of love for our neighbor. We recognize our own waves of grief, so that we can support and empathize with others in their waves of grief. We are in a scary time, which is why we are angry. And God accepts us just as we are, imperfections, anger and all, and loves us. God doesn’t want our anger to cause us to sin against our neighbor, God wants our anger to open us to love and care for our neighbor. Our anger moves us to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger and foreigner without conditions, house the homeless, ensure clean water and air for the next generation, and act for the care of all creation. That is eternal and abundant life. Life together, messy life together, fully accepted by God who loves the world. This is our baptismal promise from God. That our grief, our anger is held and transformed by God’s love.

We are going to practice letting go of anger, allowing it to transform our hearts and continue in our process of imitating God. You have a card in your bulletin, and if you don’t, please raise your hand and one will be brought to you. Take a moment and write what is making you angry right now. Then you can tear it up, and place the pieces in the font. God promises to accept our anger and transform our anger into love for the world.

 

God Loves Each Piece of Us Sermon on Matthew 5: 21-37 Epiphany 6A February 16, 2020

This sermon was preached on February 16, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. The texts were:

Deuteronomy 30:15-30
1 Corinthians 3: 1-9
Matthew 5: 21-37

Children’s sermon: Gather the children up front. Have a simple puzzle for the children to put together. I have a puzzle here and I’m wondering if we can put this together. (Have one piece that doesn’t fit.) These are a lot of pieces and it looks like this one doesn’t fit. Sometimes our lives are like that. We have all of these pieces of our lives that seem to go together and they make sense and then we get an odd piece that we just don’t know what to do with and it we try and try and make it fit, and we get mad, frustrated and worry that there is something wrong with us that we can’t make this  piece fit the way we want to. Well, our bible story is like that today. We just read pieces of what we call the Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount-Jesus was teaching the people about God like we teach each other about God here each Sunday and anytime we get together. Jesus’ sermon was much longer than what I try and talk and it seems like he was talking about a lot of different things, which I try not to do, but you know…the Sermon started two weeks ago with the Beatitudes, then last week we had salt and light-both really nice things to think about. Well, this week we get more pieces of the sermon and they don’t seem to fit the rest of it! Jesus is talking about some hard things that we don’t like to think about like anger and hurting each other and lying to each other. Do you ever get angry? Have you ever tried to convince someone that a lie was the truth? Have you ever hurt someone’s feelings or made someone lose something? Yeah, we’ve all done those things-all of us! And Jesus knows it. Jesus knows that there are pieces of our lives that we don’t like, that don’t fit, that we don’t like to talk about, that make us feel bad about ourselves. But here’s the thing: Jesus loves every piece of you. All of them-the ones that fit and the ones that we think don’t fit. With God, all of our pieces fit together to create a picture of God’s love to share with everyone we meet. Here’s the piece that fits….Jesus says when we can admit to hard stuff and deal with it, we all fit together better. Here’s a puzzle piece for you to take home to remind you that Jesus loves every piece of you. Let’s pray:

I don’t know about you, but there are pieces of my life and of myself that I just don’t know what to do with. Pieces that are disjointed, incongruent, don’t fit for some reason or another. I’m a complex human that way, I guess. Such when I was a teacher I could have all the patience in the world with the children in my classroom and then I would come home and wasn’t always as patient with my own! Incongruent pieces of me.

We continue through the Sermon on the Mount today and we get these four seemingly random pieces of discussion from Jesus. The scholarly term for this section of the sermon on the mount that starts here in verse 21 and goes to the end of chapter 5: is the “antitheses.” Jesus says, “you’ve heard it said…but I say to you.” And it might seem that Jesus is overruling the law but if we look deeper that is not really what’s going on. Jesus is being antithetical but not to God’s law-Jesus is being antithetical to human hardness and sin-which is anything that separates us from God and each other. Jesus deals head on with the pieces of how our lives together that make us uncomfortable, cause us to squirm and make us wonder if we just should have read the psalm today and been done.

But our lives don’t work that way. We don’t get to pick the pieces of our lives that we like, are comfortable with, can easily explain and make fit. Jesus names pieces that we would prefer to be not named, to be hidden and brushed aside. Jesus says: hey maybe you might notice that big hole in your life where you can’t quite get anything to fit into. Well, God has something to say about that hole.

Jesus wants us to live together, all the different pieces of us, as one, in wholeness, unity and love. This means reshaping our piece to fit with our neighbors. Anger, adultery, divorce and swearing oaths are as relevant today as they were 2000 years ago. When we are angry with someone, it’s akin to murder Jesus says. Anger kills any chance of relationship, of working together, of love growing, of God’s people as salt and light for the world. If you know truly angry people, people who walk around angry about everything and everyone in their lives-then you know someone who is in hell. It’s not a place where God sends us in the afterlife, it’s a place we create for ourselves when we separate ourselves from God and each other. When we choose to not see people created in God’s divine image, we have decided that our judgment is the only one that matters. Humility to ask forgiveness, Jesus says, is the antidote to anger and to build relationships. Jesus takes the pieces of us that lean toward anger and soften our hearts to our siblings in Christ.

And then there are pieces of humanity that have haunted us since the first people knew that they were unclothed, and Jesus wants to free us from that history. Adultery and divorce are about more than just an action: it’s our understanding of how we are connected and how we care for each other. In Jesus day and if we’re honest we still live in remnants of this, women were property. Women were objects and women caused men to do things-men had no responsibility or accountability when it came to adultery and divorce. In adultery, women were scapegoats. Jesus does a radical move and says that men have responsibility and accountability over their actions, women aren’t the issue, perhaps the piece that is missing is that women should be seen as created in God’s image and are beloved with value, agency and dignity. People aren’t to be used, they are to be cherished as God cherishes us.

In matters of divorce, women had no voice or agency, either. Mosaic law allowed for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all-from dinner was burned to they didn’t produce any sons-and women had no recourse. And women couldn’t divorce their husbands no matter how unhealthy and abusive the situation might be. The reality was that if a woman didn’t have a husband, she had nothing, literally. No place to live, no security, no protection.  Often the woman’s family wouldn’t take her back in and the most common result was that she was destitute and many resorted to prostitution, which is adultery: we see the cycle. And still today there is a negative economic reality to divorce. Jesus reveals that the law was affirming that relationships matter, that we are to care for one another, and we don’t discard someone casually in order to just be with someone else. Now, I want to be clear, there are healthy, good and important reasons for marriages to end and Jesus isn’t saying that staying married is what matters. Divorce is a reality, as relationships are hard, complex and messy. What Jesus is turning upside down is that the law was never to support any human social patterns, such as patriarchy and misogyny, that harm, denigrate and devalue any piece of the body of Christ. Jesus reveals that God’s will is for those who are vulnerable to be centered as an important and equal piece of God’s kingdom.

The more our words, thoughts and actions fit together the better. We shouldn’t need to swear an oath for people to know that what we say is what we mean. Lies and manipulations don’t fit in God’s kingdom. God’s words and actions are clear, congruent and lovingly true and this is what we should strive for as well. Not for ourselves but so that our neighbor knows that we can be trusted with their well-being, that we aren’t looking out only for ourselves. We handle our anger with humility, we don’t use people for our own gain, or treat them as objects, or discard them thoughtlessly and we walk the walk we talk.

Jesus takes all these hard pieces of our lives and helps us to put them together, not individually but as a community to be a part of God’s p-e-a-c-e. When we can trust all the hard pieces of our lives to God, we then will live in God’s peace that passes all understanding. When we join our pieces together, we live into God’s bigger picture: God’s desire for wholeness, love, care, mercy and hope for all people and for creation. God names us blessed, salt and light and as integral pieces in God’s mission and work here on earth to bring about the kingdom where no one is separated from God’s love, where people know their value and are treated with dignity and worth and where we all, creatures and creation fit together in peace. Thanks be to God.