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
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.