It is OK to get mad if we don’t let it lead us to things that are sinful.
“Keep On Keepin’ On”
Since You Asked Sermon Series
Pastor Douglas Donigian | August 9, 2015 | Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost
Make the most of the time, because the days are evil.
Ephesians 5:16 NRSV
“Molly McDermitt awoke with a start. Her clock radio had come on earlier but she had hit the snooze button. Now it was back on after an hour delay and she was late. As she jumped out of bed she heard the radio news talking about the rising number of drug overdoses in Bucks County. Her husband had already left for work; she was annoyed that he hadn’t awakened her and more annoyed when she saw an unwashed skillet and dishes in the kitchen sink but nothing prepared for her. Getting into her car, without breakfast, to race to work, she heard shouts from the neighbor’s house. Though it was early morning, they sounded drunk and she feared for their daughter who seemed so much nicer than her parents. On the way to work she was cut off by a speeding pick-up truck whose driver cursed her out and made inappropriate hand gestures at her. Arriving at work 10 minutes late, she saw that her favorite parking space was taken by the custodian and, when she got to her office, her assistant greeted her with, “Must be nice to be able to sleep in.” Sighing, she began to work on her next week’s sermon.
At this time I would normally say that any resemblance between Molly and any real person in this room is accidental. In terms of specifics, this is true. I rarely leave dishes in the sink and Pastor Joyce rarely sleeps in. We do not compete for parking spaces at church and Lisa does not kid us this way. However, in another way, Molly is in this room. Things kept happening around her that caused frustration and anger and left her wondering how to react. We all have to deal with these difficulties.
Molly’s story reminds us of a real question posed by a member of this congregation, “As Christians, how should we react to what goes on in the world?” Especially to the frustrating or the bad or the absolutely horrific stuff around us. How does the Bible weigh in on how to react to the world? We soon find that there is not one answer. We will need the Holy Spirit’s help.
Our Old Testament reading was from the prophet Zephaniah. It was an open description of revenge. In it Zephaniah predicted total retaliation against the enemies of Israel. Israel’s survivors would attack these enemies and make their nations into wastelands. If Molly read just this and took it to heart, she would plot revenge for the dirty sink. She would pour glue on her husband’s tools and leave them in a congealed mess. Is this the Bible’s teaching?
A New Testament scripture relates Jesus’ teaching that we should turn the other cheek when we are mistreated by an opponent. If she took this literally, she would not only do her husband’s dirty dishes but also clean her husband’s tools, sharpen the lawn mower blade, buy him a comfortable sofa, and, while he reclined on it, go out and split firewood for the winter. Is this the Bible’s teaching?
If we go beyond personal encounters with family and work and neighbors, what then? We read what Jesus did in the Temple. He went in and turned over the money tables and drove the money changers out of the Temple with a whip. If she took this literally, she would carry a loaded paint ball gun in her car and plaster any offending pick-up trucks, being careful to hit the windshields so the drivers could not see to follow her. Is physical aggression the Bible’s teaching?
We have to begin somewhere. I would suggest our memory verse. It is from the New Testament but it is a paraphrase of an Old Testament psalm, number 4, verse 4. I think this is timeless. The psalm says, “Be angry but do not sin.” So this is some progress. It is OK to get mad if we don’t let it lead us to things that are sinful. So our goal is to react in a way that pleases God, not by sinning.
The reason that we don’t find one easy answer that covers everything in the Bible is context. What was going on at the time? How does it relate to us now?
We have to be careful applying scripture from the Old Testament. The vantage point of the Old Testament is that of a tribe competing with other tribes. Winning battles and taking revenge was a survival tactic then and the writings reflect that. But Jesus very consistently revealed that God did not want us to continue viewing the world as a group of competing tribes. God loves everyone, not just one tribe. Jesus forbad retaliation.
How about driving out the money changers? This was not an impulsive act of anger. A person consumed with zeal for the Temple was described in Psalm 69, verse 9. Jesus was configuring his life (or surrendering his life) to fulfil many Old Testament prophesies about God’s intentions, from being a Savior to being pierced by a spear. He was fulfilling a specific prophesy that he would show zeal for the Temple. That was his context. So we should beware of violence in our context. Jesus wasn’t giving us a universal model.
So, I would break it down this way. When we encounter a frustration, we have to figure out if it is primarily about us or if it is a much bigger problem. When Molly found dirty dishes in the sink, it affected primarily her. It wasn’t going to make the war worse in Syria. If the only thing hurt is our pride, we have to convert our anger into forgiveness and/or meaningful communication. This is the Christian way.
I don’t think this personal stuff is at the heart of the question asked by our congregation member about how Christians should react.
The question is what to do when the issue is not just our pride or our personal stuff. What about when the problem is one of oppression and exploitation and destruction of others, the poor for example, or slaves, or women, or foreigners, or children, or even animals and the environment?
Molly heard the radio news about drug addiction; this is a deep problem affecting subsistence farmers who grow poppies in Afghanistan, unemployed youth in America looking for a livelihood, organized crime connecting the dots, parents who keep unlocked medicine cabinets filled with opioid pain medications, and a thousand others. It is a monster of a problem, which makes Satan very happy.
Molly also feared for the effect of her neighbors’ failing marriage on their daughter. Even though it was just next door, it too was complex with roots in how the parents were raised, a culture that glamorizes alcohol, and selfishness. What is Molly to do? What are we Christians to do when we run into problems like this? I mean after we get mad.
First, we don’t join Satan. In other words, we don’t do the same things that anger us. If others torture, it doesn’t mean we should torture. If others exploit children, it doesn’t mean we do the same. In the case of her neighbors, Molly should not get drunk herself and go give them a piece of her mind. In the case of drug addiction, she should not join a vigilante group and assassinate street corner drug sellers.
Last week we talked about the acronym DWJD, “Do What Jesus Did”. I think this is a key.
When we see an angering situation in the world, we do two things. We focus and we organize.
This is what Jesus did. He focused on the problem at hand. If a person was lame, He enabled him to walk. If a person was blind, he gave him sight. And He healed only the person he was considering. He didn’t heal crowds with a single wave of the hand. Rather, he picked one person with one problem and worked on that. He focused.
And, He organized. He found a group of disciples and mobilized them to change the world. Most of the four gospel accounts are about what Jesus taught his disciples and how He trained them. Within 40 days of Jesus’ death, this group organized to begin spreading Christianity across the world.
So, Molly should communicate, one on one, with her husband and the church custodian about personal stuff. Among the problems of alcoholic divorce and the spread of addictive drugs, she should pick one to focus on and join an organized group or start a group to take it on.
An example of “focus and organize” here is our mission trip. Poverty is complex and it is everywhere. But what can we do about it? In this case we organized a group of youth and adults and focused on helping some specific people with great needs in Camden New York. Remember Pastor Joyce’s starfish story? The little girl couldn’t save all the beached starfish but, with the help of the crowd, all were saved. Last week sixty people worked on eight work sites. Poor families are everywhere, but we made a real difference to eight of them.
Not everyone could go on this mission trip. But everyone could pray. Some could support the fund raising events that paid the expenses. It’s all part of focusing and organizing.
So an answer emerges from the Bible about what to do when we see evil. Don’t become evil ourselves. Find some part to focus on. Support the other parts that are beyond our focus with prayer. And then organize.
Our broader question during this series is why do believers in Jesus Christ continue to attend church. This is another reason. We gather in church to enable us to organize against the evils in the world. To be angry and have an alternative to sin.
Let us pray.
Loving father. Living in Your world is difficult. The more we love You, the more difficult it becomes. We see so much that is against Your will. We see so much more to become angry about. Help us with our frustration, feelings of helplessness, and desire to get back. Help us to focus on one part of the problem and organize to make a difference. Let our church be an instrument of organization. Help everyone to know they can help. Hand-on or prayers-on, both are vital. In all cases, help us to do what Jesus did. Thank you, Lord. Amen.“