Preacher: The Rev. Heidi Haverkamp
Preached on: May 13th, 2012
Ephesians 4:25-5:2 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labour and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Today, I’m preaching a sermon that was raffled off last fall at our Awesome Auction. The sermon requested seemed especially appropriate for Mother’s Day, because the person asked for a sermon on anger. (!)
The thing is, anger is very closely related to love. The people we love can hurt us most. When the things we care intimately about are violated, we get angry – whether it’s people we love, our beliefs or values, our bodies, our religion, our homeland. And anger is a surge of energy that gives us the power to do something about it. Anger gives us power.
The Bible warns us about the dangers of anger, but the Bible also has many windows onto something called “righteous anger”: anger that defends the vulnerable, anger on behalf of a greater good, anger that God’s purpose of love and wholeness isn’t being served. Jesus got angry; he debated the Pharisees, he confronted a dangerous group of men ready to stone a woman to death for adultery. (He saved her.)
Anger can be a powerful force for change and justice. In 1980, Candy Lightner’s teenage daughter was walking to a carnival and got hit and killed by a drunk driver. When Candy found out that the driver probably wouldn’t serve even a day in jail for killing her daughter, her fury drove her to found Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD. (Even the name proves the point.)
Anger can be constructive. Paul says, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up … so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” That’s what Candy Lightner did with her anger.
But anger can also be destructive. Not many people use their anger to make a positive change, or even to directly address what they’re angry about. It’s easier to vent our anger, so that we take it out on other people, whether in a big way or in an indirect, subtle way. Or we turn our anger inward, against ourselves, which can lead to depression or make us physically sick. Paul wrote, “Be angry, but do not sin.” Anger is ok, it’s what we do with it that makes the difference. The thing is, we’re not really taught how to deal with anger in a healthy way. Paul says, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger,” but what exactly are we supposed to do? (Especially when I find it usually helps to sleep on my anger.)
Sure. There’s exercise, there’s writing angry letters you never mail, there’s venting to a friend… But as Christians, isn’t there a more transformative option? If our model and savior is a man who died on a cross, who God raised again, shouldn’t our ideals be a little higher?
I have two Christian methods for transforming anger to offer you. (These methods aren’t for anger about serious abuse or trauma; that requires some more complex and nuanced navigation, probably with a professional counselor.) I could probably write three or four sermons on anger, but with just a few minutes, here are a few thoughts I offer.
One Christian method for transforming anger is humility. Saying to myself: I’m not the center of the universe. Or the Judge of the Universe. God didn’t create me to keep track of all the wrongs around me. I am created in God’s image, yes, but with a certain past and certain personality that means certain things are going to make me angry. The more I know about those things, and why those things make me angry, the more I can stay calm and grounded.
Humility means I take responsibility for my feelings, for my response to anger (whether I get aggressive or passive aggressive when I’m angry), and for taking care of myself, whether I’m really under threat, or… not really. Real power is not anger, but wisdom: being the master and caretaker of yourself, instead of trying to be the master of your environment; it’s the power of Jesus, instead of the power of Pontius Pilate.
The second Christian method for transforming anger is love, or empathy. I’m going to tell you a story instead of try to explain this, a story written by a woman whose writes a terrific blog called “The Momastery.” It’s a story about anger between people who love each other, which can be the most dangerous anger of all. She writes, perhaps autobiographically, a post called “Unwind,” here.
Somebody’s got to decide to choose empathy instead of anger or fear. And somebody’s got to decide to respond with humility and love. Whether you pour a glass of wine (or iced tea, for that matter) or try to imagine walking a mile in someone’s shoes, or remember that you’re no angel or superhero yourself. And in the end, empathy, love, and compassion make for a better way of life (!) than anger or fear or “looking out for yourself.”
Even though that’s a story about a married couple, you can choose empathy over anger at any time, with any person. Not while you’re still steaming – perhaps the third and fourth Christian methods for transforming anger should be “Sleep on it” and “Breathe.” You have to let the physical power of anger dissipate before you can act with integrity. But once you’ve cooled down, you can show empathy to anyone.
Not because “it’s the right thing to do,” but because your life will be better if you do. Compassion is more life-giving than anger. Caring feels good. Rage? Not so much. And I mean caring for yourself and the other person. The couple in the story figured out that by taking care of the other person, they were also taking care of themselves.
That’s Paul’s recommendation, too: “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, … and be kind to one another… forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
Love makes a better life. Pour that first glass of wine (or iced tea).
Know yourself (know yourself!) and have compassion for yourself. Because if you can’t show compassion for yourself, you can’t really do it for anyone else.
And have compassion for others, especially the ones you love most.
Happy Mother’s Day. Amen.