Saturday, August 08, 2015

Good and Mad - Ephesians 4:25-5:2

New Testament Lesson                                                         Ephesians 4:25-5:2

25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil.28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up,[a] as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.[b] Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us[c] and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

I am, by nature, not a very angry person. 

I am, by nature, very, very slow to become angry.

However, we all have our limits.

When I was in college, in my last semester, I worked in restaurant management.  Now, for those of you who have never worked in that line of work, let me tell you that if you work in a restaurant management position, and you work 40 hours a week, then you are working part time.

I know that I usually worked 70 hours a week, which would not have been that bad had it not been for the fact that I was still in college.  I was still struggling through my last two courses.  One was Art, which was easy.  I'd show up for class and draw or paint and then go home.

But the other class was Hebrew.  I think classes in my college were scheduled by an evil sadistic person, because my Hebrew class was scheduled for 8:00 in the morning.

I can remember one day, leaving the restaurant at 2 in the morning.  I made the 30 minute trip home and got into bed for a nap.  Got up 4 hours later and studied for my class, and then struggled to my 8:00 Hebrew class.

Right after Hebrew, I went to another class, and when it was over, it was time to rush back to the restaurant to get it ready to open for lunch.

Now on the way to the restaurant, I stopped at a traffic light.  It was red, and so I stopped.

Sitting at that red light, I realized that that was the first time in two or three days that I had been able to stop, literally, and to relax.

I had my window down, and the air was so warm and pleasant.  It was so relaxing, sitting there at that light.

Suddenly, the car behind me hit my back bumper.

I was furious!

I jumped out of the car and looked at back bumper to see how bad it had been damaged.  No damage.  I got back into my car, slammed the door and sat there, absolutely furious that the driver of the other car had had the nerve to hit MY car.

I got so mad, that I decided I wasn't going to let him get away with it.

I got out of my car and walked over to his car.  He had his window down, which made it easy for me to start having a loud conversation at him. I don’t remember what I said to him, but I remember it must have been quite eloquent, because he just sat in his car speechless.
And finally I told him, "Don't you ever even think of hitting MY car again."   (As if we were ever going to even see each other again).

I went back to my car, very pleased.  I had told him a thing or two.  And I felt so satisfied.

        Until, the other driver got his wits together, got out of his car, and came to pay me a visit.

He looked at me and asked, "What in the world is wrong with you?  You ran into me."

And then I remembered how relaxed I had been at that traffic light, which happened to be located at a slight hill.

And I couldn't remember whether I had kept my foot on the brake while enjoying my relaxing state of mind.  And suddenly, I knew he was right, I had rolled backward into him.  Fortunately, by this time the light had turned green, so I told him I didn't have time to discuss it, and so I drove away, leaving him standing there.

I suppose that there are times when all of us become angry.   The question is, what do you do with that anger.  When you hold it up against the backdrop of the Christian Gospel, what do you do with that anger?

If you’ve ever read a comic book or if you’ve been to the movies in recent years, you know the character of the incredible Hulk.  He is a scientist who was subjected to an unusual form of radiation, the result being that whenever he became angry, he would become an uncontrollable, giant, green,,, Hulk of a creature who would then vent uncontrollable rage. 

Sort of a symbol of all of us actually.  After all, who does not have within him or her the potential for blowing the stack.  For becoming angry. 

None of us is immune from anger.  We all find that there are times when our patience runs thin, or we have had all we are going to take from somebody.  If it is not our boss, then it is our wife or husband, and if not our spouse, then it is our children.  And if it is not our children, then it is the Internal Revenue Service.  Somebody, sometime comes along and does something, and we feel within us an anger.

        Anger is a terrible thing.  It makes fools of us sometimes.  We say and do things that are out of character for us.  We sometimes say or do things in anger that drives a wedge between us and those we love the most.

Dr. Low, an eminent American psychiatrist, has developed a therapy which has proven to be very successful in working with ex-psychiatric hospital patients with emotional problems.  The program is called Recovery, Inc., and it deals primarily with human temperament.  According to Dr. Low, anger is the greatest single problem in life.

What a bold statement for a psychiatrist to make!  "Anger is the greatest single problem in life."  But the Bible is no less candid in its evaluation of this destructive human emotion:  "A wise man controls his temper," says Proverbs (14:29), He knows that anger causes mistakes." (Pulpit Helps Oct 87,Vol13,#1)

        There is a great deal of self destruction about anger.

It eats away at us, it eats away at our soul.

And sometimes – you need to be angry.

Janet Pfeiffer is the author of the book “The Secret Side of Anger,” and as a certified violence counselor and motivational speaker she says that anger is not inherently negative.
It is an important and useful emotion that can be used as a motivating force to bring about positive change.
If I witness an injustice in society, my anger can serve as a fuel to create new laws. Just think of the positive use of anger over social injustice that was used during the Civil Rights Movement in this nation. 
Anger can help you stand up for the oppressed or the abused. 
And if you are the abused, anger can provide the energy for you to say, “No more!”
Time and again, we see the anger of God in the Bible.  In the Psalms, we continually see this, one example is in Psalm 7, which says that "God judges the righteous and is angry with the wicked everyday."

In the New Testament, Jesus has several instances of being angry.  Most of the time, he expresses his anger in the form of a harsh rebuke toward Peter or another disciple who is not behaving or believing the way a disciple should.

Once, however, while in the temple, Jesus became so angry that he turned over the tables of the money changers and with hastily made whips, drove out all of the commercialism from the sacred area.

In the New Testament, Jesus faces a desecrated temple, and in anger, cleanses it, restoring its holiness.

There are times when we need to channel our anger to fight for justice.  Anger can have a destructive side, but it can also be used for constructive energy.

And we still need people who are angry.

People who will look at the drugs in our community and school, and in their anger, effect change.

People who will look at child abuse, and in their anger, protect the children of our community.

There is a sense in which we NEED to get good and mad at the things around us.

Here’s the thing – anger can be a positive energy that helps bring about changes that are needed, but it is also a dangerous substance that can get out of hand. 
Anger becomes a negative force when it controls you, and you do not control your emotion.
Anger can, if it is allowed to grow unchecked, can lead to resentment and bitterness and can damage one’s relationships, health, careers, and overall enjoyment of life.

In our New Testament lesson, Ephesians tells us to be angry, but not to let the sun set on our anger, and he warns us of the spiritual dangers of anger.  In other words, anger should not be allowed to fester forever or to become a destructive force.
You have to control your anger, and set limits on it.  You can never let your anger become the controlling force in your life. 
You can let yourself be angry – for a time – but if you let anger become a permanent resident in your soul, it will lose its positive contribution and become only destructive.

We become angry because of our very human natures.

And there are times when we see the world around us and we OUGHT to be angry.

But anger is a dangerous force, with the potential for destruction.
So go ahead.  Be angry, but always within limits, and never without control.
Frederick Beuchner says that anger, of all the seven deadly sins, is the one that is perhaps the most fun.  

"To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last
toothsome morsel both the pain that you are given, and the pain you are giving back, in many ways it is a feast fit for a king.  The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself.  The skeleton at the feast is you." (Wishful Thinking p.2)

And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.
Copyright 2015. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.