Sermon March 4, 2018

“A Holy Place for Anger”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
John 2: 13-22
March 4, 2018

Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.– John 2:15i

My brother was punched in the eye. He had taken me to his high school’s football game. Our father was going to pick us up after the game. I was around ten at the time. I don’t remember the game. I do have a vivid memory of a chain link fence, three or four guys approaching and the punch Doug took in the eye. I remember him crying and having no clue what I was supposed to do. I just watched.

Our Dad arrived to find my brother cupping his eye and crying. My Dad was livid. He wanted to know who had done this. It was impossible to know. So many people. So much confusion. Our Dad didn’t care. Someone had injured his son and that someone wasn’t going to get away with it. There was a police officer was folks cross the street safely. So my Dad marched over to him, told the officer what had happened and demanded that justice be done.The officer listened politely and told my Dad that at that time, he could do nothing to help. That is not what my Dad wanted to hear and let the officer know it. Walking away, his eyes still darting back and forth, I was just glad he never found out who had done this!

I tell you all this because I have a question. Was my father’s anger a sin? That is the question before us this morning. Is anger sinful?

“Of course not,” is the short answer and since we’re in church, let me give you the theological reason. Our text. If Jesus was without sin, if He was not deserving of death, than He cannot have sinned. And I will tell you this. You will never convince me that Jesus didn’t get angry. You don’t make a whip and use it, you don’t call misguided religious folks a brood of vipers, you don’t scold your own disciples with harsh words without being angry. Did Jesus get angry? You bet He did. Did Jesus sin? No. That is the theological truth of the matter.

But religious folks don’t like anger. We can handle respectful, civil discourse, but if we’re honest anger frightens us. Anger so often makes civility seem impossible. We fear people will be hurt and do something destructive. They may leave the church in a huff. They may say something about someone in the church that causes bitterness and hurt feelings. Oh, we’d rather avoid anger.

And there is some wisdom in its avoidance. People often get hurt. And the nature of anger can be likened to an electric stove. Turn a burner on high. It glows red with heat. Turn it off and it takes a few minutes before it is again safe to the touch. Anger has been known to have the same effect. I have said things to my children that I never would have said if I had not been angry. They were hurtful because I meant them to be hurtful. Oh, I regret it now. I should have been a better man, a better father, but in the literal heat of the moment, I lashed out.

Maybe I’m just preaching to myself. Maybe you have never had your anger spill over into behavior that was injurious in word or deed. A couple in a former church told me they had never uttered an angry word to each other. (Yeah, I know. It’s hard to believe.) I am not like that couple and I am presumptuous enough to think you aren’t either. We will get angry. What we do with that anger is what carries moral consequences. Right? It’s not the feeling that is right or wrong. It’s what we do the feeling. You can’t help but get angry from time to time. It happens. What you do with that anger is what you control.

And let me suggest that there is a holy place for anger. Read the prophets. They railed against governmental corruption, indifference towards the poor and religion that was empty of God’s Spirit.

Isaiah places these words on the lips of God:

15 When you stretch out your hands,
    I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
    I will not listen;
    your hands are full of blood.
16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your doings
    from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
17     learn to do good;
seek justice,
    rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
    plead for the widow.

(Isaiah 1:15-17)

And Micah pleads for us to listen:

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
    and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

(Micah 6:6-8)

The prophets were angry because they knew the immeasurable value of faithfulness. And we, too, must be the same. One in thirty child in America is homeless. 3.1 million children live in food-insecure households. 14.5 million children in the U.S. live in poverty. Are we to think that as we come to this table in the season of Lent that God is not angry over the plight of our children?

So when Jesus overturns the tables of the money changers and drives livestock and merchants from the Temple, He is angry. And so, too, must we be when justice is abandoned for a false sense of peace. My friends, there is a holy place for anger. The moral question is what we do with it. Let us pray…

iJohn 2:13-22 

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.