Sunday, October 26, 2014

Let Go of Sinful Anger

Yoda said “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”  And Yoda could have been talking about the movie Frozen.  Elsa’s fear of losing her sister Ana, led to the explosion that you just saw which ultimately led to the entire kingdom falling into a deep freeze and all the troubles that came from that point on. 
This week the staff attended the Global Leadership Summit and one of the speakers was Joseph Grenny, one of the authors of “Crucial Conversations”  the subtitle of the book is “Tools for Talking When Stakes are High”  Elsa should have been in that session
And if we were honest with ourselves we can track many of our problems in life back to the root of anger. 
Because you are angry with someone or something you do something that you later regret.  You are working at something and it isn’t doing what you want it to do so you get angry with it and so you yank too hard and you break it.  You get angry at your child, spouse, sibling, parent, employer, employee and you say something you wish you could take back.  And you can’t take it back, those words that are said in anger are always remembered.   And you are thinking “But they said they forgave me.”  Yep, but that doesn’t undo the hurt, you can’t unring the bell.
And so you would expect me to say “Let Go of Anger”.  After all  most people would say that anger is bad, that we should never get angry.  It was Buddha who said “Anger will never disappear so long as thoughts of resentment are cherished in the mind. Anger will disappear just as soon as thoughts of resentment are forgotten.”
While Peter O’Donnell wrote “Anger and worry are the enemies of clear thought.”  And Ralph Waldo Emerson   offered us excellent advice when he wrote “For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.”  And here are words of great wisdom from Ambrose Bierce, “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”   I’ve given those speeches. 
The bible even weighs in on the subject when Solomon wrote in Proverbs 22:24-25 Don’t befriend angry people or associate with hot-tempered people, or you will learn to be like them and endanger your soul.   And again in  Proverbs 29:22 An angry person starts fights; a hot-tempered person commits all kinds of sin.
And most of us think of anger as a “Sin”.  “Forgive me because I got angry” we pray or we tell the person on the other end of our anger “I’m sorry I was angry.”   
And so you would understand if I preached on “Let Go of Your Anger”.  But then we have to deal with passages in the bible like Psalm 7:11 God is an honest judge. He is angry with the wicked every day. Or in the New Testament John 3:36 And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment.”
And we look in the bible and we see Godly men and women who get angry.  And maybe we can understand Moses getting angry, and David getting angry and Jonah getting angry, after all they were people like us. But the bible tells us that Jesus got angry, and you are thinking “Not Jesus, Jesus hugged children and cuddled lambs, Jesus told us to love everyone and turn the other cheek, no preacher you’re wrong Jesus never got angry.”  Yep sure did, he got angry with the Pharisees he got angry with his Apostles and in a story that is familiar to all of us one day he got so angry about what was happening in the courts surrounding the temple he turned over tables, set animals free and chased people with a whip.
And so now we have this dichotomy to deal with.  We perceive anger to always be wrong and to be sinful behaviour and yet we see Jesus acting in a way that seems to be angry and he was without sin.  And there are multiple instances in the scriptures with God being angry, and that is the word that is used “angry” not a little put out or mildly annoyed but angry. 
Perhaps the truth lies in the words of Aristotle who said “Anyone can become angry -- that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way -- this is not easy.”
So here are some questions we can ask ourselves about Anger and perhaps we can find some answers in the Jesus story.
What makes you Angry?  And probably I could get a whole range of answers here.  Some would be appropriate and some would be wildly inappropriate.  A few years ago there was a story in the news about a guy in Ontario who was charged with road rage.    
Someone had cut him off in traffic, I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but he chased the guy down and then forces him off the road with his truck, rams the offending vehicle a couple of times and then grabs a chain saw and threatens the other driver with it. 
Do you get angry in traffic?  In the parking lot?  In the supermarket when someone cuts you off with their cart?  Do you get angry because of the way people treat you?  Because of some slight, either real or imaginary? 
Do you remember when Jesus cleared the temple of the money changers?  Why was Jesus angry?  I think there are a couple of reasons, the most obvious is found in   Mark 11:17 He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”
He was angry because people were disrespecting God’s temple and making a mockery of God’s rules.  What was supposed to be a Holy place had become an everyday place, what had been set aside as a place to worship God had become a place to worship money.  And because of that people’s relationship with God were in jeopardy.  And that made Jesus angry.
That was why Jesus was upset with the Pharisee; they were putting religion ahead of people and putting roadblocks between people and God.  Once when Jesus was teaching some parents tried to bring their children to him to be blessed and his disciples scolded them for interrupting Jesus while he was teaching and then we read in Mark 10:14 When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children.”
When people and churches stand between others and God that should make us angry in the same way it made Jesus angry.  
When people are more concerned with their preferences and their comfort rather than reaching out to those who need Jesus, that is a reason to become cranky and when people and churches that call themselves “Christians” do a disservice to Jesus’ name and nature by being rude and bitter, that should make us angry.
But there was a second reason that isn’t as obvious but just as valid, and I understand that this is speculation but I think Jesus was upset over the fact that those who were supposed to be leading people to God were taking advantage of them. 
These were pilgrims who had travelled a long way to be able to worship God in the temple and they were being ripped off.  Historians tells us that the same dove that was being sold in the temple court yard could be purchased outside the temple for a fraction of the price, but coincidently the same people who benefitted from the sale of the doves inside the temple were the ones who had to inspect the ones from outside to make sure they would be suitable.  Can you say “conflict of interest”?
And the temple tax had to be paid in a certain currency, the principle had been laid down that the tax was paid for the upkeep of the temple, and that was a good principle the temple needed to be maintained and that needed to be paid for by those who used it.  But then the principle was distorted and became a burden.  Because now it wasn’t enough that the right amount be paid but it had to be paid in the right currency.  So while other currency was used outside the temple the priests insisted on a certain type of currency.  When the pilgrims came they had to get their money changed.  And if it was a straight exchange then the rate was about 20% but if you needed change back the rate doubled.  And so Jesus was angry because people were being taken advantage of.
What was happening was legal, but was it right?   Personally I think Jesus would be a little cranky over what happens in the name of business and commerce in our society today. 
When companies ask the rank and file to make wage concessions and give up benefits and then give their executives million dollar bonuses, I can understand the anger there.   And I don’t think it would be billion dollar bailouts that Jesus would have had in mind for the big banks and Wall Street, just saying.
But here is a rule of thumb, If you are getting angry over your feelings or over your stuff, you are probably getting angry over the wrong things. 
Understand that Jesus didn’t lose his temper, he got angry.  Which leads us to the next question.
How Do You respond In Your Anger? This is a matter of time and degree.  Sometimes people get angry and their response is way over the top.
The guy with the truck and the chainsaw in Ontario, that was probably not the best way for him to express his anger. 
 If you lash right out you have probably reacted the wrong way.   Which is why Thomas Jefferson cautioned people “When angry, count to ten before you speak. If very angry, count to one hundred.”
Again, let’s look at when Jesus chased the merchants and money changers out of the temple.  In Mark’s account we discover that Jesus had actually been there the day before, Mark 11:11 So Jesus came to Jerusalem and went into the Temple. After looking around carefully at everything, he left because it was late in the afternoon. Then he returned to Bethany with the twelve disciples.   And then we pick up the story the next day Mark 11:15 When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. 
So you understand what must have happened, right?   He must have seen what was happening, he left, thought about what was happening  and figured out what his response should be and then came back. 
John’s account of Jesus in the temple comes at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and there has been debate over whether it was the same incident or a separate incident, and I can say categorically it could have been the same incident or a separate incident.  But there is a neat line there in John’s account.  John 2:15 Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables.   I wonder in that account if the taking the time to braid the rope together was his way of counting to ten.
If you find yourself reacting immediately in anger, you are probably in the wrong.  You are letting your anger control you instead of controlling your anger, which is why the bible tells us in Ephesians 4:26-27 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil.
Ephesians 4:26-27 NIV “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.  Presumably when we let ourselves be controlled by anger that is when Sin gets a foothold. 
But Paul doesn’t stop there he tells us to deal with it right away, and not to let it fester in our lives.  Because if you’re like me you’ll lay awake all night pressing the replay button over and over again.
It was Phyllis Diller who said “Never go to bed angry, stay up and fight.”  I’m not sure that is what the Bible had in mind. 
But understand this; if you aren’t controlling your anger then your anger is controlling you.
So, you need to find out how you are supposed deal with what makes you angry.  Remember when the disciples wouldn’t let the children come to Jesus and he got angry?  What did Jesus do?  Did you yell at them and call them jerks, no he taught the disciples what their correct response should be and then he blessed the children.
What can you do about what makes you angry?  How do you correct it, how do you deal with it?  Can you be part of the solution?
The other thing to note is that there was no personal violence in Jesus’ response, granted he set animals free and scattered coins but there is nothing to indicate that he struck anyone, that he hurt anyone.
Martin Luther King Jr. was angry, Mahatma Ghandi was angry, Timothy McVeigh was angry and Osama Bin Laden was angry.  Two will go down in history as heroes two will always be villains.
The scriptures don’t tell us not to be angry but they do warn us in Ephesians 4:26-27 NIV “In your anger do not sin”
Do You Understand The Price Of Your Anger?  There is an old saying that there is only one letter difference between “anger” and “danger”.  There are people who will go to jail because of their anger.  There are people who lose their lives because of anger, on both sides.   Because a man was angry in Ottawa this week he is dead along with an innocent man.
I can’t count the marriages that I have watched dissolve because of an angry spouse.  Sometimes situations where there was abuse but often just times where the other partner just got tired of the anger and venom that was being spewed. 
People have lost their jobs because they were categorized as an “angry person” and people lose friends for the same reason, nobody wants to be around someone who is always angry at something, even when that anger is justified.
But there is also a cost when we are angry in the right way.
Jesus got angry over what was happening in the temple, and he responded after thinking about it and without violence.  And the result?  A lesson was taught, not just for that specific point in time but for the next two thousand years.  The temple courts were cleared at least temporarily and I’m sure that some of those who were chased out examined their motives. 
But what else happened?  Mark 11:18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
This was the tipping point in Jesus’ ministry. 
The lives of African American’s were changed irrevocably for the better because of the anger of Martin Luther King Jr.  India’s future was changed because of the anger of Ghandi.  And King and Ghandi paid the price with their lives.
You get angry over abortion, or poverty or social injustice, or people disrespecting God and his name and voice your anger and there will be a price to be paid.  Chances are that you won’t be killed, but it might be the way people view you, or it might be a promotion or it might be contempt.
But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t get angry about those things, it just means that you need to be aware that there is often a price to be paid.  Remember the words of Edmund Burke who wrote “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” 
Anger has been the catalyst that has changed our world for the better.  One of my favourite quotes comes from George Bernard Shaw who said  “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the word to himself.  Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
It is when people get angry over social injustice that we see change, it’s when people get angry over the environment that people begin paying attention.  Seriously if it wasn’t for angry environmentalists big business would still be pouring poison into the air and cars would still be burning leaded fuel and getting 15 mpg.
At the Global leadership Summit we heard Allen Catherine Kagina who is the Commissioner General of the Uganda Revenue Authority, which is like our CRA or the IRS in the States. She said that she took the position because she was angry.  Angry that the URA was known as a Den of Thieves, angry that the taxes that Ugandans were paying weren’t providing what they were supposed to.  Ten years later the URA is now a model public institution for developing countries around the world.  And more than that it is an institution that the people of Uganda trust. 
It was when Martin Luther got angry over what he saw as the failure of the Catholic Church that the reformation began. 
After all the founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley got angry over child labour and the founders of the Wesleyan Church go angry over Slavery.  But it can’t be repeated enough: Ephesians 4:26-27 NIV “In your anger do not sin”
While we understand these normal human experiences of anger, Christians need to ask the question—when is anger righteous, moral and appropriate?  And how we do we respond?  And so this morning I would challenge you to “Let Go of Sinful Anger.”

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