Monday, August 10, 2009

Be Angry But Sin Not

The words just stuck out of the Epistle lesson Sunday [Eph. 4:26]. It started me thinking. The news was full of angry people at congressional town hall meetings about health care reform. Turn on the TV and you can hear angry commentators who scream at us about the terrible things and terrible people afflicting our American government and culture. The blog of a friend complained that "conservatives" sound like a bunch of "angry, negative, obnoxious bunch of nitpicking fault-finders." I look out at the congregation and see empty spaces where someone has gotten angry with me or with another staff person or with the congregation as a whole and shown their anger by their absence.

Anger is all around us and deep inside of us. Some of us are rightfully angry -- a just anger over injustice or offense or error. Some of us are just angry because that is who we are -- we have forgotten other responses to things and use our anger as a shield against everything and everyone. Some of us are sinfully angry -- we like to upset people and have grown accustomed to leaving a wake of wounded feelings, bruised egos, and confounded conflicts. Some of us are fearful of anger -- falsely believing that every kind of anger is sin and so we bury honest anger under a sea of enforced calm.

I recall a great presentation by an actor friend who did a one man show on Jesus. The parish I served was not so positive about his portrayal. He did not limit this Jesus to the kind and comforting words we all love. He showed the sometimes angry Jesus (cursing a fig tree, clearing a temple, etc.). One man insisted that we never bring this guy back. What he was really saying is that he did not like to think of an angry Jesus. Most preachers try to avoid the angry Jesus from the pulpit -- preferring to focus on the compassionate and gentle words of the Savior.

St. Paul says, "Be angry but sin not..." The reverse of Paul's word suggest that it is possible to be angry and not to let this anger overwhelm your mind, control your tongue, and lead you into sin. Think about that.

Anger usually leads to sin but there is a way to channel our anger for positive action. Think of the child who falls off the bike over and over again until he or she gets angry, gets on that bike, and begins to ride like the wind. Or of the man or woman who sees poverty or injustice and whose anger becomes the determination to make a difference.

Be angry but sin not... That is a prayer worthy of us Christians who stand for truth in a world of relativism, who speak for morality in a world of "do what feels good," who worship with God at the center in a world of "me firsts." We cannot afford simply to be angry at what we see around us for surely such anger is fueled by inaction to become bitterness and sin. We need to focus our anger to be a positive force.

I include my own mea culpa to letting anger be my last word instead of the beginning of an opportunity to make a difference. Imagine if we Christians channelled the energy of our anger toward engaging what is wrong around us and in us. Imagine if we Christians used our anger as a springboard to speak and act for the Truth and the Gospel. Imagine if we Christians kept our anger from turning to sin so that the Spirit might turn it to powerful witness, benevolent love for neighbor, the mutual consolation of the brethren (and sistern) through forgiveness, and the lens through which we raise up an answer to wrongs by the right of the Good News of Jesus Christ...

Speaking personally, this is one area I need to work at and one opportunity that lies right beside me... how to be angry and sin not... how to turn anger into a positive force for THE good of the Gospel... It is worthy of some prayer...

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