Hell Hath No Fury
Grace United Methodist Church
August 9, 2009
Ephesians 4: 25-5: 2
25So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not make room for the devil. 28Thieves 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. 29Let 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. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
In New York City this past week a taxi clipped a red Beetle while veering across four lanes of traffic to pick-up a fare. The two drivers got out to examine the damage. The cabbie was a short and rather feeble man; while the Beetle driver could aptly be described as a hulking giant. As the cabbie approached, the Beetle driver grabbed him by the shirt and hoisted him off the ground. There, at eye level with the cabbie’s feet dangling in the air, the Beetle owner began incessantly screaming at the cabbie, with every third sentence or so being, “This is your lucky day!”
Eventually, the cabbie was lowered back to solid ground, but then the Beetle driver asked, “Don’t you want to know why this is your lucky day?”
Before the cabbie could even get his mouth open to respond, the Beetle driver answered his own question, “Because I’m on my way to anger management class and I don’t dare show-up with blood on my shirt!”
I’m sure that each of us can think of times in our lives (probably several times) when we have been consumed by anger. Our faces get red; we clench our fists until our knuckles turn white, and in cartoon-like form we can almost feel the steam shooting out of our ears. Anger is a natural human response. No matter how hard we may try to avoid it, there are going to be times in our lives when we get angry. Even Jesus got angry; remember the episode in the Temple when he turned over the tables of the money changers? Then there was the time when the scribes and the Pharisees were watching to see if he would heal the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath day. Jesus got angry on that occasion too. It is not wrong for us to get angry, but how we deal with that anger is important. Paul recognizes this fact, and in this passage from his letter to the Ephesians, Paul has offered some advice on anger and sound living – how we are to relate to one another in the midst of anger, when anger might be appropriate, and the things we should remove from our lives so as to avoid provoking anger or malice.
Paul’s concern is urging the church at Ephesus, and all of his readers, to live in unity as the body of Christ. Jesus Christ has come and brought a new order. We have this new covenant, which requires of us a new life; the “old ways” are no longer acceptable, Christ requires something new of the church. In the preceding passages, as we heard last week, Paul urges the Ephesians to “live a life worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called,” always striving to maintain the unity of Spirit in the bond of peace. Still, the concern is maintaining the unity of Spirit in the bond of peace, but now Paul is looking beyond the broad strokes of our call from God and speaking to the very specific actions and behaviors of people. First, Paul tells us, we should “[put] away falsehood” and speak the truth to one another. Also concerning our speech, Paul writes to the Ephesians that evil talk should not come out of our mouths, but only what is useful for building up. Again, Paul’s concern is the building up of the body of Christ. Thieves should give up stealing, and rather they should work honestly so that they will have something to give to the needy! Isn’t that a novel concept?!? Next, Paul tells us not to grieve the Holy Spirit, which is a really fancy way of saying very generally, do not sin. In all things, we are to put aside our former behavior and behave like the new persons in Christ, which we are as his body, the church.
Then, finally in this passage, Paul speaks on the topic of anger, which comes up at different intervals throughout this section. We are instructed to put aside all bitterness, malice, and wrath, wrangling and slander. We should not let the sun set on our anger, nor should we dwell in our anger such that we hold grudges or in a spirit of vengefulness are led to sin. When our anger is selfish or uncontrolled, it becomes a sinful and hurtful thing that tears down and rips apart the body rather than building it up. Instead, we are to work for the good of all members of the body; to be tender and kind to one another, forgiving each other as God has forgiven us. That’s what all of these instructions from Paul are leading to, we are to imitate God; to offer ourselves in sacrifice as Christ sacrificed his own life, and above all to love as we are loved by God in Christ Jesus. And sometimes such love and compassion may even lead us to feel angry.
“Wait!” we say, Paul has just told us to put aside all anger. But sometimes, even Christ got angry; and, if you recall, at the very beginning of this passage, Paul says, “Be angry, but do not sin.” There is a time when anger is appropriate, when we should be consumed by rage; such a time as when we see that the body of Christ is been torn down and ripped apart rather than being built up, such a time as when we see the money changers robbing people blind in the very house of the Lord. We indeed should be hurt we hear people lying or speaking disparagingly about others, when we see people stealing or taking unfair advantage of another. Out of compassion, we should boil with rage whenever we see injustice in this world; when the sick are turned away from hospitals because they do not have the resources to cover their medical bills, when the homeless are arrested for loitering in the streets and charged a $50 fine. We should get upset when the poor are forced from their homes to make room for the latest gated golf community, or when we watch a bucket at a water park dump thousands of gallons of water every 30 minutes while halfway around the world, a child in Uganda fills a water bowl from the trickle of a rusty pipe. These are the things about which we should be angry, and in love and compassion, we should act! When our anger is selfless and we are able to transform that into compassionate service to God’s kingdom, then it becomes a great, life-giving force in the midst of a hurting world.
Think of the anger of the God who sent plagues upon Egypt that the Israelites might be delivered from bondage. In anger, a young priest, fed up with the works righteousness of the Catholic faith, nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany. With millions of Jews being thrown into mass graves, anger struck the hearts of many, who carefully hatched plots to remove Hitler from power. Remember the tired anger of a woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who was told at the end of a long day that she must stand and move to the back of the bus. There was the rage of a few passengers on a commercial jet bound for Washington, D.C., who discovered that their beloved country was under attack and they were captives in one of the weapons. “Let’s roll!” they said, saving the lives of countless masses, even as their plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.
Throughout history, anger has been channeled in very powerful and life-giving ways; these are only a few examples. Just a few hundred years ago, the slave trade was going strong. The forced bondage was a bleak sight, and yet it was trade; it was commonplace and widely accepted at the time. But there were those who saw the hurt of those slaves, and their hearts were filled with compassion in the face of a great injustice. Inspired by the faith of one another, and compelled to act, two men in England began to fight to end slavery, even as they showed love to those who suffered in its midst. Their work led to the ending of slavery in England in 1833, but it also resulted in the hymn Amazing Grace, which tells of God’s great grace in the midst of even the vilest of human behaviors. This is amazing grace, love and compassion at work in the face of horrific injustice.
Certainly, many injustices have been reversed as people infuriated by the wrongs of society have been compelled to respond to God’s call and act in love and justice. But injustices continue even today, and in the face of that, we seem to be separating ourselves more and more from God in Christ Jesus rather than seeking him more fully in our lives. God’s grace will always prevail, even in the face of injustice. And when we see such injustice, we too should be inspired to act in grace and love as Jesus did. In love, Jesus sent out the twelve disciples “like sheep into the midst of wolves,” so that the lost might be saved. In grace, Jesus dined with tax collectors and sinners. In compassion, Jesus defied the scribes and Pharisees and healed the sick on the Sabbath. Jesus cast out demons in the midst of angry crowds, and he taught about offering forgiveness rather than judgment. In mercy, Jesus offered a meal to his disciples, including the one who would betray him and the one who would deny him. In great love, Jesus hung on the cross and asked God to forgive those who had put him there.
Hell hath no fury like the body of Christ filled with love and compassion in the face of injustice. Paul tells us that we indeed should be angry in the face of unjust circumstances, perhaps even consumed in rage. But Paul also instructs us that in love and compassion, we are to respond. We cannot sit idly by and expect that things will just magically change; that all people around the world will have access to clean water, or that AIDS will just suddenly disappear. We cannot in malice hurl insults and slander at one another and expect that is going to do any good. We cannot simply assume that when school starts in a week here in Soddy Daisy, that every child will climb onto the bus each morning well-fed. We must unclench our tightened fists and put our hands to work. We are to imitate God and love as Jesus loved. We should use our words and our abilities to work at addressing the injustices of this world, just as Jesus himself did. We should use our own resources of time, gifts, and money in this community to help those in need. And above all, we should seek to shape our whole lives after the example of Christ – to forgive as Christ has forgiven, to love as Christ loves, and to strive for unity and wholeness in the body of Christ until that day when God’s name is proclaimed with joy the world-over!