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Sermon for Pentecost 9, Year B

Based on Eph. 4:25 - 5:2

By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

“Anger, Sin And Blessing”

Anger....All of us are familiar with this, most common of the emotions. All of us have experienced anger ~ whether we’ve expressed it ourselves; or whether we’ve been on the receiving end of anger. And is one of the most powerful of all our emotions. People handle anger in a variety of ways: some praise it, others fear it, others deny it, others condemn it, others learn to live with it and express it in ways that are healthy and healing.

Anger has the capacity to be either destructive or constructive, sin or blessing. When anger becomes destructive, it can motivate all kinds of sin and evil: everything from wars, to murder, to assault, to rape, to all forms of abuse that destroy and violate people. Anger has the power to destroy marriages, friendships, and communities.

According to Fran Ferder, in the book, Words Made Flesh, all of us either have probably involved ourselves in or have been on the receiving end of behaviours like the following: “refusing to talk to another, sometimes for long periods; ignoring another deliberately; being verbally abusive; having temper outbursts; engaging in angry tirades; throwing things; slamming doors; holding grudges; pouting; engaging in martyr behaviour; attempting to “get back” or “get even.” All of these behaviours destroy relationships over time.”

These kinds of behaviours, in the long run, are not healthy, let alone faithful or ethical responses. These are not helpful ways to handle our anger. If we persist in expressing our anger in these ways, we shall most likely destroy the intimacy, trust, love and respect that are needed for all healthy relationships. Families and communities that deal with anger in emotionally destructive ways, drain their energy and resources, and have less in common all the time.

Some medical experts say that the changes our bodies undergo when we get angry are not very healthy for us from a physical point of view. For example, Fran Ferder observes: “Neurosecretory substances activate the hypothalamus in the base of the brain (the hypothalamus influences the physiological responses of the body). The hypothalamus secretes a chemical which activates the pituitary gland in the brain. The pituitary gland secretes the hormone ACTII into the bloodstream. ACTII travels through the bloodstream and stimulates the adrenal glands (situated above the kidneys) to secrete adrenaline and cortisone into the blood. These hormones then stimulate the various changes that prepare the body to fight.”

“Pupils dilate, making them more sensitive to light (this response is visible to the sensitive observer); respiratory rate increases and breathing becomes shallow; heart pumps faster, increasing the pulse; blood vessels constrict, elevating the blood pressure; blood is diverted away from the digestive system and sent to the muscles (many people who have prolonged anger also have chronic constipation for this reason); muscles tighten throughout the body (results in neck and shoulder soreness and low back pain if prolonged).”

“Many studies have shown, and continue to show, that poorly handled anger can lead to a variety of debilitating physical symptoms and diseases. Ulcers, migraines, tension headaches, some forms of arthritis, skin disorders (eczema, hives, rashes), tics, asthma, low back pain, neck and shoulder pain, colitis, spastic colon, chronic constipation or diarrhea, and vascular disease all have strong links to prolonged anger.”

Is it any wonder then, that the Church, in centuries past, called anger one of “the seven deadly sins?!” It can indeed kill us if we handle it in only destructive, sinful ways.

But what about the other side of the coin? How is it possible to handle our anger in healthy, constructive ways, that may even turn into blessings for us and others? Some people are of the opinion that to be a Christian means that one cannot get angry. That’s a lot of nonsense! We all get angry and, indeed, the Bible tells us that many faithful people of God also got angry.

For example, old Jeremiah was a very angry prophet. He did a lot of complaining, whining, yelling, screaming and crying. He handles his anger in a very constructive, healthy way by bringing it all before God. He is angry at God on more than one occasion, and is not afraid to let God know it either! In bringing his anger to God, Jeremiah was in the process of being reconciled with God. It made Jeremiah realize that God was with him in his very difficult situation as a prophet. It woke him up to the reality that God ~ even more than Jeremiah himself! ~ hated evil and loved good.

Our passage from Ephesians today is also another healthy, constructive way in which we can handle our anger. We are admonished to: “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

One of the first questions that came to my mind when I pondered this passage was: How is it possible to be angry and not sin? What does anger look like without sin? I believe what Paul is referring to here is not the destructive anger of rage, wrath, bitterness and revenge. Rather, anger without sin actually refers to righteous anger. This is the kind of anger that works for good, and has the potential of becoming a blessing ~ it’s usually motivated by a deep sense of justice and love.

Righteous anger, anger without sin is Jesus going with a whip and cleansing the temple to make it a place of prayer and worship, not a marketplace. Righteous anger, anger without sin is the faithful prophets of every age speaking God’s Word of truth and love to every situation of hatred, evil and injustice.

Righteous anger, anger without sin involves an active prayer-life combined with a life of committed action to change the Church and the world for the better. It’s people like Lord Shaftesbury who devoted his life to improving the working conditions of the poor and oppressed of England in the 19th century. It’s people like Abraham Lincoln, who after witnessing a black family break up at a slave auction, became determined to put an end to the black slave trade. It’s people like Nellie McLung and Emily Murphy here in Canada, working for the dignity and equality of women, and gaining the right to vote in a democratic society. Righteous anger, anger without sin is indeed one of the most powerful forces in the Church and in the world.

Another important aspect of healthy, constructive anger, according to our Ephesians passage, is that it’s short-lived: “do not let the sun go down on your anger.” According to William Barclay: “Paul’s advice is sound, because the longer we postpone mending a quarrel, the less likely we are ever to mend it. If there is trouble between us and anyone else, if there is trouble in a Church or a fellowship or any society where people meet, the only way to deal with it is at once. The longer it is left to flourish, the more bitter it will grow. If we have been in the wrong, we must pray to God to give us grace to admit that it was so; and even if we have been right, we must pray to God to give us the graciousness which will enable us to take the first step to put matter right.”

So brothers and sisters in Christ, the next time you get angry try to follow these steps to work the anger through that it may turn into a blessing: First, take your anger to God in prayer. God hears, understands and can give you consolation and healing for your anger. Second, try to work out your anger with the person or persons involved as soon as possible ~ preferably the same day. The worst thing you can do is nurse and harbour your anger for long periods of time. This is sinful, evil and destructive for you and for everyone else too. Third, try to handle your anger in healthy, constructive ways by working to make situations better in your home, at work, at Church, at school, in the world.

Finally, be a good follower and imitator of Jesus Christ: “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

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