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Thursday, March 30, 2006

For Midweek Moorings at my church, based on the book we're reading: The Moral Teachings of Jesus by Mary Foskett...
Anger and Reconciliation: Part I

I was given the choice of when I would like to speak during this Lenten series and chose to speak tonight because I thought it would be a convenient week for me. Not to mention that all the easy topics like marriage, integrity and wealth were already taken. My choices were Loving One’s Enemies or Anger and Reconciliation.

So I chose Anger and Reconciliation because the timing seemed better for my schedule. And besides I’m usually angry at my enemies anyway, so it seemed like either direction I went I was bound and destined to address anger.

Had I had free reign over any topic in the world to speak on tonight, suffice it to say, anger and reconciliation would not have been in my top five.

That may be why when I mentioned to a friend that I was speaking on anger and reconciliation, she burst out laughing before hiding her amusement and wishing me good luck.

You see, I get angry.

Anger is something I’m good at.

I’m good at singing and preaching and teaching and writing and scrapbooking and throwing parties but I’m also very good at getting angry.

Poverty makes me angry. Pollution makes me angry. War makes me angry. 50 year old textbooks still being used in schools makes me angry.

But somehow these issues of anger are not what I feel the text tonight is hinting at. They rather fall into a category of righteous anger mostly attributed to God but a just anger that we as participants in God’s kingdom may have as well. This is anger that speaks out against injustice. Anger that is validated by Moses against Egypt, Amos against Israel, and Jesus against the moneychangers in the Temple.

But I’m good at other types of anger too. I move from being angry about issues of poverty and race to being angry about “people who”…

People who bully others make me angry.
People who beat their spouses and children make me angry.
People who tell racist and sexist jokes make me angry.
People who don’t tithe make me angry.
People who don’t recycle make me angry.
People who litter make me angry.
People who don’t use their turn signals make me angry.

And you can see how my anger has now taken a turn away from issues to people.

But it gets even more personal when the offense offends me personally.

In seminary preaching classes students get told a variety of things. And I don’t know what Roger teaches at the Episcopal Seminary, but these are some of the things I heard: put a little bit of yourself in your sermons…but not so much that you incriminate yourself! Allow the way you wrestle with a text to be seen by your audience…but don’t be too vulnerable! Share about your struggles in life, but don’t drag your family into the pulpit!

What?

That’s not incredibly helpful. And there are personal stories that I would like to share with you about why I am angry, but I don’t really think you need to know all that and I sure don’t need to rehash all that. But I will tell you this, I am angry about some things that I have yet to let go of.

I have experienced the grief of adultery on a personal level.
I have experienced the pain of sexual abuse on a personal level.
I have been hurt by Christians and churches whom I trusted on a personal level.

And these are all situations in which my pain took a turn from me being hurt to me being angry.

Anger.

It is a complex topic.

And Jesus addresses this issue in Matthew 5:21-26 and following. “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment.”

As a friend of mine would say, “Oh snap!”

Because although not all of us have gone the “Lizzie Bordon took an axe gave her mother forty whacks” route in life, we may think as Jesus begins “do not murder…”, “Yeah, yeah, I’m not a murderer. Get to the good stuff about peace, love and happiness. I totally dig that stuff.” And lest we get all high and mighty, ready to put on our crown and add the jewels, Jesus catches us in our pride and says, “even if you are angry…you are liable to judgment.”

And the crown comes off, the stones are dropped, the smiles recede and our fingers fold before our faces.

Father forgive us, for we don’t know what in the world we are doing.

And as if calling us out on our anger weren’t enough, he reminds us specifically of the way it manifests itself. “If you insult a brother or sister…if you say, ‘you fool!’…”

Oh great. I love that. I love being told I’ve made bad choices and then receive the list of every specific time I have.

You idiot! How could you be so dumb?
You pig! I hate you!
I should have known you’d do that.
Why can’t you be more like your brother?
I wish I’d never married you!

Then there’s the more subtle insults that arrive in prettier, wittier packages like sarcasm. As if it weren’t enough that we have to insult others, but then we have to do it with an air of superiority.

We’ve all felt the skin-splitting lash of a tongue and we’ve all dished it back out. Sometimes not even out of hatred… our motives are not all impure, but perhaps just out of pain. From our hurt comes our easiest defense as we attempt to build a wall around our already scarring selves. We get angry.

And according to Mary Foskett, when we do this to others, we become less human. Page 48 “humans are called not only to reflect God’s way and God’s being, but to become more human by doing so.” And then on page 63, “To allow anger to reduce a person to caricature and degradation is dehumanizing. Murder, anger and hateful speech all hold in common a way of seeing another person as something less than a human being.” Murder, anger and hateful speech impede our own journey toward full humanness found only in following Christ.

See murder and adultery and false witness and all these other things are easy to identify and point a finger at. They are public problems. But just as Jesus gets the Pharisees with their supposed righteousness, he gets us just as well.

As Foskett says, “the playing field is leveled” for all have fallen short of the glory of god. There may be millions of us who haven’t committed murder but none of us who haven’t been angry. King and peasant, priest and parishioner are all put back in their rightful place of unrighteousness when Jesus makes these revolutionary statements. Because Jesus came to fulfill the law, he calls us back to the ancient code of loving God and loving each other. The law is not about our obedience. It’s about our hearts. Jesus takes these hot topics and turns the tables, moving beyond the law to our hearts.

If you really believe that we are all children of God, don’t tell racist jokes to your poker buddies. If you really believe that we all deserve the grace of God, don’t cut down your co-workers.
If you really believe that we are all made in God’s image, don’t focus on your children’s faults, but on their beauty.

Don’t.
Don’t.
Don’t.

And I’m already back to laws and away from the issues of the heart.

Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, and let go of your anger. Could there be a harder or higher calling?

How? How? How? I ask. How do I not harbor anger toward a brother who left my sister for another woman? How do we let go of the anger of feeling abandoned by a parent, spouse, friend or church? How do we rid ourselves of the anger that fuels our dinner table discussions and keeps us seething in bed at night? How do we find freedom from the anger that may not drive us to murder our enemy, but at least give him a good punch in the gut?

I don’t know.

There are people who have been released from their anger towards another. Sometimes it took years. Most of the time it took God. It took a God kind enough to change our hearts and grant us forgiveness should we be willing to take it.

And so I listen to their stories of healing. And I pray. I re-read scripture. I try to repent. I try to remember what I ever loved about that person and if I can summon that forth again. I try to keep my mouth shut so if the anger isn’t gone yet, it’s at least not spewing forth poison on everyone around me.

But mostly, I wait. I wait on God. I listen for God even when I hear God is silent. I cling to God because I know that I do not have the capacity within myself to make my anger go away. I do not. We do not. And so we wait for God to make us more human, more like Christ. And when we do this, God is faithful. And the sticks we see in others are flushed out of our own eyes as well. And eventually we learn to see with the eyes of God and though justice may not reign on earth, neither will our anger.

So we pray.

Amen.

On your table is a question for you to discuss. You’ll have a few minutes to wrestle with that and then we will address part 2 of tonight’s text.

Questions: What is the relationship between getting hurt and getting angry? What has helped you overcome anger in your own life? Does “time heal all wounds” or is there more to absolving anger than just time?

Anger and Reconciliation: Part II

Okay, so Jesus has addressed our anger and the way we use it not necessarily to murder but at least to hurt others. But the second part of this passage deals more with anger that others have against us. So let’s take a look at that.

Verse 23 and following “When you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go: first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”

Foskett says Jesus’ twist on the scenario “puts responsibility for initiating reconciliation at the feet on the one who has been wronged.” Certainly this would pair well with Jesus’ later remarks on turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, subversively putting our offenders on the defense by our change of character.

Now, its been my experience that rarely are others angry with me that I am completely without fault. But sometimes because situations get so tangled and miscommunicated people become angry with us and truth be told, we don’t know how or what provoked them to such resentment in the first place. Foskett shares with us a story like that. Maybe they are angry with us because they feel we are guilty because of who we associate with. That happened to Jesus often enough. It happens a lot with cliques in high schools as I’m sure our teenagers could atest. Sometimes, we represent something, an idea or cause that angers others and causes them to direct their anger towards us.

And other times we are completely guilty for the anger we have incited in others and we need to make that right.

And it’s at these times, all these times, whether we feel guilty or not, we need to stop our routine of going to church, attending Midweek Moorings, participating in Sunday School, volunteering at Oak Springs, and go to the person we know is angry with us and start the reconciliation process.

Now that’s never very easy either. If I feel I’m not guilty of the other person’s anger, I feel compelled to defend myself to them which usually results in more anger on their part. If I know I have wronged them, then I have to suck it up and ask for forgiveness. Either case is difficult and we risk making matters worse if we don’t watch our motives. But presenting yourself to someone who harbors anger against you is nevertheless step one of the reconciliation process.

Okay fine. Go to them. Now, what’s step two?

Jesus doesn’t tell us.

He doesn’t tell us what to say or do, how to make things better, what actions to take to humble ourselves or convince the other person we’re sorry. We don’t get much more than “stop what you’re doing and take the first step.”

But as Foskett reminds us, this step “is necessary to overcome the brokenness that intrudes upon proper communion with God.” Abundant righteousness she describes the direction the sermon on the mount’s overarching theme: abundant righteousness. And so, in Foskett’s words on page 55, “If we are the ones who harbor anger, we are to address our own feeling of animosity directly.” Write in a journal, seek professional counseling, pray, read scripture, wait on God. “If we are on the receiving end of someone else’s enmity, we are to have enough generosity and wisdom to disarm the other’s ill will by taking the first step to reconciliation. The way of the Kingdom allows no room for self-righteousness. The playing field remains level, no matter what side of an offense we find ourselves on.”

None can claim to be righteous.
None can claim to be good.
For none are good but God.
And none are good but through God.

Amen.

On your table is another set of questions for you to discuss. You’ll have a few minutes to wrestle with those and then I'll close us out in prayer.

Questions: What have you found to be a helpful strategy in approaching others you know are angry with you? What doesn’t work well? If you have taken steps toward reconciliation and they seemingly have failed, how do you keep from getting “angry right back”?

4 comments:

jenA said...

good for me to read today, thanks. I think sable is the color I want; shall I call this weekend with my cc#?

Sam Davidson said...

Revolutionary. Absolutely revolutionary.

Jake said...

Good stuff, Ann. Makes me want to read and hear more from you. I'm wondering a little about any anger you might have toward conservative evaangelical Christians. I am one - though like to see myself as thoughtful and listening to my emerging church siblings. A civil conversation could go a long way toward reconciliation in that realm - more civility from both ends. I'll enjoy coming back to read more of what you have for us all.

Summer E Ward said...

Amazing thoughts, Ann.

In therapy, we encourage the expression of anger, because when we can express and process it appropriately, we move through it, to the deeper, core feelings that anger is masking, like insecurity, self-loathing, fear, deep woundedness and sadness over ways we have been hurt. Therapists believe there is ALWAYS something underneath the anger.

Just some additional insight from your psychotherapist friend:-)