Sermon for August 8, 2015, by Vicar Toby. Crossposted from here. Texts: 1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34:1-8; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51
"Be angry, but do not sin." "Be imitators of God, and live in love."
What is the place of anger in the life of a Christian? Since we are called to be “imitators of God”, we could also ask: what does it mean for a loving God to get angry? What does divine anger look like?
In the Christian context, I think anger is most often associated with fire and brimstone: we are sinners in the hands of an angry God! We need to confess our sins and believe in Jesus, or face the wrath of God!
In contemporary American Christianity, we very often find this idea of an angry God used against our LGBTQ siblings. Many years ago, before I was a Christian, and before I knew anything about Christianity, that was my #1 image of Christianity: Christians preaching fire and brimstone at gay people, telling them that an angry God would condemn them to destruction if they did not repent of their sexual orientation.
This is still the image that a lot of people have of the church.
In more liberal churches, we spend a lot of energy reacting against that kind of Christianity. At First Trinity we have a big sign in front of our building saying that that's not what we're about. I find that people in liberal churches like ours are usually very uncomfortable with the idea of divine anger. In large part this is a reaction to the “fire and brimstone” style of Christianity. "If that’s what divine anger looks like, maybe it’s best to do away with it!"
Instead of the image of an angry God, we emphasize that the God revealed in Jesus is first of all a God of love, grace, and mercy. And this is true. This is the image of God that we want to keep. And it's a good image.
But sometimes we end up trying to get rid of the idea of divine anger, godly anger. And I think that’s a mistake.
* * *
In our passage from Ephesians, we also read: “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up”
Is there a kind of anger that is useful for building each other up?
We are much more familiar with anger that is destructive, that tries to cut other people down. Anger against poor people, racist anger, sexist anger, anger against foreigners and immigrants.
I think the kind of anger that cuts people down, instead of building them up---this bad, sinful kind of anger---comes from an attitude of scarcity.
Scarcity is the idea that there isn't enough. That there's never enough. I think this is the problem.
An attitude of scarcity leads some to say, sure, poor people don't have enough, but neither do I! If we give too much help to people who are poor, there will be less for me. So we need to take away their Medicaid, food stamps, heating assistance, so that I can have what I need.
An attitude of scarcity might lead us to say: there's not enough work to go around! There aren't enough jobs! If foreigners and immigrants have jobs, then I won't have a job, and the people I care about won't have jobs. So we need to take the jobs away from Mexican people and Chinese people, and make sure that people like me have jobs instead.
An attitude of scarcity leads us to say: why are all these new people coming into our neighborhood and our community? They don't act like we do, they don't talk like we do, they don't look like we do. They're different from us. If they keep coming in here, it won't be our community anymore! We need to keep them out, so we can have our community.
This is the kind of anger, driven by fear of the other, that is sinful. It leads us to cut each other down, instead of building each other up.
It's driven by the idea of scarcity. The idea that there's not enough.
* * *
But Jesus frees us from all this sin.
Jesus frees us from the fear that there's not enough. Jesus frees us from our bondage to the idea of scarcity, and he replaces it with the promise of abundance.
Jesus is always replacing our fears of scarcity with the promise of abundance. Jesus is always replacing our fear that there isn't enough, with the promise that there is enough, that there is more than enough.
In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus tells us that he is the bread of life. Eternal life. The life of the world.
He is talking about life without limitations. Life that does not run out. Life that is enough, and more than enough.
In Jesus, we are freed from the fear that there isn't enough.
This can be hard to believe! The world is always telling us that there isn't enough. In this congregation, in our community, many people have experiences of "not enough"; many people have been made to feel threatened by others around them. The world is always telling us that we need to be fearful of other people. The world is always telling us that we need to react with the anger that cuts other people down, so that we can protect ourselves.
The world is always telling us that there isn't enough.
The world is always calling Jesus a liar!
But it's the world that is lying to us. And Jesus is the truth. There is enough, and more than enough. For everyone.
* * *
Is there a kind of anger that is useful for building up other people, instead of cutting them down? Is there a kind of anger that springs forth from this divine promise of abundance?
Yes. The right kind of anger, the godly kind of anger, the anger that does not sin, is to be angry at all the powers of the world that defy God, the powers of the world that call Jesus a liar, the powers that say that there isn't enough.
Tomorrow there is another Moral Mondays action. Once again we will be calling for Governor Rauner and his billionaire friends to repent from the budget cuts that threaten the lives of so many people in our community, and across the state. And I think we should be angry at Rauner and his billionaire friends. But I don't want this to be the kind of anger that cuts them down, and takes away the things they need. I want this to be the kind of anger that clears the way for God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven! The kind of anger that invites everyone into the divine promise that there is enough, and more than enough, for everyone.
And Rauner and his billionaire friends are welcome to share in this promise, too. I think they would like it, if they tried it!
* * *
Jesus promises us that there is enough for everyone to survive. There is enough for everyone to have life abundantly. Everyone can have dignity and respect.
And there is more than enough room for everyone, in this community.
Jesus is the bread of life. Life enough for everyone.
We are called to proclaim this to a cynical and skeptical world. And when we ourselves are cynical, when we are cutting each other down, rather than building each other up, we are called to remind ourselves of this truth: Jesus is the bread of life.