On Anger as a Catalyst for Change
October 3, 2021
O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than angels, and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Mark 10: 2-16
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
Today’s sermon is titled On Anger as a Catalyst for Change. I was born in 1967, during the Vietnam War. I can only look back on that time through articles, photographs and music and imagine what it was like. Many of you remember. It seems to me that the era was a time of great change brought forward by what I would call righteous anger…anger over inequality based on race, and anger over the growing death-toll of war.
There was a song on the top ten of the billboard charts for country music in 1967 titled, I’m a Lover, Not a Fighter. I’d like to think that I’m a lover, not a fighter, but lately…well…I’ve found it challenging to keep my scales tipped in the love direction. I am far from the only one.
In the local headlines this morning I read that the Executive Council meeting had to be adjourned in Manchester last night because a group of protestors were shouting threats aimed at the state employees present in the meeting. The state employees were members of the Health and Human Services Department and they were at the meeting to speak to their request to use pandemic relief funding to “provide information and field inquiries and concerns about the covid vaccine.” Protestors circulated ominously about the room, pointing fingers, yelling, “We know where you live!” and chanting, “Shut it down! Shut it down!”
Now, I am all for protesting. Even our religious tradition carries the name “Protestant” (protest-ant). And I readily admit that anger can be a catalyst for positive change, but there is a fine line between righteous anger and vindictive anger. One is a virtue and the other, a sin. That line between righteous anger and vindictive anger was crossed last night when those protesters threatened their fellow citizens.
In the book of Ephesians, Paul writes, “Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Reverend Jeffrey Poor adds, “It’s what we do with our anger that determines whether we sin or not.”
In our reading today, Jesus is “indignant” when the disciples try to send the children away. Indignation is “anger caused by unjust treatment.” The original Greek word that the author used in telling this story is aganakteō, meaning “to be greatly afflicted, incensed.” That’s a few shades beyond angry.
There are six times recorded in the Gospels when Jesus is angry, but only one time when the word aganakteō is used, only one time when Jesus is said to be indignant, and that is in our passage for today. Jesus sternly says, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it. This statement is categorized by John Knox, writer for the New Interpreters Bible, as “one of the supreme contributions to the world’s life and thought.” If this is one of them, then (you might ask) what are the other ones? John Knox points out that a part of each instance where Jesus is angry, we are gifted with another “supreme contribution.”
I’d like to look at one more instance where Jesus’s angry outburst is followed by a poignant message. In Luke 13 we find the second and only other time the word for “indignant” is used, but this time it’s the temple priest who is indignant when Jesus lays his hands on a crippled woman who has come into the temple on the sabbath in search of healing. The temple priest says, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, not on the sabbath day.” Jesus is not having it. He fires back, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to give it water? Ought not this woman, bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” Jesus brings right order in prioritizing mercy and compassion over law and tradition.
Productive and positive change can come from a rising of anger and indignation. We see it in the life of Jesus as he lived more fully into the spirit of the Hebrew law and tradition. Jesus railed against the hypocrisy of the religious elite who cared more for law and tradition than the health and wellbeing of their people. And he railed against the disciples for pushing aside the children, the very ones who are receptive and creative enough to imagine how the kingdom of God, or the reign of God, could be manifest on the earth.
Friends, we see now the things that made Jesus the most angry. Note that his anger was not the result of personal attacks, even though he endured many. Jesus’s anger and indignation were directed at his disciples and the rules and systems that kept the people from reaching the light and liberation and forgiveness that can only come from a connection with the Divine. Jesus embodied this Divine energy and his mission was to share it with all who were open to receive it.
I have one final question for us. How can we use our righteous anger to bring about positive and productive change in our world? I suspect I am not alone, Friends, when I say that there are half a dozen issues right now that pique my anger*including that display of vindictive anger at the Executive Council meeting last night. God, grant me the indignation of Jesus of Nazareth, aimed at unjust systems, not aimed at individuals. So be it. Amen.
*Top three on my list currently are the intentional spreading of covid misinformation, growing economic and racial inequities, and a desperate lack of civil governance.
Holy Spirit of God, I thank you for this church community where we have freedom to worship as we choose. We pray for those communities of every faith, around the world, that are not so fortunate. On this Communion Sunday, I offer a prayer for the children of the world…a prayer for their well being. May they know a love that is true and kind and protective and may that love be a guiding light for their young hearts and minds. Guide us, Lord, even in our anger and indignation. May we be a force for positive change in our world. For those that are suffering, Lord, grant them peace; for those that are fearful, grant them assurance that nothing can separate us from the love of God. May we use the power of prayer to ease our minds and hearts, and to offer ourselves in spiritual support of those we pray for. This we ask in Christ’s name, who taught us to pray, saying…Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever and ever. Amen.
I leave you with these words of advice from the book of Proverbs, Chapter 3:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; on your own intelligence rely not; in all your ways be mindful and he will make straight your paths.”