Year A Epiphany 6 Matthew 5 2011
The Forbidden Anger
Mrs. Ferguson, a staunch Calvinist Presbyterian, took her well-worn Bible from her desk. In those days we had scripture and prayer each morning. She turned quickly to Matthew, chapter 5, and read verse 22: "But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, 'You fool,' you will be liable to the hell of fire." I felt lower than a whale's belly. She launched into a fervent sermon that would have made even the vilest sinner repent. She capped it off by saying, "And you, Billy, should be particularly ashamed for writing such words since your father is a minister." That was hitting below the belt, don't you think?
I could not attempt a sermon on the Sermon on the Mount without devoting one sermon to Jesus' words about the forbidden anger. I dedicate it to Mrs. Ferguson.
Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, given in chapters five through seven of Matthew's Gospel, could be called "Lifestyle in the Kingdom of God." Here we have the party platform of the Kingdom. It contains exalted expectations, the most radical ethical standards ever articulated. Notice that in verse 21 Jesus said, "You have heard it said of old...but I say unto you." That one who spoke of old was Moses. Jesus was placing himself on the same level as Moses or higher. Some regarded that as the height of presumption.
Jesus is not claiming here that all anger is sin. The Hebrew word for anger occurs 455 times in the Old Testament; 375 of these refer to the anger of God. The Lord does get angry. Nahum the prophet asked, "Who can stand before his indignation? What can endure the heat of his anger?" (Nahum 1:03)
Jesus got angry at times. In Mark, chapter 3, we have an example. One Sabbath Day in the synagogue Jesus met a man with a withered hand. Some of the Pharisees were standing around ready to pounce on Jesus if he healed the man, because healing was considered to be work, and that was prohibited on the Sabbath. The Bible says, "Jesus looked around at them with anger." It burned Jesus to see religious people care more about their rules than the well-being of a human being. Jesus became angry when people got hurt or God's house was desecrated. Jesus' anger was never selfish.
St. Paul went so far as to commend anger. He wrote, "Be angry but do not sin." We ought to get angry about certain things. It ought to anger us that young women are being victimized by businesses that exploit sex in our community. It ought to anger us that our newspapers make money by advertising such businesses. It ought to anger us that approximately people in our community have no access to basic medical care. It ought to anger us that a child is killed by gunfire somewhere in the United States every two hours. It ought to anger us that over 1 million abortions are performed every year in America, most of them because the precious unborn child is considered an inconvenience to somebody. It ought to anger us that in some schools it is easier to pass out condoms than it is to have a graduation prayer. We call this kind of anger righteous indignation. It is godly anger, anger that motivates us to overcome injustice and extend mercy.
That's not the kind of anger Jesus condemns in the Sermon on the Mount. He is attacking a much more common variety that lurks in all our hearts. This is selfish anger. This kind of anger, says James, "worketh not the righteousness of God." Paul was referring to this emotion when he wrote, "Put off all anger, wrath, and malice." (Colossians 3:5)...
Stand Up and Raise Your Voice
Why is it that the first directive every teacher learns how to give is "Okay, everybody, sit down and be quiet?" Or less politely, "Sit down and shut up!"
Sure. Sometimes we have to "listen up" in order to learn. But how can we get answers if we cannot first voice our questions? The best teachers and the most gifted learners know this: the more voices that contribute, the more learning will happen.
Finding your voice. That is the theme of the surprise Academy Award favorite movie "The King's Speech." Royal watchers and romantics have focused forever on the king who gave up the throne for the woman he loved, Edward VIII, never giving much thought to the "spare" who replaced the "heir." With a profound stammer and knock-knees, Prince Albert, aka "Bertie," hardly rated a second glance until he was suddenly his country's "second chance" at having a new king.
The greatest obstacle preventing Prince Albert from becoming King George VI was his inability to find his own voice. The movie focuses on how the royal monarch's relationship with a gifted speech therapist, Lionel Logue, enabled a stumbling stammerer to become a beloved sovereign. Logue is self-taught and without credentials. But he utilized the most advanced technology he had at hand to help his royal student. He even used phonograph recordings of the king's own voice so that Albert could truly "hear" himself for the first time.
But Logue also used something more important and powerful: the age-old power of relationship to tune and tone the king's voice. It took years of coaching, learning to trust each other, and building respect for each other, before Logue could declare to Albert "You must have faith in your voice!" But when that point came, it was their relationship that enabled the man no one ever thought would be king finally to respond "I have a voice!"
Do you have faith in your voice? Have you used your voice?
In the past week young pro-democracy protestors in Egypt have shown they "have faith" in their voice.
Even when the electronic, high tech versions of their "voice" were silenced by the government when it cut all internet connectivity; Even when pro-government supporters used old-fashioned camel drivers to incite terror and violence;
Even when the army, the "peace-keepers," looked away and let violence prevail: The voice of the protestors remained strong and sure.
They knew their message and they used their voice: "Mubarak must go."
Yet the sound of a voice being raised is not enough. Our voices must have something beautiful, good and true to tell. Powerful voices can bring POWER, and if that power is abused the result is tragedy and evil. Anyone want to deny that Adolf Hitler had a powerful, persuasive voice? Of Joseph Stalin? Or Pol Pot? Or Idi Amin? Or the Ayatollah Khomeni? Or Osama bin Laden? Strength is not the measure of what should carry a voice. Truth is. Beauty is. Goodness is.
Today's First Testament text is taken from Moses' concluding words to the Israelites as they were finally about to enter into the Long-Promised Land...