Sunday, August 9th, 2015 – 11th Sunday after Pentecost
Gower Christian Church, Gower, MO
Scriptures: John 6:35,41-51, Ephesians 4:25-5:2
Hymns: “Sing a Song”, “Take My Life and Let It Be”, “Everlasting God”, “Be Thou My Vision”, “Eat This Bread”, “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah”
Anger Leads to the Dark Side
Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.
Someday, some wise person is going to come up with a Bible study or Sunday School curriculum called the Gospel according to Master Yoda. You see, the little green Muppet from the Star Wars universe provides some of the wisest words ever heard by human ears, and many of them are directly applicable to the way we study the Gospel. Take, for example, the words he says to Anakin Skywalker – the boy who would become Darth Vader – in Episode I. Words of caution about the anger he feels, words that would fall on deaf ears as Anakin would eventually allow himself to be overtaken by his fear and his anger as he turned toward the dark side.
Words that could well have been based directly on today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
The funny thing is, though those words get quoted a great deal by a great many people, they certainly are not words that we hold to in today’s world. All one need do to see that is turn on the TV. Whether it’s a news anchor and a guest yelling at one another over some political inanity, or a Canadian pitcher intentionally throwing a baseball at a player from America’s heartland due to some perceived insult, or a racist taking out the anger instilled on him by brainwashing on innocent people, anger appears over and over again.
The truly bizarre thing is how much anger comes from people who claim to be Christian. Paul explicitly warned against such anger. “Be angry,” he allowed us, “but do not sin.” In other words, there’s nothing wrong with being angry: to be angry is to be human. Who among us has not experienced anger at a perceived injustice, whether it was the result of a promotion denied, a car scratched, or a project failed? There is nothing particularly ungodly about feeling the natural anger that comes of those things. It is the sins that we commit from that anger that Paul prohibits. “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”
Paul’s reasoning for not wanting us to sin as a result of our anger is not just a personal thing. Sinning out of our anger has ramifications for the entire body of Christ. As we are part of one another, any sinful anger which we have will naturally infect others around us. Consider how an angry mob forms: it begins with one angry person, and that anger quickly spreads to those around them, and it grows exponentially, by leaps and bounds, until the entire gathering has been suffused with anger. The same is true of gatherings of Christians, for though we follow in the ways of Christ, we are no less human and therefore no less prone to sinful ways than any others. Most, if not all, have seen such things, where one member of a church is angry about something, they get others on board with their anger, and before you know it, the church is split over something ridiculous.
I’ve seen it before – the congregation where I grew up, for as much as I love it, is far from perfect. In 1999, after a bizarrely rainy Arizona spring, one of the buildings grew a nasty mold infestation. The proper response would’ve been to have the building tented and fumigated, but a good portion of the congregation was convinced that we could take cheaper, piecemeal steps to mitigate the problem. Conflict grew and grew, and eventually the anger between the two sides of the congregation grew to such a level that over a third of the church left. We ended up taking the proper steps in mitigating the mold, but the damage was done, and the pastor stepped down just over a year later.
Now, at seventeen, I didn’t have the grasp of nor the appreciation for church politics that I do now, but my opinion on the matter at the time still holds true now: it was stupid. The driving force behind my feeling was the fact that when a third of the church left, several of the families who had youth in the CYF group left, and our youth group crumbled and collapsed before my senior year of high school ever ended. I ended up myself being angry toward the church, toward people on both sides of the argument, and to the families who (in my hotheaded teenage opinion) were shallow enough to leave the church because of a silly argument over one of the buildings.
What Paul makes clear in his text is that it was okay for me to be angry. It was okay for everybody to be angry. What is not okay is when you start doing things that degrade the body of Christ due to that anger. It’s not okay to lie and spread rumors and gossip just because you’re angry. In fact, there’s a Gospel prohibition against that very thing – in Matthew 18, Jesus made it very clear to His followers that if you feel one of them has sinned against you, you are to confront them about it in PERSON, and in LOVE. If they don’t listen to you, or to you and a couple of friends, or to the leadership of the church, then you’re free to take it before the congregation, but speaking against them in anger, spreading rumors about them, or talking about them behind their back is strictly prohibited by Jesus Himself.
And that, to be sure, was a driving force behind what Jesus had to say in today’s Gospel reading, from John 6. The people have gone from asking for more bread to grumbling about Jesus saying that He was the Bread of Life. They don’t believe that it’s possible for somebody whose parents they know to be the bread sent from God in heaven, and so they start talking about Him behind His back. Of course, Jesus knows what’s going on, and so He tells them not to grumble among themselves.
If you go back to the Ephesians passage, you’ll see that Paul mentions several other behaviors, from not lying to not stealing to not speaking in a way that doesn’t build up the community. These, along with idolatry, had all been problems for the church at Ephesus, and Paul addresses them several times throughout the book, here tying them all back to anger. And if you consider them, each of these are things that will lead back to anger. If you lie to or about somebody, it’s inevitably going to cause somebody to be angry. If you steal from somebody, it’s inevitably going to cause them to be angry. If you speak in a way that doesn’t build up the community, it’s inevitably going to cause somebody to be angry. And idol worship above all else – idols including everything from graven images to hymnals to buildings – will inevitably cause anger.
Our response to this anger is the key to ensuring the continued well-being of the body of Christ. If we respond in the way that the people at Foothills Christian Church did sixteen years ago, you’re going to see it result in strife and dissension, recovery from which ends up taking nearly a decade. Fear of a problem led to serious anger, anger led to hatred, and hatred led to suffering. Let’s be real, it was a solid descent into the Dark Side.
On the other hand, you have the way I watched several Chi-Rho campers respond to potential situations of anger this last week. We had a sort of rough week of camp. Campers with numerous allergic restrictions, rainstorms causing serious schedule adjustments, and even moments that some campers thought were stupid at first led to situations where we could’ve had some very angry middle schoolers on our hands. And yet, these middle schoolers reacted with a strange and surprising sort of grace that you don’t really see from even the most mature adults on the world. When these situations cropped up, they would be irritated for a moment, and then sigh, say, “Oh well, what’s next?” and move on.
Perhaps, then, the key to avoiding the sin that comes of anger is to approach the situations that cause it with faith and an attitude more like that of children. And so, Paul goes on to implore us to imitate God like dearly loved children. Once we reach adulthood, we become people who are jaded and have just had enough of these situations, but sometimes, maintaining the goodness and innocence of a child is the key to staying away from sin.
That goodness and innocence stays with our children and youth for far longer than we sometimes realize. Two months ago, when the CYF group was in California, we had stopped at the world famous Randy’s Donuts, just outside of Compton, when Grayson Noll noticed a homeless man in a wheelchair on the sidewalk. Out of the goodness of her heart, she decided to buy him a donut and take it to him.
Having lived in L.A. myself for two years, I had a fairly good idea of what his reaction to the donut would be, but I decided to go on faith and let her do it. Sure enough, though, a few minutes later, she came back and informed me that he had declined the donut, and added a few rather choice words to his declination. Instead of being upset, though, Grayson said, “Oh well,” and moved on to the next thing.
It seems that Paul is telling us that we would be well advised to do the same. Far too often, we allow our fear of what’s going on right now to let to anger, hatred, and suffering, but that’s not what we need to be doing. It leads to dissension and turmoil within the body of Christ, and the body of Christ needs to be whole. Instead, be like children when you imitate God. Let go of the anger. Don’t let it lead you into sin, but move on to the next thing. In so doing, may we all stay away from the Dark Side.