Anger

Rev. Megan Huston
March 15, 2015

James 1:19
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.

One of my church members in Tennessee tells a story about a visit he made to McDonalds when his daughter was young. It was a Sunday morning and they rushed there to make it in time for breakfast. The person in line in front of them was taking her sweet time, but they made it to the register just in time. Walt began to place his order when the young girl behind the register interrupted and explained, “Sir, we only serve breakfast until 11.” Walt, I can just imagine, began to get red faced, and said, “Ma’am I promised by little girl that we were coming here for breakfast.” Then, he dramatically pointed to his watch and said, “Mickey’s hand is not yet to the 11, and until it is, I want my Egg McMuffin and I want it now.”

The cashier responded, “Well, sir, it is daylight savings time, so it is actually almost 12.” Walt apologized and they left without question.

God asked Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

I heard another story from one of you about a basketball game you recently attended. This person explained that he kept hearing a voice from behind yelling at the opposing team’s player. He was especially after one of their most successful players, a 19 year old boy, who he berated, yelling, “you will never make it into the NBA.” When our church member turned around to see who this hateful fan was, he discovered it was a well known and well respected celebrity. Is it right for him to be angry?

Anger sometimes gets the best of us. We, like Jonah, think that we know what justice is, and how it should play out. We sometimes, even take it upon ourselves, to play God, and deliver the wrath we think our neighbors deserve. Often, though, our anger is misplaced, isn’t it? Like was Walt’s rage really about an egg mcmuffin? And does this well known country singer really have that much at stake in the downfall of a 19 year old basketball player from Murray State? Is it right for us to be so angry?

When I was living in Bosnia, part of my work was to interview people in surrounding villages about a micro loan program that had just begun there. Every family was exceptionally gracious, showing what I came to know as true Bosnian hospitality, teaching me what it means to invite a stranger into your home for coffee. There was only one exception, and I will never forget it.

We approached a home where a woman was standing outside, and she was looking up and when we started talking to her she clearly got upset. My translator was hesitant to translate all this woman was saying so I knew something was going on. Finally Josipa told me what the woman was saying. She lost everything in the war- her husband, her sons… she looked me in the eyes and demanded, “just what is it that you think you can do for me?” She did not want to answer our questions. It was too late. Her life was ruined and she didn’t want to try again. She was furious. And I couldn’t blame her. Is it right for her to be angry?

Rob Bell says in one of his Nooma videos, “We live in a world where people get angry over things that do not matter. While at the same time we live in a world where people don’t get angry over things that do matter… because some things are worth getting angry about.”

So, God asks, is it right for you to be angry?

The letter of James advises us that we should pay attention to the rhythm of our reactions. There is wisdom in this timeless advice- how often do we bury the most important things and so we create short fuses for our every day tasks like driving or looking up something on the internet or waiting in line at the grocery store. How much of our anger stems from impatience and where is that coming from?

Living in a world that is so fast paced it comes as no surprise that we have a hard time slowing down and discerning what is worth our anger what is just making us mad. Lent is a time when we examine the rhythm of our lives and the things that shape and form us. Looking at the seven deadly sins is an opportunity to notice the vices that often cover up some deep yearning within us. Anger is surely, like gluttony or pride, a tool for covering up our own shortcomings. And so I wonder if this listening that we are supposed to speed up should not only include listening to others, but listening to ourselves. Slowing down. Taking away some of the distractions. And claiming what is really making us so mad or hungry or arrogant or lazy.

For me, it was the printer. When I was working in Tennessee we actually had a contract where we paid several hundred dollars a month for our copy machine but half the time it didn’t work, and when you live in the middle of nowhere service calls can take days. One Sunday it was of course pouring down rain and I had to literally run across the street to the Methodist church to print my sermon. So I could handle the fact that if we didn’t change our habits the church would have to close. I could take that the people I grew to love the most were dying of old age and I had to lead the congregation through their grief, at times ignoring my own. I could deal with taking the few financial resources we had and putting them to the most effective use, dealing with the consequences of staff cuts and all those who blamed me, but oh my God, when the printer went out I thought I would blow a gasket.

It is easy to get angry over things that don’t matter. We call Time Warner in nothing short of a rage when our cable is down. By the way, the one wreck Willie & I almost got in on our way to the warming shelter was with two Time Warner Cable trucks. And we were so frustrated wondering how cable is considered an emergency when the roads are unsafe to drive on… We fly off the handle over the slow driver ahead of us who doesn’t notice the light has changed. We huff and puff and stare at our phones while an elderly person slowly fills out his check in front of us in line at the grocery store. And I think we do it because if we didn’t we would have to address what we were really so mad about.

Last week I suggested you could make a spiritual food pyramid and compare what you are consuming to what you may need to be consuming in order to live fully into the life God has created for you. This week I wonder if we could slow down and make a list of the things that make us most mad. And then I wonder if we could ask ourselves why those things are making us so mad.

And what about writing a list of the things that should anger us? Like kids in our community who show up with their parents at our food bank, dirty and hungry? Like the fact that the majority of our guests at Room In the Inn clearly are suffering from mental illness, a disease that has forced them into a life on the streets? How about we get angry over our politicians' games and tactics to make us think they are addressing our national and global needs but actually just reinforce partisan politics?

When I think of these things, I imagine Jesus turning over tables with rage in the temple- he wasn’t throwing a tantrum because he didn’t get his most immediate need met, he was staging a protest because the religious leaders had made a mockery over the kingdom of God.

So I guess I think of anger kind of like I think of pride- I think in some ways we are too angry over the wrong things but we also just aren’t angry enough over the right things. We would do well to listen more, speak less but more discernibly, and to pay attention to what we are so angry about so it doesn’t fester within us and turn us into people who we do not want to be.

God asks Jonah, is it right for you to be angry? And God offers mercy instead of wrath to this misbehaved community of Ninevah.

 

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