by Rev. Frank Schaefer
(some concepts of this sermon are borrowed from one of Barabara Brown Taylor's Lenten
Did you just hear what I heard in the Scripture reading? Were we reading from a strange
bible version, or did we come across a translation mistake? Or did the apostle Paul
actually write: "Be angry but do not sin?" Now think about that for a moment.
Can you think back to a time in your life when you were angry with someone without
sinning? Without also calling that person names under your breath? Can anybody be angry
with someone without talking bad about that person behind his/her back? Without yelling at
this person, or at least, giving them a piece of our mind?
Let us look at this saying in context. Paul writes: "Let all of us speak the truth
to our neighbors, for we are members of one another," he coached them. "Be angry
but do not sin. 'Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in
Christ has forgiven you."
Paul's words sound strange to people of our culture today. And that is true for
Christians as well. We do not, on the whole, speak the truth to our neighbors. We are
polite but noncommittal, wanting above all to he liked. Our culture teaches us to be
shallow in our relationship with others. Keep your safe distance from persons. Don't let
anyone so close to you that they can hurt your feelings.
And because our culture teaches us to be shallow in our relationships, we do not live
as though we were members of one another. What does Paul mean by that? Remember he is
talking to church members! Living as though we were members of one another means that
contrary to what our culture teaches us that we are supposed to enter into very close
relationships with one another. As close as a close-knit family. Close enough to expose
ourselves to the danger of getting our feelings hurt.
In today's age, to be nice is what seems to be highest virtue, to be nice and to be
liked by everyone. Now, we have to understand that to be nice is NOT the same as to be
kind, which Paul calls us to be. Paul is not concerned about being nice. He does not give
two hoots about being liked. No one ever taught him that if you cannot say something nice
you should not say anything at all. He knows that when real people live in close
relationship with one another, they will discover real differences and suffer real
discord. This is true whether the relationship is a marriage, a family, a neighborhood, a
church, or a whole society; It is not possible to love one another without also hating one
another from time to time.
My dad used to say: "There is a fine line between love and hate." Love and
hate are really very close together. And you know why I think that is? Because they are
both aspects of a close relationship. Please don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that anger
and family feuds are good and healthy signs of love. Now if that were true there would be
an awful lot of love in our family.
There is a difference between a good, healthy disagreement and making up afterwards and
a dysfunctional kind of family relationship where there is violent and hateful behavior.
I'm talking more in terms of another saying that goes: "it happens in the best of
families." Anger, arguments, even fights are a normal part of every close
relationship, and whenever someone tells me: "we have never fought in our 20 years of
marriage," I get a little suspicious.
When a time of disagreement comes, Paul says, do not shut up and disappear. Speak the
truth in love. Be angry but do not sin. "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted,
forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you." In stark contrast to
Paul's words, many people in our churches today, as soon as they have a disagreement,
they're out the door. But guess what? Disagreements, anger, arguments happen in the best
of churches. I pitty those who end up hopping from church to church to church without ever
experiencing the joy that is in a good church fight. I mean: in working through the
differences: speaking what we perceive as important, as true because we care about our
church, our brothers and sisters--even argue about it--but then, to make up again and to
work our differences out the best we can. Or even make our differences work for us
(different, even opposing opinions can be healthy for a decision making process).
Of course, I don't want to encourage everyone to emote anger all over the place and to
fight. There are people who do that sort of thing. They go around like walking volcanoes,
spewing unpleasantness on whoever gets in their way.
No what I am saying is that occasional anger and arguments, and disagreements are a
natural part of our living together in close relationship. And as we continually work out
our differences, our disagreements we find that our bonds are strengthened, that our
feelings for each other, our love and our respect for each other grow.
So what is an angry person to do? "Be angry but do not sin," Paul says. Speak
the truth. Be kind. Forgive one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
Christians, of all people, should know that there is such a thing as a good fight. Read
the Bible! God fought with those God loved the most: Abraham, Moses, David, Job, Jacob
wrestled an angel, Jonah got sent to his room inside a big fish. Jesus yelled at his
disciples as if they were a bunch of school boys. He called the Pharisees every name he
could think of in order to get their attention, but from day one, divine anger has been
anger that means to heal and not to harm, to unite and not to divide.
I am proud of our congregation. You know, we have our differences, our arguments, and
sometimes someone (myself included) flies a little off the handle during board meetings.
But you know, that's because we are people who care for the church and, yes, because we
care for each other. I have seen tremendous growth in our relationships, I have seen
tremendous growth in my relationship with you as a congregation. We're getting there. We
are slowly learning where we are coming from and where we want to go together. And we are
getting closer in our relationship with each other.
Contrary to popular opinion, Christians are not nice, polite people who never get angry
with one another. Those are not our virtues. Our virtues are truth-telling, kindness,
forgiveness, and yes, even anger--as long as it is the anger that is part of true
love--through which we move closer to one another and to the God who has taught us that we
need each other, that we need to live in close relationship to each other to become
fulfilled human beings. Amen!