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Divine Anger?
Ephesians 4.25-52
by Rev. Frank Schaefer

(some concepts of this sermon are borrowed from one of Barabara Brown Taylor's Lenten series sermons).

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!