Anger is an emotion which all of us have experienced. It can be hurtful and destructive, or when well placed, it can lead to valuable inner healing. When St. Paul says, "don't let the sun go down on your anger, " he is not saying never to be angry. I think he is acknowledging that sometimes anger is justified, but telling us to get on with it and put our anger behind us after it has occurred
Today I'd like us to think how Jesus and three other people in the Bible dealt with their anger in light of this passage from Ephesians. I've picked two stories from the First Testament, and two stories from the Second Testament. I'm also going to tell you a wonderful, true tale. . .. Entire doctoral dissertations have been written on each of the four biblical examples I've chosen, so you're going to get the most cursory view, but I hope that hearing my take on these stories will be useful when you feel angry.
When I thought about this passage, the first person who came to mind was the elder brother in the story of the prodigal son. You recall the
Narrative. It is about two brothers in relation to their father. The younger brother demands his inheritance early, squanders it, and eventually returns home, full of remorse. He begs his father for forgiveness, and not only is he forgiven, but he is also welcomed home and treated to a great banquet. In the meantime, the elder brother, who had been loving and obedient to his father all along, is both furious and jealous of the attention his younger sibling is getting, and he complains very bitterly to their father about it. The father has to tell his elder son that anger was an inappropriate response, because he should have realized he always had his father's steadfast love. In a similar way, we should remember, even when we screw up and get angry at an inappropriate time, God will always love us.
Another example of anger in the Second Testament occurs in the Gospel of John, when Jesus upturns the tables of the moneylenders in the Temple. He was angry because they were not observing the Sabbath, and they were also ripping off the poor. I'd probably have chosen a less confrontational tactic, because it seems to me, the only purpose this display of temper served was to further alienate the authorities.
However, it does show us that in certain circumstances, well placed rage can be justified. Two examples of anger in the First Testament are found in the stories about Job and the prophet Jonah. You recall Job's story, I'm sure. He endured incredible unjustified suffering from the hand of God, without complaint, for years, and his friends were of no help to him. Finally, when Job could stand it no longer, he lashed out at God in rage, and demanded an explanation. But he never got one. Instead, God got angry right back at him, and asked Job who the heck he thought he was to question God! Job immediately repents, and instead of an answer to the question of his suffering, he is given the reassuring vision of God's abiding presence with him.
One of my favorite stories about anger is that of the Prophet Jonah. God called upon Jonah to be a prophet, and warn the people of Ninevah to repent, or else face certain destruction, but he was afraid, and decided to flee. After a horrendous adventure, in which he was swallowed by a whale and spewed forth upon the shore of Ninevah despite himself, this reluctant prophet obeyed God's orders. He successfully got the king and people of Ninevah to repent, and the city was spared. However, in stead of rejoicing over his success, Jonah became sulky and angry with God, because he thought God had made him look like a fool. God had to reprimand him, and point out to him indirectly, that instead of being angry, he should have been thankful.
One of the lessons we can pray for through this book is that we will have the courage to obey God's call, and not to be angry and Resentful when things don't work out in the way we think they will.
Now let me share another story with you about anger, and a response to it that isn't in the Bible. . . In 1879, a lady in a faded gingham dress and her husband, dressed in a homespun threadbare suit, stepped off the train in Boston, and walked timidly without an appointment in to the Harvard University president's outer office. The Secretary took one look at them, and saw in a glance that such backwoods, country hicks had no business at Harvard. She felt they probably didn't even deserve to be in Cambridge.
She frowned. "We want to see the president," the man said softly.
"He'll be busy all day," the secretary snapped impatiently. "We'll wait," the lady replied.
For hours, the secretary ignored them, hoping that the couple would finally become discouraged and go away. They didn't, and the secretary grew frustrated and finally decided to disturb the president, even though it was a chore she always regretted.
"Maybe if they just see you for a few minutes they'll leave," she told him.
He sighed in exasperation and nodded. It was obvious to him that someone of his importance didn't have the time to spend with them, but he detested gingham dresses and homespun suits cluttering up his outer office.
The president, stern faced with dignity, strutted toward the couple. The lady told him, "We had a son who attended Harvard for one year. He loved Harvard. He was happy here. But about a year ago, he was accidentally killed. And my husband and I would like to erect a memorial to him, somewhere on campus."
The president wasn't touched, he was shocked. "Madam," he said gruffly, "We can't put up a statue for every person who attended Harvard and died. If we did, this place would look like a cemetery."
"Oh, no," the lady explained quickly. "We don't want to erect a statue. We thought we would like to give a building to Harvard."
The president rolled his eyes. He glanced at the gingham dress and homespun suit, then exclaimed, "A building! Do you have any earthly idea how much a building costs? We have over seven and a half million dollars in the physical plant at Harvard."
The president was pleased. He could get rid of them now. The lady was very angry, but she held her temper, and sat there thinking quietly for a moment. At length, she said to her husband, " Is that all it costs to start a university? Why don't we just start our own?"
Her husband nodded. The president's face wilted in confusion and bewilderment. And Mr. and Mrs. Leland Stanford walked away, traveling to Palo Alto, California, where they established the university that bears their son's name. I love this story. It shows us impatience and anger on so many levels. We don't just see the rude, hurtful confrontation between the Stanfords and Harvard's President, and Mrs. Stanford's justified reaction and thoughtful response. But I'm sure the grieving Stanfords felt angry with God over the loss of their beloved son, and instead of raging at God about it, they transformed their anger in to a beautiful, positive memorial. St. Paul would have been pleased.
Come, let us pray: Dear Lord, we thank you for our many blessings. – For this church, for our friends, and for this earth, our island home. Please be with those who don't have all that we have, and pour your blessing on them. Help us to remember that you give all of us burdens to bear. Give us the courage to face them, instead of fleeing from them, like Jonah. When we feel they aren't justified, like Job, transform our hearts and minds in humility, so we can act in positive ways, which will further your reign on earth. Make us eternally aware of your steadfast love, like the elder son, and fill our hearts with real peace and presence of mind, so we don't alienate others when we feel angry. Finally, channel our disappointments and anger in to positive energy, like the Stanfords, so it can be changed in to a force for good. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.