The Rev. Joseph Farnes
February 12, 2023
All Saints, Boise
Christianity has an anger problem. Christianity simply does not know what to do with anger. On the one hand, Christianity reads a passage like today’s Gospel and assumes that anger is always catastrophic, destructive, and immoral. And on the other, Christianity, especially in America, can cloak itself in righteous indignation and unleash anger on others in the name of religion. Anger either becomes a thing to avoid, or anger becomes a sign of power and righteousness.
We need to talk about anger.
Anger is simply an emotion. It’s not bad or good; it simply is. But the way that we Christians have interpreted this passage has influenced how we understand anger.
Anger simply is.
Generally, we’re not comfortable when we get angry. Anger has energy. Maybe we grew up in a family where people exploded when they got angry, and we don’t want to lose control like that. Maybe we’re afraid we’ll say or do something we’ll regret. Maybe we’re ashamed of feeling angry and try to bury our anger inside ourselves. Maybe we assume if we were better people, we’d never feel anger.
And on the other side, we’re very, very uncomfortable when someone is angry with us. Maybe we grew up in a family where people exploded when they got angry, and even a raised voice is enough to make us feel like we need to run and hide. Maybe when we hear someone get angry, we think that they hate us now and want nothing to do with us. Maybe we take that anger inside ourselves and beat ourselves up for a mistake.
We’ve all received messages about anger throughout our lives. Maybe anger is the emotion we’re not allowed to have or express. Yet we’re all going to get angry sometimes, and we’re all going to end up causing anger in someone else. Anger simply is an emotion that signals, “I don’t like what’s going on here!”
Anger simply is.
And we’ve been taught how to interpret anger, our anger and others’ anger toward us. Maybe as a kid we learned to spot the look, the tone of voice that signaled an adult was about to unleash rage on us, and we’re hypervigilant now for any perceivable trace of anger in everyone we meet. Maybe when we were a kid we weren’t allowed to be angry, that we were bad or selfish for feeling angry.
All those layers come up for us as we read a passage like today’s Gospel.
We hear a passage like this, and we think of the times we’ve been angry with someone, and we think God is judging us for it, and we join in the judgment of ourselves.
But that is not what we’re meant to take away from this passage. The word judgment in Greek is krisis. While that word in English became “crisis” meaning something bad, the word in Greek also means justice or a moment of great decision. Anger opens us to a moment of justice, a moment of discernment, a critical moment that requires decision.
When we are angry, we have to make a decision. What will we do with the anger? Or, in the sage words of Mister Rogers, “What do you do with the mad that you feel?”
What will we do with our anger? We have to make a decision.
Can we pause a moment to be with our anger? What is it teaching us? What is it asking us to notice? Are we feeling unheard, unseen, unloved? Is a memory coming up for us? Are we feeling ashamed? What is our anger trying to bring our attention to?
And then, the critical moment, the decision: what do we do with the mad that we feel?
That is the critical moment. We have to decide what to do with our anger.
We have to decide. Not go with the pattern we grew up with, not our default reaction. We must choose. That is the critical moment.
This is how we undo those unhelpful messages about anger we have heard. It’s about deciding what to do with it instead of reacting to it. We create a space for ourselves. We honor what we’ve experienced. And then we choose.
Choose to use clear words to share what we’re feeling.
Choose to hear what the other person is saying.
Choose to breathe and unclench our bodies.
Choose to give ourselves and the other person grace to figure it out together.
Choose to step away if things aren’t safe.
Jesus is inviting us to be intentional about our decision. Not lash out, not harbor resentment, not resort to cruel insults and coldness of heart. Jesus knows we’ll get angry with one another – he wants us to choose what to do with our anger, with our emotions and feelings. Look at the rest that Jesus says today in the Gospel reading: we don’t treat others with contempt, with lustful objectification, with possessiveness. Jesus wants our yes to be yes and our no to be no. Jesus wants us to be truthful. Jesus wants us to be straightforward in our relationships, Jesus wants us to be self-aware, and Jesus wants us to care for one another. Jesus wants us to make good decisions, not reactions.
And thus we don’t have a problem with anger itself; it’s what we do with that anger.
Give yourself space and grace to feel your emotions. Listen to your feelings and your body; breathe in and unclench. Breathe in the peace of Christ – not to suppress your feelings, but to sit with your feelings more straightforwardly. This is how we build justice and fairness in our relationships and our communities, and this is how we show compassion to ourselves, too. From here we build the healing and justice the world so desperately needs. May God assist us with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Amen.