I am posting my manuscript from yesterday. I like to remind people that I don’t preach this word for word. The manuscript gives the basic flow of the sermon, the grammar might be questionable, and I do try and note the sources I used. In many ways I could have added much more to this sermon. I could spend a lot of time praying over and pondering these texts.
We live in angry times and if you don’t believe me, I would invite you to turn on the news, or open your favorite news app on your phone or tablet and it will be right in front of you. Anger leads the news, and it is has almost become normal for people to call names, to yell, to scream to shout down someone else…. Between the right and left, between young and old, republicans and democrats, even in the midst of our own denomination, people are angry, are fearful, are pointing figures, are leveling threats, ….we live in VERY angry times. I am not trying to dismiss or minimize what is happening. There are many good reasons for the anger. People don’t feel safe, they don’t think their children safe, children and youth and young adults don’t feel safe, people don’t feel valued, or they feel attacked or bullied. People are harassed and made fun of or are working and living in terrible conditions There is diversity of opinion as to how we got here and deep and strong moral and ethical convictions that are driving people to stand up and be counted, to stand up and be heard. Sometimes, though, People draw lines in the sand often before they know what some else believes or thinks or understands. Assumptions are made, people do not listen to one another and anger seethes in so many settings…..from Washington to state capitals, to schools and churches and organizations to our own families and neighborhoods….Some of it we understand because of our own moral and ethic viewpoints, but sometimes we don’t know why we feel this why or can’t really articulate the deep anger around us and in us….
Then with what is happening in our own world we come to our John reading. Even though we are surrounded by anger and hatred, this Jesus is a little surprising and stunning. I suspect we prefer a different kind of Jesus, perhaps that compassionate Jesus I spoke of last week or the loving Jesus we often describe. We want to a benevolent Jesus who agrees with us, who loves us who approves of us and is kind of tame and easy to get along with, a fun and interesting Jesus, pointing out other people’s sins not our own….The Jesus who turned over the tables in the temple and yelled at those who made it a “market place” and the Jesus who spit out “Get this stuff out of here….” Is not a tame at all? This Jesus is filled with what appears to be barely contained rage. He made a whip out of cords or ropes, turned over tables and chased the merchants and the money changers and all the animals out of the temple
Like every other Jewish believer in the region Jesus goes to Jerusalem to the Temple for the Passover. What set Jesus off? It isn’t like what he found was unexpected. It was business as usual and probably a brisk business at that…People came to the temple to do their religious duty, to live out their faith. If they brought animals and they were not perfect, they had to buy ones from the Temple. Or if they didn’t bring any, again they had to buy them at the Temple Roman money was not usable in the Temple so it had to be exchanged for Jewish money. Hence the money changers and the merchants. There was nothing out of the ordinary happening. What is going on here?
We often use this text to talk about the Angry Jesus. It isn’t the only place where Jesus appears angry, when he denouncing religious leaders who are leading people astray, when he calls them names (like you brood of vipers) The thing is, the text doesn’t actually say that Jesus is angry. Not any of them. I went looked. And re-looked. I checked different translations. Not there. Yes it states he turns over tables, condemns those who are selling things and changing money. But the text itself never says he is angry. Jesus certainly acts angry. His actions are pretty violent and scary, but they are actions of righteousness. Jesus doesn’t appear in the gospels to be the kind of person who is angry all the time, who wanders around with a chip on his shoulder, in fact he is often seen having a good time and doing amazing and wonderful things. In this passage, He saw injustice and unfairness and acted upon it. I think that is so hard for us. When we get angry we tend to be either hot heads, we get angry fast and then are done or one of those who go for a slow simmer and when we erupt…it is explosive! Jesus keeps his head in his anger, his anger is precise, almost like a surgeon cutting out a tumor or a farmer, weeding a crop
Beverly Wildung Harrison said this in a work titled, “The Power of Anger in the Work of Love.” Anger can be either positive or negative. Indeed, it is right to be angry at injustice, and problematic to be apathetic toward injustice. The challenge for Christians is to “harness the power of anger in the work of love.” –
In our Ephesians passage is says, “Be angry, but do not sin; do not let the sun do down your anger, and do not make room for the devil” I think that is critical. Jesus was angry, it seems often in the gospels, but it wasn’t because he was slighted or overlooked. Jesus anger was focused on those who pretended to be religious and spiritual, but actually were just greedy and selfish. Jesus anger focused on political and religious systems that took advantage of the poor and needy, the young and old, the outcast and stranger. Jesus anger was not about bitterness or resentment or revenge. Paul noted that we are to “put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice” that is the kind of anger and resentment that seethes and destroys from the inside. That is the kind of destructive feelings that that ends up eating us alive, literally. This is not the kind of anger that Jesus embodied, an anger that worked against injustice. Jesus, in the words of Beverly Harrison, harnessed the power of anger in the work of love. A few years ago the Wichita State Shockers coined the phrase “Play Angry.” It was an interesting phrase and at the time I was a bit uncomfortable with it. Anger can be very destructive, anger can be out of control. As I watched the end of the season and the next and the next, I began to see that the phase “play angry” was not about bitterness or wrath, but about intentionality. Wichita State had been underestimated, put down and mocked because they were not of the elite basketball schools. Who did they think they were? To play angry was not to be play mean or under handed but to play with heart, with energy, with passion with an intentionality to do one’s best and of course the phrase has stuck. Almost every sports caster now uses the phrase….Jesus’ anger was not about being underhanded or mean, but about a passion for what is right, what is just, what is good, what is God’s intention for the world.
The power of Jesus’ anger was not at the traditions or the spiritual practices but at the tunnel vision that only the practice mattered, buying the right animal, using the right coinage was what was important…not what was in the heart. And spirit When Jesus overturned the tables he wasn’t just angry about the sales and the money changing, some of which was necessary for people to fulfill religious duty, his anger was that what was happening in the Temple went beyond what was necessary and became a burden for many who came to live out their faith. There were being oppressed and in some ways robbed by those who were supposed to serve
Jesus was angry….because the religious leaders of his day acted as if they loved their religious traditions loved their interpretations of scripture, loved their money, loved their political and religious power more than they loved God and others. They talked a good line but did not live it. They were the very pictures of hypocrisy not because they practiced their faith, or the followed the law, but because they were blind to God, God’s love, God’s Word, God’s truth, and God’s Son. His anger was a work of love as he tried to counter a culture that was taking advantage and not paying attention to what was in front of them, the very presence of God. In the other gospels this event comes so late, in part, because it was the catalyst which drove the religious and political to plot his downfall and his arrest and execution
In John, this event comes at the very beginning of Jesus ministry because John isn’t as interested in the order of the events of Jesus life as he is in theology and symbolism. From the beginning of this gospel, he starts with the big picture: In the beginning was the Word, Jesus, who was God and is God and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth., John shows us God in Jesus acting on behalf of the world. As we have often heard from the prophets, anger and love are just different sides of the same coin. God loves us so dearly and so deeply and despairs when God’s people take advantage of each other, over look the suffering, the outcast, the least, the lost and the lonely. When Jesus speaks of tearing down the temple and raising it back up, he is speaking of a relationship with God that is not rooted in a building or in religious practices, but in Jesus himself. This anger, is born out of love of God and love of neighbor. It is not about tearing down, but actually a building up for the kingdom of God. When Paul pushes the Ephesians to let no evil talk come out of their mouths, when they are challenged to not grieve the spirit, but to be kind and forgiving, it is so that the work of love might be known. Be imitators of God….which means that our anger, when it is righteous anger must be focused and tempered by love and faith that God is at work in our world. So many are trying to do what is good and right, this last week the students that are speaking and marching do so out of love, for the friends they have lost and to find a way to act against all the violence and hatred in this world. What are we doing? How are we making a difference for those who have no homes, who are being destroyed by mental illness and addiction, but poverty and hatred? How are we focusing, not wrath or resentment or bitterness, but anger, Christly anger at the works of evil in our world? We are called to be the change agents, to use the power of righteous anger to make a difference, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to the house the unhoused, to welcome the stranger, the outcast, the lonely, the afraid. Not anger to judge, but to love as Christ loves. Begins at the table, here where we seek forgiveness for all we done and left undone and find mercy and grace to be imitators of God in all we say and do. And we begin here at the table. We confess what we have done and left undone. We are offered God’s love and mercy and given strength for the journey. So this week, God of love, and God of power, grant us in this burning hour, grace to ask these gifts of thee, daring hearts and spirits free. God of love and God of power, thou has called us for this hour. (taken from the hymn God of Love and God of Power, The United Methodist Hymnal)