MATTHEW 5:21-22

MAY 8, 2016

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

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            On this Mother's Day, I want to begin with a question related to our mothers as well as our Spring Cleaning 2.0 sermon series. This morning we turn our attention to the sixth of the seven deadly sins, the sin of anger, and here's the question: "What did your mother teach you about anger?" Did you have a good role model when it came to anger or a poor role model when it came to anger? Did you have a mother who swallowed her anger or a mother who gave voice to her anger? What did your mother teach you about anger?

            I recall two times my mother got really angry with me, but to tell you the truth, I don't recall her anger in those moments as much as I remember the consequences that followed. I particularly remember a time when I was in the fourth grade. In fourth grade I liked to use my mother's bed as a trampoline. She told me to stop jumping on the bed because I would break it, but did I heed her counsel? No! My mother was a single, paycheck to paycheck working mom so I was left home by myself a lot. A next door neighbor in our apartment complex would look in on me from time to time. But when my mother wasn't around, and our next door neighbor wasn't peeking in on me, I would invite a friend over to build models or play games or jump on my mother's bed, and one day, while Greg Walker was over we broke the bed, actually one leg on the frame of the bed.          

            I panicked. What was I going to do now? Well, my friend Greg Walker was as devious as they came. He was Lucifer in the Flesh long before Ted Cruz hit the scene. He made Eddie Haskell look like an angel, and I'm sure he's in prison somewhere today. Here's what he suggested. He suggested I take some of the encyclopedia books on the shelf and place them under the bed where we had broken the leg of the frame. I did. He held up the bed as I slipped some of the volumes of the encyclopedia under the bed. Unfortunately, I had not completely thought through this plan. Eventually my mom would notice some missing volumes of the encyclopedia or do something radical like make the bed and then I would be caught, which I was. I can still remember her calling my full name from her bedroom, "Richard Christopher Meyer" come here. I was a dead man walking. I was grounded for a week.

            What did your mother teach you about anger?

            Well, listen to what Jesus has to say about it today. I'm reading from his Sermon on the Mount.


            You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times ...


            By the way, the one who would of said that in ancient times would have been Moses. Jesus is about to expand the scope of the sixth commandment. Some in the crowd would have thought that to be highly presumptuous of him, putting himself above or on the same level as Moses.


            You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times,‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.


            Anger.  We see a lot of it in the Scriptures. The Hebrew word for anger occurs 455 times in the Old Testament; 375 of these refer to the anger of God. Referring to God Nahum the prophet asked, "Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger?" (Nahum 1:6) God gets angry. So how can it be a sin?

            Jesus got angry. We have an example of it in the third chapter of Mark's Gospel. One Sabbath Day in the synagogue Jesus met a man with a withered hand. Some of the Pharisees were standing around ready to pounce on Jesus if he healed the man, because healing was considered to be work, and that was prohibited on the Sabbath. And Mark says, "Jesus looked at them (that is the Pharisees) with anger." It burned Jesus to see religious people care more about their rules than the well-being of another human being. If Jesus got angry, how can anger be a sin?

            And the Apostle Paul went so far as to commend anger. In his letter to the Ephesians (4:26) he wrote, "Be angry but do not sin." Be angry. We ought to be angry about certain things. It ought to anger us that a child is killed by gunfire somewhere in the United States every two hours. It ought to anger us that 21,000 people die of hunger every day. It ought to anger us that people text and drive. We ought to be angry about certain things.

            So, the Apostle Paul said it's possible to be angry and not sin, but he does not ignore the fact that anger can turn into something terrible. "Be angry," he says, "but do not sin." That's what Jesus was saying in the Sermon on the Mount. He says if your anger turns into insulting other people, well that's murdering people with words and that breaks the sixth commandment, and that leads me to the core of this sixth deadly sin. The deadly part of anger goes by other names. Some lists of the deadly sins don't refer to it as anger. Some lists call it "rage" or "wrath." It's the idea of anger controlling us rather than us controlling our anger.

            I think of the man who regularly expressed deadly anger. He would often fly off the handle in a fit of rage. His wife and young son had often been subjected to his wild outbursts of temper. His young son would often hide in a closet and tremble during his father's explosions of anger. To his credit the man sought and received counseling. He also asked a group of friends to pray for him, that he might gain control of his destructive anger. Slowly, God began to change him at a very deep level.

            One day he faced a real test of his changed temperament. He had a hobby of collecting model trains. He happened to find a 50th Anniversary Lionel train in mint condition. He really couldn't afford it but his wife, knowing how much he wanted it, juggled the budget a bit so that they could buy it. It became the jewel and prize of his collection. Proudly he displayed it in the hobby room above the carport.

            One day his little boy was playing with the train and accidentally spilled paint remover allover it. It was ruined. The little boy burst into tears, anticipating the awful explosion that was sure to come. His father came to see what was wrong. When he sized up the situation, he became angry and suddenly there was unleashed within him an awful battle. But he did not explode as he had done so often before. Instead, he took a deep breath and didn't say anything for a moment or two. Then he said to his son, "The train was very important to me, and we are both sorry about the accident. But I want you to know that you are more important to me than all the model trains in the world." He embraced his son. They both wept, for different reasons.

            Anger is normal, healthy but when it controls us rather than us controlling it, it turns into a sin, and anger's or rage's or wrath's corresponding virtue might surprise us.  It's patience.  It's slowing down the expression of our anger.  It's moving from a fast twitch response to a slow twitch response. In fact, someone paraphrased Paul's counsel. Remember how Paul said, "Be angry but do not sin?" Well, this guy paraphrased Paul's words. He said, "Be angry, but slow it down."

            Borrowing this paraphrase, "Be angry, but slow it down" I want to take the word "slow" and use it as an acrostic device this morning as a way to help us manage our anger so it doesn't turn into a deadly sin. I'll begin with the letter "S" which stands for "sit bit." How many of you have heard of a "Fitbit?" You wear a Fitbit on your wrist and it keeps track of all the steps you take in a day. Well, when it comes to anger I suggest we wear a "sit bit," that is we "sit with our anger for a bit" prior to expressing it.

            I know you've heard the counsel, "When angry, count to ten." I like that, but I like what Thomas Jefferson said even more, "When angry count to ten before speaking. When very angry count to one-hundred."  That's good advice because the speed with which we execute our anger is usually what gets us in trouble.  Of course, you may like what Mark Twain said better.  He said, "When angry, count to four. When very angry, swear!"

            By the way that's what the character Charlie, Raymond's businessman brother played by Tom Cruise, did in the movie Rain Man. Driving back to California, Charlie learns his business is going bankrupt, he owes $75,000, and some of his property is being confiscated. In a fit of anger he stops the car, walks out into the desert and starts kicking dirt and rocks and swearing vehemently at his predicament. Then he calmly returns to the car and continues heading west.

            Remember the words of the Psalmist (103:8)? "The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love."

            So, "S" sit with our anger a bit before expressing it.  Give it a place next us on the couch.

             Let's turn to next letter in the word "slow." In fact, let's combine the next two letters L & O. LO standing for locate our anger. Locate the source of our anger, what's been triggered, what it was that flipped our switch.

            It may be something big, and certainly justified, and worth expressing in a constructive way. It may, however, be something petty and silly, and better kept to ourselves. Remember I told you last week that I was part of a wedding ceremony? Well, Silas, who has been married for 48 years was speaking to the couple, and he took out a tube of toothpaste, and how a tube of toothpaste began to bug him. You see, he squeezed the toothpaste at the bottom, and his wife squeezed the toothpaste in the middle, and when he got ready to brush his teeth he noticed two indentions in the tooth paste, his at the bottom and his wife's at the end. It began to bug him, irritate him, and do you know how they solved it. They bought two tubes of toothpaste, a "his" and a "hers." It really wasn't worth getting angry about.

            Some things just aren't worth getting angry about. For example, I count the number of items people have in the "Twelve Items or Less" check out stand. I'm not sure at what point I would say something, but certainly not if they have thirteen or fourteen items. That would be silly. But if they had twenty items, now maybe that is worth mentioning.

            Locate the source of the irritation and ask ourselves, "Is this worth expressing to the other person?" A lot of times it's not.

            The final letter is "W." Wait on the Lord. Wait on the Lord to give us the proper words to say. How we are tempted to express our thoughts and feelings may not be the way God would have us express those thoughts and feelings. As we know from the prophet Isaiah, "God's ways are not our ways" and sometimes God tells us to handle our anger in a way that we wouldn't necessarily choose to do, but it's the best way to handle it.

            I'll close with this. Two men stood next to a taxi cab arguing about who had the right to the cab. While they argued, the wife of one of the men stood and watched. After they had argued for a few minutes, one man became calm, opened the door for his opponent, and returned to his wife.

            Curious, his wife asked him why he had suddenly allowed the other man to take the cab. He explained, "You see, dear, he needed the cab more than we did.  He was late for his martial arts class. He's the teacher!"

            Monitoring our anger is good policy. Not doing so can get us into a heap of trouble.