Sermon for Sunday August 30th, 2015, the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Deuteronomy 4:1-9, Psalm 15, James 1:17-27, Mark 7:1-9, 14-23
Theme: James 1:19-21: The Lord’s command to control anger
The Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote, “Now we praise a man who feels anger on the right grounds and against the right persons, and also in the right manner and at the right moment and for the right length of time. He may then be called gentle-tempered.” [H. Rackham (transl.): Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics, IV.v.3, The Loeb Classical Library]
Often people become angry because of little things, as in this story:
In his book Uh-Oh, essayist Robert Fulghum wrote of the summer of 1959 when he was working at the Feather River Inn near Blairsden, California, in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Just out of college, he was hot-headed and free with his opinions. One week he grew angry because the employees were being served the same thing for lunch every single day – two wieners, a mound of sauerkraut, and stale rolls. Furthermore, the cost of the meals was deducted from the employees’ checks. On Friday night he learned that the same fare would be on the employee menu for two days more.
Fulghum, who had already taken a strong dislike to the hotel’s owner, vented his anger to the night auditor, a man named Sigmund Wollman. I declared that I have had it up to here; that I am going to get a plate of wieners and sauerkraut and go and wake up the owner and throw it on him. I am sick and tired of this nonsense and insulted and nobody is going to make me eat wieners and sauerkraut for a whole week and make me pay for it and who does he think he is anyway and how can life be sustained on wieners and sauerkraut and this is un-American….
The whole hotel stinks anyhow. Fulghum continued in his tirade, and the horses are all nags and the guests are all idiots and I’m packing my bags and heading for Montana where they never even heard of wieners and sauerkraut and wouldn’t feed that stuff to pigs.
Fulghum raved on for about twenty minutes, delivering his monologue at the top of his lungs and with much profanity.
Sigmund Wollman, who had spent three years in a German death camp during World War II, just sat, watching and listening. Finally he said, “Fulchum, are you finished?”
“Lissen, Fulchum. Lissen me, lissen me. You know that’s wrong with you? It’s not wieners and kraut and it’s not the boss and it’s not the chef and it’s not this job.”
“So what’s wrong with me?”
“Fulchum, you think you know everything, but you don’t know the difference between an inconvenience and a problem. If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire then you got a problem. Everything else is inconvenience. Life is inconvenient. Life is inconvenient. Life is lumpy. Learn to separate the inconveniences from the real problems. You will live longer. And you will not annoy people like me so much. Good night!”
And with those words, he waved the young man off to bed.
(p. 31, Robert J. Morgan: Preacher’s Sourcebook of Creative Illustrations. Thomas Nelson, 2007)
JAMES 1:19-21: CONTROLLING ANGER
In this morning’s Epistle, St. James commands Christians, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20). The grounds for this command is that Christians have been born again and have received a new nature from God. This means that God intends us to be the best fruit, the first fruits of all his creatures.
Anger is more of a problem for some than for others. In families, spouses can get on each other’s nerves, as can sisters and brothers. Many times people become angry at others over little things. In one statement, St. James gives us principles which help us control anger. There are legitimate times, places and reasons for anger, as Aristotle stated, but most of the time people get too angry too quickly at the wrong time and for the wrong reason.
Here is the first principle St. James gives us with respect to self-control: everyone should be “swift to hear,” that is, quick to listen. What does this require? This requires our paying attention to what those around us are saying. It requires that we listen to what they have to say. For, if we do not pay attention, we easily misunderstand, and our attitude can be based on misunderstanding, confusion, and misinterpretation of others’ motives. Being quick to listen to others implies also that we lay aside our selfishness and really try to understand and appreciate others’ points of view and perspectives on a matter, and on our behavior, and how we appear to them. Being quick to listen also reflects a humility in the presence of God and of others, and a realization of the value and worth of those with whom we have relationships, whether in our families, amongst friends, or at work.
The second principle is being slow to speak. It is in speaking too quickly, that we easily speak rashly or angrily, whereas if we reflected more carefully on the words we were about to say and how much hurt they could cause those whom we love, we would refrain from speaking. In Proverbs 15:28, we read, “The heart of the righteous studieth to answer: but the mouth of the wicked poureth out evil things.” The more we think about the right things to say, the more we realize how easy it is to say the wrong things hastily, and give way to anger. Again, we read in Proverbs, “The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips” (Proverbs 16:23).
The third principle is being slow to become angry. Proverbs 16:32 confirms this principle: “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.” Self-control, or ruling your spirit and your emotions, means that you will be slow to anger. Being slow to become angry also shows that you have wisdom and understanding, as Proverbs 14:29 affirms: “He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly.”
Another reason St. James provides for being slow to wrath, is that the wrath of man does not bring about God’s righteousness. Our ways are not God’s ways, and our selfish anger usually brings hurt and harm, and not good. On the other hand, when God is angry with us and rebukes us, it is for our good, and brings about righteousness when we repent and do what is right.
Is it always wrong, then, for a Christian to be angry? We have to look at why we are angry. Are there selfish reasons for my being angry? Is it because of my own selfishness that I am becoming angry, or am I angry at something sinful, something wrong, that someone else has done against me or against others that I love? Can anything good or productive result from my anger, or only hurt or harm to others? Jesus was angry with the money-changers in the Jewish temple because they were turning God’s house of prayer for all nations into a market place. That was righteous anger. Are we ever angry at evil things, like all the abortions that have happened, unjust laws that discriminate against the poor, financial corruption at high levels in business, corrupt governments? Or do we simply become angry when someone insults us, or stops us doing things the way we want to do them? Many such questions we can ask of ourselves.
GETTING RID OF ANGER FOREVER
St. Paul wrote, “Be ye angry and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26), and in Galatians 5:20, wrath is listed as one of the works of the flesh which disqualify a person from inheriting the kingdom of God. For the Christian who is struggling to overcome anger, or wrath, is there a way out? Is there a way to be free from anger, at least most of the time? The Holy Spirit produces self-control in everyone who yields himself to Him.
§ First, we must repent of anger before God, confessing this sin to Him and asking His help to overcome it.
§ Second, we must be determined to be self-controlled, quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.
§ Third, we must fill our minds with the commands and counsels of Holy Scripture against anger.
§ Lastly, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we may need to drive away from ourselves a demon of anger by telling it in the name of Jesus Christ to leave us and never return (Mark 16:17; James 4:7). Or we may need to ask a priest for counseling and help in doing this.