So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labour and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
I remember early on as I was preparing to get married, many people gave us all kinds of advice about married life. The one that stuck with me most clearly was drawn from the very passage we had from Ephesians this morning:
“do not let the sun go down on your anger,”It’s good advice not to go to bed before sorting an argument out but I think letting the sun go down on your anger also means more than that. It means letting the anger become part of you without going away. It is a concept that has stood us well in our marriage over the past three years. There have of course been times when each of us have been frustrated with the other but I think it’s fair to say that we have dealt with disputes and differences pretty well and without resorting to a great deal of shouting or plate smashing. Yet this passage isn’t just about married couples but about community as a whole. Anger is allowable. Righteous anger at injustice is certainly something we are sometimes called to in our Christian witness but if that anger moves from the sin of the injustice to anger at the person who has done it then we ourselves enter into sin. Hence Jesus turning over the tables in the temple is an example of righteous anger but one of the disciples cutting of the ear of one of those who came to arrest Jesus is sinful anger.
What is there that really makes you angry?
Watching the England Cricket team go all out for 102?
I know for me, that sitting in my car I become much more angry than I do anywhere else. I tend to be the kind of person that lets people out of side roads in queuing traffic and gives way to bikes and pedestrians but every now and then I can get really angry when I’m driving. At people driving dangerously, selfishly or just plain badly. I also get angry when I see people mistreated. As someone who works for the church you might think that I work in the most perfect environment but I find myself filled with (what I consider) righteous anger When youthworkers phone me up to share troubles and woes and the way the vicar’s been treating them or young people tell me that they feel excluded by their church because they’re wearing jeans or a hat. Am I right to be angry? I think it depends on what I do with that anger. If the anger prompts me to right a wrong and encourage a repair to a broken community then yes. If it means I get wound up and shout at someone then perhaps not.
Anger can be a really transforming emotion. It can turn us into people we don’t want to be doing things that would normally be unheard of for us. If you think of the incredible hulk “don’t make me angry. You won’t like me when I’m angry” Bruce Banner changes into a giant green monster with little reasoning and a great deal of violent temper. Now I’m sure no-one here transforms THAT much when they’re angry but I think that story tells us a great deal about anger.
People disagree about how we deal with anger. Some say that having a good shout, a good rant, punching a cushion or even the wall lets them vent their anger while bottling it up can be poisonous and damaging. Others think that shouting just winds them up and makes it all worse while taking a step back, taking a breath and counting to ten works better.
So we can be angry and we can act upon that anger but only if we do not let the anger control us.
I would say that Paul is one of those who argues for soothing away anger and channelling it rather than acting upon it:
"Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you."
Paul’s writing not just about anger of course but about modelling our lives according to Christ: Giving up anger means acting in a particular way; being forgiving of others, of the big things and the little things. Sometimes we are called upon to speak the truth about a situation and to help resolve it as St Paul wrote:
"So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours, for we are members of one another."
Yet that truth should only be spoken without malice or bitterness.
The truth can often be the thing that causes us to be angry. Very often the truth can be a cause of much contention – of division and of anger as much as lies. If my neighbour is going on a date and looks decidedly ridiculous in a bright purple dress and orange shoes and asks me if he looks nice – in telling the truth am I being kind?
It’s not just clear cut is it? It requires thought and reflection.
I think moments of truth and moments of anger might be perfect times for some theological reflection. Now this may sound heavy but it needn’t be. Theological reflection is merely thinking about where God is in an issue, where we are acting within what God would want and where we are going against that. It can be as simple as looking at the situation and asking WHERE IS GOD HERE? Or it can be looking at a situation and asking “WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT THIS”
What does today’s passage say about it?:
“Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear”
Brutal honesty is not of the Gospel but words that build up the community and build up those around us can be powerful things. The little ways that we show our Christian faith to those around us can be the most powerful.
The diocese has just said farewell to Brenda who worked in our parsonages department. She was the first voice I heard on the telephone when I had accepted this job and a lovely warm welcoming voice she was. At her retirement party she told us all about how working in the office had been such a joy. This was due principally to what Mark, our diocesan surveyor (her boss) said at the end of every day EVERY DAY: Goodnight Brenda, have a good evening and thanks for all that you did today.
Every single day, Mark said those words of gratitude and encouragement to the person he worked alongside and what a difference they made to that community.
So this week, when that sense of anger starts to swell up in you, think of what St Paul says. And in each interaction with the people around you this week, think about what words might give grace to those who hear them for the building up of the community?