21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.Matthew 5:21-26
Being late makes me angry. When I am in my truck driving somewhere and I am looking at the clock saying to myself, “I’m going to be late,” I get angry. Sometimes I start off driving somewhere and I still have hope that I will get there on time, but the reality is that I am often already running late. When I am late at the beginning of a drive, my mind often races with all kinds of excuses for why I am running late. Then, as I get further into my drive the thoughts start to pour out of my mouth and I talk out loud at the other drivers, even though they cannot hear me. I say things like, “Why didn’t you make that light or why are you driving 5 miles under the speed limit.” These things are so easy to say and the slip right off the tongue because they are my observations about how someone else does not know how to drive. These continue on for a while until the last minutes of my trip when all hope of not being late is gone, then the things I say just get foolish, like “Do you even care that anyone else is on the road or they should really take your license away.” Being late makes me angry, and you would think that after being late so many times I would learn that I need to leave earlier so that the other bad drivers would not make me late and so that I could leave my anger behind.
I would like to be able to leave my anger behind, but the truth is not all forms of anger are bad. In order to see what anger is good and what is bad, we can separate anger into two categories. First, what makes God angry and second what makes you and I angry. When God gets angry about something, it is always a good kind of anger because God only gets angry about things that are bad and evil, things cause harm. When you and I get angry, it can line up with what makes God angry, but it can also just be something we don’t particularly like. It is this second category of anger that gets you and I into trouble. When we put ourselves into the driver’s seat of deciding what is anger worthy and what is not, we throw out objectivity and fill situations with our own opinions. This is this kind of anger that you and I want to leave behind.
When you and I decide what is good and bad, without letting God tell us what is good and bad, we are bound to find ourselves angry and God angry with us. For example, in our reading from 2 Samuel, King David let one bad thought linger in his mind, and he became angry and God became angry with him. It began with King David looking out from his palace and seeing a woman named, Bathsheba, bathing. Instead of looking away, which would have been good, David continued looking at her, which was bad. David then had her brought to him, they slept with one another and she became pregnant. David then did his best to cover it up by calling her husband home from war, thinking he would go home, sleep with his wife and then everyone would think the child was his, but when Bathsheba’s husband came home, he stayed with his troops, rather than going home. This left David angry that his clever plan did not work, so he called in the commander of his army and made sure Bathsheba’s husband would be put in harm’s way on the battlefield. David’s evil plan worked, and Bathsheba was left without a husband, so David could bring her into his palace and call her his wife, and make their child together look legitimate. All this happened because David called one bad thought good, then acted out in anger when there were consequences for the evil he had done. Worst of all for David, the prophet Samuel recorded these words after what David had done in 2 Samuel 11, 27 “But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.” David had gone too far and the only way for him to find forgiveness was God’s mercy.
You and I have gone too far in our anger. Each of us can quickly make a list of arguments, relationship breaking comments, social media posts, emails, phone calls we made because we were angry. Lists where we went too far are easy for us to make, but these lists do not define who we are. You and I get angry in the worst ways, but we have been forgiven. See you and I are not defined by the bad things we have done, but by the good God has done for us. We read in 1 John 4, 10 “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Forgiveness for your anger does not start with you, but with God. God took all the ugliness of your anger and my anger and gave it to Jesus. And, Jesus died, he left all your anger, your sins and all God’s anger against you at the cross. God loved you enough to forgive all your sins through Jesus and to set you free from what makes you angry.
Leaving anger behind is what God did for you on the cross, and it is what he allows you to do as his forgiven child. In our reading from Matthew 5, Jesus spoke about anger in three ways. First, he said, 22 “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” Jesus began by talking about thoughts or feelings of anger in your heart toward someone. Then, he said, “Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court.” Jesus then talked about our words. In Jesus’ day, saying, “Raca,” would be similar to calling someone an “idiot” as if to say they don’t know or understand even simple things like “two plus two equals four.” Finally, Jesus said, “And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” Here again, Jesus talked about words, but calling someone a “fool” carried with it a similar idea of telling someone today, “You are dead to me.” It carried with it the force of saying that someone is stubborn, worthless and godless. Jesus warns us that our anger puts us in danger of judgment and even hell, if we lose ourselves and our faith to it. Our selfish, sinful anger that begins as feelings has the power to grow to the point of ruining lives.
Jesus warns you and I as his people against anger, and then gave us practical ways to leave anger behind. Jesus said, Matthew 5:23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. 25 Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court.” Jesus wants you to admit when you are angry. He wants you to admit you have done something wrong and hurt someone. He wants you to ask for forgiveness and even wants you to be ready to endure the consequences for what you have done. He wants you to do all of this to leave anger behind and let forgiveness, humility and love take its place.
God wants all of this for you as his forgiven people. And, he gave you his Word to help you do this. Today we spoke some of the words of Psalm 119, 105 “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” God gave his word as a guide for us through this dark world until we reach heaven. The Bible is for us to use each day and through it, God works in us. In our reading from 1 Thessalonians 4, we read, 9 “Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.” You are God’s people, meaning God teaches you how to love one another. He teaches you to ask yourself when you get angry, “Is this something God would be angry about or is it just something I am angry about?” If just you, then pray. Ask God to put it out of your mind and heart, to reconcile, to settle the matter quickly and move on. On the other hand, if you are angry about something that makes God angry, then consider how Jesus responded to things that made him angry. Jesus showed people their sins and showed them his forgiveness. And, when they asked for his forgiveness because they saw their sin, he forgave them. When they refused to ask for forgiveness, he left them in their sins. And, both were done in love because as Peter wrote, 2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Leaving anger behind is not always easy, but God is patience with us, and we pray he allows us to be patient with each other.
Being late makes me angry, but I only have myself to blame. I cannot blame other drivers and I have no right to say anything about other drivers when I am late. If I want to get somewhere on time, then I need to leave earlier. And, if I am late, then I need to apologize and ask for forgiveness from those I have kept waiting. And, when I am late, I need to ask God’s forgiveness for getting angry along the way. And, after all of that I get to enjoy the wonderful peace and joy of knowing God’s love for me, and I get to enjoy leaving anger behind with those around me. I pray that God’s forgiveness and love fill you up with all that is good, to leave behind what is bad and to leave anger behind, so that you live in peace and joy with God and one another. Amen.