4th March 2024

A sermon for the third Sunday in Lent

3.3.2024 Third Sunday in Lent 8.00 a.m.
A sermon preached by Canon Nigel Davies, Vicar of the Close.

“Take these things out of here!
Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!”This is the only time in the Gospel narratives that we read of Jesus being angry. It is not something that we associate with Jesus and anger is something that is often played down in Christian circles. We are more familiar with ‘Gentle Jesus meek and mild’ than a Jesus brandishing a whip and violently overturning tables. We are more at home with Jesus being whipped, than Jesus lashing out. Why is this I wonder? Is it because we believe that such powerful emotions have no place in a Christian’s behaviour? Maybe it is because anger or ‘wrath’, appears in the list of the Seven Deadly Sins? Interestingly Jesus only identifies one ‘deadly’ or ‘unforgivable’ sin in Matthew 12:31 where Jesus is recorded as saying:
“I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven,
but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.”
So, if anger isn’t considered by Jesus as being deadly, and if Jesus, as we have heard in our Gospel reading, could act out of anger, why do Christians find the manifesting of anger so difficult?
I suppose one of the reasons is that we associated anger with being destructive and unhelpful. Perhaps we have taken the words of James Letter to heart where he writes in Chapter 1 verse 20:
‘your anger does not produce God’s righteousness’
Perhaps strong feelings make us uncomfortable, they don’t fit with our English reserve, and they are often embarrassing when displayed, or such strong emotions are a sign that a person is out of control, which we find threatening. All this is true, but I would argue that there is a way to channel anger, which is positive, because it leads to action.
There is much in our world that makes us angry, that makes us seethe, but ultimately rebounds upon us, because we can’t see a way of making things different, we feel impotent, we have as they say, ‘no agency’ leading to frustration and behaviour which is violent and destructive. A much better way to use our anger would be to energise our behaviour, our actions to right wrongs, to campaign for justice and equality.
Writing in the Guardian Newspaper John Bird, Crossbench peer in the House of Lords and founder of the Big Issue made this point:
“Anger is a brilliant initiator. If you don’t feel angry about the world you probably don’t want to change it. But if you stay angry you end up repeating yourself, becoming exasperated. I’m now 73 and have been active in politics since the 60s, I’ve seen generations of very angry people, then the next time you turn around they’re dissipated or broken by their own anger. And most of those who enter active politics never stay the journey. I think one of the reasons for this is that their anger isn’t refined enough – made into another substance.”

So, being angry can have a positive outcome if used as fuel for action. We need to look at anger differently.
Perhaps this analogy might help, the difference between nuclear fission and nuclear fusion. Both produce energy, but with one, nuclear fission there is harmful fall-out – there is not with nuclear fusion. A correct use of anger would be to channel it into positive action, into action that will make a difference.
Lent can be a time of introspection and self-examination, a time to address perceived flaws in our way of living, inadequacies in our faith. Doubtless some people will examine themselves and find that being angry is something that they want to curb or eradicate from their behaviour. Might they be throwing out the ‘baby with the bath water’? The removal of anger from our emotions makes us anodyne – what is needed is to find purpose for our anger, ‘our righteous indignation’, to give us the energy to make the difference, to transform a situation.
In the letter to the Ephesians chapter 4 and verse 26 we read:
‘Be angry but do not sin…’
The sin of anger is when it becomes a negative force, is destructive, violent, aggressive – anger without sin is when it provides us with the energy to act, make a difference, right wrongs, bring about positive change.
Sadly, I am aware that in selectively quoting verses from the Bible to support my argument, there are others than can be used against me – this one from the Letter James haunts my words:
“You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.”

All of us have experienced the destructive effects of the anger of others, and indeed of our own anger. However, I still believe that a creative and helpful way can be found to channel anger, to make our world a better place or is this just wishful thinking on my part?