“God’s Word for an Angry World”


Pentecost 11

August 9, 2015

 

Text: Ephesians 4:25-5:2; 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

         

          You don’t need me to tell you we live in an angry world. Those of us who are involved with social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and their ilk, know this all too well. There is all sorts of material being posted online expressing contempt and disgust toward anyone who disagrees with the poster’s point of view. It seems that people of every point of view imaginable are equally guilty of this. Democrats and Republicans bash each other. Liberals express contempt for conservatives, and vice versa. People who support gun control and those oppose it say nasty things about those on the opposite side of the issue. Those who describe themselves as pro-life on the abortion issue and those who consider themselves pro-choice frequently spew vitriol at each other. And there is no shortage of memes, cartoons, blogs, articles, and other items lambasting politicians, immigrants, Muslims, people on welfare, and lots of other folks. And I have found that when I try to offer a different perspective on posts I disagree with, the original poster often either questions the accuracy of my information or insinuates that I’m an idiot.

          I find that what the Apostle Paul says in our lesson from Ephesians applies quite directly to today’s situation. First of all, Paul says that we should quit lying and tell the truth to our neighbor. This is important because much of the nasty stuff that some people say about others is not entirely true. Some of it is simply flat out false and totally fabricated. Some of the rest contains elements of truth, but the facts have been distorted, spin doctored, and twisted to serve some ideological purpose. I recognize the damage this behavior does to me: I become skeptical of everything I hear, whether it is true or not. It creates an atmosphere of distrust, which can fuel hostility toward those who don’t look, behave, believe, or think as I do.

          Such hostility does not build up the body of Christ, of which we all are part. Paul tells us to put aside all bitterness, loss of temper, anger, shouting, slander, and all other evil, for these things are destructive. They tear the fabric of human communities, including the community of faith. Paul encourages us to say only what is helpful to build up the community, so that it benefits those who hear it. He tells us to be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, just as God forgave us in Christ. We are to live with love, following the example of Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us as a sacrificial offering.

          But in the midst of this Paul also makes a rather surprising statement: “Be angry but do not sin.” I understand that to mean there are things for which anger is justified. It becomes a matter of what we do with our anger.

          Our lesson from 2 Samuel, chapter 18, the story of the death of King David’s son Absalom, is the end of a story of justified anger that was not handled well, and ended disastrously. In order to do this story justice, I need to go back all the way to chapter 13.

          King David had fathered children by several wives. His eldest son was named Amnon. Absalom was Amnon’s half brother—same father, different mother. Absalom had a sister named Tamar who was very beautiful. Amnon wanted Tamar so badly he became lovesick, so with the help of a friend he hatched a plan to get her alone with him, then raped her, even after she indicated she was willing to marry him if he went to the king and asked for her. After the rape, Amnon turned against Tamar and banished her from his presence. Absalom found out what had happened and took Tamar into his home. Meanwhile, King David also found out what had happened, and although he was angry, he did not punish Amnon. Absalom was also very angry with Amnon, but said nothing to him, instead letting his anger stew for two years. Absalom then murdered Amnon and fled the country.

          After three years, Joab, one of David’s generals, orchestrated a plan to get David to bring Absalom back home. But even then, it would be two more years before Absalom would be allowed to appear before the king to be officially welcomed home.

          Absalom began undermining his father, saying and doing things to get the people on his side and turn them against David. After four years of this, Absalom had himself proclaimed king, and David and his supporters fled for their lives. This led up to the battle depicted in today’s Scripture, where Israel’s army under Absalom fought David’s supporters in a forest, 20,000 men were killed, and Absalom got his head caught in a tree and was killed by Joab and his armor bearers even after David had specifically ordered his generals not to harm Absalom.

          I believe that Absalom had good reason to be angry at Amnon for raping Tamar. He also had good reason to be angry at his father David for not holding Amnon accountable for his actions. Anger at wrongdoing and injustice are appropriate. Indeed, the Bible tells us anger is God’s response to these things. The problems that I have with anger come from what I do with that anger.

          How could have Absalom handled this situation differently? It seems to me the first thing he could have done is go to his father King David and speak the truth about Amnon’s wrongdoing, demand justice, and insist that Amnon be held accountable for his actions. We know from later in the story that Absalom did have the power to persuade his father, for he managed to talk David into letting Amnon and all the other princes come to the banquet where Amnon was killed at Absalom’s orders.

          Instead of that, Absalom took matters into his own hands. It seems to me he operated on the principle of “I don’t get mad—I get even.” He built up a massive grudge, sought revenge rather than justice or reconciliation, and spent years plotting and scheming to get that revenge by killing Amnon and taking the kingship from his father David. It appears to me that in fact he did many of the things Paul tells us not to do. He let the sun go down on his anger many, many times over the several years he plotted Amnon’s death and the attempt to take the throne away from David. He became bitter toward Amnon and David. And the end result was that Amnon, 20,000 soldiers, and Absalom himself ended up prematurely dead, leaving King David and thousands of families grieving.

          I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time letting go of grudges. I can understand why Absalom did what he did with his anger. But I also recognize that grudges are destructive. I remember something the late comedian Buddy Hackett is quoted as saying: “I never hold a grudge. You know why? Because while you’re holding the grudge, they’re out dancing.” Unlike Absalom, I don’t act on most of the grudges I hold. I don’t go out and kill someone I am angry with or do other nasty things to them. At most, I may just refuse to associate with them. But the grudge still does damage to me. It hardens my heart and makes me bitter. It becomes a preoccupation that causes me to miss some of the joy and beauty in the world. It causes me to distrust people, even if they have nothing to do with the person or persons against whom I hold the grudge.

          Paul points us to a different way, the way of Jesus. He wrote, “Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ.” Now please understand that forgiveness is not easy. Letting go of our hatred toward someone who wrongs us is hard work, and can take a lot of time, a lot of struggle, a lot of prayer for God’s help. Forgiving us wasn’t easy for Jesus, either—it cost him his life. He loved us sacrificially. Through the sacrifice of Jesus, God let go of everything he has ever and will ever have against humankind so you, I, and all people might be in right relationship with him.

          We live in an angry world. Much of the violence and destruction is fueled by grudges, some going back decades or even centuries. We are not going to solve this on our own. Our task is to demonstrate a different way, God’s way, the way of love, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Our task is to do the hard work of figuring out how to forgive the people who have wronged us. The God who has forgiven us in Jesus Christ demands nothing less. Let us be faithful in showing this broken world what that looks like.

                                                                   Amen.

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