“Be the Church: Forgive Often”
Be angry, Paul says.
Finally, a text that gives us permission to be human beings.
Sure, it also tells us to speak kindly, put away bitterness and wrath, and forgive one another. Which are all difficult.
But there’s a glimmer in here of Paul affirming our humanity.
Many of us grew up in households where anger was a reality.
But many of us grew up in households or workplaces where anger was not tolerated.
We were shamed, either by our families or by our culture into thinking that anger is somehow a sign we are weak or that we don’t have any self-control.
And yet here in scripture is a clear statement: be angry.
Anger in and of itself, is an energy that can be used for change.
In a book of readings from the Iona Community (This is the Day: Readings and meditations from the Iona Community, Neil Paynter, ed. Wild Good Publications, 2002), Joy Mead writes,
“People who are angry at injustice are compassionate people: they are filled with passion and they do not make docile citizens: angry people (slaves and fee) forced the end of slavery; angry people (men and women) won the vote for women; angry people (black and white) brought an end to apartheid in South Africa. Angry people can change the rules…
And yet, anger can also break down and destroy.
And I’m not just talking about the aggressive yelling red-faced kind of anger.
Anger can be harmful if we DON’T let it out as well.
Some of us internalize anger, avoiding dealing with the people or situations that caused the anger.
We can express it by getting even, holding a grudge, or being mean.
Some of us spread nasty rumors, or destroy property, or destroy relationship by giving people the silent treatment or cutting them off.
Anger can lead to ongoing bitterness and rage that eats us from the inside.
This is why Paul doesn’t end with “Be angry.” He says, “Be angry, but do not sin.
So how we channel that anger we have, that righteous anger that can change the rules, that can change the world without falling into the behaviors that Paul warns against?
One person this week gave an inspiring suggestion in Bible study this week. She said that when she has the choice to be right or to be kind, she chooses to be kind.
When she has a choice between being right and being kind, she chooses to be kind.
What an inspiring way to live.
She told us that the choice comes up all the time. And she consciously practices choosing kindness.
And little by little, it’s changed her life.
That sounds like divine wisdom to me, especially when it comes to the relatively small battles we face every day. The arguments, the political debates, the fights between friends about who said what. Even the bigger arguments between us – those personal disputes over money or issues that may go back years. What would happen if we chose kindness and forgiveness over being right?
I imagine it would change our lives too.
But what about those big battles, the battles Joy Mead talked about? Systemic issues like racism or homelessness or hunger?
Should we just choose kindness and not worry about being right in those cases?
I’m not sure it’s that simple.
Jesus offers us some insight. We don’t have any texts from the Bible about Jesus arguing about the things we like to get caught up in in our daily lives. But he did get angry about systemic problems.
Jesus turned over the tables in the temple, angry that people were turning God’s temple into a marketplace where they were swindling the poor.
Jesus also got angry at the hypocrisy of the Disciples and the religious leaders of his time.
He called the Pharisees and Saducees hypocrites and a brood of vipers.
I’m generally not a fan of name-calling, and if all Jesus did was name-call, I don’t know that I could reconcile today’s text with Jesus’ actions.
But Jesus didn’t just speak out in anger against the religious leadership of his time.
He did something about it.
He used his anger and translated it into passionate action.
He preached about equality.
He healed on the Sabbath.
He fed and spent time with the poor and “unclean.”
He broke bread with women and tax collectors and gentiles.
And in doing so, channeled his anger into healing and positive change.
Jesus’ anger was not just about being “right.” It was about changing the world for the better.
So this leads me to ask, what are the battles you’re fighting?
Are you fighting to end child hunger in Albuquerque? Or are you fighting for the remote?
Are you choosing to be right about a political argument with a friend? Or are you choosing instead to be kind with him or her, reserving your energy to fight a bigger battle?
What would happen if you saved the energy it takes to yell at a woman who cut you off in traffic and channel it into fighting to protect our national parks?
What would happen if you took a break from arguing with people on social media or yelling at the latest ignorant editorial in the Albuquerque Journal and instead spent that time volunteering to tutor a child who needs your help in order to have a fighting chance.
Some of us have grievances over money or family issues or betrayals that go back 20 years or more. Why on earth are we holding onto those, when there are such bigger battles to fight.
And know that I’m preaching to myself as much as I am to you.
I have 2 teenagers at home. My world is a battlefield. Pushing back is something my kids do automatically at this point. And even though I know that… I still get sucked in sometimes.
So today, I’m reminding myself that if I engage with every fight, if I get sucked in to every conflict, I’ll never have time or energy for anything else.
I have to pick my battles. I have to choose my priorities. In their case, my priority is making sure they have food and basic safety. If those are at risk, I’m going to fight with everything I have. But when it comes to the socks on the floor and the curfew – I honestly have more important battles to fight.
My challenge to all of us this week is two fold – first, to find opportunities to choose kindness over being right. And my second challenge is to tell someone what battle we’re fighting. Is it women’s health? Our own health maybe? Family reunification at the border? Hunger? Literacy? What is the battle we care most about. Maybe there’s more than one. But pick 1 or 2, and tell someone what battle you’re going to fight on behalf of others, on behalf of God and God’s reign on earth.
And then when someone cuts you off or says something ignorant or brings up something more trivial than that issue, remind yourself, I have bigger battles to fight. Let me choose in this moment to be kind instead of being right.