A quick Google search earlier this week revealed that some of the most common preoccupations include: death, sex, hand-washing, hoarding, skin and hair plucking, fear of germs, cleanliness, and the fear of the internet going down.
St. Paul’s preoccupation, as we have just heard in our reading from the epistle, is the development of Christian character. St. Paul makes it clear, that through the work of the Holy Spirit, our minds are to be ‘renewed’ and that we are to be clothed according to the very likeness of ‘God, in true righteousness and holiness.’ To be renewed, and re-clothed, is to grow into towards the full stature of God.
But, St Paul, somewhat bizarrely we might think, starts his grand exhortation with the words ‘be angry,’ which he then qualifies by saying, ‘but do not sin.’ Anger it seems can be the impetus for holiness. According to St. Paul it’s okay to be angry, but not at the cost of ‘bitterness….wrangling and slander.’ Our anger must be a Christ-like anger. So, if this is true, which I believe it to be, what should we be angry about? The obvious answer is the same things that Jesus was angry about: injustice, iniquity, hypocrisy – specifically religious hypocrisy -, tyranny, the de-humanising treatment of the poor, the outcast and the refugee and, so forth. In summary what we should always be angry about is protectionist behaviour and the abuse of power.
Christian character must always be about extending the table and widening the doors. It must be about bringing people into the fold. It must never be about building walls between people just like us, and people who are not like us. Just think for a second who Jesus extended the table for; Samaritans, women, lepers, tax collectors alongside good God fearing Jews such as Nicodemus. Just pause and think about the stories about Jesus overturning the money lenders tables and about how he esteemed and privileged the widow who gave her mite. Jesus’ ministry was largely fuelled by righteous, Godly, anger and so should ours.
This week I have been reading the biography of Beyers Naude. Naude was a prominent member of the South African Broederbond, the secret and deeply religious group, that gave such support to South Africa’s apartheid regime. He was also a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church. Naude was, according, to Desmond Tutu, a ‘member of the Afrikaner aristocracy,’ and yet he came to understand that God is always on the side of the oppressed and the excluded. He came to understand that all, yes all, are made in the very image of God. For his beliefs, because of the development of his Christian character, because he refused to accept and propagate what St. Paul describes as ‘false doctrine,’ he was thrown out of the church and eventually became a ‘banned person.’ Yet, despite the appalling treatment he received he refused to become bitter or angry, for in his own words ‘I realized that if there really is a sincere love of your fellow human being, including your enemies, then that love must express itself in the willingness to at least not allow anger and aggressiveness and vindictiveness to lay claim to your life.’ Like Jesus, like St. Paul, and like Beyers Naude, we too must learn the art of Holy Anger.
But how do we do this? Well, the answer again is stunningly simple. Like Elijah in the Old Testament reading we must learn to accept that God will provide and that our first responsibility is to feed on the ‘bread of life.’ Let us as a community learn to feed off the ‘bread of life,’ through prayer, through reading the bible and through sharing in the sacrament. If we do this we will learn the art of ‘Holy Anger,’ and this in turn will equip us for mission and ministry.
I would like us, as a church, to capture the things that make us angry, so that we can pray into them and be led by the Holy Spirit into action. I am going to suggest that at the beginning of September we create a list of things we feel angry about, and that we then commit to praying about these things, always trusting in the ‘bread of life,’ and with a real commitment in our hearts that the anger we might feel should never be fuelled by aggressiveness and vindictiveness. As a community I would like us to commit to learning the art of Holy Anger, for ultimately, and paradoxically, this is a route to Holy Peace, (peace in this sense meaning Shalom: right, righteous and Godly relationships between all people),