Summary: The Bible directs us on how to respond to our anger as agents of grace.
February 24, 2019
Hope Lutheran Church
Pastor Mary Erickson
Agents of Grace
Friends, may grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and Christ Jesus our Lord.
What do we do with anger? Anger is an emotion. It’s an emotional response to something else we sense. Like, maybe we feel that we’re being mistreated, or we’re frustrated, or we feel defensive about something. Those feelings create anger.
Anger does serve a purpose. It lets us know that something is out of alignment. Something is wrong. Anger grabs our attention to the situation at hand. It motivates us to respond in some way. And sometimes anger is the only strong pillar holding us upright. But what do we do? How do we respond to anger?
We’ve been schooled that we need to vent our anger. Anger isn’t something we should suppress. It may not be good to keep our anger pent up inside, but expressing our anger through shouting and slamming doors can also be detrimental. Venting might help us to feel better right away. But often, we later regret the things we said or did. Even more worrisome, studies have revealed that venting anger may actually wire our brains to be angry more often.
Do we express our anger? Do we keep it pent up inside? Or is there a still more excellent way?
The Bible has quite a bit to say about anger. Today we read two passages addressing anger. In Genesis we hear the climax of the story between Joseph and his 11 brothers. While they were growing up, Joseph had been the favorite of their father, Jacob. Resentment grew among the other brothers. It reached a boiling point when Jacob shared with his brothers a dream he’d had. In the dream his brothers were bowing to him.
Their initial plan was to kill Joseph. They lured him into the wilderness and planned to slaughter him there. But when they saw a passing caravan, they opted to sell him into slavery instead. They told their father that Joseph had been mauled to death by a wild animal. Meanwhile, Joseph ended up a slave in Egypt.
It was a long road for Joseph. He was falsely charged of a crime and thrown into prison. He spent years in there. But his ability to interpret dreams brought him before the throne of the Egyptian Pharaoh. He warned Pharaoh of a severe famine that was going to affect the entire region. He advised Pharaoh to store up grain.
Joseph then served the Pharaoh. He rose in power until he became the second in command. When the famine hit, Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy grain. That was when Joseph met them.
Joseph was now in a position of absolute power over his brothers. He easily could have ordered them killed or thrown into prison. He could have enslaved them or sent them away empty-handed. How would he respond?
Think of the suffering he had endured. Rejected by his own brothers, forced into servitude, years in an Egyptian dungeon, exiled from his own people and his own father.
But Joseph’s response is surprising. He’s had a long time to think about this situation. Why did this happen to me? What does it mean? How could my own brothers do this to me?
Joseph does something amazing. In this godless situation, he looks for God. How was God involved in the unwinding of events? He tells his brothers, “You sold me here, but God sent me here to preserve life.”
Joseph wasn’t shrugging off all the years of his suffering as God’s will. He wasn’t insinuating that his brothers’ atrocious behaviors were somehow part of God’s great plan for the preservation of life. But rather, in spite of injustices, God’s good will was at work. God’s will found a way.
Joseph responded with deep compassion. He forgave his brothers. And in that forgiveness, there was tremendous blessing. Joseph regained the kinship of his brothers and was reunited with his father. Joseph gives us a powerful example.
Jesus addresses anger in our reading from Luke. He instructs us how to act when we’re wronged or people hate us. He directs us to forsake vengeance. Rather, we are to seek after forgiveness.
On the surface, Jesus’ instructions seem preposterous. Turn your other cheek so that you can be struck a second time? Give the shirt off your back to the person who steals your coat? Love your enemies?
Certainly not! That’s not our way. Our inbred way is to meet offence with offence. You see it even in toddlers. When they get angry, they push back or hit. It’s the way we’re wired. From little on, we need to learn what to do with our anger.