Won’t You Be My Neighbor? What do you do?

by jacobjuncker

This message was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, September 6, 2015.

Reading: James 1:19-26

Howdy, neighbor.

How are you feeling today?

We have lots of emotions. There are lots of ways that we feel. At different times we feel different ways. Sometimes we’re happy, sad, or jealous. Sometimes we even get mad and angry.

What makes you angry or mad?

You may get angry when something doesn’t go your way. Maybe you get mad at yourself when you don’t understand your homework or when your team loses an important game. When you have a hard time reaching a goal you might become frustrated. That frustration can lead to anger.

Kids who tease you or call you names can make you angry. Or you might get angry with your parents if you think one of their rules is unfair. Worst of all is when you are blamed for something you didn’t do. But it’s also possible to get angry and not even know why.[1]

Everyone gets angry. It’s OK to be angry. It’s OK to get mad. It’s not OK to hurt ourselves or other people. So, what do you do?

It’s OK to be angry and get mad. When we get angry we need to find ways to release and work through our anger: ways that don’t hurt ourselves or others. There’s a scripture verse I wanted to share with you this morning. It’s Psalm 37:8 (Common English Bible). It says, “Let go of anger and leave rage behind!  Don’t get upset—it only leads to evil.”

What are some ways you can “let go of anger and leave rage behind”?

…talking to a friend, counting to 10, doing jumping jacks or running around the yard, drawing a picture, playing music, doing crafts, turning up the radio and singing really loud, or just taking a few deep, calming breaths (in through the mouth and out through the nose).

Learning to control our response to anger is an important part of what it means to grow up and be an adult (and you know, sometimes adults need to be reminded of that too).

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Let’s pray.

Loving God, we admit that we sometimes get angry. Help us to work through our anger in ways that are healthy. We never want to hurt ourselves, others, or you. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

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Jesus was angry. He entered the temple to find that the merchants that were selling sacrificial animals were exploiting those who were trying to worship God. The buying of selling of goods was essential to the proper running of the temple, but price gouging was unacceptable. Jesus was furious. In a fit of anger “he threw out those who were selling and buying there. He pushed over the tables used for currency exchange and the chairs of those who sold doves” (Mark 11:15, Common English Bible). In John’s account of the incident, Jesus “made a whip from ropes and chased them all out of the temple, including the cattle and the sheep” (John 2:15, Common English Bible). “Get these things out of here! [shouted Jesus] Don’t make my Father’s house a place of business” (John 2:16, CEB).

The disciples were there. They saw it all. At first they couldn’t believe what they were seeing, but then they remembered the words of the Psalm (69:9, as quoted in John 2:17, CEB), “Passion for your house consumes me.

I once heard it said that if you want to know what people really care about, see what makes them angry. I’m not talking about the frustration you feel when the Yankees beat the Red Sox or how mad you get when you stub your toe for the tenth time on a toy your kid left out. I’m talking about anger that makes you so mad you’re willing to do something about it.

There’s a great story about Tony Campolo who was asked to speak at a large gathering. Thousands of people were there to hear him speak. As he stepped up to the mic to address the crowd he said,

I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or disease related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.[2]

What makes you angry?

Really angry. What provokes you to action? What do you care enough about to really do something about?

To be sure there is much in this world to be angry about which is why, I think, James reminds us to “be slow to anger.” Being angry all the time doesn’t solve anything. Yes, we all get angry. We all get frustrated and mad, but being mad and angry doesn’t, on its own help.

“Be slow to anger [writes James] because and angry person doesn’t produce God’s righteousness” (James 1:19d-20, CEB).

Be slow to anger and if you really want to get mad, get mad about things that keep God’s reign of love from coming on earth as it is in heaven.

For me, I get mad about the fact that nearly 1 in 6 people in New London County are food insecure and of those nearly half (an estimated 45%) do not qualify for food assistance programs like WIC or SNAP.[3] It bothers me greatly that we’ve been in Baltic for four years now and it’s still a food desert. It frustrates me that most of our immediate church neighbors know us more for our rummage sales and our turkey dinners than for the love of God we share with our community. It saddens me that so many people (55% in New London County claim no religious affiliation[4]) have not truly experienced, in a life-transforming and inspiring way the love of God found in Jesus Christ.

Everyone gets mad. It’s OK. But just being angry doesn’t help anyone. It’s our response that makes a difference.

What do you do?

What do you do when you get angry? What do you do when you get mad? It’s my hope and prayer that our anger leads us to love evermore deeply. It’s my prayer that our frustration somehow inspire us to be agents of God’s love that “justice [might] roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24, CEB).

It’s never OK, not even when your angry, to hurt yourself or others. Retaliation, revenge, and retribution are contrary to the Christian faith; but it’s always OK, and is indeed supposed to be the distinctive mark of those who follow Jesus, to love.

What do you do with the mad that you feel
When you feel so mad you could bite?
When the whole wide world seems oh, so wrong…?

Let your anger lead to a holy love of God and neighbor: a love that transforms the world, a love that brings reconciliation and peace on earth as it is in heaven.

 


[1] “Taking Charge of Anger,” KidsHealth.org <http://kidshealth.org/kid/feeling/emotion/anger.html#> Accessed September 5, 2015.

[2] Tony Campolo as quoted on Patheos.com < http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2011/10/quote-of-the-day-tony-campolo.html> Posted October 17, 2011.  Accessed September 5, 2015.

[3] “Map the Meal Gap 2015” < http://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/our-research/map-the-meal-gap/2013/CT_AllCounties_CDs_MMG_2013.pdf> Accessed September 5, 2015.

[4] “New London County, Connecticut (CT) Religion Statistic Profile” < http://www.city-data.com/county/religion/New-London-County-CT.html> Accessed September 5, 2015.

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