The Rev. Laurel Hart
Scripture: Matthew 5:21-37
We are coming into the final two weeks of our church season of Epiphany – Ash Wednesday and the penitential season of Lent are just around the corner. The word Epiphany comes from a Greek word for manifestation or appearance. For many Christians, Epiphany refers to the manifestation of the divine nature of Jesus and is marked by a feast day, Jan. 6. But the word epiphany has another popular meaning: a sudden flash of understanding or insight. Today epiphany carries a range of meanings, including: an intuitive grasp of reality, an illuminating discovery, realization, disclosure, or insight, or simply a revealing scene or moment.
The Gospel reading today is a passage from the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus begins by addressing the crowd with the Beatitudes; blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, etc. Jesus continues by addressing some of the most contentious issues of his day including murder, which he links with anger. He moves on to the sin of adultery which he broadens to include not just actions but thoughts; then he preaches on swearing falsely.
I want to come back to the emotion of anger because it’s a part of my personality. If you hang around with me long enough you’ll see it. I hope it will be expressed in an appropriate way, but it might not. I don’t want to label the feeling of anger or exhibiting anger as a character flaw because all human feelings are part of what makes us human – how we learn to interpret, express and resolve these feelings are what counts in the end. I grew up in a time when children – at least in my family - weren’t allowed to express anger. It took me well into adulthood to even begin to recognize my own feelings of anger and then learn how to handle the emotions when they appeared. To this day, I might get mad rather quickly but I also know that I don’t stay mad very long, and I am not a grudge bearer. It seems there is so much anger in our world currently that it has become very painful to hear, see or attempt to process all the loud voices and hateful speech. It has always been a part of humanity but in the current political climate it seems so much more in the open - in the written word and on TV and radio. I believe that most anger is really a display of fear; actually the flip side of fear. Many times it comes from our deepest, scariest fears - fear that we or someone we love is in real or imagined physical danger. Or what we most value: material possessions or even our personal freedom at risk of being taken from us. In this lesson, Jesus is recognizing that humans do get angry. Rather than prohibiting anger, he teaches that it can be transformed by living as a peacemaker and initiating acts that manifest the reign of God.
In today’s lessons, as in the previous two Sundays’ lessons, we are reminded that Jesus, as he travels about the countryside teaching and preaching, reveals God: God’s nature and intent for humankind. We might ask ourselves “when anger builds, do we fall into it or are we able to let it go?”
During my final working years, I had a co-worker with whom I had a very contentious relationship. His name was Mike. He was probably about 25 years younger than me and he viewed himself as a rising star in the organization. It appeared that I was one of the stairsteps Mike intended to trample on in his rise up the corporate ladder. I had a hard time holding down my anger when he treated me in a disrespectful manner in front of people, which he did on several occasions. For Matthew’s Jesus, being angry, insulting or disparaging another person is tantamount to killing them. There were times I would gladly have throttled Mike with my bare hands. One day as we passed in a hallway, I was suddenly overcome with the realization that he was also a child of God. I was startled – surely not God!!! I said to myself. But the Holy Spirit kept telling me it was so – no matter how much I want to ignore the message. An unknown author was quoted as saying a definition of an epiphany is "a moment of sudden or great revelation that usually changes you in some way." When I could view Mike thru this lens, I was able to release some of the anger I felt toward him - which was better for me and my blood pressure. Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement, used to say to her fellow workers, particularly in difficult and stressful time. “if each of us could just remember that we are all created in the image of God, then we would naturally want to love more.”
Life has never been easy for anyone, man or woman – no manner the time or the place. Bob Dylan, in his autobiography, “Chronicles,” wrote that his maternal grandmother, who was one of the greatest influences on his life, told him something he never forgot “Everyone you’ll ever meet is fighting a hard battle.”
Here we are gathered on a Sunday morning in February, we have prayed a little, heard some scripture and shortly we’ll say a confession together. If we have some anger or fear sitting on our hearts this is an excellent time to offer it to God and let God once again forgive and transform us by the gifts of love and grace. It is Christ working in us and through us that eventually makes reconciliation possible. We can let go of fear and anger for a while and remember that each one of us is a beloved child of God.
Jesus said “now go and be reconciled.” Amen.