Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the nineteenth Sunday after Trinity, 10/15/2023. The service was broadcast live on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Trinity19 Bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity, click here.
There’s a lot of anger this morning. In the Epistle, and in the Gospel both, anger is in the air and in the heart.
We can start with the anger of the Pharisees. They were angry because they thought Jesus was blaspheming, i.e. they thought that He was profaning and defaming God’s holy Name.
Jesus had just forgiven a man his sins. Something they knew was for God alone to do. And that wasn’t a bad impulse in and of itself. We really should be delighted in things that delight God, and grieved over things that grieve God.
But like those well-intentioned Christians, who are upset when I forgive you your sins in the stead and by the command of Jesus, these Pharisees are sure that their anger is appropriate. Blasphemy is a sin, and a deadly serious sin at that. And if God doesn’t like it, neither should they.
Now, the Pharisees haven’t said a word, but the anger is there in their hearts. And there, Jesus sees it, judges it, and questions it. Jesus sees, judges, and questions their hearts and the anger that lives there. Thus, Jesus asked, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?”
And this would have come as a shock; not just the mini miracle: that Jesus perceived their thoughts, but that He diagnosed them as evil.
The Pharisees were absolutely convinced that they were angry for good reasons. They were sure that they had what we call, “righteous anger.” That is, anger over something which angers God. As opposed to something that simply angers us. The bigger miracle that followed was offered to them as evidence that Jesus does have the authority to forgive sins; and that He is their Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God.
Despite their certainty and confidence in their own piety, God the Father was perfectly happy with God the Son for forgiving sins. And so, it turned out that their anger was not righteous. It was unrighteous. It was evil and disordered and destructive, and it created a barrier between them and Jesus.
You just heard part of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. Even among Christians, anger is a reality that has to be dealt with. So, first he addresses anger discernment; and then anger management.
Paul calls for us to put off, to do away with the “old self”, which belongs to our former manner of life, and which is corrupt through deceitful desires.
The things we desire and yearn for can be deceitful; they can fool us. Just because something feels right does not make it right, no matter how much you feel it in your heart. Our desires must be evaluated, inspected, and subjected to God’s Word.
Being renewed in the spirit of our minds and putting on the new self, we are to put away falsehood and speak truth with our neighbors.
I.e., By being baptized, being reborn, being transformed in our heart and mind, in conforming ourselves to the mind of Christ, and seeking after His righteousness, we are to put away falsehood and speak truth with our neighbors.
This starts when we first hear truth. When we listen as God speaks clearly to us in His Word. There, God tells us what is good, right, and salutary. And there, He tells us what is evil, wrong, and destructive.
God’s Word reveals what is in our hearts. But it doesn’t work the other way around. Our hearts do not reveal what is in God’s Word; no matter how much we want them to.
Whatever we call good or evil, righteous or unrighteous, right or wrong, must be tested against God’s Word; which does not mean going home and trying to justify whatever we want by cherry-picking verses, and filtering everything through our desires. Iron sharpens iron, and your Bible comes with two pastors and a faithful congregation.
In all of the above, anger is identified, judged, and questioned by the only One who judges justly.
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.
If your anger, like most anger, is not truly righteous, then put it away along with all bitterness, wrath, clamor, slander, and malice (Ephesians 4:31). If you let it rule over you into the night, it will be waiting for you when you wake, for Satan prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking one whom he may devour (1 Peter 5). And while you will sleep, he will not.
But what do we do with righteous anger? What do we do when we have seen our anger, and judged it by God’s Word? What do we do when we have put away falsehood, and only have truth? What do we do when we behold absolute evil, barbarism, blasphemy, and butchery? What do we do when we are angry over something that makes God angry?
St. Paul says that we are to speak the truth to our neighbor. But first we must speak the truth to ourselves. Because if we can’t be honest with ourselves, we won’t be honest with our neighbors either. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we will recognize that we have desired some truly noble things. But the goodness of those desires deceived us into thinking they were true or possible.
Despite ages upon ages of evidence, despite examples far and near and past and present, we have believed what we want to believe. And so, we’ve been deceived into thinking that all people are basically Hobbits. We’ve convinced ourselves that everyone just wants peace and quietness, a full pantry, and a warm hearth.
Like Anne Frank, we wanted so much to believe that everyone is good at heart. But the world is not that way, and it will never be that way until Christ’s return. We have failed to heed what God in His Word has actually said about our world, and about the aims of those allied with Satan.
When someone says aloud and in writing that his organization is devoted to the extinction of an entire people, we should believe him. When people shout in the middle of the street in a parade that they are coming for your children, we should believe them. When politicians tell you that your children actually belong to everyone, i.e. everyone except you – this is one of those rare moments in which we should believe them.
But we haven’t. We’ve had, here and there, a private flash righteous anger, but we didn’t even inspect it long enough to recognize it as such. We just reminded ourselves that we’re all sinners, and did nothing righteous or useful with it.
And then the sun set on that righteous anger, and then the sun rose, and we poured a fresh cup of coffee and went back to our prior assumptions about everyone being good at heart, and that everything was just fine.
Getting back to the question of what to do, it’s not my place or my desire to micro-manage Christians. That’s not what shepherds do, and it’s not what I’m here to do.
I am only here to remind you that the same Jesus who owns me, who has claim over my life and my death, my conduct and my desires, lives and reigns to exercise that same claim over you who are baptized into His Name.
Your life is not your own. You were bought with a Price.
So, what you do with your righteous anger is you speak truth, and you act in accordance with your calling in life. That will look different for lots of you. Pause: Here I must mention one of the reasons we’re afraid to talk about this. We’re afraid to talk about righteous anger and whether we can have it, because we imagine that it has to be expressed like unrighteous, worldly anger. Unrighteous anger usually consists of indignance, vanity, and abuse. Righteous anger for you ought to look quite different. It doesn’t mean getting all worked up and yelling at people. It ought to end in works of mercy and prayer. More on that in a minute.
If you are a student, it means protecting your mind and your heart, and it means sharing truth in the midst of falsehood. You are to be as innocent as doves, but also as wise as serpents. And one does not need to come at the expense of the other. Be clever, shrewd, prudent, and courageous.
If you are a mother or a father, recognize that your children are a gift from God to you and are your responsibility. They are yours to raise up in the fear and admonition of the Lord. They are yours to educate, to nurture, and to protect. They do not belong to anyone else.
If you see it fit to outsource any part of that responsibility to someone else, that is your decision. It is not my decision, and it is not your neighbor’s decision. But you are obligated to exercise prudence. Don’t overestimate your children’s resilience, wisdom, and discernment.
Children, you are to obey your parents. They are God’s gift to you, and you should treasure them and learn from them.
I could go on through your various callings in life, but the same principles apply. It remains to be said, though, that you have an obligation as Christians in general.
You are to pray. This is your holy and righteous work. It is your obligation and responsibility. And it is more effective than you suppose.
So, if you are angry, your Bible includes a prayerbook: the Psalms – the Psalms are prayers that reveal when our anger is righteous or unrighteous. Sometimes we find that our unrighteous anger is really frustration or anxiety. Sometimes we find that our anxiety should actually be righteous anger. In the Psalms we ask God to administer His justice, to bring an end to bloodshed, to protect the innocent, and punish evildoers.
But this is not all. Jesus also commands us to pray for our enemies, no matter how wicked they are. That command may leave us feeling paralyzed, with limited movement in our hearts and hands.
But when we recall again what has really happened: that Jesus of Nazareth has come for us and for them, that He has told us the truth of who He is, that by His death on the cross He has forgiven us all our sins, and that by His grace, we have believed Him, then we should stand up and go home in peace and confidence, to pray for our friends and our families, and for our enemies and their families…
Knowing that people are not good at heart, but remembering that God is pleased to give us new hearts; lamenting that people are delighted to destroy our bodies, but rejoicing that God has promised to restore our bodies; troubled at the wars in the Holy Land, and the battles in our own land, but comforted in the sure and certain promise of God’s Kingdom.
The Kingdom of God will be fully revealed on the Great and Last Day, but it comes to us now by itself, even without our prayers, when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.
May God by His grace and providence, for the sake of His Son, bring about peace, justice, righteousness, and right worship of Him here and throughout Creation, now and forever.