Sermon Archives

Sunday, March 4, 2018
Third Sunday of Lent (RCL Year B)
The Reverend Areeta Bridgemohan, Curate
The Angel of Anger

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele launched a sketch comedy show in 2012 called Key & Peele. It became one of Comedy Central’s most acclaimed original series - winning 8 Emmys in 2015, which was the last year that the show was on air.[1]

One of their most popular sketches featured Luther, a fictional Anger Translator for President Obama. In the first episode, “President Obama” played by Peele, says: “Good evening my fellow Americans. First of all, I would like to say that I know that many people think that I never get angry. That’s simply not true. I get angry a lot. It’s just that the way that I express passion is different from most.”

As “Obama” speaks, the camera begins to pan out and we see that there’s a tall figure in the shadows behind the President’s seat. He continues: “So just so that there’s no more confusion, we’ve hired Luther, my anger translator.”[2]

The sketches switch back and forth between the actor who plays “Obama” delivering a weekly address, often sitting in front of a fireplace, speaking in calm and measured tones with a relatively formal style of communication - to Luther, his anger translator yelling, knocking things over and gesticulating wildly as he “translates” “Obama’s” message with the full force of emotion.

The idea of an anger translator is fascinating and draws attention to questions about who is allowed to express anger, in what ways, and in what spaces.

There are many ways to think about anger. In my research for this sermon I encountered a variety of ways to talk about this emotion: honest anger, anger as a primary or a secondary emotion, women’s anger, righteous anger, destructive anger, to name a few.

As a side note, I also came across ‘rage rooms’ - places where you can pay for what they advertise as “hassle-free smashing”. The one in Toronto even has a date night option - for $70/couple you get to destroy 10 small items, 8 medium items, 2 large items and 2 electronics.[3]

In addition to all these ways to think about anger, as Christians, we can layer on all sorts of questions about what place anger has in our hearts, in our communities and in our relationship with God. Somehow, somewhere along the line, being Christian has become synonymous with ‘being nice’ and ‘being nice’ leaves no space for feelings of anger, or many other feelings for that matter.

One glance at the passage from our Gospel today quickly dispels the notion that there is no room for anger in our spiritual lives. Our story today tells us that Jesus, that is, God, did feel and express anger. I’ve often heard it said that the Old Testament God is angry but Jesus is kind and compassionate. But in fact, scripture reveals continuity between the God as described in the Old Testament and Jesus. There are a variety of stories in the Gospels that show us Jesus’ anger. Perhaps it makes us uncomfortable to integrate his anger into our understanding of who God is.

How can a God of love be compatible with a God who feels and expresses anger?

The roots of the words: anger, angst, anxiety and angina come from the Indo-Germanic angh which means “to constrict”. Anger can be a source of energy and empowerment for the protection of a boundary that has been encroached upon for yourself or others.[4]

Fran Ferder, a member of a religious order and psychologist suggests that a healthy Christian approach towards anger could see it as a message or a revelation. We can ask ourselves: What might God be revealing to me in this situation? How is my personhood being violated here? What valid needs of mine are not being met? If we are attempting to hear God’s word, we must listen to anger as carefully as we listen to joy, peace, fear and fatigue.

She says: “[anger] was purposefully and lovingly created and shaped by God as a source of energy, as a source of fire. The only aspect of anger about which we have choices is how we let it move us. We do not have choices about whether or not we will experience it, unless we choose to cut off a significant dimension of God’s life in us.”[5]

In an essay called ‘The Problem of Anger’ Kathleen Fischer, a counselor and spiritual director, suggests that Christians need new models to help change our perceptions of anger.

She proposes using this story of Jesus cleansing the temple as a starting point. She says the strength of Jesus’ emotion is an expression of his zeal for the reign of God and suggests that our anger can contribute to the same end. She points out that we should not look exclusively within our own persons for the origins of anger, but also at the political origins of anger. The danger of looking only within is that we “run the risk of muting the moral power of anger as a force against injustice.”[6] In other words, anger can fuel social change.

Following the shooting at the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida, students at that high school and all over the country have been expressing their anger and disappointment in adults, especially legislators. Two weeks ago, teenagers from Marjorie Stoneman got on a bus traveling over 400 miles to get to the capitol in Tallahassee to demand gun control measures from state lawmakers.

One of the students on the bus said in an interview: “We definitely have a moral obligation to do something, considering that so many innocent people that we know passed. These adults, these politicians, these lawmakers, these legislators, they were supposed to protect us. And they didn’t.”[7]

A national event has been planned for March 14, the one-month anniversary of the Parkland shooting, when students and teachers plan to leave class for 17 minutes, one minute for each victim.

On March 24, students will gather in Washington D.C. at an event organized by March for Our Lives, a student group formed by Parkland survivors. There will be gatherings all over the country led by youth in solidarity with the one in D.C., including one in Detroit, co-organized by students at South high school.[8]

A TV personality, questioning the actions of the youth, tweeted, “Should the media be promoting opinions by teenagers who are in an emotional state and facing extreme peer pressure in some cases?”[9]  

The powerful emotional state fueling the actions of the youth is the anger of grief. Although they have no voting power, these youth are transforming their anger at the needless deaths of their classmates, coaches, and teachers into advocacy for the protection for all students. Anger that is fueled by love.

Jesus’ love for God caused a passion in him to burn at the violation of the appropriate use of the Temple precincts. Jesus discovers merchants in the Court of the Gentiles who were selling unblemished oxen, sheep and pigeons necessary for the Temple cult. They were also changing Roman money into Tyrian money so that people could pay the Temple tax with coins not bearing effigies. These activities, while not praiseworthy, were not intrinsically wrong.[10]

One theory about why Jesus was so angry is that Caiaphas, the High Priest, had relatively recently made the Court of the Gentiles available for commerce. The Court of the Gentiles was the only part of the temple that non-Jews who had adopted Israel’s God as their own were allowed to worship. Perhaps Jesus was furious that the keepers of the religious institution had created yet another barrier for the Gentiles, who were already on the outer rings of the Jewish faith community.[11]

Jesus was angry about the way that a world centred on greed and material profit had encroached on what was meant to be a sacred place, disregarding those at the bottom of the religious hierarchy. Ultimately Jesus’ anger, his desire for respect of the holy and of all members of the community, is an expression of love.

A love that calls us to confront ourselves and ask whether who we are is in line with God’s call to us. A love that believes that we can be better, that we can get past the illusion of material gain and profit, and that we can bind our hearts to that which is true and unchanging. A love that challenges us to reorient our hearts towards our neighbour and God.

Adrienne Rich, in her poem ‘Integrity’, describes how anger and love can be seen as equally valuable parts of ourselves.

She writes:

Anger and tenderness: my selves
And now I can believe they breathe in me
as angels, not polarities.

Anger and tenderness: the spider’s genius
to spin and weave in the same action
from her own body, anywhere -
even from a broken web.[12]


[1] https://www.rollingstone.com/tv/news/key-peele-to-end-after-current-seas...

[2]Key and Peele: Obama’s Anger Translator - Meet Luther. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qv7k2_lc0M

[3] http://www.battlesports.ca/rage-room/

[4] McLaren, K. (2010). The language of emotions: What your feelings are trying to tell you. Sounds True.

[5] Conn, J. W. (Ed.). (2005). Women's spirituality: Resources for Christian development. Wipf and Stock Publishers.

[6] Conn, J. W. (Ed.). (2005). Women's spirituality: Resources for Christian development. Wipf and Stock Publishers.

[7] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/20/us/parkland-students-shooting-florida...

[8] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/20/us/parkland-students-shooting-florida...

[9] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/20/us/parkland-students-shooting-florida...

[10] Moloney, F. J., & Harrington, D. J. (1998). The gospel of John(No. 4). Liturgical Press.

[11] https://preachersinstitute.com/2014/02/08/cleansing-the-court-of-the-gen...

[12] https://www.best-poems.net/adrienne_rich/integrity.html