Sermon of the Week:
Love is Kind–Kindness and Anger
Part five of a six-week sermon series about Kindness and the Christian Faith, called Love is Kind.
Special Music: Grace
Hymn: Our God, Our Help in Ages Past
Keywords: Inside Out, Emotions, Anger, Ephesians, Pseudepigraphy, Interpretation. #pcusa
Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-733469. All rights reserved.
The 2015 Animated movie Inside Out was a major success
For Pixar Studios and Walt Disney Pictures.
In the movie, young Riley, at the age of 11,
moves with her family from Minnesota to San Francisco
when her father gets a new job.
The driver of the plot is all about how Riley and her family adapt to the new city.
But most of the action occurs within Riley’s mind,
Where we see her emotions personified—
Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger—
And how these emotions
work with or against one another
to control Riley’s actions.
Meanwhile, experiences become memories,
and her most important core memories shape her personality
and her potential for resiliency, or distress.
As the various emotions work to process Riley’s experiences,
We, the movie viewer, are invited to empathize with
how hard it is to be a tween, or really someone of any age,
how tentative some of our mental health reactions can be,
and maybe some strategies and methods for engaging our feelings positively.
I particularly liked how the creators worked hard to create space
For feelings like melancholy and grief.
These are normal feelings, you know, variations of Sadness.
Sometimes we think that our feelings ought only always be happiness
or at least contentment, and so we swallow more painful feelings.
Inside Out reminds us of the dangers of doing that.
It was a beautiful film,
A reminder that sometimes animated movies, cartoons,
Can be high forms of art,
A sharp contrast maybe from the kinds of cartoons I mentioned last week
Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry and the like
Where what you get are overly-simplistic strategies for dealing with conflict
Do whatever you need to do to win.
The creators of Inside Out consulted with clinical psychologist Paul Ekman
And professor of Psychology Dacher Keltner
In trying to accurately explore these themes.
Throughout that process, they considered twenty-six various emotions,
Fourteen apparently being real contenders,
Before they narrowed it down to the five characters in the movie,
Which, again, were Joy, Sadness, Fear, disgust, and Anger.
Some of the other emotions considered, but ultimately passed over,
which is a fancy German word meaning taking delight in the misfortune of others
But that’s too many characters to make an animated movie about, apparently,
And I think they did a pretty good job selecting key feelings, right?
Even if it does simplify things a bit.
We do that, by the way,
Simplify how we think about what we feel.
Often it is easy to lump envy and greed and ire and indignation into anger,
Depending on how you feel about it
The schadenfreude you feel might be closer to fear,
Or it might be closer to disgust,
Or it could lean toward anger.
Love often is marked by Joy, but sometimes is informed by sadness too,
Driven to unhealthy places by fear, and so on.
Our emotions are complex, aren’t they.
And sometimes, when we’re so close to them,
They are really hard to tease apart
Which is one reason why therapy is such a helpful thing for so many people.
And I was so glad when this movie came out
Because it was one way for us to look at our complicated inner life
With compassion and with an eye towards our mental health…
What we can do to nurture a healthy understanding of our emotions
What we can do to process them and, thereby, work with them
As we construct a sound relationship between our emotions and our thoughts
Our decisions and our reactions.
Our daughters are spending much of the summer at a local day camp.
They’re not quite old enough yet to be councilors,
so they are “Leaders in Training”
which means they are helping a lot,
mainly helping a lot of first and second and third graders
as they navigate summer camp a week at a time,
so, basically, that means
applying sunscreen, looking for lost shoes,
taking kids to the bathroom, that sort of thing…
and through it all,
negotiating the kind of conflicts that naturally come up among groups of kids.
Among other things, these young kids are learning
how to understand and identify and work with their emotions, right?
That’s not the point of the camp,
This isn’t Inside Out camp…
the point of the camp is crafts and swimming and games and fun,
but they are learning about their feelings and their emotions, for sure.
That is what kids do as they develop.
Actually, we all continue doing this, through our teen years, into adult hood…
some of my most profound moments of self-understanding
even as a middle-age gen x er
have been when I’ve picked apart what I’m feeling at any particular moment
why it is this, and not that,
why it might be connected to these experiences I’ve had
and why that feeling might be driving me to want something or to do something.
Why did that Covid vaccine make me cry when I got the first dose?
Why was it pride that I felt the first time I sat in the passenger seat
While my daughter was at the wheel…
And not a more normal feeling like dread or abject fear?
(That’s not fair…they’re terrific drivers,
But I remember what I was like when I first started to drive.)
Learning how to listen to your feelings, to try to understand them
To think about them,
This is something we do as we grow.
Sometimes we take that analysis too far, of course.
We worry about our worries, we judge ourself for our basic emotions,
In ways that aren’t fair or warranted or balanced.
We don’t know how to turn off this sort of thinking when we need to sleep…
These are a different issue for a different day,
And a good thing to talk to a therapist about.
For now, I mainly want us to have in mind
The complexity of our various feelings, and what it means for us to ponder them.
It takes work to ponder them well,
To not avoid our feelings,
To not dwell on them inordinately,
But to have a fair, balanced, humble, open-eyed take
on what’s going on inside there.
Again, we’re kind of close to our feelings,
so sometimes it helps to have some help with that work,
but when we can undertake it,
it helps us be more centered, more grounded,
we’re able to work on the feelings that we have that are not helpful
to process the feelings that we have that remind us
of who we are and whom we have loved and what matters to us,
and we’re able to choose actions in a more informed way
so that we’re not always acting just out of our feelings
but, instead, informed by our feelings
along with our thoughts and our convictions and our values.
This is part of what it means to live an examined life
A healthy life.
Today we turn to Ephesians for wisdom in this sermon series on Kindness.
I’m the first to admit that I don’t do that very often,
Turn to Ephesians for wisdom.
Ephesians is, how do we put this, a challenging text.
There are many reasons for saying that,
and we might benefit from a different sermon series exploring
challenging texts of the Bible,
those readings that either reflect and suggest and commend
practices that we find abhorrent,
or those that don’t do that,
but have been read and used by people who have read it that way anyway.
I wrestle with Ephesians,
I hope faithfully,
Jacob who grappled with God
and was given a new name,
a new purpose
because of it.
I’ve mentioned before how essential, and how beautiful,
That story from Genesis is for our Jewish cousins in the faith.
Henceforth, Jacob was called Israel,
Meaning ‘the one who strives with God’
And to this day, one of the central self-understandings of Israel
Is a faithful engagement with God,
With the morals that God urges of the people
Of God’s own living up to that self-same standard.
To be faithful, one has to learn, and pray, and engage,
And question, and wrestle with the faith.
Different Jewish traditions understand that differently, of course
Just like different Christians have different ways
of understanding Ephesians, its adoption of so-called
Roman household codes
Which have been used for centuries to promote male-centered
Families, marriages, churches, you name it,
So called complementarian instead of egalitarian views of men and women.
There are other issues with Ephesians.
My point today isn’t to catalogue them
But to say that I take it to be one of our jobs as people of faith
To wrestle with this text as fervently as Jacob wrestled at the Jabbok,
Not to let it go until we get somewhere helpful, useful, healthy,
And, indeed, faithful.
I get angry at these texts sometimes.
The little red character inside of me blows his top.
(That’s a reference to that Inside Out movie, if you saw it).
The first woman ordained as a pastor in the UPCUSA,
That’s our predecessor denomination,
Was Margaret Towner, in 1956.
Before that, this book was a major justification
that kept women out of the pulpit.
And I wrestle with that.
It makes me angry.
It helps to know that even though the Apostle Paul’s name is on this book
He likely did not write it.
It is what we call pseudepigraphical,
Which means someone who knew Paul’s works
Wrote a letter and made it sound a lot like Paul and put Paul’s name on it
But Paul didn’t write about the Household Codes
in any other writing of his.
This book uses words and phrases that Paul himself didn’t use.
It gives hints to a more developed church than Paul would have known.
Pseudepigraphical writing was really common at this time.
It was a way to make your work have instant credit.
And sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t.
But it worked for this text
As well as a few others that we have,
written by people other than the Apostle Paul:
Colossians, First and Second Timothy, Titus,
These books also suggest, because of their subject matter,
A time maybe 30 or 40 years after the life of Paul.
Does that make these books any less scripture?
No, it doesn’t.
Ephesians is part of the bible, too.
Does that mean we can’t learn something faithful, true, important,
from our wrestling with these texts?
Of course we can.
We wrestle with every text, actually,
Old or New Testament
Gospel or Letter
Whether written by Paul or someone in the name of Paul.
And so we wrestle with Ephesians,
And, as we’ve mentioned many times before,
We read it with the understanding of the whole bible
The life of Jesus the Christ
The movement of God throughout the entirety of the scriptures
The other lessons that Paul and the Gospels and the other texts teach.
And in that work, we come to understand
That Ephesians likes to quote from the culture of the time
A culture that was, indeed, very patriarchal,
And that that isn’t itself a word from the Lord,
Because, for instance,
And to remind us of a few highlights of earlier sermons in this series
In baptism, there is no longer Jew nor Greek,
slave nor free,
male and female,
But all are one in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And because Paul himself, and Jesus himself,
Turned to women to preach the Gospel,
They were there at the empty tomb,
There is no faith without faithful women.
There are other examples we could explore, must explore,
Particularly regarding race, or slavery, or human sexuality,
But my point is that a faithful reading requires this sort of discernment
Where maybe you’ll get a bit angry
Or sad, or melancholy, or confused,
Just as surely as you’ll find, elsewhere,
joy and euphoria
feelings of welcome and comfort and belonging
in other readings, readings that, truth be told,
more directly reflect the intention and the action of our God.
That work is faithful work,
And is essential as we seek to develop in our faith
And as a community that seeks to follow God on the way of Jesus Christ.
Ok, fair enough,
But here we are in Ephesians,
And there are a few things, even here, for us to lift out this morning.
The first is this:
So then, putting away falsehood,
let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors,
for we are members of one another.
Be angry but do not sin;
do not let the sun go down on your anger.
There’s a lot about this letter that I worry about
But I actually think that a lot of the reading we heard today
Is the most life-giving part of this letter.
It is the gift that we find when we’re listening for God’s wisdom
In this text.
Put away falsehood.
Speak truth to your Neighbor.
Because we are members of one another.
Because they deserve that dignity by their very existence.
Earlier in this reading, the author urges us to humility and patience,
Making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of Peace.
One way we do that is by truth telling,
By honest speech with one another
Because lies, on the one hand,
Or failing to talk about difficult things we need to talk about,
On the other,
The two different kinds of dishonest speech,
Are both ways we fail to treat one another with respect, with love, with dignity.
We’ll return to that in just a second.
But first, we have this amazing phrase:
Be angry, but do not sin.
Do not let the sun go down on your anger.
Here, the author is drawing not necessarily on Roman culture,
But on the Hebrew Scriptures,
On the Psalmist who said
“When you are disturbed, do not sin”
And on Leviticus,
Where you find it written
“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your people
But you shall love your neighbor as yourself….”
That word sin is a really interesting Greek word.
It comes from the world of marksmanship, think archery,
I think they’re doing that at the camp my daughters are working at.
The word ‘sin’ means ‘to miss the mark’,
To miss the bullseye, so to speak,
To act in a way that misses the values and the law and the intention of God.
So, there are ways that we can be angry that miss the mark
Where that emotion manifests itself in destructive, painful, hurtful behavior
Hurtful to others, or maybe to yourself.
We all have seen examples of this.
But there are also ways in which we can be angry that are right on target
Where that feeling and emotion is both justified and productive
Understood and ordered in such a way that it serves to motivate us
To seek the good, to pursue the right, to work on justice.
What does it mean to be angry in a way that is not sinful?
What are some forms of righteous anger?
I am grateful for Ephesians for placing these questions before us.
They are helpful, particularly as we seek to engage our feelings
For healthy, faithful purposes.
And then, toward the end of our reading,
Did you hear it?
Did you catch the reference to kindness?
Put away from you all bitterness and wrath
and anger and wrangling and slander,
together with all malice,
and be kind to one another,
tenderhearted, forgiving one another,
as God in Christ has forgiven you.
We might rephrase that to say:
Put away those emotions that are not well examined,
Well used, well applied to your life,
And start, instead, engaging others with kindness.
How do we do that,
Without working on our feelings, our emotions,
And without speaking the truth to our neighbor in love
Including about what we feel, and why,
And work together on building the just society
That God intends for all?
Be kind to one another says Ephesians
In other words, treat each other with dignity and respect
As people of complex emotions, as we ourselves are,
Support their physical and emotional and mental well being
Just as God in Jesus Christ does for each one of us.
Just like Kindness urges us to understand a different form of conflict
Kindness asks us to pursue a different way to feel,
An effort to listen well to our emotions, to understand them,
To not just be driven by them,
but to have them help us act thoughtfully, purposefully.
Today this has been about Anger,
But this is true for all of our feelings,
Joy, Fear, Sadness, Disgust too.
Sometimes our anger divides us,
Closes our heart
But sometimes our anger leads us to stand up against injustice
Spend extra time serving our neighbor in need
Feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty,
Visiting the prisoner, healing the sick….
Doing those things that are required to uphold the dignity of others.
In that way, kindness and anger can be partners
When we can be angry in a well-examined way.
May we, dear friends, ponder how to wrestle with our faith well
As we seek to love our neighbor, pursue justice,
And nurture peace,
As we seek to walk with Jesus
On this amazing journey of Faith.
May it be so.