To read this sermon from The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr. click on “Continue reading” below.
The words from our Old Testament reading from the book of Job can not be fully understood unless we recognize the fact that Job is likely shouting these words with a great deal of pain anguish and anger. As we study this passage it’s important for us to learn a little about who Job was and who he became. Job is of course the central figure in this book. He was considered to be a great prophet. He is good person who was plagued with horrible disasters in his life. Everything that Job held dear in his life, his family, health and property were all stripped away from him. Job struggles to understand his situation and begins a search for the answer to his difficulties. Chapter 19 sees Job involved in a conversation with his friends. Job describes to his friends the ways in which God’s actions have hurt him. Job feels as though he has been shut out and shut down at every turn in his life. At first he offers a plea for understanding from his friends. However Job soon realized that like God, Job’s friends are his persecutors too. We cannot overlook these charges that Job levels against his friends and God as well. The feelings that Job expressed in the passage flowed from his sense of isolation and being unfairly persecuted.
It is with this knowledge that we come to today’s lesson. The man once respected for his goodness is now regarded as a sinner through no fault of his own. His friends, who one might expect would offer support and encouragement, instead accuse him. They accuse him saying that because he has not confessed his sin is the reason for his current circumstances. The words of this passage plead Job’s argument for his innocence. Despite his pain, frustration and anger these words demonstrated his continued faithfulness to God. He insisted that God would vindicate him but until that time, Job was living through a time of anger.
How do we handle our anger when we feel we have been unfairly accused or treated? We can learn some valuable lessons about addressing anger through the actions of Job in this passage.
The first thing we learn is that yes, there are times in life to address our anger. It has been said that there is an anger that arises from pride. With this type of pride there is often an arrogance of attitude that refuses to admit wrongdoing or repent. Take for example the story of a little boy with a bad temper and anger problem. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, to hammer a nail in the back fence. The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. Then it gradually dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence. Finally the day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all. He told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. The days turned into weeks and finally the young boy was able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence. He said, “You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a mark just like this one in the fence. It won’t matter how many times you say ‘I’m sorry’, the wound is still there.”
Anger can indeed leave scars that hurt but also at times it can leave a lasting impression. Take for example the anger Jesus expressed in our gospel lesson this morning. While it might have been easier for Jesus to simply continue his worship at the Temple rather than to cause such a scene, his anger that day in the Temple courtyard communicated an important truth. We cannot go through life simply bowing submissively to whatever happens to others or us when it is wrong or unfair. Expressing anger in these times can be justified. Chances are those who witnessed Jesus’ anger would never repeat their actions. Closer to home, when we look at the experiences of the abused, the people oppressed by injustice, the person broken by misfortune, we have a right to express anger. Perhaps for this reason we have seen more outbursts of protest and anger in our world. Some of these protests like those in Charlotte a few months ago start out as being peaceful and controlled but sometimes they get out of control and chaos results. I have a fraternity brother of mine who serves on the SWAT team in the Charlotte Police Department. We communicated during the unrest and riots in Charlotte a few months ago. A lot of his friends were concerned for his safety. When I asked him what his thoughts were during the height of those protests, he shared with me what he was thinking during those days. He said in reference to the protests and chaos that, “People need God in their hearts more than ever.”
As we learn to express our anger we must follow another important step that my friend made reference to in his statement. This next step involves us making an appeal to God on why we are angry. Job finally made his appeal to God. Job knew that God was his redeemer and that God would not abandon him even though he was angry and in distress.
Frederick Buechner in his book, Wishful Thinking Transformed by Thorns, writes:
Of the 7 deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back–in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you (pg. 117).
Unless we make our anger known to God, whether we are angry with God or someone else, we are at risk of opening ourselves more and more to doing more harm than good through our confrontations. In remembering to make our appeal to God, we should remember these words from Jesus when he said the following:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…(Matthew 5:43-44 NRSV)
Another step in expressing our anger is to recognize that sharing our anger with God can help shape our experience. An appeal to God does not always get us the kind of instant affirmation or gratification that we might want for ourselves. We see that Job was eventually reduced to shouting at God who appeared at least to Job as being absent. Job demanded a hearing. When God finally spoke to Job through the whirlwind of emotions Job was experiencing, we see that God helped Job view his troubles in the context of reality as a whole. This too is something we need. God finally affirmed Job. God communicated to Job’s adversaries that Job was indeed a righteous person. However this affirmation did not take place until the very last chapter of Job when the Lord rebuked his friends and restored Job’s fortunes. We live in an angry world some might say. In this election year we have all been witness to political campaigns filled with anger.
As we approach Election Day on Tuesday I share this story in the lives of a couple of former Presidents. This story is about the late President Richard Nixon and how he was treated upon his first return to Washington DC in an official capacity as a former President. President Nixon was infamous for his place at the center of the Watergate scandal. He disgraced both the office of the President of the United States and the United States itself in the eyes of the world. When Hubert Humphrey, a former Vice President died, Nixon attended his funeral. Dignitaries came from all over the country and the world, yet Nixon was made to feel most unwelcome at this service. People turned their eyes away and conversations stopped around him. Nixon could feel the ostracism being direction towards him. Then Jimmy Carter, our President at the time walked into the room. Carter of course was from a different political party than Nixon. He is well known for his honesty and integrity. As he moved to his seat President Carter noticed Nixon standing all alone. Carter immediately changed course, walked over to Nixon, held out his hand, and, smiling genuinely and broadly embraced Nixon and said, “Welcome home, Mr. President! Welcome home!” The encounter was reported by Newsweek magazine, which wrote: “If there was a turning point in Nixon’s long ordeal in the wilderness, it was that moment and that gesture of love and compassion.” Carter gifted Nixon with love and compassion. Nixon certainly had done nothing to deserve this gesture. It was an act of pure grace on Carter’s part.
When the bible speaks of God’s blessing it speaks in exactly this same way. Blessing is never a reward for good behavior. It’s a gift, a gift of pure, unadulterated grace. While we may struggle like Job, while we may struggle to put our lives back together after a difficult time, we know that it is okay in our struggles to express anger.
Yet in our anger we must finally learn to let go and let God rule. In doing so, let us remember these words from the late Henri Nouwen who wrote:
Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone’s face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love? These are the real questions. I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will bear many fruits, here in this world and the life to come.
The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.
November 6, 2016 sermon