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Righteous Anger

John 2:13-22 and Quotes from Archbishop Desmond Tutu

March 3rd, 2024

Third Sunday in Lent

10:30 a.m.

By Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche


Thank you again for being here as we lean toward spring, I am so glad! Today it feels especially important to share again that in our tradition, I am merely a human, committed to tuning in and studying and praying, but still just a human with blind spots and biases. My offering each week is not meant to get you to think like I do, but to create a space for you to hear that still small voice within you. My intention is to offer something to help each of us individually and collectively grow closer to who we want to be for ourselves for one another and for the Universe, for our life here on planet Earth. So in humility we shall do hard things and talk about hard things, with hopeful and open hearts.

I invite you now to take some deeper breaths, letting ourselves arrive as fully as we can, to tune into whatever word is meant for us today. 

And to calm my nerves, I invite you to pray with me. 

God may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

The act is reported to have come from a place of anger, frustration, sadness, rage and before he did it, he, wrote about it as engaging in protest. He said “I will no longer be complicit in genocide. I’m about to engage in an extreme act of protest but, compared to what people have been experiencing in Palestine at the hands of their colonizers, it’s not extreme at all. This is what our ruling class has decided will be normal.” And as you might have read, after that, 25-year-old Aaron Bushnell, an active-duty member of the US Air Force set himself on fire in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington D.C. as what seems like the only thing he felt left to do, allowing himself to no longer participate in something he didn’t believe in. 

It’s hard for me at least to connect so such an act, but right now I do connect to that sense of desperation, to feeling unheard, like shouting with no one hearing, wondering what more could possibly be done.

I had an image this week of what it would be like if the whole world could lay down arms, even just briefly, to give the birds and the babies a break from the bombs, from Gaza to Kiev and beyond. It’s all heartbreaking and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. 

I feel sad and I feel angry. 

Not long ago I responded to an invitation from a local religious leader to hear his particular perspective on the conflict between Israel and Hamas. 

It wasn’t meant to be a chance to hear a variety of perspectives and there wasn’t a lot of time for questions or nuancing some of what was offered, but still it seemed good and worthwhile that almost 30 of us showed up. One person gave a long history of world religions and reminded the room how much damage we Christians did with the Crusades! 

And also how long the worlds religious lived peacefully together.  

Another person gave a litany of loaded statements about how uneducated Americans are and how few people understood things, of course like he did. 

Another person went on so long that it felt like a sermon and there wasn’t time for others, even though the whole point of his statements were about belonging and creating space where all feel like they belong. 

There were moments that were tense, but not terrible, in part because no one wanted to look bad in a setting like that! It was the most religious leaders I have ever seen in one place in all of my time in Boulder. 

But as I was sitting there and as I left I noticed anger in myself. I doodled intently in my notebook and my friend next me, said in as much of a whisper as she could, this is hard for you isn’t it?

As I pondered what I heard, what was shared and what wasn’t, with all of those competing truths in one room, it made me think about how much of the conflict in the world seems to be over untransformed rage. 

I know that isn’t the whole of it, but it seems to be part of it, fighting over who gets to be where and how that is decided…anger over what do we do with our unreconciled traumas, our painful histories left unrepaired, the places where things have never been made right.

Anger is understandable, so what do we do with all of the anger, with the terrors of now? And anger isn’t bad, it’s what we do with it. 

How do we respond when the worst things happen to us and are happening all around us? How do we make things right when it feels like there is very little we can do? There is a lot to be angry about. How do we separate what is worthy anger and what isn’t? 

So I found it especially helpful that this story we heard from the Gospel of John, this story included in the Lectionary for this third Sunday in Lent, is about Jesus getting angry.

And he puts his anger on public display so that a conversation must be had. In the versions of this story we have in the synoptic gospels, Jesus is said to be angry about something like price gauging, so we can guess that while that is not mentioned fully here it is a comparable injustice that he is protesting. He does not want to be a part of what is happening, he does not want to participate in the pain being caused, , so he overturned the tables. 

And notice that his act from anger causes no harm but it causes those who are doing wrong to pause, it invites everyone to face the reality and to ask: is this what they really want to be participating in? His anger is aimed at shifting the status quo closer to justice. 

So his act wasn’t rooted in just any kind of anger, it’s a particular kind, a holy kind, an example of what many have labeled as righteous anger or righteous indignation, which is anger about something that is an afront to love, apart from God, something that prevents what is good to thrive. And as you heard from Archbishop Desmund Tutu, “Righteous anger is usually not about oneself. It is about those whom one sees being harmed and whom one wants to help." In short, righteous anger is a tool of justice…”

Which means anger doesn’t need to be denied, just channeled so it can be generative, so it can help change the conversation and the culture around what is possible.

In a time when many people are angry about small things, occupied with anger about silly things that don’t really matter. I think we could use less of that and more of some righteous indignation, anger that is a tool, anger that is about shifting things closer to the world we know is possible and one we all want. It’s not always clear what that looks like, but I give thanks that we get to try together. Some of us felt sadness and an anger when we learned how much carbon and methane the state of CO is producing and exporting through fracking that Michael and Pete and Stan and some others of us hosting a screening of the documentary Fracking the System in April.

And when Jackie felt anger when George Floyd was killed she inspired us to form the Dismantling Racism Team and we have done good work together and it is ongoing.

And when many of us felt anger when our grocery story was the site of a massacre, we did something and created a new place in the mental map of many about actions we can all take to reduce gun violence.

Sometimes God calls us to put our anger out in such a way that a conversation must be had, so the injustice is seen, so the message gets out, so we can influence what is happening

There is a lot to be angry about. So what do we do with our anger? Can we use our anger to shift the status quo closer to justice? How can we ensure it is generative for ourselves and the world we want? I wonder if what is needed right now is less anger and more righteous indignation? What do you think?

Knowing that each of us arrives from different places and perspectives, and that this is a gift to us all, you are invited now to share as you are comfortable and willing and to listen reflect with the people around you about what’s come up for you. You are invited to be intentional for creating space for all who wish to share to have a bit of time, knowing that seeing one another fully is itself a gift. And to you who are a part of our worship on the livestream, you are invited to journal or discuss with those in your home or ponder on these same questions.

COMMUNAL REFLECTION

Beloved of God, let us be angry about the things that matter, let our righteous indignation be a tool to overturn all that deprives the thriving of creation. May it be so. Amen.


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