John 2:13-22 Psalm 19 and “Time’s Lesson” by Emily Dickinson
Sunday March 7th, 2021
Welcome to this third Sunday in Lent and the first Sunday in March.
Now is the time in our worship where we create space in our minds and hearts to hear beyond the surface. So, I invite you to take just a few moments to let yourself kind of arrive to that place, whatever that means for you.… And as you are so moved, I invite you to join me in a spirit of prayer and centering from Psalm 19.
God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Tomorrow March 8th, will mark the last time we worshiped together in person as a congregation. I find myself approaching this week with a mix of emotions. When we left that day we had no idea what was ahead, although our leaders had already started conversations to change some of our practices. I looked back and found it notable that my invitation to the offering that morning included these words: Today we will begin experimenting with receiving the offering creatively. You are invited to meditate on gratitude as we are serenaded with music and we invite you to share your offering as you leave instead of passing something we all touch.
Later that week we decided to suspend in person worship and so began the adventure that is still ongoing, of creatively and beautifully bringing meaning, inspiration, music and your community to you, right where you are.
There is so much to process about this year that I suspect it will be the rest of all of our lives, that we engage in this effort. There will be movies and novels and festivals and studies and plays and liturgy and curriculum written to understand, to make meaning, to diagnose the new behaviors, new norms, new policies and new ways of being in public life that emerge.
We will each need something particular based on what has transpired for us. And also we have already seen how differently we have all reacted. One reason is because we have had such varying experiences of this time. As a colleague shared with a group of clergy recently, for this entire pandemic, we have all had the same, incredible, unrelenting, challenging, frightening storm, that took us by surprise, but we have not had to endure it in the same kind of vessel.
Some of us have had a dingy or a piece of wood on which to float, gripping tight through the night with worry, wondering how to pay rent, with no work for so long and little support for childcare and in many places bad internet and little help with schooling, no healthcare or inadequate healthcare in a global pandemic.
And at the same time in this unrelenting, challenging, frightening storm, that took us by surprise, some had a yacht or cruise ship where hardly a drop of rain was felt and the stock market soared so high that even with such uncertainty, as Bloomberg Magazine noted recently, for this group “not only has it been relatively easy to carry out their white-collar jobs from home. But the Federal Reserve’s unprecedented emergency measures -- including slashing benchmark rates to zero -- have padded their wallets too. They’ve refinanced their mortgages at record low rates, purchased second homes to get away from cities and watched the value of the stocks and bonds in their investment accounts surge.”
Same storm, different vessel.
And because of this and other things, I am sensing anger rising. Have you noticed that? Because of not having what is needed to survive, the loss of important social connections outside of our households. Also I wonder if it could be the fact that we aren’t designed to live like this, especially not this long.
I sense an anger rising. In all kinds of interactions. My clergy colleagues have noticed this too. And it is not just in our profession. Recently, I read an interview with David H. Rosmarin, assistant professor of psychology in the Harvard Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry and a clinician at McLean Hospital. He shared that he has seen an increased level of anger in his practice that has manifested as domestic abuse, outbursts of aggression and more.
It is easy to point to the politicians as the one who are angry and ridiculous, but I also think there is more meanness among us, in the workplace, in the marketplace, on the sidewalk, on social media. At its most benevolent, this anger is just a bit of grumpiness, at its worst it is harmful. It is hateful and can lead to physical violence.
Because we are right in the middle of this, I suspect there is more we will learn over time. But we are seeing anger and how it can cover up other feelings. From Dr. Rosmarin again who went on to say “I don’t think that the clinical literature captures what’s going on here. One of the ways of thinking about anger…is to conceptualize it as a secondary emotion. Fear, anger, joy, and sadness are your four primary emotions, and secondary emotions occur as a reaction to our primary emotions, rather than to the situation…I feel sad or I feel anxious and I don’t like that feeling, so I get angry at the person. [In other words, although anger is classified as a primary emotion, it’s often expressed in secondary ways.} There’s fear; there’s sadness. But we skip over that.” He said, “I’m feeling sad or anxious, but instead of dealing with those emotions, draw a gun or yell at someone or at least make fun of them…the anger toward the virus is because we’re really afraid of it…we go into anger or attack mode as a way of defending ourselves. When we’re aggressive, we don’t have to show vulnerability to other people…Showing vulnerability. That’s too scary to do, so we get angry.”
But is anger always bad?
When we find Jesus in the Temple in the Gospel of John, he is more than angry. In fact, he is furious. He curses at those he meets and what happens next shows him in a bout of rage. While all of the Gospels include this story, this is the only version where Jesus makes a whip with cords to drive everyone and all the creatures and humans out. Theologians and scholars disagree about exactly why he was so angry. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, there is the suggestion of price gouging, but we don’t read that in John. I wonder if it was enough simply for that place to be used for the wrong purpose. The Temple was the literal house of God and the sight of the entire sacred space was being overtaken by consumption, by buying and selling, changing money- in THERE. “Take these things out of here and stop making my Father’s House a marketplace!”
He is so angry that the text tells us Jesus overturned the tables inside the Temple. In some translations it says he overthrew them- like a coup, like a subversion. The root meaning of the Greek word anatrepó is to unsettle or to destabilize. Jesus’ anger meant to unsettle the status quo that had put money in the center, instead of God. The anger he showed was about the fact that this is not the way things should be- there is an injustice.
Jesus was expressing what we know as righteous anger. As one writer put it, “righteous anger is a response to sin, the mistreatment of others, or an attack on the Kin-dom of God.” It is right for us to express anger at the lack of action in response to mass gun violence. It is right for us to be angry that in America it is possible to go bankrupt for being sick. It is right for us to use our anger to undo budgets that prioritize weapons over wages.
And then there is unrighteous anger, which is usually related to a response from our ego- where our pride is hurt or our place or position feels challenged. If someone tries to insult us, then we respond by trying to hurt or insult them. The poet Emily Dickinson wrote that, “Anger as soon as fed is dead; ’Tis starving makes it fat.” And I think this means that anger expressed in healthy ways can’t have power over our reactions, but anger that is hidden or masking sadness and fear, makes more anger, and causes harm. Trying to starve the anger inside or hide it, makes it fatter, bigger, stronger.
So perhaps the invitation for each of us in this Lenten season, on this wilderness journey is to pause, when we are overturned inside because we will be. Jesus shows us here that not all anger is bad. Anger that used to unsettle or to destabilize oppressive words and worlds is faithful. Anger that is used to build connections among neighbors to undo unjust systems is righteous. Anger of this nature can be generative and is a part of discipleship.
It is okay to be frustrated, grumpy and even angry. It is a pandemic. But let our anger lead to new art forms and new friendships and new connections. Let our anger lead us to new experiments in community, new laws that lead to liberation. Let our anger be righteous and be the kind that overturns the tables where the status quos of fear, scarcity and greed have been dining like kings. Let our anger out so Love can have its place at the center.
In our tradition, Lent is both an internal and a communal journey. We are constantly asked to sort through what is building us and what is breaking us. Today we remember that we can be compassionate, faithful and angry. We can validate the humanity of others without agreeing with their point of view. We can be vulnerable instead of rageful. So let us ponder this invitation: When we are unsettled and destabilized, can we ask, is this anger hiding something else I feel? Can this anger be processed or channeled so it doesn’t cause harm? Can this anger be transformed for personal or collective understanding, healing, or reconciliation?
Spiritual practice: Memorization
As you know for Lent, we are offering a spiritual practice each week and this Sunday we are focusing on memorization. Part of what I have brought to you each week is the prayer from Psalm 19. I invite you now if you would like to take a minute to find a poem, one verse, a line from today that you might commit to memory.
Here are a few one lines from scripture that are a good place to start. They are Christian mantras so to speak.
From Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
From Nehemiah 8:10, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.”
From Psalm 118:24, “This is the day the Lord has made I will rejoice and be glad in it.”
We can practice with chanting and silence and lectio Divina and memorization or however we are able, beginning right where we are. Beloved of God, anger that is used to overturn and unsettle unjust systems is faithful. Anger that is used to interrupt oppressive words and actions is essential. Anger can be a form of compassion when it is used to build connections. So let us not hide it, instead let us see it, transform it and turn it into righteousness. May it be so. Amen.