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Sermon for Sunday 4 March 2018

FIRST READING Exodus 20:1-17

1God spoke all these words, saying, 2“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3You shall have no other gods before me. 4You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. 8Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. 12Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 13You shall not murder. 14You shall not commit adultery. 15You shall not steal.16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”


PSALM Psalm 19

1The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork. 2One day tells its tale to another, and one night imparts knowledge to another. 3Although they have no words or language, and their voices are not heard, 4Their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends of the world. 5In the deep has he set a pavilion for the sun; it comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber; it rejoices like a champion to run its course. 6It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens and runs about to the end of it again; nothing is hidden from its burning heat. 7The law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure and gives wisdom to the innocent. 8The statutes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear and gives light to the eyes. 9The fear of the Lord is clean and endures forever; the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. 10More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold, sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb. 11By them also is your servant enlightened, and in keeping them there is great reward. 12Who can tell how often he offends? cleanse me from my secret faults. 13Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not get dominion over me; then shall I be whole and sound, and innocent of a great offense. 14Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.


SECOND READING 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

18For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 26For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”


GOSPEL John 2:13-25

13The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. 23Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.



In the spring of 1894, the Baltimore Orioles came to Boston to play the Boston Beaneaters. Yes, that’s what they were called back then–the Boston Beaneaters. The game heated up when Boston’s third baseman Tommy “Foghorn” Tucker, slid into third base and the legendary third baseman John McGraw of the Orioles kicked Tucker in the face. Within minutes all the players from both teams had joined in the brawl. The fight quickly spread to the grandstands.
Among the fans, the conflict went from bad to worse. Someone set fire to the stands and the entire stadium, considered one of the most beautiful ballparks of its time, with striking twin spires rising from each corner of the Grand Pavilion, burned to the ground. Not only that, but the fire spread to 107 other Boston buildings as well. “It was a hot game, sure enough,” the Boston Globe reported. Millions of dollars in damage and destruction, all because one player got angry with another. This example begs the question, how do we properly handle our anger, since from time to time we must all deal with it?
Everyone here today, I’m certain has dealt with the negative results of anger. In addition to the damage it can due to relationships, anger can also cause us to do some pretty dumb things. Recently I heard a ridiculous joke, and normally I refrain from sharing this type of humor from the pulpit, but, the story perfectly illustrates the problems, in a humorous way, we can cause for ourselves, if not for others, when we get angry. It’s about a man who walks into a bar and says, “Bartender, give me two shots.” The bartender asks, “You want them both now or one at a time?” The guy says, “Oh, I want them both now. One’s for me and one’s for this little guy here,” and he pulls a man only 3 inches tall out of his pocket.
The bartender asks, “He can drink?” The guy says, “Oh, sure. He can drink.” So the bartender pours a shot and sure enough, the little guy downs it. “That’s amazing” says the bartender. “What else can he do, can he walk?” The man flicks a quarter down to the end of the bar and says, “Hey, Jake. Go get that.” The little guy runs down to the end of the bar and picks up the quarter. Then he runs back down and gives it to the man. The bartender is in total shock. “That’s amazing” he says, “what else can he do? Does he talk?” The man says, “Sure he talks.” Then he turns to the little man and says, “Hey, Jake, tell the bartender about that time we were hunting in Africa and you called that witch doctor an idiot!”
People do stupid things when they’re angry–like calling a witch doctor an idiot. Before that guy went from being 6 feet tall to being 3 inches tall, he should’ve read the words of Jesus that we should never call anyone a fool (Matthew 5:22) which I believe would be about the same thing as calling them an idiot. Seriously, think how often real damage has been done because someone couldn’t control their anger. Actions done in a fit of rage has cost other their lives.
One of the biggest hits of recent Broadway history, according to the press, has been the musical Hamilton. The show has achieved both critical acclaim and box office success. In 2016, Hamilton received a record-setting 16 Tony nominations, winning 11, including Best Musical, and was also the recipient of the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album and the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The musical is about the life of Alexander Hamilton. What most of us remember from our school days about Alexander Hamilton is how he died.
Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burn were two of our most prominent founding fathers. Hamilton was the former Secretary of the Treasury and Burr, believe it or not, was the sitting Vice President of the United States. And yet at Weehawken, New Jersey on July 11, 1804 these two men fought a duel. And we think politics are bad today! The duel was the culmination of a long and bitter rivalry between the two men.
Tensions reached a boiling point when Hamilton defamed Burr’s character in a New York political campaign. In the duel Burr shot and mortally wounded Hamilton, who died the next day. Burr survived the duel, but the harsh criticism and animosity directed toward him, following the duel, brought an end to his political career. Come to think about it, with all the mudslinging and character assignations going on in politics today, letting them duel it out might not be such a bad idea? I probably shouldn’t have said that out loud. Anyway, Aaron Burr is an example of a gifted and able man who permitted hatred and anger to get the best of him. Later he confessed, that it would have been wiser for him had he taken the sensible view that the world was big enough for both Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton.
No matter how we feel about our elected officials, it was a tragic waste of human life. But, we must admit, it happens all the time. I saw some statistics that revealed that, over a seven-year period, road rage alone resulted in 12,610 injuries and 218 murders on our nation’s highways. When we lose our temper, we’re not only in danger of sinning, but we may also be in danger of hurting others as well as ourselves. One of the ways we hurt ourselves when we get angry, is the psychological as well as the physical damage we do to our own minds and bodies.
For example, famed psychotherapist Sigmund Freud taught that depression is anger turned inward. This is important to remember–depression can result from anger being internalized. You may remember all the hatred and violence that filled Northern Ireland just a few years ago. And yet a British psychiatrist noted that the suicide rate in Northern Ireland showed a steady decline during the bloodiest years of the strife between Protestants and Catholics. He surmised that, if you can express anger toward somebody else, you’re not as likely to express it at yourself. Consequently, the most peaceful county in Northern Ireland had the highest suicide rate. This phenomenon applies particularly to so-called “nice people.”
Nice people can get depressed, because they don’t know how to control or how to express their anger in a constructive way. They don’t want to strike out at someone who’s hurt or offended them, and so they turn the anger inward on themselves. There’s a good bit of evidence that proves that turning anger inward is a serious health hazard in terms of such things as high blood pressure, ulcers and some forms of cancer. Studies show that angry, cynical people die young. Men who score high for hostility on standard tests are four times more likely to die prematurely than men whose scores on such tests are low. Anger can be a deadly emotion. However, does that mean that it’s always wrong to be angry? Surprisingly the answer is no.
Anger, like all our emotions, is a gift from God. The difference between bad anger and good anger is the motivation behind it. We need to recognize that anger can either be a positive in our lives or a negative. We also need to recognize that there are times when we, as Christians, ought to get angry. Jesus was angry when He drove the animal sellers and moneychangers out of the temple. They had turned God’s house into what Jesus called a “den of robbers.”
Originally, the moneychangers were an answer to a problem raised by Roman coinage. Roman coins had the image of Caesar on them. Since they carried a graven image, and Caesar was worshipped as a demi-god, they were unacceptable for Temple ceremonies. The people were then forced to change their Roman coins into coins that were acceptable. Many of you who have traveled abroad, have probably traded currency at a little shop or at an airport kiosk set up for that purpose. Fees collected for exchanging currency can be very profitable for the moneychangers. The problem was, the moneychangers Jesus confronted had brought their little shops right into the Temple itself. Add to this the sale of sacrificial animals.
On top of the money exchanges, there were people profiting from selling sacrificial animals right there in the temple precincts. Not only was this creating a mess, not only was it not following the original Passover instructions God gave for animal sacrifice, they were also clearly running the risk that an animal might get loose and violate the sanctuary. Add to that, the competitiveness among the shopkeepers vying for the business of the worshippers, was creating chaos. The most sacred shrine of the Jews, the most holy place in all of Israel, had become a tawdry, commercialized circus. This, of course, made Jesus mad and He wasn’t going to take it anymore.
This was His Father’s house and they had desecrated it. Suddenly Jesus starts turning over tables, scattering coins across the pavement. Then He took a whip of cords and forced the traders out of the temple and drove the sacrificial animals out into the courtyard. When the dust settled, people probably wondered what had hit them. Interestingly, no one seems to have protested. I believe everyone knew, deep down, that Jesus was right. Jesus’ response and actions demonstrated that there are times when a Christian should and needs to get angry. Anger can be a great motivator.
Martin Luther used to say, “When I’m angry, I preach well and pray better.” The Congressional Medal of Honor was given to a young officer who, when the battle looked hopeless and his men were driven back, waged what his superior officers called “a one-man war.” When asked how he did it he said, “I just got mad.” Anger, at times, is the only emotion that will get people into action to solve a personal or societal problem.
The slave trade in Great Britain came to an end because a deeply religious man named William Wilberforce became angry. He saw human beings treated like cattle, and he resolved that he would give his life to seeing that the practice was obliterated from his homeland. There are some things that ought to make us angry. Pastor Charles Hoffacker tells about a group of farmers in Brazil. These farmers are regarded as peasants in the country with few rights and practically no political power. They’re considered to be near, or at the bottom, of the social scale, and for the most part they’ve accepted their situation. However, things are changing.
There comes a time when people will say, enough is enough and that time came. The lands belonging to these peasant farmers have been subject to illegal seizure by national and international corporations acting with the connivance of the military and local politicians. But some of the farmers did the unthinkable. They got angry and stood up to the political and corporate powers. Subsequently, they were arrested and hauled off to town to be jailed. But a group of their fellow farmers did something that was even more unthinkable. They too got angry.
They decided that they were no less responsible than those who had been jailed, and so hundreds of them marched off to town and filled the judge’s house, demanding that they also be jailed. The judge finally sent all of them home, including the prisoners. There are times when the proper response to a bad situation is to get angry. Otherwise the bad situation is perpetuated. However, we must be careful to respond in an appropriate way. Let me give you a lighter example with which most of us can relate.
How do you feel about those irritating, unsolicited phone calls you get just about meal time asking you to buy some product or another–even after you have asked to be put on the no-call list? I know they irritate me! How about spam e-mail? Anger, properly channeled can be a great motivating force. Leland Gregory, in his book Stupid History, tells about a man named Alan Ralsky. Ralsky became a multimillionaire by marketing spam–unwanted e-mail–on the Internet.
In November 2002, Detroit Free Press columnist Mike Wendland wrote a story about Ralsky including the fact that Ralsky’s company sent up to 250 million spam e mails a day–the profits from which he used to purchase an 8,000 square foot $740,000 home. Ralsky even bragged during the interview that a single weight loss e mail paid for an entire wing of his mansion. Well, a group of folks got upset that he could prosper from clogging their Inboxes and they decided to do something about it.
They posted Ralsky’s home address, e mail address and phone number on hundreds of Web sites. Soon Ralsky began receiving literally tons of junk mail, and his inbox was maxed out every morning. I’m sure you can guess Ralsky’s reaction: He wasn’t happy. “They’ve signed me up for every advertising campaign and mailing list there is,” Ralsky complained. “These people are out of their minds. They’re harassing me!” “Spam,” quips Leland Gregory, “is a revenge best served cold.”
Now I’m not suggesting we stoop to the level of those who make us mad. But I am saying that it’s ridiculous to say that a Christian never gets angry. Jesus got angry. Anger isn’t necessarily a sin. In fact, I insist, there are occasions when not getting angry is a sin. There are times when we, as Christians, need to get angry about some of the inequities and injustices in our world. As Melvin Wheatley once said, “There are situations in life in which the absence of anger would be the essence of evil.”
How could William Wilberforce not get upset over slavery in his country? How could Dr. King not get angry over discrimination, segregation and brutality based on skin color? How could Christian people not get angry over some of the injustices that are committed in our country and around the globe—things like hunger, poverty, human trafficking, sexual abuse and terrorism, just to name a few? Maybe the greatest sin that we commit isn’t getting angry often enough; angry over some of the injustices that still exist in this world.
Is there a voice within us that’s saying, “there are some evils in this world that we need to do something about?” If that voice is telling us to respond appropriately to an injustice, it just might be the voice of God. Maybe it’s time we get beyond our anger and begin to get involved in solving some of these problems. If Jesus could get angry about the inappropriate use of the Temple, surely, we can get angry and respond appropriately about the evils that are still occurring in our world. Of course, I’m talking about getting angry about the hatred, the injustice and the abuse of those who can’t protect themselves.
We need to remember, anger can be either positive or negative, righteous or sinful. There are good reasons for curtailing our anger; people will do stupid things when they get angry. For one, it’s probable not a good idea to call a witch doctor an idiot. However, we must acknowledge that there are some things that should make us angry–when the weak are trampled upon, when children are abused, when the poor are taken advantage of and the homeless are neglected, when brutal government regimes gas and bomb the innocent. Anger can be a great motivator. When used appropriately and for the right reasons, anger can be the catalyst for positive change. What we need to consider is, sometimes the greatest sin we can commit is not getting angry over the right things and then doing something to correct it.

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