What Makes God Angry? 6/29/14

Two weeks ago I started this sermon by suggesting that anger may sometimes be channeled in a way that increases our expectations of ourselves. I suggested the model of a basketball coach who motivates his or her players with both a push and a pat of the back. Today, I want to circle back and look at a specific way we may think of God’s anger and where it leads us. We look at this today by considering Paul’s deep letter to the people of Rome – a church he had not visited, but wanted to help with his most intense and passionate advice. At the beginning here he is arguing against some who may suggest that, because God’s grace is so powerful and pervasive, it doesn’t matter what we do.

Romans 6: 1b-11 What can we say, then? Should we go on sinning so that grace might abound? Of course not! We’re dead to sin, so how can we continue to live in it? Don’t you know that when we were baptized into Christ Jesus, we were baptized into Christ’s death? We’ve been buried with Jesus through baptism, and we joined with Jesus in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by God’s glory, we too might live a new life. For if we have been united with Christ in the likeness of Christ’s death, we will also be united with Christ in the likeness of Christ’s resurrection. We must realize that our former selves have been crucified with Christ to make the body of sin and failure completely powerless, to free us from slavery to sin; for when people die, they have finished with sin. But we believe that, having died with Christ, we will also live with Christ— knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, will never die again: death is now powerless over our Savior. When Christ died, Christ died to sin, once for all, so that the life Christ lives is now life in God. In this way, you too must consider yourselves to be dead to sin — but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

June 29, 2014        

What Makes God Angry?    

I tried to suggest in my last sermon that sometimes we feel so alone that it takes someone being angry at us to realize that we are not alone. Now, I hate it when somebody gets angry at me. I’ll stipulate to that right up front. And I don’t get angry at other people in the way that I sometimes admire and the way I am imagining God getting angry.
The way I admire is when someone gets angry so that you know they love you and want the best for you and for everyone around you. They don’t mean to make you feel bad, just help you to know that you are not alone and that you can do better than you think you can.
I imagine Paul – sometimes, at his best – as being able to muster that kind of anger, or as being able to call on God who has that kind of anger. In this letter he is so passionate with the church in Rome, challenging them to know God in Jesus Christ who on one level has little patience for sin.
Sin is, kind of by definition, what really makes God angry, wouldn’t you say? If we don’t like to think about God being angry, we really don’t like to think about sin. Maybe it depends on how you grew up – but I find that in a lot of middle class and upper middle class homes, we want to say that everything is ok. We want everybody to be nice to each other and that everything is fine, and we’re totally in denial about the fact that everything is not fine.
Everything is not ok. We live in a Good Friday world, full of people who fall short of God’s expectation. We like to think that it’s other people living caught in sin, stuck in a rut. Especially we church people shake our heads at what goes on in the world. And at the same time, we’re as stuck as anybody!
We are stuck in apathy, stuck in denial, stuck in blindness, stuck in selfishness, stuck in addictions, so stuck in our own perspective that we can hardly imagine that we participate in sin as much as anybody.
In the beginning of this letter to the Romans, at Romans 5 verse 20, Paul writes, “where sin increased, grace abounds all the more.” We believe that. We believe that God loves us even when we fall short. Think about it for a minute though.
When we see a lonely kid in school who gets attention for clowning around, making fun of himself and putting himself down. This is understandable given what he is dealing with, but do we want to encourage him in his self-deprecation? By no means! as Paul says. No way.
A teenage girl has no sense of purpose in her life and gets pregnant, unconsciously hoping to have some companionship and direction. We can sympathize with her plight, but do we advocate for her strategy? By no means! No way.
What Paul says is that through baptism, through the presence of the Spirit, we die to our old ways of thinking, our old ways of being stuck and are raised into a new life, a resurrected way of being. We can see how the kid acting out at school needs to find that new way. We can see how a girl whose only strategy for life is to get pregnant needs to find a new way. But can we see how we need to find a new way? Can you see it? Not if you’re not looking! Not if we think everything is fine just the way it is and God loves us so why bother changing.
Let me give one more example from my own life and then I’ll finish up here. Those of you who have gotten to know me pretty well over the years know that I talk about racism a lot. I talk about it because it’s a place where I have been shown how blind I have been, how easy it is for me to want to accept God’s grace without changing anything, without knowing myself as resurrected with Christ into a new life.
I don’t know if you have a  place like that in your life – where you know you have consistently fallen short, where you sense, if not God, somebody should be angry at you. That’s the place where I have experienced the depth and power of God’s grace and forgiveness, and God’s sense of expectation and hope.
Folks who have struggled with addiction know that place of grace, of undeserved love and the possibility of coming back, being resurrected into the community of the healed. I’m suggesting that we all have that place in our lives, where we know we are kind of messed up, where we have fallen short, where we need to change but find it really difficult, and where we may most deeply experience God’s powerful love and forgiveness.
That’s the place where we really know what Paul is talking about when he says “you too must consider yourselves to be dead to sin — but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” That’s the place where we may hear the beautiful promise from God in the passage from Isaiah this morning. “Does a woman forget her baby at the breast, or fail to cherish the child of her womb?  Yet even if those forget, I will never forget you. Look and see:  I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.”
What an incredible gift is this grace of God! What a humble blessing we all receive when we know and experience that undeserved love, that acceptance back into the community of God!
So I invite you this morning to look at your own list of sins – not somebody else’s. Look at your own, at where you most deeply need forgiveness. Practice prayers of confession this morning or this week. Say the truth about yourself, before you ask for forgiveness. Come to the altar. You and God talk.
This is God’s good news.

Responsive Hymn: 3020  God of the Bible