Why so angry?
Why is everyone so angry?
We had a trucker convoy drive into Ottawa yesterday, thousands of trucks from all across the country. And many of those trucks were driven by anger. There were a lot of angry people, and the anger seemed to grow as the convoy crossed the country. Anger about vaccine mandates, anger about pandemic restrictions, anger that seems unrelated to all that but attaches itself to the convoy as a way of venting.
In our gospel reading today there is a lot of anger. The crowd in the synagogue becomes so outraged that they drive Jesus out of the synagogue, out of the town of Nazareth, so that they can throw him off a cliff to his death.
Why is everyone so angry?
Here are two reasons:
Life is hard. And life is unfair.
We’ve had to live through almost two years of the pandemic now. It’s been hard. Illness, death, isolation, restrictions, job loss, fear and uncertainty. It’s taken a toll on all of us, one way or another. And anger is one way that these burdens express themselves in some of us.
What makes it worse is when we perceive that we have also been treated unfairly. People who can work from home have done better than people on the front-lines. Homeowners have done better than people who rent who have done better than people in shelters. Rich people have gotten richer in the stock market. There’s nothing that provokes anger more than the feeling that “I’m not being treated fairly.”
The people in that synagogue in Nazareth, well, they know that feeling. They had lived under violent Roman military occupation their whole lives. They worked hard to eke out a living, but way too much of the small amount they did earn was taken away to pay taxes in Rome and Jerusalem. Life was tough, and it wasn’t fair. There was anger in Nazareth.
Then all of a sudden there’s this glimmer of hope. A local man, Joseph’s son, had returned to Galilee and started preaching in the synagogues, healing people, doing great acts of power. People were talking, everyone was praising him. And now he is in the synagogue in Nazareth.
Jesus starts out well in the people’s eyes. He claims to be the Messiah, the one sent by God to save his people. Surely things are going to get better, they think. He’s one of us, he’s on our side, God’s on our side. Surely we will be favoured now, and our enemies are going to get it. They expected him to start doing the same mighty deeds that he’d been doing in Capernaum and other places, to start healing people, to reverse the injustice that the people of Nazareth had been suffering. You’re one of us, Jesus - now what are you going to do for us?
But Jesus shows no sign of favouring his hometown. His mission is to proclaim good news to the poor, to captives, to the oppressed. To outsiders, not to insiders. And just in case they miss the point, he reminds them of how Elijah and Elisha directed their deeds of power towards outsiders as well.
And the crowd in the synagogue was filled with rage. “That’s not fair.”
The crowd insists on its own way. They are envious of the things that Jesus did in Capernaum. They are irritable, resentful, angry. And they’re not going to take it anymore.
But Jesus did not come to favour his own people. Jesus did not even come to treat us all fairly; Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor and to teach us all to love.
Love waits patiently. Love is not envious. Love does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable, resentful or angry. Love bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love acts kindly. Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing.
“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”
Jesus mission is an expansive, inclusive mission that reaches out to those who are poor and marginalized and in so doing teaches and shows all of us what it means to love.
And so our primary task as the church, as the body of Christ, is to love one another the way that Jesus loved us. That means we have to learn to love. One of the primary callings of the church is to be a school for love. That’s what Paul is trying to do in his letter to the Corinthians, to teach them to love, especially in midst of all the divisions and conflicts that were plaguing that church community.
It’s an important task, teaching us to love, because we have issues.
One of those issues is language, especially in the English language. Our issues with love in the English language are so pronounced that much of the time when we say the word ‘love’ we don’t even know what we’re talking about. I love my wife. I love my new shirt. I love to eat hamburgers. I’m feeling the love. I fall in love. You look lovely.
You can see why we might get confused. We’re so cavalier with the word love in the English language that it starts to lose its meaning. Maybe that’s why we don’t get a sense of the strength and power of love, of the sacred and spiritual nature of love in our everyday conversations. Maybe that’s why we forget that love is a verb and not a feeling.
Let’s reclaim the word love. Our second reading is a great place to start. It is Paul’s ode to love, the scripture we love to read at weddings. But though I have no problem with reading this text at weddings, marriage was the last thing on Paul’s mind when he wrote it. Paul wrote this text to a divided church community. To a community of over-achievers who competed with each other as to who was the most gifted spiritually. To a church which celebrated the Eucharist by having a full meal, but only invited the wealthy in the community to participate.
Forget all that, says Paul. I will show you a more excellent way. The way of love.
If I speak in the tongues of mortals or of angels, but do not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging symbol. And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith so as to remove mountains, but do not love, I am nothing.
Wow. In a world of people who pride themselves on their accomplishments, who measure themselves in comparison with others, for whom competition is the air we breathe, this is radical stuff.
And let’s be clear. When Paul talks about love he is not talking about this: (Slide 1)
• He’s not talking about love as a warm feeling inside.
• He’s not talking about love as an attraction or preference.
• He’s not talking about falling in love, something that happens to us when the chemistry is right
Paul is not talking about love as rainbows and unicorns. (Slide 2). No he’s talking about love as something much more intentional, a collection of intentional actions, an active purposeful, powerful force. He talks about what love does, and doesn’t do.
• Love shows patience
• Love acts with kindness
• It does not envy or boast
• It does not act proudly
• It does not dishonour others, act selfishly or anger easily
• It keeps no record of wrongs, it does not delight in wrongdoing
• Love rejoices in the truth,
• Always protects,
• Always trusts,
• Always hopes,
• Always perseveres.
• Love never fails
And it matters whether we get this or not. Our language matters, how we understand the word love matters.
Because if we’re thinking like this: (return to slide 1)
Then when we hear someone say “God loves you”, we likely to think, yeah God loves me, blah, blah, blah, let’s bring out all the clichés one more time. Rainbows and unicorns.
But if we’re thinking like this: (slide 2)
Then when I tell you that God loves you, you start to think wow, that’s awesome.
You mean to say that God shows patience with me? That God acts with kindness towards me? That God keeps no record of my wrongs? That God always trusts me and always perseveres with me. That God’s love for me will never fail.
When we put it in these terms, it stops being a cliché.
And when Jesus says to us “Love one another as I have loved you,” that’s not rainbows and unicorns either. It’s not a feeling, not an emotion. It is a call to action. Action that looks like this:
• Show patience
• Act with kindness
• Do not envy or boast
• Do not act proudly
• Do not dishonour others
• Do not act selfishly
• Do not anger easily
• Keep no record of wrongs
• Do not delight in evil
• Rejoice in the truth
• Always protect
• Always trust
• Always hope
• Always persevere
• Love never fails
We are Jesus’ disciples. We are called to love one another and to proclaim good news to the poor. It’s not rainbows and unicorns.
How can the church become a school for this sort of love?
That’s the question I’ll leave with you for our open space discussion this morning.
Yr C P4, January 30 2022, Trinity
Readings: Jeremiah 1.4-10; Ps 71.1-6; 1 Cor 13.1-13; Luke 4.21-30