All Request Summer Sermon Series
Micah 6:8; Anger
July 17, 2016
Rev. Fritz Nelson – First Presbyterian, Columbiana
This week’s all request summer sermon series starts with a scripture – Micah 6:8, a favorite of Kay Evans – and continues with an emotion – anger – submitted by someone who will remain anonymous since I lost the slip. Since we’re good Presbyterians, we’ll start with the scripture. Micah 6:8
God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
God has told us. So why is he telling us again? Back up a few verses and we find this:
Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. For the Lord has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel.
God once again calls for justice, kindness and obedience because God is angry. Angry with his people, with the nation he called into being. Back up a few verses and we find out why.
Let the Lord be a witness against you… A witness against those who should know justice but do not. Those who hate the good but love the evil, who tear the skin off my people and the flesh off their bones…
Despite the imagery, the Lord’s not complaining about cannibalism. He’s complaining about persistent abuses of power by the ruling class upon those they are called to protect. The type of abuses that literally leave people dead – dead economically, dead spiritually and in extreme cases dead physically.
Injustice leads to anger. Anger can only be alleviated by justice. And justice – if we flip forward a few verses – brings reconciliation, for God does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in showing clemency.
God is angry. Read through the Old Testament and you’ll find that God frequently gets angry. Jesus does too. We’re a stubborn lot, us humans, and God’s anger – like a parent’s anger when a child for the hundredth time does that thing we said not to do – is justified. In fact my friend Ilene, who is our consulting clinical counselor for this sermon, says that most anger itself is neither right nor wrong. Anger is an emotional signpost that an injustice – either real or perceived – had damaged the balance in our relationships. But “anger,” she says, is just one letter away from “danger.” It’s a tricky, powerful emotion.
A couple of weeks ago, anger exploded out into the streets of America. First, in Baton Rouge, a policeman shot Alton Sterling while pinning him to the ground. Second, in suburban Minneapolis, a policeman shot Philando Castile as he reached for his wallet during a routine traffic stop. Third, in Dallas, Micah Johnson, opened fire on a peaceful demonstration called in response to the earlier shootings, killing five police officers and wounding seven.
Injustice leads to anger. Anger, according to Ilene, is like a volcano. Let’s say, for example, that you explode at the kids when you trip over a pair of shoes in the middle of the floor while carrying the laundry. The shoes may have led to the explosion, but they’re not really the cause. The cause may be because the kids (and possibly the spouse) are cemented to the couch playing on their phones and tablets while you do all the laundry, all the cooking, all the cleaning and work two jobs to keep everyone in electronic devices. You feel used and abused, a victim of the injustice caused by everyone else’s laziness.
Almost a year ago, Ferguson, Missouri exploded after police shot and killed Michael Brown as he lay, with hands up, wounded on the pavement. Brown’s crime – walking in the middle of the street and probably giving some lip to the police officer who ordered him onto the sidewalk. He was not armed; had not, according to witnesses, physically threatened the officer; and had no history of violence. As news of his death circulated, rage pushed the community into the streets.
In the midst of last week’s news, noted Harvard economist Roland Fryer released a comprehensive study that found no racial bias in police shootings. That same study, however, found that blacks were much more likely to be touched, handcuffed, pushed to the ground or pepper sprayed by the police. In Ferguson, a commission appointed by the Governor found that blacks made up 65% of the population, but made up 85% of all traffic stops and 92% of all searches after a traffic stop. And after being stopped, blacks were twice as likely to be arrested than whites, even though statistically more whites than blacks had drugs or other illegal substances in the car. Many of the stops and arrests were linked to a system that relied on extensive traffic fines to fund government and then criminalized those who were unable to pay. The police, according to the commission, had become a revenue collection agency, imposing excessive fines upon the city’s poorest residents in order to fund the salaries of white police and politicians.
Justice alleviates anger. Why are you angry? Is it about the shoes on the floor or the persistent lack of help around the house? Why is dad yelling at me? Is it because I left my shoes in the floor or because he’s overwhelmed by the persistent lack of help around the house? By thinking through our anger, we can ratchet down our emotions, modify our feelings and begin addressing the underlying problems to relieve the emotional, physical, spiritual and practical pressures involved. Ilene calls this the Think -> Feel -> Do cycle. Think through our anger. Modify our feelings. Take constructive action to change the situation.
We do justice by making concrete changes to correct the injustices behind the anger. When we are angry, we do justice by sorting out perceptions from reality and identifying changes we can make in our behavior to alleviate the pressure we feel. When others are angry around us, we do justice by listening to them, by validating their feelings, and by identifying ways we can change or systems can change. Perhaps dad needs to stop enabling the very laziness he so resents. Perhaps everyone else in the household needs to hear dad’s frustration and actually help.
We can, of course, Think -> Feel -> Do in ways that escalate the anger and perpetuate the injustice. In Dallas, Micah Johnson did just that, responding to his personal anger regarding persistent racial injustice by taking the innocent lives of dutiful police officers far removed from the crimes committed. President Obama, in his incredible remarks in Dallas, did just the opposite, honoring the officers while naming the injustices that lead to the week’s accumulated body count and calling for systematic and spiritual change, for “new hearts” in the place of “hearts of stone.”
In Ferguson the governor did justice by assembling a commission to listen to the community, to validate feelings and to recommend concrete changes. In their report, the commission outlines deep systemic problems that went well beyond persistent corruption and bias in the police and courts. “Doing justice,” according to the commission, meant among other things, investing in public transportation. Most Ferguson residents had long, car dependent commutes. Yet they often couldn’t afford basic repairs, insurance or registration fees, making them vulnerable to traffic stops and excessive fines, which they also couldn’t afford. Court and prison time related to those fines made it harder to secure and keep employment. Who knew these were connected?
Justice brings reconciliation. Throwing the iPad, or the kid, across the room in response to tripping over the shoes does little to bring the family back into physical and spiritual harmony. Asserting new expectations and boundaries, however, just might. Likewise killing five police officers does as little to address the underlying issues of racial injustice as denying the problem and declaring all police officers to be saints. Acknowledging the challenges of policing, however, while also taking to the streets, the ballot boxes and the courts to demand better training, officer accountability and more diversity may beget the structural changes we need.
The Lord requires justice. For injustice leads to anger. Anger can only be alleviated by justice. And justice brings reconciliation.