Reading for Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost: Ephesians 4:25-5:2
Peace be with you!
Part of carrying out God’s plan is keeping his commandments and loving one other as he loves us. The author of Ephesians gives us a list of examples. Some commands are simple and straightforward, such as not stealing but instead doing a honest day’s work (Ephesians 4:28). But some of the commands are more complex. The author adds that we should share with the needy, but leaves us to clarify how we define who is and is not needy. When we add the human element into anything, the system often breaks down; it is easy to justify our personal opinions. We call to mind past negative experiences or imagine complicated logistics.
The author makes the argument that it is okay to get angry, if it does not cause you to sin (Ephesians 4:26). It seems impossible to get upset without hurting another person and therefore breaking a commandment. When a boyfriend cheats on you with your best friend, you may spread nasty rumors about them. When your mother does not allow you to go out with your friends, you may sneak out. When your friend spreads rumors about your family, you may spread rumors about their family. It is easy to let your anger lead you down a path that you would not otherwise go down. It is difficult to think of ways anger could be separate from sin.
However, what happens when we direct our anger to injustice in the world? What if we directed our anger to racial profiling? What if we directed our anger toward inaccessible buildings? What if we did not allow others to judge people based on their abilities? What if we did not allow anyone to sleep outside? What if we did not allow teachers to choose favorites? What if we taught students based on their learning styles? What would our world look like then?
Recently, I experienced discrimination based on my disability at my gym. One day my personal caregiver opened the door when she dropped me off at the gym. The front desk manager blocked the doorway and informed us that the gym requires me to show my gym membership card every time I come. She went on to lecture me that I should have my card out before I enter the door (meaning, my personal caregiver should get it out for me). Although I was allowed to enter the gym, I felt humiliated and disrespected.
I could have written a nasty letter to her boss, lamenting how she failed to treat me with dignity or respect. However, I decided to instead discuss the incident with the front-desk manager first. I explained how I felt violated when she physically blocked me from entering the gym. I explained how she could have taken me aside and said they were starting to enforce the policy more stringently. The front desk manager apologized for making me feel humiliated and understood how she could have approached me differently. By calmly and directly talking with the manager, I made my concerns and feelings known without being disrespectful, which showed her I could be approached like any other adult.
In recent times we have seen peaceful protests against racial profiling across the nation. People have held up their hands and chanted, “Black lives matter! Hands up, don’t shoot!” Church leaders have led prayer groups in the streets in Ferguson, and others have sung “Amazing Grace” in Charleston. The protesters got attention online with the hashtags #BlackLivesMatter and #DontShoot, and their peaceful, productive protest sparked a nationwide discussion on the injustice shown toward minorities.
This is what the author of Ephesians means not letting anger lead you to “bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling, and slander.” Instead, “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, and forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31-32). Responding to anger with love and tenderness allows for healthy and constructive conversation to happen that help to end injustice towards the weak and vulnerable. When we do that, we start creating the world that God had in mind all along. We come closer to doing God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for showing us your forgiveness, grace, and love. Help us to respond to anger with kindness, tenderness, and forgiveness. Lead us to direct our anger to the fight against injustice in the world. Thank you for your wisdom. Amen.