"You Have No Right to Be Angry"#86-48
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on July 28, 2019
By Rev. David Haberstock, Guest Speaker
(Q&A Topic:You Have No Right to Be Angry)
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Matthew 5:17-26
Hello, Canada, this is David Haberstock the regional pastor of the Central Region of Lutheran Church—Canada. I am pleased to be able to share God's Word with you this day, and I hope that as you hear it, it would renew and strengthen in you the confidence that your sins are forgiven. And through that faith that you might receive life and salvation. Amen.
Lord God of power and might, Author and Giver of all good things, graft into our hearts the love of Your Name. Increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of Your great mercy, keep us in the same, through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Amen.
A reading from St. Matthew, the fifth chapter, starting at the 17th verse.
Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
"You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny." This is the Gospel of our Lord.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Anger belongs to God. We get angry at injustice, especially when it is done to us or to those we love. But let's face it, anger is not ours, certainly not to wield in pursuit of giving people what they deserve. For "'Vengeance is mine,' saith the Lord." Though our consciences feel injustice in the world, though they are sensitive to it, we rarely have the right to do anything about it in terms of punishing the evil doer. For unless you are a judge or police officer or part of the penal system, what right do you have to mete out your own personal feelings of justice on anyone?
None. That only leads to vigilante justice and long-running blood feuds, the sorts of things that destroy the godly gift of a peaceful society.
For anger belongs to God. And God who hates evil and injustice gives the right to wield the sword of justice to governments, according to Romans 13. This is why there are peace officers, armies, law codes, and law courts in our land. And it is why those things are a good thing, for they are given by God to maintain order. But this is also why the statues often seen in courthouses of lady justice with her scales are blindfolded. She is not to judge with her eyes, with her heart, with her biases of anger or love. She simply weighs the facts in the scales of justice. And she dispassionately metes out what is right according to the law. For true anger against sin, which ultimately results in damnation, belongs to the Lord.
He is the Creator of all. He is the perfect Father who lovingly designed and made all we see and do not see. He is the One Adam sinned against when Adam ate what His loving Father told him not to eat of. He is One we sin against every time we break His Laws. It is His Laws we break. It is Him we are despising and dishonoring. It is His world, His people, His beloved children we damage when we sin. Even if that sin is only against ourselves and we think it impacts no one else, you are hurting Him, your Father. For you are not your own. You are His. For He made you and with His Son's innocent suffering and death He redeemed you from the judgement your sins deserve.
For the Son of God did not come to lighten your load by lessening the Law, by knocking off a few hundred commands off the top. He came to complete the Law by living it to the full, every jot, every tittle, every dot and iota, every stroke of the pen. He utterly fulfilled, both the letter of Law and the spirit of Law. And any of you who have taken care of kids know the difference between the letter and the spirit of a command. Spend much time with kids and you will inevitably run up against a child who has parsed every word you've said like an exacting lawyer, looking for some sort of loop hole, in order to do the absolute minimum of what you have commanded, in order to get back to doing what that child wants to do; instead, of what you've said. But the spirit of the Law is what must be kept in order to fulfill the Law, not merely the lowest common denominator. And that's what Jesus did in His life and death. He kept and completed the Old Testament so completely that a New Testament needed to replace it: a testament built on Christ's innocent suffering and death for all humanity.
So anger is God's; it is not yours. It has been utterly poured out against God's Son, bringing the Law with its eternal penalties to an end. Now when we feel angry it should prompt us to pray: pray for justice to be done; pray for the poor and helpless to be saved and protected; pray for healing for both those hurt by sin and those whose sin is destroying others. And having prayed, if it is in your power you should act to protect the innocent and the helpless, to stop those whose sin destroys others. But don't act in anger, act in love for your neighbor and for what is good and right. For anger is not ours; it belongs to God, for He alone is the judge.
This is why the Lord equates the action of murder with the action of uttering abusive, angry words at someone. For to call someone a fool in the Bible is to call them an unbeliever. It is to say they are apart from salvation. "For the fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'" And since Jesus' payment to the Father for sin, sin is not what sends someone to hell. Unbelief in what the Triune God has done to reconcile you to Himself sends someone to hell. To call someone a fool in Bible times meant you were wishing them to be outside of salvation. You were wishing upon them eternal death.
And yet, don't we do that? Isn't it a temptation to say that certain sins are too great to be forgiven—for instance, Hitler, sexual predators, murderers of children? We really don't want them in heaven, now do we? Now, their sin is great to be sure. But is yours so much less? For though you may not have murdered, you have put yourself in the place of God. Though you may never have led a rebellion against lawful order, you have kicked God off His throne when you reject His Word. And in your anger you have wished people damned whom Christ our Lord shed His blood to save. Repent! Those other sinners have destroyed the body. You would destroy a soul. Repent!
For your sin cannot be reformed or rehabilitated. It cannot be lessened by taking laws away. All will be judged by the Father—either in justice, if you cling to your own righteousness, or in mercy, if you cling to Jesus. Your sin is great. It lives in you, and it can only be dealt with by killing it.
This is what our Lord did on the cross. The Innocent One took all mankind's sin on Himself in His Baptism. He carried it to the cross, and He died for it. He put it to death by suffering God the Father's wrath against it. Justice has been satisfied within the Triune God Himself. Sin has been punished and dealt with. Now the Holy Spirit is sent to give Christ's righteousness to you in holy Baptism where you are put to death and raised to life a new man: a sinless man, a new Adam, a new Eve—free from sin, free from its claim over you, free from the demands of the Law. For in Baptism you are given and clothed in a righteousness that surpasses that of every good man who has ever lived. You have Christ the Son of God's righteousness.
He is the Man who was killed by wicked men, by you and me, because He died to do away with our sin. We are guilty of that. We are guilty of His love for us. So now when the accuser, Satan, comes along tormenting you about some sin you have done, do not deny it. Admit it. For in doing so you are also admitting that you believe that Christ loves you, that Jesus Christ has done away with all sin—your sin. Admit it so that you are not turned over to God the righteous judge. For though His Son has died for you, if you stubbornly cling to your own goodness, Christ's righteousness won't do you any good. And despite what Christ has done, you will be sent to the eternal jail to pay off the debt your sins owe.
So simply admit that you are a sinner. Which is to say, repent. For in doing so, Christ is for you. His righteousness is yours. His death and resurrection are yours. Peace with God is yours. You need not hang onto anger. Instead, you can reconcile with those who have sinned against you because Christ has paid your debt and that of all others. You can be gracious and forgiving. Not because justice gets done, not because what others have done to you didn't hurt, but because in Christ all is made right. In Christ all evil doers are reconciled to the Father. In Christ you are reconciled to the Father.
Christ is the Judge—not you—of whether someone has believed on Him or not. So do not wish damnation on others. Leave that to God. For He works justice by paying sin's price in Himself.
And He works righteousness for you by paying every last penny you owe and clothing you in Himself.
In Jesus' Name. Amen.
Reflections for July 28, 2019
Title: You Have No Right to Be Angry
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour, and we just heard our guest speaker, Pastor David Haberstock. I'm Mark Eischer here in the studio with my colleague, Don Everts, author of a new book titled The Reluctant Witness: Discovering the Delight of Spiritual Conversations. Don, thanks for joining us.
Don Everts: It's great to be with you, Mark.
Mark Eischer: You write, "Jesus' church has grown silent in this postmodern age." Why are people, not just Christians, Talking less about spiritual matters?
Don Everts: The short answer—there is a longer answer, too—the short answer I would say is fear. There's a sense that the cat's got our tongue because of the context we're in right now. There's a large fear of offense. That's what the research showed us: that one of the reasons people aren't talking about faith or religion or lack of faith is because they're afraid of offending other people and so kind of the cat's got their tongue. They don't want to offend anyone, and so we've grown silent.
The longer answer: we would have to get into things like disinterest. Some people just aren't interested in spiritual matters on the part of Christians. What we believe about spiritual conversations has shifted in some interesting ways. Then also there are some assumptions about spiritual conversations that people have that might not be true, for example, that spiritual conversations are always really awkward things. It turns out that's not true, but we perceive that spiritual conversations are pointy, awkward things. That also makes us more silent.
Mark Eischer: You mentioned research. Could you put this book in context for our listeners? How is this part of a collaboration between Lutheran Hour Ministries and the Barna research organization?
Don Everts: Here at Lutheran Hour Ministries, our mission is to bring Christ to the nations and the nations to the church, and we want to be thoughtful about that. We want to be careful about how we're doing that. One of the things that we've begun to do is every year we are researching a different topic related in some manner to bringing Christ to the nations and the nations to the church. We're partnering with the Barna Group. It's an evangelical Christian organization that are experts. They're kind of nerdy. They're experts in doing this kind of research to find things out. Then we're doing two things with the research.
Number one, we are learning as a mission organization, so we're trying to get better and smarter and more fruitful in what we're doing. The other thing we're doing with each year's research is trying to give the best stuff that we found in the research to the church. That's part of what this book, The Reluctant Witness, for the year that we researched spiritual conversations, this book is an attempt to take the best stuff that we learned and hand it over to the church.
Mark Eischer: In this book you're combining that research, that data, with some of your own personal experiences to kind of flesh that out a little bit, and I appreciate how those two aspects work together. Earlier you mentioned misconceptions people had about spiritual conversations. You debunk five myths. Could you relate maybe one more of those myths?
Don Everts: One of the myths people have about spiritual conversations is that a spiritual conversation is a really special thing, and so it happens with really special people in really special places at really special times. The clouds part. The light comes in. Because of that, that tends to make us not lean into real moments of spiritual conversation because, "Well, I'm just their friend." "We're just at a meal." "I'm not a pastor." "I'm not in a church." What the research revealed to us is we asked people, "Who's your preferred partner for spiritual conversations?" Both Christians and non-Christians were asked this question. The top of the list for both by far was a friend. "I'd rather talk with a friend than anyone else about spiritual things." Pastors, like me, like paid professionals, were kind of down the list. People would rather talk to friends, or they would rather talk to family members.
Mark Eischer: What are some of the differences between eager and reluctant conversationalists?
Don Everts: When we ask people, "How many spiritual conversations have you had in the last 12 months, in the last year?" And it's a low bar, Mark. A spiritual conversation is a conversation with anyone about faith or lack of faith. That's a pretty low bar, right? Three quarters of all Christians in the U.S. have nine or fewer spiritual conversations a year. That's less than one a month, and that's talking with anyone. That's not an evangelistic conversation. That's talking with a spouse, with a Bible study leader, with a friend. "What'd your kids think of the sermon?" All of those count as spiritual conversations. We're having nine or fewer a year.
Don Everts: We call those people reluctant conversationalists for obvious reasons. Eager conversationalists, the difference is, a quarter of all Christians are talking about faith a lot. They're having, sometimes, 70, 100 ... gobs of times they're talking about their faith. Those are who we call eager conversationalists, and one of the powers of doing research is once we notice that difference, the researchers with Barna, they went back and cut all the data and said, "How did people who are eager conversationalists answer all our other questions? How did the people who are reluctant conversationalists answer all the questions?" What's fascinating, Mark, is we found out there are five distinct areas where eager conversationalists and reluctant conversationalists are different.
Don Everts: For one example, eager conversationalists have orthodox beliefs about sin, eternity, salvation, forgiveness, and the afterlife. Reluctant conversationalists, on the whole, have less-orthodox beliefs about those things. There is a correlation between believing what the Bible teaches about eternity and sin and Jesus and His work on the cross. There's a correlation. If you believe what the Bible teaches about those things, you talk about spiritual matters more.
Mark Eischer: How did a trip to Mexico make a big difference in your life in terms of your own comfort and confidence in sharing your faith?
Don Everts: I'm a reluctant conversationalist. That's one of the things you find out in the book, like embarrassingly so. Not only an introvert, but just really hesitant to talk about things. I had an experience where I went on a mission trip in college down to Mexico, and we were living in these small villages, and we'd run vacation Bible schools. Then we would also give presentations and testimonials and that sort of thing. I found myself standing in front of a room filled with almost the entire village, hundreds of kids, dozens of adults, and I was enjoying it.
Don Everts: I was standing up front talking about my faith, my walk with Jesus, and I was actually enjoying it. Upon reflection, one of the things I realized is that I had prepared to talk about my faith. We didn't just do tactical preparation for our time, though we did. We worked on Spanish language, we bought supplies, we made plans, but we also did spiritual preparation. We spent time praying with each other, a lot of time praying. We spent time in the Bible studying 1 Peter with each other before we ever went to Mexico. I found that being in spiritual disciplines made it easier for me to talk about my faith. That's actually one of the points the research makes, that eager conversationalists apply spiritual disciplines like reading the Bible, praying, going to church, more than reluctant conversationalists.
Mark Eischer: Okay, and these are practices that distinguish eager conversationalists from the reluctant ones?
Don Everts: That's right. One of the five differences between eager and reluctant folks is how active they are in applying spiritual disciplines in their life. They're not willing to say, "If you read the Bible more, pray more, and go to church more, you'll talk about your faith more." They just say there's a correlation, but it doesn't take much to see that makes sense. If you're more active in your faith, you're going to be talking about your faith. That's what I found in going to Mexico.
Mark Eischer: Now the statistics in the book gives some cause for concern about where our culture is right now and where we as the church are, but you're very careful to also point out some hopeful signs. Could you tell us a little bit more about that?
Don Everts: For one thing, one of the things we found out is people really enjoy spiritual conversations. They're really enjoyable. Christians and non-Christians, when we asked them, "Think back to your most recent spiritual conversation. What was your experience? What did you feel?" The top two emotions that come up are peace and joy. This is Christians and non-Christians alike. That's actually really hopeful news. People enjoy spiritual conversations. Another good piece of news is that spiritual conversations are fruitful. People were asked, "Can you reflect on a time when a spiritual conversation led to big life change for you?" Christians and non-Christians alike say, "Yes." We know that spiritual conversations are powerful. Also good news is, is this whole eager/reluctant thing and finding out these five attributes. This is interesting, Mark, the five things that make an eager conversationalist are all things anyone can grow in, so they're not something you have to be born with.
Don Everts: That's actually a reason for hope because we as a church—as we try to do in the book—can say, "How can we grow more eager? How can I develop these five practices in my own life?"
Mark Eischer: I'm talking with Don Everts, author of The Reluctant Witness: Discovering the Delight of Spiritual Conversations. How can listeners obtain a copy of your book?
Don Everts: Yeah, they can just go to Lutheran Hour's website, lhm.org, or anywhere they buy books, Amazon, etc. We're selling it widely around the country.
Mark Eischer: How could something like LHM Learn help someone to become better prepared and more confident in these sorts of conversations?
Don Everts: Great. So LHM Learn are these on FREE online courses that we've developed. We developed one just on the differences between eager and reluctant conversationalist and how we can grow more eager. It's an entire course where people can walk through and learn about what makes for an eager conversationalist. Then we walk them through making a plan. They can score themselves on the five attributes. They get an E-A-G-E-R score, which helps them discern, "Here's something I can lean into to grow." That course is called Prepared to Respond and can help anyone lean into becoming a more eager conversationalist.
Mark Eischer: Don, thanks for joining us.
Don Everts: Thanks, Mark.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Our Father, Who from Heav'n Above" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)