The Seven Deadly Sins: Be Angry; Don't Sin!

Proverbs 16:24-32
Pleasant words are like a honeycomb,
  sweetness to the soul and health to the body. 
Sometimes there is a way that seems to be right,
  but in the end it is the way to death. 
The appetite of workers works for them;
  their hunger urges them on. 
Scoundrels concoct evil,
  and their speech is like a scorching fire. 
A perverse person spreads strife,
  and a whisperer separates close friends. 
The violent entice their neighbours,
  and lead them in a way that is not good. 
One who winks the eyes plans perverse things;
  one who compresses the lips brings evil to pass. 
Grey hair is a crown of glory;
  it is gained in a righteous life. 
One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
  and one whose temper is controlled than one who captures a city.

Today we begin a new sermon series on the Seven Deadly Sins. In a way, this series began on Christmas Eve, when we talked about Paul's letter to Titus:"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds." Why bother? Aren't we saved? If God's grave has appeared to us, hasn't sin lost its power?  Nope- but our faith empowers us to recognize sin: "‘If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire." The series will give us ways to use faith to overcome obstacles of sin.

Since ancient times, philosophers have contemplated what makes for a good life. Certain behaviors have always been considered positive, others destructive. The Seven Deadly Sins are behaviors that folk have always known will lead us down an evil path. The list as you see it in your bulletin does not occur anywhere in Scripture, but both testaments frequently speak about all of them. The text I read from Proverbs contains almost all seven- and others! By the sixth century Pope Gregory the Great edited a list of what he called cardinal sins to seven- in the 17th century the list was formally locked, changing "sadness" to sloth. Dante wrote of the different levels of Hell- we'll discuss that in a different series later this year- the seven sins were represented  on each level. You may have seen David Fincher's movie from 1995, SE7EN, starring Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt. David Fincher has a new movie out, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. She's lived a hard life, the victim of violence over and over. She often responds to her hurt with rage. 

We'll begin our series with Wrath. Sometimes this sin is listed as anger, but there is an important distinction to be made. Anger is an emotion that is basic to our psychology. Little things- red lights when we are late, being the last one chosen for a team, our favorite baseball team coming to within one out of winning the World Series TWICE and failing- make us angry. Or big things. Arguments with those we love. The other person always getting the promotion. The innocent suffer while the selfish acquire more and more. Anger is a human emotion we all must learn to confront and control- lest it become wrath. Wrath happens when our uncontrolled anger is allowed to hurt others. You don't get very far in Bible study to find an example of wrath. 

Cain and his brother both brought offerings to the Lord, but for whatever reason God favored Abel's gift. Cain's countenance was "downtrodden," the text tells us, and God was concerned: "Even now sin is knocking at your door, God warned." Cain did not listen. His anger at God, combined with his jealousy of his brother, was never dealt with in a positive way. Instead it became wrath, and when they were alone in a field everything exploded in rage. His brother Abel was dead. Things got worse from there. Genesis 6 tells us that one of the last things God considered before unleashing the flood waters upon the world was the violence- wrath- of humanity. Genesis later has stories of betrayal and trickery between brothers: Jacob steals Esau's birthright and then conspires to steal his father's blessing; Joseph's brothers are so jealous for their father's love that they sell him to slavery. After many years of separation, both Jacob fears Esau's wrath, as Joseph's older brothers fear him. Esau and Joseph respond with grace and forgiveness. 

Wrath can be avoided with a little bit of self-examination. Check out the end of Ephesians 4: "Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil... Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you."

Or check this out:  "Your anger does not produce God’s righteousness" (James 1:20).

An old saying goes: "The fastest horse cannot catch a word spoken in anger." Learning to control our emotions when we have been hurt is a lifelong exercise for many. Some of us know the power of our tempers. We have seen relationships ended over escalating, uncontrolled emotion. Every night, it seems, there is a story of someone losing control of their anger, their hate, their prejudice. The only way out is violence. Wrath is unleashed in a variety of ways in the 21st century. Email, Facebook, Twitter. Once you click share, send, post.. It's gone and can't be retrieved. 

Abraham Lincoln's secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, was angered by an army officer who accused him of favoritism. Stanton complained to Lincoln, who suggested that Stanton write the officer a sharp letter. Stanton did, and showed the strongly worded missive to the president. "What are you going to do with it?" Lincoln inquired. Surprised, Stanton replied, "Send it." Lincoln shook his head. "You don't want to send that letter," he said. "Put it in the stove. That's what I do when I have written a letter while I am angry. It's a good letter and you had a good time writing it and feel better. Now burn it, and write another." How do we learn to control our anger? What steps can we take s o that "the sun does not go down" on our anger?

Isn't God's grace more powerful than our sin? YES IT IS- and that is exactly why consider our sin and find ways to overcome it. Without God's grace defeating sin is impossible. But faith is not a sort of force field against sin. God's grace empires us to win the battle.  Isaiah 38:17: " Yes, this anguish was good for me, for you have rescued me from death and forgiven all my sins."1 john1:9 " If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." Should we take a more positive approach? What could be more positive than grace? Jesus, speaking of God's faithfulness in saving us from sin, said, "If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost."

Think for a moment of someone who has hurt you. Where is your anger targeted right now? You might even be angry with God. Anger can be a healthy emotion- if we are self aware enough. I heard baseball legend John Morgan talk about a buddy of his who was a hitting instructor. This was his hitting philosophy as the pitcher throws the ball: "See it, read it, and explode." the exploding part we want to control- but the seeing and reading part is valuable- understand the situation. Don't react out of control. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." It goes both ways: wrath will be bound and in heaven and earth. Forgiveness will be loosed in heaven and earth. We get to choose how we deal with our anger: with hate and its destructive consequences, or forgiveness and its possibilities of newness and renewal. 

At the end of the Gospel of Luke, as Jesus suffers on the cross. The people deride him. He prays, "Father, forgive them." Stephen, the first Christian to be martyred for his faith, prays as the wrathful stones fall upon him: "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." Every Sunday we pray these words together: "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." Anger is a normal, even healthy emotion when controlled. Forgiveness is what stands between anger and wrath. Whatever the source of your anger, see it and read it- but do not explode! In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.