I wonder what makes you angry? Driving in Farnham, especially when roads are closed, would seem, from their behaviour, to make many people angry. Many sports fans get angry when their team doesn’t perform as they expect, while politicians cause others to shout at their television sets. Others of us loose our cool when electrical or household appliances break down. And dare I mention computers?
The barbaric murder of an innocent in broad daylight in an ordinary street by terrorists makes me angry. What really makes me very angry indeed, though, is how some people have used that murder to condemn all Muslims, because the terrorists chose the name of Islam for their protest. To blame all Muslims is as ridiculous as blaming all Christians for the Ku Klux Klan. The Muslim Council of Great Britain, in response to the murder of drummer Rigby, said, “This is a truly barbaric act that has no basis in Islam and we condemn this unreservedly. Our thoughts are with the victim and his family. We understand the victim is a serving member of the Armed Forces. Muslims have long served in this country’s Armed Forces, proudly and with honour. This attack on a member of the Armed Forces is dishonourable, and no cause justifies this murder. This action will no doubt heighten tensions on the streets of the United Kingdom. We call on all our communities, Muslim and non-Muslim, to come together in solidarity to ensure the forces of hatred do not prevail.” I know many Muslims, and they are as peace-loving and patriotic as any Christian I know.
What makes me even more angry is that the so-called English Defence League marched yesterday to war memorials throughout this country, in their attempts to stir up hatred. War memorials, to people who gave their lives so that we can live in freedom and peace. 36,000 people signed a letter condemning the action of the English Defence League, which was published in yesterday’s Daily Mirror. I was one of them. These attempts to stir up hatred by the English Defence league make me very angry, because they stand in such opposition to the Christian faith and its values of love, peace, harmony, and freedom. It strikes me that yesterday’s marches seem very similar indeed to Mosley’s black shirts marching in the 1930s, which some of you will remember. Then it was Jews who were their scapegoat, today it’s Muslims.
You may have heard of Martin Niemoller, a German Protestant Pastor arrested by the Nazis in 1937:
First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the socialists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Catholic.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.
As you’ve gathered, I’m very angry about things. It’s a good job, then, that our reading from Galatians today is about anger. Paul wrote a letter to a church in Galatia, and he was very angry in that letter. As he writes to the Galatians, Paul gets angry about the truth of the gospel.
I’m sure I’ve said before that these letters were written to churches, in response to letters that Paul received, but as we don’t have the original letters, only Paul’s replies, we have to be a bit careful in working out exactly what it’s all about. It’s clear that the Church in Galatia have lost their identity, because Paul is reminding them, in very blunt terms, what it means to be a Christian and to have one’s identity in Christ.
This is a letter in which Paul gets quite angry and passionate. It certainly isn’t one of those letters that you sleep on, redraft, and fiddle about with for days or even weeks, before sending very carefully chosen forms of words. What we have here is a letter written in the heat of the moment – one of those penned from the heart, and posted before you change your mind. In verse nine Paul writes: If anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you have received, let that one be cursed!
So, this Church in Galatia seems to have forgotten the gospel, the values of being a Christian. We learn later in this letter that Paul is railing against their telling the Gentile Christians that they need to be circumcised and keep the Jewish law in order to be fully right with God, because he believes this is a distortion of the true gospel and vents his anger in this letter. It’s not a small medical matter, it’s actually at the heart of what it means to be a Christian, because it’s about whether anyone can follow Jesus, or whether they can only do so through the Jewish faith, and Paul is pretty cross they’ve forgotten that anyone can respond directly to the call of Christ. In verse six he writes: I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to different gospel.
Paul’s anger may seem over the top, maybe it was unhelpful, but anger can be a sign of passion and care. We get angry about the things we care about most, as Paul puts it in verse six, deserting the one who called you…and turning into a different gospel.
Anger is a difficult passion to master. There’s a story told about a grandson who came to his Grandfather one day looking very angry. Grandfather said, “Tell me what’s happened today”.
The child said, “I’d been really helpful around the house and my Dad was so pleased with me he bought me a toy car! I went to school the next day and took my toy car with me. Some boys gathered around me and started saying bad things and one of them snatched the toy and they all ran away laughing”.
At that moment the boy’s anger returned, “I hate them. I hate them all!”, he said.
Grandfather said, “I too, at times, have felt a great hate for those that have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do. But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It’s as if there are two wolves inside me, one is white and one is grey. The White Wolf is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him and does not take offence when no offence was intended. It will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way. But the Grey Wolf is full of anger. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. It’s helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing. Sometimes it’s hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit”.
The boy looked intently into Grandfather’s eyes and asked, “Which one wins, Grandfather?”
Grandfather smiled and said, “The one I feed”.
Later in his letter to them, Paul will warn these Galatian Christians not to consume each other, but instead live by the Spirit of Jesus. If we’re going to get angry, let’s make sure we get angry about the right things. Let us not put our anger into fighting the 99.99% peace-loving Muslims. You may have heard about the mosque in York, where they were confronted by an English Defence League mob outside. They came out, invited them in, offered them tea and biscuits, and ended up with a game of football. Let us be angry about the things that matter.
Should we be getting angry about protecting the NHS, in a week when a plan to limit the number of doctor’s appoints was suggested? Should we be getting angry about cutting back Legal Aid? Should we be angry about politicians still having their fingers in the till? Should we be getting angry about continuing destruction of God’s creation? Should we be getting angry about the injustices faced by our sisters and brothers in Palestine?
It seems to me there are many things in our world that stand in opposition to the gospel values of love, peace, harmony, and freedom, and attacking Muslims who share those values with us is not helpful in nay way I can understand. Let us, like Paul, fight for the truth of the gospel.