It’s Complicated

Rev. Beth Hoffman Faeth

June 16, 2024

Scripture: Mark 11:15–19

Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves, and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written,

‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?
But you have made it a den of robbers.”

And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him, for they were afraid of him because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

The popular social media site Facebook has an option on each personal profile to divulge information about one’s relationship status. Single, married, in a relationship, partnered, separated, divorced, etc.… and my favorite: “it’s complicated”. For awhile, that popped up on my feed a lot, friends declaring that something had shifted in their primary romantic relationship, but leaving it elusive enough to not overshare. While certainly I care if a friend is moving through a difficult time with a partner, I will admit to chuckling every time I would see those two words: “It’s complicated”. Because, come on, aren’t ALL relationships complicated? God bless those of you in uncomplicated relationships, but I have yet to know of any union who hasn’t endured episodic rollercoaster rides in love.

I also believe that “It’s Complicated” is an apt status to describe our congregation’s individual and communal relationship with Jesus. Some of you wished we talked about Jesus more, others wish for less. Some of you have grounded your faith in understanding Jesus as the son of God, others of you think that Jesus may have been a charismatic man, but isn’t terribly relevant to how you understand God at work in the world. The spectrum of consideration about Jesus is wide and as good progressive Christian Congregationalists there is no right or wrong way to interpret Jesus in our beloved community. And that is significant… and complicated.

My own relationship with Jesus is complicated, but that is likely fodder for another sermon or small group discussion. I really like it when Jesus surprises me, which he does in our scripture text this morning. This is not Jesus as we may be inclined to imagine him in pastoral scenes, healing the ill, preaching to the multitudes, on the mountaintop, humbled in front of the empire… this is Jesus hoppin’ mad, reactive, ready to make some noise and claim a distinctive argument. And frankly, I like it. It helps me understand Jesus’ perspective and priorities when I know he could get riled up. It makes Jesus human in a way that I appreciate. Because anger is an uncomfortable emotion. It’s complicated.

Jesus’ display of anger seems to come out of the blue, especially because this scene was not out of the ordinary. Merchants and money changers in the temple courtyard were common practice and necessary for temple sacrifice. Pilgrims traveling long distances to Jerusalem could not always bring the required sacrificial animals along; ordinary coins imprinted with images of Caesar could not be used to pay Temple taxes and needed to be exchanged. This scriptural story can be found in all four gospels. In Matthew, Mark and Luke it comes much later in the narrative, in our text today this comes shortly after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and is sandwiched between two strange pericopes about a fig tree. Jesus’ erratic and anti-social behavior seemingly acting as a catalyst for his arrest, trial and crucifixion. In the gospel of John this scene occurs in chapter two, and Jesus’ actions suggest a zeal for upsetting the status quo. It is one of his first public appearances. Regardless of the placement, it is significant that this scene exists in all four of the gospels. That is rare. Jesus’ anger must have theological significance. I wonder if there is a model here for the way we manage our own anger.

When I was in Junior High I was fully engaged in church. Mostly because of Jay. Jay was one of my pastors, and he had full charge of youth ministry and Sunday School programming. Jay knew how to create a good time, he was incredibly funny and he would ride every single ride at 6 flags Great America. Even though he stood well over 6 feet he never looked down at you, rather he could draw you in and make you feel worthy. It was Jay that helped my parents realize that an illness I had incurred had significantly compromised my hearing, and it was Jay that sat with my parents during the surgery I had to correct the problem and it was Jay who came to pray with me before it all began and then visited again in the days that followed. As I consider my own journey towards ordained ministry it was Jay’s presence in my life that opened the door to that possibility.

Jay was also my Confirmation teacher. There were about 12 of us in the class, rambunctious ninth graders who cared for each other and believed we knew everything. We laughed a lot in class and we still managed to learn some things. My classmates and I were really good at being irreverent, and often we would push the limit. Jay would roll with it, calling us back to order, patiently waiting for us to finish laughing at each other’s antics, and sometimes he would even join in our silliness, sealing a bond and a respect that we all had for him. One day, however, we just couldn’t get it together. We were laughing, and nothing Jay could say or do could pull us back on task. Suddenly Jay exploded, he leapt to his feet, kicked over a chair and scolded us for being exactly what we were: disrespectful. Through his rage his message was clear. His passion for wanting God to mean as much to us as God meant to him usurped all laughter and silliness. And we just didn’t get it. He stormed out of the classroom and slammed the door. And none of us moved. We didn’t know what to do. No one had ever seen Jay angry. None of us had ever been yelled at by him.

Jay didn’t come back to class that day. We gathered the next week, talked about it some and then moved on. Some of my classmates decided they didn’t like Jay anymore because he got mad. And they held on to that feeling for the rest of Jay’s ministry with us. But I appreciated his honest reaction, I appreciated his anger, because I saw in it a passion for faith, for creating in us a hunger for God, that I hadn’t realized about Jay before. And Jay didn’t hold on to his anger. He expressed it and then let it go. He was still goofy and made us laugh. He still loved and cared about us and about our endeavors and achievements. For me, his anger made him all the more real. And when he placed his hand on my head to bless me on my Confirmation day, in it’s weight I could feel Jay’s love for me and love for God, as well as a fiery passion that could ignite tears as well as rage.

For many of us, myself included, anger is not an easy emotion. People often tell me I wear my heart on my sleeve, that I am easy to read, sometimes too transparent, but when I am angry I shut down rather than find a way to express it. Some of us hold on to anger until it festers inside us and we explode, or even worse, we carry it with us like a slow burn in the pit of our stomach, eating away at who we are and what we care about. I am a stuffer of anger, and the times I have tried to articulate it, particularly with ones whom I love, it comes out backwards and sideways and I find I never really say what I want to say. In the heat of the moment I become tongue tied and inarticulate. My deceased spouse and I figured out after years of frustrated fighting that we argued best over email. Now that’s complicated. And never got us anywhere. When you can’t speak your feelings out loud, you just aren’t being real.

Jesus used anger as an impetus for change. Jesus caused a scene to make his point, he created chaos so as to introduce order. Your priorities are wrong, Jesus chides the crowd. Defiling the temple courtyard so as to pay off corrupt priests is not the way to grow close to God. I am the way. You come to know God through me. Jesus’ anger may make us a bit uncomfortable, but it gets our attention. Because Jesus used anger to evoke societal change. Jesus is reactive and mad and demonstrative and we can’t help but take notice. His passion leads to something new. And as unsettled as I am with anger, I like this Jesus.

I like this Jesus, because we have lots of reasons to be angry, don’t we? Personally and globally, anger roars. Just because I deal poorly with anger doesn’t mean I don’t feel it. Every day anger simmers in my belly… I am angry when I think of all the people I know and love who are carrying burdens too heavy to bear, who stoically move through the days even though they are hurting, grieving, worried, down-right scared. And I am angry along with all of you that we, as a nation, are more concerned about our right to bear arms than the security of our children. And that no one with empire power seems able to do anything about the growing tragedy of gun violence. I am angry that our children must learn lock down drills and active shooter response while our politicians cry that it is never the right time—no matter how many people die—to alter antiquated law. I am angry that people are slaughtering each other through warfare over conflicts most of us don’t understand. I am angry that along with every woman in this room I have had to endure harassment, attacks on my character, unwanted sexual advances, and a great deal of shame purely because of my gender. I am angry that our reproductive rights are being denied. I am angry that our black and brown siblings continue to feel less than, that systemic racism festers in every facet of society. I am angry that states continue to instill regulations on queer folk so that no place feels safe, even home. Oh yes, I am angry. Aren’t you? And as my stomach churns and my head pounds and all those painful feelings come dangerously close to the surface, I know that I do not want my anger to simmer in vain. I want my anger to create change.

Because we do not get angry over things we do not care about. And so anger signals our passion and our passion is what can fuel revolution. So let us claim our anger but not let that anger rule us. Just like Pastor Jay, Jesus didn’t stay angry. Jesus may have overturned some tables but as the gospel continues there is the Jesus who transforms—preaching, healing, walking on the water, teaching his disciples. There is no anger in those stories. In our scripture this morning Jesus says what he needs to say, rattles a few cages, makes a spectacle that people won’t forget, gathers again the attention of empire and moves on to continue his mission. To live out his proclamation of peace and justice known through God. So recognize your anger, my friends. Even when it is hard and if you are like me, makes you nauseous. Because unattended anger leads to resentment. Built up anger leads to violence against others. And unaddressed anger often triggers us to take out our feelings out on those who do not deserve our wrath. None of these are productive. None of these move us forward to action. None of these instill hope. Let us instead use our anger to point towards our convictions, what we really want to be different, what we are willing to seriously pay attention to and give of ourselves toward. Whether in personal matters and relationships or in challenging the status quo, let us use our righteous anger to power our motivation to make things different. Anger may be complicated, and it is necessary.

Because we also know that anger does make a difference. Particularly in issues of social justice. Tables needed to be overturned in order to attend the need for religious freedom, the abolition of slavery, the right of women to vote and the changing of laws to allow women to inherit property. Anger opened minds and hearts in the Civil Rights Movement, made cultural shifts in our views of LGBTQIA+ equality, and continues to gather national attention in the Israel/Gaza War. Yes… peaceful protest, voting, personal relationships, and reasoned arguments are often what change our culture. However, all these effective strategies sprang from widespread anger over injustice, unfairness, and ill treatment. Anger born out of tragedy, rising from the wails of grief, challenging a nation to look closely at its values and priorities. This kind of anger not only evokes change, it produces hope.

Sometimes anger is necessary to bring attention to injustice and to motivate others to join in doing the right thing. And rarely is this comfortable or intuitive. It’s complicated, right? But rage without hope is a practice in futility. Jesus overturned some tables and people noticed. And then they listened to what he had to say and they followed him into a new way of life. How will we use our anger to effect necessary change in our community… in our world… in our church? How will our anger speak to the status quo? Let us raise our voices to be heard, let us knock on doors and turn over tables to speak truth to power, let us move out of our fear and discomfort to effect the change we seek. And through it all, God’s beloved ones, let us rise up, angry yet focused, as people rooted in hope and motivated by love. Amen and Amen.

9 a.m. service

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