“Imitators of God” or “Don’t be Hangry, Be Angry!”


“Imitators of God”

Scripture: 1 Kings 19:4-8, Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Preached on July 1, 2018, at Edwards Church, Framingham.

Ever get that dark irritable mood where nothing seems to go right? One of those moods where every, single small thing just gets on your nerves, when you yell without warning, and folks around you can’t even eat crackers in peace without facing your wrath? And then realize that you haven’t eaten in 12 hours?

If so, then you might have been “hangry”

Hangry is a combination of the words hungry, and angry, and, you might have guessed, attempts to describe that state of anger, irritation, of unsettledness that comes from being hungry. Many folks know about this concept, this word, from a recent series of Snickers advertisements; some of them are quite funny.

But, it’s good to know for us that being hangry is not something that was made up by a modern junk food corporation, but does have biblical precedent.  Our first Bible reading is a testament to that.

In that reading, the evil Jezebel has promised to kill the prophet Elijah, who has just fled from the court in Jerusalem.  After fleeing the city on foot, Elijah is out in the desert under a broom tree and is settling down to sleep.

A broom tree, by the way, is a hardy desert plant, it looks more like a bush than a tree- not a majestic oak. It’s kind of low to the ground and brambly, and if there’s just one, you know that the land is pretty sparse, but it is more than capable of providing shelter and water.

Elijah is feeling crestfallen, sad, angry, disappointed, and perhaps a bit melodramatic. “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”

Hearing this, God follows in the footsteps of the best of Grandmothers, and makes him some food and tells him to eat up. Elijah does so and falls asleep again, and once again, like the best of grandmothers, God tells Elijah to have seconds and to stay hydrated, for otherwise, “the journey will be too much for you.”

An exhortation to remember to eat might feel odd to hear in church in this particular moment in our nation, a moment that has many of our LGBT, immigrant, and non-white members, friends and family feeling vulnerable.  And if you don’t know anyone who is feeling vulnerable, I assure you that they are.

But this story reminds us that Elijah was feeling pretty vulnerable politically too. Queen Jezebel, who had threatened Elijah, was a follower of Ba’al, an ancient Mesopotamian Storm God, who was followed by surrounding nations which had been traditionally hostile. Religions were (and in many cases still are), intensely political, tied up in notions of who is in power and allowed to hold political power. So this was as much a political takeover as much as a religious one.

I think it’s a pretty extraordinary thing that the message God gives to Elijah at this critical juncture is not some grandiose pronouncement, even something such as “Do not be afraid”, but rather, “eat some food.” Take care of yourself, don’t be hangry, for the road is long, and the journey can be treacherous. Your people need you, God says to Elijah, they need you alive and healthy to lead them and journey with them. And to do that, God says, first you need to eat, to drink, to tend to your physical needs, because we need you to be here and at your best.

The world does not need any more Hangry leaders.

For us as Christians, this command to eat bread given from God takes on a new meaning through our communion table, opening up a spiritual dimension to this physical and practical command from God. To be able to endure the journey ahead we must take care of ourselves and each other not only physically, but spiritually as well, feasting on the love of God made flesh in Jesus Christ.

And although we do this most viscerally in our partaking of communion together, we also do this in our prayers, our bible studies, our creating and listening to music together. I know that sometimes I get spiritually “hangry”, which manifests itself in a dark cynicism.  Just as a physical hunger pain reminds me it is time to eat, my spiritual hunger reminds me to feed myself spiritually.

I’ve talked before about some of the ways I do that; Marvin Gaye’s album What’s Going On (in my opinion the best album ever made), coming to worship or, my newest addition, a daily prayer app on my phone that gives me a small ready-made worship service. This soothes my hangry soul just as a home cooked meal soothes my hangry body.

But being hangry is only one small branch of the family tree of emotions and behavior that make up anger.  Anger as an end unto itself, serving its own needs, sowing violence and terror is something else entirely.  Often born out of frustration, and targeted toward the vulnerable, it is a great evil that stalks this land.

That sort of anger, which we might call wrath, is something that the bible condemns justly. But there is one sort of anger that the bible does not condemn.  It is one born out of the deep deep biblical imperative to love our neighbors as ourselves, and which moves us to right wrongs and heal the world.  It is born out of that innate sense of equity and justice that we all have as children, a god-given gift to imagine the world as it ought to be, not as it is. This sort of Anger, a righteous anger, the bible tells us, can be a good thing, if properly channeled.

God, the Bible repeatedly tells us, is slow to anger and quick to return to mercy, but God does get angry sometimes over the course of the Bible. The prophet Amos evokes the image of God’s Anger made manifest against Israel’s enemies for what we would today call war crimes, and against the kingdoms of Israel and Judah for their treatment of poor and moral disorder in society.

Unfortunately, some of this Biblical imagery has been conflated with wrath, that terror, to frighten people, especially those with little power. Because of this, there has been, in progressive Christian circles, a hesitancy to talk about God’s anger. I understand that this has provided healing and comfort to those traumatized by these images as children by hateful voices in our current religious landscape.

But if, as Paul tells us in our second reading, in the letter to the Ephesians, that we are to be imitators of God, if God should not get angry, then neither should we. Therefore, in limiting and eliminating God’s anger as a valid emotional response, we have also frustrated our own ability to feel that righteous anger.

And honestly, there’s a lot of stuff that we should be mad as hell about.

Our second scripture passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians does remind us that we shouldn’t discharge anger entirely from our emotional lives. Rather, Paul reminds us that anger should not cause us to sin, that is, to separate us from God’s love.  As long as our anger is born out of empathy, that sense of seeing others as fully human and worthy of our and God’s love as we are, it does not separate us from God’s love.

For when anger comes from a suspicion that something is not right with the world, when it is properly channeled and backed up by a deep and abiding sense of love, anger can be a force for equality and justice.  This anger arises from a deep swell of God’s love, which envisions the world as it should be, rather than accepting the injustice of what is, has been at the core of the Abolitionist movement, the Civil Rights Movements, and all the other movements for equality, which demanded from society the full recognition of their God given humanity.

This is the anger that has erupted in recent weeks about the treatment of children at the border. That we can still feel anger when children are torn from their families, or when whole families are being detained indefinitely for the legal act of seeking asylum, is a good thing.

When there is something that is deeply wrong, when our most vulnerable friends and neighbors live in fear, that we feel anger is a good thing. Feeling that anger means that we still have empathy, that ability to love our neighbor as ourselves.  That empathy that is a core of what it means to be a Christian. My wife, Shannon, summed up this distinction well, in saying “It is the difference between Anger as an end, and Anger as a means to an end.”

If we are to be imitators of God as Paul suggests, then anger must be a part of our emotional vocabulary.  It should be a deliberate anger, slow to start, quick to end, and tempered elsewhere in our lives in relationships built on mercy, kindness, honesty, and in the steadfast love of God.

Building a life built on those principles is hard today. The forces of greed, corruption, of inhumanity are vast and organized.  Systemic evil seeks to set us apart from one another, to keep us docile and helpless, tries to teach us that the only way forward is to purchase, buy, and consume. I believe that It is only, only, in reaching out to one another, and to another source of power, of a reservoir of love vast, and unable to be bought, sold, or controlled, that we can make it through.

This sermon marks my final teaching with this church as a gathered body; I leave you with a deep and abiding gratitude for my time here, and this is my final lesson: Embrace your full selves; bring your whole physical, emotional, and spiritual lives to the messy confines of the church.  Love and care for one another, joining together in your grief, your righteous anger, and your joy.  Know that all that you are is pleasing to God, and nothing, no nothing, here on heaven and earth can separate you from the love of Christ Jesus.