“Skeleton at the Feast”
“The Skeleton at the Feast”
Sermon on the 6th Commandment
Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert
Feb 21, 2021
There is something wonderful about the first dusting of snow. There’s even something invigorating about plunging your hand down into a couple of inches of it and feeling instantaneously that fresh sensation of being alive. The cold has a way of almost jolting us awake.
I wonder if it is not unlike anger?
The great reformer Martin Luther once said, “I find nothing that promotes work better than angry fervor. For when I wish to compose, write, pray and preach well, I must be angry. It refreshes my entire system, my mind is sharpened, and all unpleasant thoughts and depression fade away.”
Luther speaks of anger as if someone just threw him into the snow and his entire being awakened with fervor, sharpness, productivity.
More recently, the 20th-century novelist and Presbyterian minister, Frederick Buechner, said of anger:
“Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back–in many ways it is a feast fit for a king.”
For Buechner, anger is not only productive, it’s really quite delightful in its own bitter way.
Still more recently again, I came across a leading political strategist and professor who summarized the essence of good campaigning in contemporary politics this way: “If you can map an electorate’s fears, and then turn those into anger by moralizing your opponent’s sins, they will show up at the polls.”
Anger is not only productive, anger is not only delicious but if you can find a way to throw people into the snow and awaken that moral indignation – you will get the votes. Anger is power.
And on top of all of that… anger is biblical.
- We can readily point to times in Scripture where God is angered at sin.
- The prophets are angry at sin.
- Jesus is angry in the Temple as he sees this house of worship being used to turn a profit. It is anger that awakens others to sin and injustice…and the need for change.
All to say, there is much to commend in anger’s ability to jolt us awake, to invigorate, to enliven us to what and who matters.
But…the thing about snow is that for as wonderful and invigorating as it can be at first… it can quickly become dangerous.
As you all well-know, Central, TX just does not have the infrastructure to deal with massive snowfalls on the road…
…but of course if at all possible you want to clear that snow as soon as possible because in these temperatures that fluffy snow very quickly becomes this heavy, concretized, and quite dangerous sheet of ice… as we all saw.
Same, if at all possible, you want to clear anger before it does the same to the human heart…or even a whole community.
Let anger sit for awhile, and it will harden. It will calcify.
And then, across the hardened ice of anger, we find our words race faster, they flow more furiously, they speed forth and hit with more impact…and it’s not long before our anger has caused a full on crash with someone. Or someones. Intentionally or unintentionally.
And as some of us know all-to-well, the resultant damage and pain can be quite long-term.
I find it telling that when Jesus addresses the commandment “Do not murder…” he does not go into details about warfare and bloodshed…
He talks about anger.
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment. ’I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment…”
Jesus recognizes that the way anger rips apart relationships and communities and churches and even countries is essentially akin to murder. And I wonder if all the pain and destruction caused by anger isn’t itself the form of the judgment Jesus speaks of in our passage.
Buechner, when writing about the delicious meal that is anger, concludes his thoughts this way: “The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.”
Or put another way, our angry words and angry ways skid right across that hardened ice and we inevitably cause untold damage in that direction while also blowing up our own vehicle.
And so, again, we are wise to shovel anger quickly.
Prayer to God.
Confession to God.
Praying the Psalms.
Praising God in song.
Talking with trusted others about the mounting anger in our hearts…all of these and more are the tried and true ways to shovel the anger lest it stick around beyond its momentary, helpful purpose.
The problem, I think, is that we live in a time in our nation where anger is so prevalent everywhere – the news, social media, extended family meals, editorials, campaigns…and in that kind of climate, snow hardens to ice quite quickly – even if we did not want it to or mean for it to do so.
In our current climate, I think this has happened across the board for folks in the church and folks outside of the church. And I think then that one of the most urgent questions of our time is this: aside from more and more carnage, aside from devouring ourselves and one another… what melts ice?
What can actually change anything in our family or relationship or country at this point? What can actually make a difference in all of these hearts now hardened in layers of anger, resentment, even hatred?
What melts the ice?
Salt. Salt melts ice.
Here’s how Jesus describes what it looks like when someone pours salt on ice:
“So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”
This is what being the salt in the world looks like for Jesus in a very practical way.
Even if you believe you have something very important and even sacred to do like making an offering in worship…leave it.
Reconcile with the one who has something again you.
To the question, “Is it enough to do no harm?” Not for Jesus.
Here we see that he exhorts not just “stop being angry and hurting others” but actually proactively seek the good of one who has something against you, holds a grudge, does not like something about you, is frustrated by you. Reconcile with them.
Put another way, as Jesus does shortly after our passage today: love your enemy. That is salt.
I imagine we want Jesus to say more here. More details. Other actions we could also choose to take.
But the simple fact is this: salt melts ice. And the most potent salt of all is love for those who have something against you, love for those you have something against…love for enemies.
Praying for them. Blessing them. Against all odds and perhaps even with slim hopes for success – seeking reconciliation with them. That’s the salt.
And that’s hard. At times – depending on the history and the context and the climate – honestly pouring salt feels an impossible task.
Which makes me mindful of one other thing that melts ice. Light.
If there is Anyone who is utterly justified in holding onto and concretizing their righteous anger it is God as God looks upon us and our failure to reflect God faithfully in the world. As God looks upon our sin.
And yet, Scripture declares: “while we were yet sinners, while we were yet frozen, bound, and unyielding in our ways and our hated…while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Which is to say, instead of holding onto and concretizing that righteous anger God in Jesus Christ sought reconciliation. He went to the cross and upon our frozen hearts he poured forth the light of life and forgiveness that we his enemies, might be reconciled.
One of the central reasons we place crosses at the center of our sanctuaries is because it reminds us that we gather under, we stand under the continual light of reconciling love. The cross makes clear this is a love that will go any distance for the sake of enemies (touch chest).
I wonder if one of the central reasons we gather for worship every week is because some part of us deep down recognizes – especially in this current climate – that we have a fundamental need to stand under and receive afresh this light warming, melting, softening…
Snow is good. Its touch is invigorating. Enlivening. Awakening even.
But…if you are living in a climate that is sub-0 most of the time, you have to shovel regularly lest that snow becomes dangerous. Sometimes we fall behind.
And so if you are gathered here today and recognize there is anger or resentment or hatred accumulated over days or months or years and so not easily swept away…may you this morning receive afresh the light of life that never ceases to pour forth with forgiveness and love. Stand under that for as long as it takes to notice a softening.
And then… put down whatever holy and important thing you have going, and pick up a bag of salt. It may be a prayer. A blessing. A gift. A note. A step toward reconciliation. And use it in whatever direction Jesus is putting on your heart. That person from way back when. That family member in the same room. Those people on that side of the aisle. But somewhere, pour salt.
And the thing about salt is once you start pouring it onto ice, it has a way of melting both the spot that it hits as well as the surrounding area. In other words, risk using salt…and while it may or may not go as we hope or plan when we try and love our enemies, do pay attention.
More is melting than we might initially assume. And don’t be surprised if some of the most significant melting is happening here.