I first want to thank you for having me here at Canadian Memorial. I
know it’s always a risk when you invite someone new, and this morning
you took a risk on a guest preacher who will be speaking on anger…
Maybe to ease you into it, I’ll start off with a metaphor. I personally love
metaphors. I think they’re some kind of magic. Every metaphor, of
course, breaks down at a certain point, but for awhile there the
metaphor just runs and you get this glimpse into the fact that the world
is all connected and that truth is everywhere and in everything.
One of my favourite metaphors from Scripture is the metaphor of a
garden, because when this metaphor runs, it seems almost endless.
There’s something about planting and tending, pruning, diversifying,
soil, seed, fruit, seasons, harvest, growing, sowing and reaping. The list
goes on, and the potential metaphorical narratives seem infinite. But the
narrative I’d like to sit with today is of our hearts as the soil from which
the Kingdom of God grows. My heart, your heart, this community’s
Our hearts are the soil out of which the Kingdom of God here on earth is
coming. Now don’t get me wrong, this is not a sermon about personal piety. But it is simply to say that you and I are in this world. Our actions bear
consequences. And they come from somewhere. We as individuals
nonetheless play a part in systems of oppression or systems of
reconciliation. So, there are two stories I’d like you to imagine—maybe to actually write out the stories in your own mind.
One is the story of what kind of soil your heart has been, is, is becoming.
Soil actually carries a history in it. Soil agronomists or agricultural soil
scientists can actually identify certain aspects of the life of particular
soil by studying it. The thing about soil is that in order for it to actually be
soil, it requires organic material—it has to be infused with things that
are alive in order to be life producing. Otherwise it’s not actually soil, it’s
The story of good soil is very interesting, because it’s filled with life—its
filled with living organisms like earthworms and insects and
microorganisms. But..it’s also filled with things that have died to feed
the living parts of the soil. The decaying dead organisms also provide
life to the soil. And so that cycle of life and death is carried out within
the soil and the nutrient richness of that soil is determined by whether
that cycle involves life and life-giving death.
What life is in the soil of your heart? What death is in the soil of your
The second story I’d like us to consider is what sort of seeds have you
been, are you, will you be planting in your soil? What is the story of
what you plant in your heart? What is the story of your harvests? Are
they sustainable? How many more seasons of faithful tending and
patience before the apple seeds you planted years ago finally become
fruit-bearing trees? Or how many more rotations of eroding crops using
eroding practices and products before your soil finally turns into a
As we have these two running stories of our soil and seed hovering in
the back of our minds, I’d like us to consider the seed of anger.
The seed of anger: what are we talking about here? Some of you might
be saying to yourself “Ah, I’m good. I’m not an angry person.” Probably
for the average person the best test of that would be to place a hidden
camera in whatever vehicle you might be driving and send you off into
rush hour traffic. I’ll be the first to admit that that is when my true self
But yea, what are we talking about when we say anger? And is it bad?
The short answer is not necessarily. Ephesians chapter 4, for example,
says “in your anger, do not sin.” Or actually the literal translation is “Be
angry, and do not sin.” So in this instance, Scripture makes a distinction
between anger and sin.
Sometimes we should be angry. Sometimes anger is the only correct or
reasonable response to a situation. And I speak more emphatically to
women, people of colour and anyone else who falls under that culturally
conditioned category that says it is socially unacceptable for you to be
angry. Sometimes the appropriate thing is to be angry. And that doesn’t
make you aggressive or “the B word” or petty or overly-sensitive.
Sometimes anger validates your humanity and it empowers. And those
are good things. So that caveat there: anger and sin are not one and the
Scripture also makes a distinction between largely two different types
For the most part, we find two Greek words translated in the New
Testament as anger: thumos and orge. Thumos anger is the type that
fires up in a passion. It’s the explosive, passionate temper kind of anger.
It is the source of crimes of passion. Orge anger, on the other hand, is the
premeditated sort. It’s the kind of anger that settles and turns into a
disposition towards something or someone. Orge anger is a seed. Now
technically we’re still in neutral territory here. God’s anger, for example,
is most often orge anger against various things categorized under sin
Part of the problem I imagine, is that, of course, we humans do not often
have the capacity to hold orge anger in the long-suffering way that God
can without it destroying us. When we are set ablaze—even with
righteous anger—we are in danger of the fire within us burning us up if
it is not directed towards life-giving action. So when Scripture talks
about orge anger with respect to people, it’s most often not neutral. This
isn’t the anger that we slip into in a moment of passion. This is the anger
we choose to hold onto—to let it burn within us. This is the anger that—
if we let it—grows murder in our hearts and precipitates death.
And this seed of chosen dispositional anger towards—this orge anger—
is the word used in our Scripture readings from this morning.
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not
murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to
you that if you are angry (orgizo) with a brother or sister, you will be
liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable
to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of
Here Jesus goes one step further and says that it’s not just orge anger of
its own accord that leads to judgment and death. No, it is specifically the
kind of orge anger that leads to insults and degradation of another
person. A good friend of mine provided me with a great semantic choice
to describe this kind of anger, and that is contempt. Contempt is
condescension through a self-determined moral hierarchy.
According to the Gottman Institute a la clinical psychologist Dr. John
Gottman, “contempt assumes a position of moral superiority over
[someone].”1 Gottman is a really interesting fellow; he’s conducted 40
years of research on marital stability. And what he found was that the
presence of contempt in a marriage is the single most accurate indicator
that a marriage or relationship will not survive. Contempt is so
significant in its ability to kill something, to lead to death, that using this
indicator, Gottman could predict the likelihood of divorce in couples
with over 90% accuracy.
Matthew 5 is not about threats of judgment, court, and hellfire. It is a
plea in the face of the reality of what happens to us when we cultivate
the seed of contemptuous anger in our hearts. Death. Matthew 5 is
saying, “Do not plant in your hearts the seed of contempt. It will kill all
of the living things inside your soil. You will produce bad fruit and it will
affect your relationships. It will burn you up from the inside out. And
sometimes it’ll take its sweet time doing it.” One day you wake up and
you are filled with a general posture of bitterness, cynicism, resentment,
judgmentalism. These are the fruits of a heart from the seeds of
contemptuous orge anger.
Time for a till, maybe.
Maybe we don’t relate to the idea of being angry people. I certainly grew
up with the notion that anger is dangerous and should never be toyed
with. But what I found was that anger still comes. And by not naming it,
defensiveness-and-stonewalling/ it turned into something else—something that festers. Maybe we are not the thumos angry sort, but perhaps we foster in our hearts contempt for someone or a group of people. People we have deemed as morally inferior.
Christian philosopher Dallas Willard described contemptuous anger in
this way. He wrote that contemptuous anger when indulged “has in it an
element of self-righteousness and vanity. Find a person who has
embraced [contempt], and you find a person with a wounded ego.”2
So what do we do with all of this? Where do we go from here?
“You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen,
slow to speak, slow to [become orge]; for [the orge of people] does not
produce God’s righteousness.”
When it comes to anger, both Matthew 5 and James 1 are concerned
with righteousness, otherwise interpreted as right-relatedness. The
righteousness that Scripture talks about and we as Christians seek in
this world is reconciliation. To act righteously is to act in such a way that
enacts reconciliation—that establishes right relationship with
ourselves, one another, creation, and the Creator.
Many of you will know that the Matthew 5 passage comes from the
Sermon on the Mount where Jesus is talking about—among other
things—what it looks like to be the “city set on a hill.” To be the “salt of
the earth” and the “light of the world”. What it looks like for our rightrelatedness to exceed that of the “scribes and Pharisees”—to exceed
that of “the Law or the Prophets”. And that right-relatedness is not
simply a matter of do’s and don’ts—rights and wrongs. It is a matter of
soil and seed; it is a matter of our hearts and what we plant in it—what
we let grow in it.
Are our hearts full of fertile soil filled with living things with life? And
are the seeds we plant in our hearts capable of producing the fruit of
God’s reconciliation—the fruit of God’s Kingdom?
2 Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God
These are far more difficult questions to ask than who’s right and who’s
wrong, because suddenly we realize that we take on some responsibility
for participating in the gardening process. We are not just victims of our
own circumstances, we are not fruit-bearers simply by believing the
right things. We are invited to be co-gardeners. We are planters and
pruners and tenders. And we can plant seeds of contempt, or we can
plant seeds of reconciliation.
And the crazy thing is that it doesn’t start with Liberals vs.
Conservatives or right vs. left or any other theoretical and ideological
categories we can come up with. Rather it starts with the heart of the
individual in community. Matthew 5 is talking to you and someone close
to you: “if you are angry with a brother or sister.” Though it does not end
there, the work of gardening certainly involves our own soil. We can
help the soil of communities, we can help the soil of neighbourhoods, we
can help the soil of systems with the good fruit we are bearing out of our
Our hearts—my heart, your heart, this community’s collective heart and
beyond—our hearts are the soil out of which the Kingdom of God here
on earth is coming. It involves us and that is good news. Amen.