Hands: Angry Hands

Hands: Angry Hands
John 2:13-16

Pastor Morris Brown
March 4, 2018
St. Timothy’s UMC

So, at Christ Church this Lenten season I’ve been sharing a worship series entitled, Hands. In this series, I’ve been exploring some things Jesus did with his hands to help us learn what God want us to do with our hands. The first week, in a message called “Praying Hands” we learned that prayer was a central element in Jesus’ life.

It was central because Jesus knew that when he used his hands to pray God would fill him with God’s power, God’s perspective, God’s peace and God’s passion to help others - and we learned that prayer can do the same for us. Then last week, in a message entitled, “Healing Hands” we learned that Jesus used his hands to heal. And he taught us that when we touch people in appropriate ways God can use our hands to bring physical, emotional, relational and social healing to others. Today, I’d like to share the third message in this series with you. Using the story of Jesus’ cleansing the temple, I want to talk about the fact that Jesus had “angry hands”.

The story takes place at the Temple courtyard in city of Jerusalem during the celebration of the Jewish Passover. As you probably know, Passover is one of the high, holy days in Judaism. On this day, Jewish people remember how God brought them out of Egypt, where they had been Pharaoh’s slaves for 400 years.

Now in Jesus’ time, pilgrims would come to Jerusalem from all over Israel to celebrate the Passover. And part of their celebration included going to the Temple where they would make a financial offering and purchase an animal to be sacrificed as a way of “thanking” God for what God had done. This is where our story comes in.

In order to make an offering, and purchase a sacrificial animal, two things had to happen. First, pilgrims had to exchange their Roman money for Temple money. You see, at this time in history, Israel was a part of the Roman Empire. Consequently, Jewish people used Roman coins to make transactions in everyday life.

When they came to worship at the temple; however, the Jewish priests felt that Roman money was “unclean”. They felt that it would be inappropriate for Jews to offer coins to God which had the image of Caesar stamped on each side. And so, pilgrims were required to exchange their Roman money for Temple coins.

To do this, people would have to go to a “moneychanger”, who would be conveniently located in the temple courtyard and would exchange their money for a “fee”. Now, most scholars tell us this “fee” was outrageously high. For example, if a person exchanged 20 Roman denarius they might only get back 9 Temple shekels.

It’s kind of like when my oldest son, Zach, traveled to Europe with some friends a few years ago. Before he went he worked, scrimped and saved over $4,000 for his trip. When he got ready to go; however, the dollar was extremely weak. And because of the exchange rate, his $4,000 was only worth about 2,300 Euros.

Needless to say, he was not happy! Well, in Jesus’ day, many people, especially poor people, worked, scrimped and saved all year so they could go to Jerusalem and celebrate Passover. But, when they got there, the money they’d have saved would be worth much less than they anticipated. And this did not make them happy!

Second, when pilgrims went to the Temple for Passover they would have to purchase Temple animals. You see, after a Passover pilgrim made a monetary gift they would also want to offer an ox or lamb, or if they were very poor, a pigeon to be sacrificed by a priest on the Temple altar. There was one minor problem, however.

And the problem was this. The animal they offered for the sacrifice had to be “perfect, unblemished”. And most pilgrims didn’t have animals like that. As a result, they had to buy their sacrificial animals from Temple vendors. The catch was that a lamb that sold for 40 shekels at home might cost 200 shekels at the Temple.

We know what that’s like, don’t we? In Greensboro, we can buy a Coke for $1.25. But, if you go to Disney World the same Coke will cost us $6.50! Or, we can buy our favorite ACC team t-shirt for $15 at Wal-Mart. But, if we were to go to the ACC tournament in Brooklyn this week, the same t-shirt will cost 40 bucks!

It’s not fair! And, the truth is, it sometimes precludes people, especially poor people, supporting their team. Well, this is what Jesus encountered when he walked into the Temple in Jerusalem. And when he sees this price gouging, these injustices going on in God’s house, especially against the poor, he gets angry!

In fact, Jesus gets so angry that takes several cords of rope, and with his hands, he fashions them into a whip. Then, like Indiana Jones he uses that whip to knock over the money changing tables and animal stalls. With “angry” hands Jesus chases the moneychangers and animal vendors completely out of the Temple!

So, what can we learn from the story of Jesus cleansing the temple? What does this story about the “angry hands” of Jesus say to us about the way God wants us to use our hands? Well, this morning I’d like to suggest three things - three things that may be helpful to us as we try to be the hands of Christ in the world this week.

First, this story reminds us that getting angry is perfectly normal. In other words, it’s okay to get MAD. Now, that may seem like a pretty obvious thing to say. But the truth is, a lot of people, especially Christians, think Jesus never got angry. And because they think Jesus didn’t get angry, we shouldn’t get angry either.

In fact, many of us, especially those of us who were brought up in the South, were subconsciously taught that getting angry is wrong, even “unchristian”. We were taught that we’re always supposed to be “nice”! And yet, if you take honest read through the gospels you’ll soon discover that Jesus got angry quite often.

In addition to Jesus getting angry in the temple, we are told that Jesus gets angry at some religious leaders for their strict interpretation of the Sabbath law. Jesus gets mad at Herod for executing his cousin, John the Baptist. Jesus gets angry with his disciples because they try to keep some little children from bothering him.

And Jesus gets mad at his disciples for falling asleep while he prays on the night before his death in the Garden of Gethsemane. My point is simply this, Jesus got angry! And if it is okay for Jesus to get angry, it is certainly okay for you and me! Anger is a normal part of the human experience. It is not wrong!

In fact, unless I miss my guess, there are some of us in this room right now who are struggling with anger. Maybe we are angry about something that happened at work - the way we’ve been treated. Some of us may be angry with a friend or family member because of something they said or did that hurt us, caused us great pain.

Some of us may be angry about a life-threatening medical diagnosis we have received. Some of us will be angry about the way the ACC tournament turns out next weekend. I mean, I’ll be angry if my Carolina Tarheels don’t win championship game! And, I’ll be even angrier, if the Duke Blue Devils do!

The point is, all of us could think about something that is going on in our lives right now that makes us angry. And the important thing to remember is that’s okay. We don’t need to feel guilty about it. Anger is an emotion. It’s a normal part of the human experience. Jesus felt free to get to get angry, and so should we.

Second, however, this story reminds us that we need to get angry at things that MATTER. In other words, it’s okay to get angry, but we should really make sure that the things we’re angry are worth our emotional energy and effort. As I said a moment ago, there are many stories in the gospels where Jesus gets angry.

But, none of those stories reflect Jesus getting angry over trivial things. Instead, in all these stories Jesus only gets angry at things that matter. He only gets angry at injustice, narrow-mindedness, poverty, callous behavior and abuse of the innocent. Can I ask you something? Do you ever get angry over trivial stuff?

Do you ever get angry over things that, in the long run, really don’t matter? I know I do. For example, a few years ago my mother-in-law gave me my deceased father-in-law’s truck. Now, in order to get the title changed my mother-in-law and I had to go to the DMV in Charlotte. Well, when we walked in there were two lines.

One line was for people who were there to renew their license tag. It had two or three people in it. The other line, however, was for people who were there to do “Title” work. It had about twenty people in it. Well, at first, this didn’t really bother me because there were four employees working behind the counter. I figured, with four people behind the counter, both lines would move pretty fast. Over the next few minutes, however, I discovered that this was not the case. You see, what I discovered was that the three of the employees behind the counter were there to help with license a tag renewal –which was the line with three people in it. But, only one employee was there to do “Title” work – which was the line with 20 people! So, after helping the people in their line, the three employees doing renewals would sit there and twiddle their thumbs while those of us in the “Title” line waited.

Well, to say the least, I started to get angry – extremely angry! And for the next 30 minutes I paced and pouted and complained to my mother-in-law about what a stupid system it was. Until finally my mother-in-law looked at me and said, “Morris this really isn’t that big a deal. It’s not really worth getting that angry over. In fact, it’s an opportunity for us to enjoy each other’s company!”

You know, I just hate it when my mother-in-law is right! But, she was right! Sure, the way the DMV was doing things was inefficient. Sure, we had to wait in line for an exorbitant amount of time while three workers twiddled their thumbs. But, was it really worth the emotional energy and effort I put into getting so angry?

Someone said, “We often get angry about things that don’t matter, and fail to get angry about the things that do!” I think that’s true. Jesus got angry. But, he got angry about things that mattered – poverty, injustice, prejudice, and callous attitudes. If we want to be like Jesus, we need to get angry over things like that as well.

We should get angry about the fact that we live in a culture that would allow people to be homeless. We should be angry that there are single mothers with children in our city that don’t have enough food to eat. We should be angry about the fact that kids who go to school to learn have to worry about getting shot.

When we get angry, we need to ask ourselves, “Is this really worth getting mad about? Is this worth the emotional time and energy I’m getting ready to spend on it?” If not, we need to let it go! We need to stop getting angry about stuff that, in the long run, doesn’t matter! And start getting angry over the stuff that does!

Finally, however, this story reminds us that we need to allow our anger to MOTIVATE us to do something positive. Jesus got angry. But, he got angry over things that really mattered. And then he let his anger motivate him to take action. He let his anger motivate him to do something positive to change the situation.

When Jesus saw the injustice going on at the temple, his anger motivated him to fashion a whip out of cords and chase the moneychangers and animal vendors out of the temple. When his disciples refused to let children approach him, his anger motivated him to confront his disciples and say, “Let the children come to me!”

When he saw the lepers and the lame ostracized from the community, he let his anger motivate him to touch them, heal them and show everyone that God still accepted them. When he saw religious people condemn people who had lost their way, he let his anger motivate him to offer God’s forgiveness and a new beginning. When he saw the hungry and the poor, he let his anger motivate him to feed them and offer them care. Jesus got mad, but he always allowed his anger to lead to a positive action! One scholar writes, “Jesus used his anger to motivate him to take some healthy action that would help alleviate the suffering he saw in the world.”

So, what does it look like when we allow our anger to motivate us to do something positive, to take some healthy action that might alleviate the suffering or injustice in the world? I think about Candy Lightner whose 13-year old daughter was killed by a drunk driver. Her anger motivated her to begin an organization called MADD.

An organization that strives to change drinking and driving laws and support victims whose lives have been devastated by drunk driving. I think about Millard Fuller, a very successful businessman whose friend took him to a poverty-stricken area of the city where he lived to show him how the other side was getting along.

When he saw the substandard housing folks were being forced to reside in he got angry. And his anger motivated him to use his money and business skills to start a non-profit organization that would build adequate housing for less fortunate people at a reasonable cost – we’ve come to know it as Habitat for Humanity.

I think about a family in a congregation I served who got the devastating news that their four-year old son had Duchene Muscular Dystrophy, an aggressive and potentially fatal disease. Angered by the diagnosis, they decided that they were not going to passively sit and wait for Matthew’s body to deteriorate.

Instead their anger motivated them to begin hosting fundraisers to raise money for medical research that would not only help their son, but thousands of boys who are struggling with this disease. To date, they’ve raised $300,000. I think about the women across our country who have endured sexual harassment and assault.

Their anger motivated them to begin the “Me Too” movement to in attempt to raise awareness and stop the abuse. I think about Emma Gonzalez, a student at Stoneman Douglas HS, in Parkland, FL who is outraged by the shooting at her school that took the lives of yet seventeen of her innocent classmates and teachers.

Her anger has motivated her to begin call out politicians on Twitter in an attempt to get gun control and mental health legislation passed. In Ephesians 4:26 Paul says, “Be angry, but sin not.” In other words, be angry! But like the people in these examples, like Jesus, we should use our anger to motivate us to do something positive.

So, as we come to the Lord’s table this morning, let us remember that sometimes, Jesus had angry hands.

He got mad. But, he got mad about things that really mattered. And then, he used his anger to motivate him to do something positive. If we are mad about something this morning, let’s ask God to help us.

Let’s ask God to help us stop spending a lot of time feeling guilty for an emotion you can’t control. Let us ask God to help us discern whether the thing we’re mad about really matters. And if it does, let’s invite God to motivate us to channel our anger into taking some positive action that will help transform the world for love!