Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Preacher
Is there a place for heat in homiletics?
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I have no better remedy than anger. If I want to write, pray, preach well, then I must be angry. Then my entire blood supply refreshes itself, my mind is made keen, and all temptations depart.-Martin Luther
One time, I nearly broke my iPhone during the second point of my sermon.
That week's sermon, out of Mark 1:14-20, was about kairos time—about how, in our hubris, Americans are constantly tempted to believe we can cram way more into our little earthly lives than God really desires for us to do. Omnipresence, we assume, is a characteristic of human beings. I talked about how the Bible dismisses such arrogance. Humanity is intrinsically bounded by divine boundaries, I argued; boundaries not to be transcended. We aren't God.
But our desire to be like God was in our bones. So we ate the apple.
I reminded the congregation that the first apple represented a fundamental breakdown and disrespect for these intentional boundaries. Humanity, I suggested, sinned by transcending the moral boundaries of Eden by eating whatever they wanted. Humanity hasn't evolved. Railing against our addiction to multi-tasking, I pulled out my iPhone in front of the congregation. And with a homiletical anger I've rarely seen come from within, I yelled:
The first one was an apple that led us astray. And, once again, we find ourselves in a similar position. An apple (my iPhone) has deceived us, causing us to believe we can transcend the boundaries of humanity. We can't! God made the boundaries. Your phone is not an escape from human limitations. It doesn't make you a god. You can't be everywhere! So, friends, put your phone away, for heaven's sake. Sit in God's presence. Enjoy the garden He's already given you. Be present. Repent of your supposed omnipotence.
By sermon's end, I was steaming, sweating with anger—just about ready for the floor to cave into the pits of Hades as it supposedly did during Jonathan Edward's (1703-1758) "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."
Two things have happened since that sermon. Firstly, because I rarely get angry, people really remember my point. And I'm happy they do. Secondly, however, it's caused me to think critically and constructively about the role anger plays in preaching.
What's the place of anger in preaching?
First, to be clear, anger, even "bitter anger" (Hosea 12:14), is an attribute of God. God is not compulsively or reactively angry, He is "slow to anger" (Jonah 4:2). His anger drips with love and compassion. Anger, it could be said, is an extension of love. Which is why we see the prophets, the apostles, and Jesus himself exhibiting expressions of anger that bring about good for the world and the church. Of course, anger is abused. "Man's anger," writes the apostle James, so rarely "brings about the righteous life that God desires." (James 1:20; see also Colossians 3:1-3) A prime example, of course, is the disciple's "anger" (Gr. embrimaomai) over the woman pouring expensive perfume upon Jesus (Mark 14:4). Although anger is part of God's image, even disciples use anger in inappropriate ways. Any evil, reminds C.S. Lewis, is a vine that grows on the branches of a good tree. Bad anger, like a vine, grows destructively on the good anger of God that bleeds with love for the world.
A. J. Swoboda: