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Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Preacher

Is there a place for heat in homiletics?

Average Rating:  [see ratings/reviews]Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Preacher

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.

Too often, a preacher's emotions point to the preacher themselves; emotions are the shallow attempts of preachers to draw attention to themselves.

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?

God's anger

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.

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A. J. Swoboda:

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Greg Dueker

August 07, 2017  11:20am

I am glad to catch the rerun of this article today. Good words. I always say that God is angry about the things that we would want a holy God to be angry about. And yet, even then the anger is directed towards engendering a relational return in repentance. Just yesterday Jeremiah 18:11-12 found their way into my sermon from John 1. "Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’ But they say, ‘That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’" My anger at their foolishness (and that of those who rejected Jesus in John 1:11) but be directed at my own heart, my own attitudes, and my own actions, and then letting my people see repentance begin its work in my heart first.

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Greg Hollifield

October 29, 2014  1:39pm

Good stuff! Thanks A. J.

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Kirk Quinlivan

October 29, 2014  12:17pm

Eliezer "Elie" Wiesel is quoted in the song Stubborn Love by the Lumineers , "THE OPPOSITE OF LOVE’S INDIFFERENCE". The real quote is, "The opposite of love is not hate it is indifference". As pastors we float to close to the pagan mindset of "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)" or in our Christian lingo, "this too shall pass". A pastor Bereft of anger is a pastor bereft of love. I'm not saying we should turn into a southern fried scream fest every Sunday morning. If one of the Holy Spirit's primary roles in this world is to convict sin and we are called to listen to the Holy Spirit, will we not be angry sometimes? I hope we are.

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Rod Koop

October 27, 2014  3:01pm

I love this quote; “Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.” - Augustine Appropriate anger never stands alone, leaving the hearer with emotion alone. It leads somewhere, it addresses the core issue and brings change.

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John Fullmer

October 24, 2014  1:53pm

Hey Pastor AJ, great message for this time! The church must be angry only for the cause of Christ, then we can allow Jesus to work in and through us to further His Kingdom!!

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