Homily, Why is Everyone so Angry?
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C, 2022
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
The Rev. Derek M Larson, TSSF
Today’s Lectionary Readings:
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
One of the wonderful things about being an assistant priest is that you get to have a friend and mentor with which to do ministry. Another more experienced and more seasoned priest from which to learn. And Fr. Doug is a wonderful friend and mentor. I learn so much from him.
Often we talk about preaching and what makes a good sermon, and one of the things Fr. Doug has taught me that a mentor taught him is that a good sermon usually reflects the type and tone of the text on which you’re preaching. So if you’re preaching on a pastoral epistle of Paul the sermon should feel encouraging and practical. If you’re preaching on the book of Revelation, your sermon should feel imaginative and striking.
Well, in today’s passage from Luke Jesus preaches a sermon that makes his congregation so angry they try to throw him off a cliff. So, if I understand what Fr. Doug is saying, I’ll have done my job today if you leave here angry.
No, I’m just kidding. I hope I don’t make anyone angry today. But the topic of anger is on my mind this morning. Why are the people in this passage so angry?
Last week we heard the first part of this story and the people were delighted with what Jesus had to say. But today, only moments later, the same people are so angry they’re ready to kill him. What made them so angry?
I think I’m curious about this question because we also have an anger problem in our world today, don’t we? There are so many angry people around us. Particularly around politics, or religion, or race, or really any kind of difference in perspective. There are all kinds of people in the comment section online ready to throw someone else off a cliff. Anyone else noticed all that anger out there today? Sometimes it’s us, too, isn’t it? Sometimes it’s me. I got to be honest, sometimes I get so angry with others. Why is our world so angry?
Here’s what I think. FOMO.
Anyone every heard that word before? FOMO. It’s an acronym. F-O-M-O. Who here knows what that means? Call it out. Fear of missing out. Fear of missing out. FOMO. The word usually refers to people when they have a hard time saying no to something because they don’t want to miss out on something that ends up being fun or important. Or when you see friends on social media doing something fun and you get upset because you’re missing out.
But for me FOMO points to something deeper. Not only the fear of missing out, but the fear of being left out. The fear of being forgotten. Of being rejected, excluded, forsaken. And when you feel that way, when you feel threatened like that, it’s easy to feel angry.
And when that fear of exclusion becomes anger, we people often respond in the strangest way. We exclude others. We’re afraid of being excluded so we exclude others. We pit ourselves against one another in competition. We take on a view of scarcity. We’re afraid that if someone else is included, that means I must be excluded. And when we see the world in that way—the dog-eat-dog way—everything becomes a threat. For example, a simple phrase asking for inclusion, “Black Lives Matter”, we receive as violence. Rather than hearing the actual phrase, all we hear is “My life doesn’t matter.” We’re afraid of being excluded. And so we become angry.
I think that’s what’s happening in our text this morning. Jesus reads a powerful passage about his mission to bring good news to the poor, and proclaim release to the captives, and heal the blind, and free the oppressed, but when the people start to cling to these promises for themselves, Jesus begins to preach that his mission is for all people. He reminds them of the widow at Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian who received God’s blessing outside of Israel—outside their homeland, outside their own community, and it makes them afraid.
The issue for them is not so much the inclusion of the gentiles, but the exclusion of themselves. Will there be enough blessing to go around? Will we be forgotten about? Why can’t we just keep the blessing—the privilege—safe here in our community?
Priest and author, Henri Nouwen, once wrote in a journal to the most human part of himself, “Not being welcome is your greatest fear. It connects with your birth fear: your fear of not being welcome in this life, and your death fear: your fear of not being welcome in the life after this…At every moment you have to decided to trust the voice that says, ‘I love you. I knit you together in your mother’s womb’ (Psalm 139:13).
The truth of the gospel is that there is no exclusion in Christ. Not you, not others. In fact, the only ones excluded from Jesus’ message were the ones who were unable or unwilling to receive it. As one commentator of this passage wrote, “Jesus could not do more for his hometown because they were not open to him…Those who would exclude others thereby exclude themselves.”
I don’t want to oversimplify the problems we face in modern society or make blanket statements about the social tensions in our culture, but I really believe that at the heart of all these is a battle for who’s in and who’s out. Whether it be the partisan battles of politics, the border battles of nations, or the economic battles of classes, all of them wrestle with the questions of inclusion and exclusion—questions which Jesus settled long ago. All are welcome. As Nouwen wrote in the same journal entry, “Everything Jesus is saying to you can be summarized in the words ‘Know that you are welcome.’” The sooner we recognize that—the sooner we receive that promise—the sooner we can let go of our fear and anger and embrace those around us.
It would be easy for us to read this passage and think to ourselves, “oh, those backwards ignorant, prejudiced people. They rejected Jesus from the beginning of his ministry.” And yet we so often do the same thing. Our fear drives us to the exclusion of our neighbor. Of those of different political parties, national origins, gender expressions, racial identities. And if we leave that fear and anger unchecked, we can very easily find ourselves leading Jesus to the cliff in our exclusion of others.
There is room at the table for you and your neighbor. Do not be angry. Do not be afraid. Receive the promise of God’s welcome for you and your neighbor. Amen.