Sermon preached on the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity (7 September 2014) by the Reverend Canon Michael Hampel, Precentor

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Sermon preached on the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity (7 September 2014) by the Reverend Canon Michael Hampel, Precentor

The Reverend Canon Michael Hampel looks at anger and peace, and longs to reach a point where 'there is no grievance left to reconcile and no anger left to forgive.'

Ecclesiasticus 27: 30 – 28: 9 Revelation 8: 1-5

I never check my emails after six o’clock in the evening. This means that I avoid seeing any difficult and troubling emails in the few hours at the end of the day before I go to bed. I don’t sleep very well as it is so certainly don’t need any help in staying awake at night. Difficult emails are usually ones in which some degree of anger is expressed or – if anger is too strong a word – then perhaps irritability or impatience or dissatisfaction.

We’ve all had them – and we’ve probably all written them too! I sent a sharply worded message to a friend the other evening because he’d placed a comment on a social networking site about some news item or other and I strongly disagreed with the line he was taking.

As soon as I’d sent the message, I regretted it and wished I hadn’t sent it. I’m having a drink with him this week so I could have waited till then and we could have had a good discussion about the issue in question over a pint or two. Much better. I remember a wise colleague who said that his own philosophy on such matters was to write the email, not send it, go to bed, and then – in the morning – delete it. Good advice.

I’ve always thought that anger is a great luxury. It pre-empts further discussion and allows the perpetrators to get their way while everyone else tiptoes round them. And the people who don’t get angry soak up the fallout as they, instead, seek to conciliate and reconcile – with consequent effects on their health and well-being.

Which probably means – ironically – that angry people are healthier than the peacemakers and sleep better at night. Interesting.

So this splendid passage from the wisdom literature of Ecclesiasticus which was our first reading this morning is a very valuable voice from God: ‘anger and wrath, these also are abominations’.

The passage is exacting in the extreme and reminds us of what I implied a moment ago: that anger is a far easier and less demanding response to the complexity of human living and interaction that conciliation and peace. ‘Forgive your neighbour the wrong he has done’ and ‘overlook faults’. Easier said than done. And, indeed, in employment terms, it is very bad practice to forgive your colleagues the wrong they have done and overlook faults. You jolly well undertake a grievance procedure and should be encouraged by your employer to do just that.

And, in terms of the current world order, that is right. But this passage of scripture takes a much longer view than the here and now and we need to be realistic about that if we are to dissipate some of its apparent naivety – naivety, that is, in the eyes of the world. The passage urges us to remember the end of our life and set enmity aside. It is looking towards a different order in which heaven and earth have passed away. Right now, it is true to say that to err is human and to forgive is divine – and we are not divine.

But now I’m trying to find excuses for the status quo because, although I’m not an angry person, I’m a pragmatist and I know that little that I can say even from the pulpit of St Paul’s Cathedral will make much difference to a world order in which anger seems to triumph even though it is the work of the devil.

Our greatest difficulty in adopting this passage of scripture as a paradigm for our own lives and expressions of faith is that the inexorable quest for peace and reconciliation is always – always – a response to anger and never the prologue to a new world order. We’re always playing a game of catch up when we try to address the demands of a passage like this from scripture. For instance, when have peace talks ever preceded a crisis; when has rehabilitation ever pre-empted crime; when has aid ever forestalled famine; and so one could go on?

But, in fact, investment is better than aid; education is better than judgement; equal opportunities are better than welfare. That’s the subtext behind this morning’s passage from Ecclesiasticus: it’s not naive – it’s just terrifying in the enormity of what it demands.

But it is God’s voice that demands it so, although the grievance procedures may have to stay in place for the time being – and may be for a very long time, we have somehow to find a new political order which roots out the causes of anger so that there is no grievance left to reconcile and no anger left to forgive.

Let us pray:

O God, we hold in your presence the anger that this day will bring forth. Teach us to care deeply, so that our anger is not occasioned by trifles to do with our comfort and status, but by what outrages your heart of love. Amen.

And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all, evermore. Amen.