Sermon Text: Surprised By Rage
I always like coming up with a sermon that will irritate my wife. This one does that, because I’m going to say how she is like Jesus. Pretty amazing when you think about it — after all, I’ve lived with her 43 years, so I know her better than anyone else. And I still say she’s like Jesus.
I am not, as this story will show. So here’s the story.
My wife and I both get out on our road every morning. She’s a runner. Because of my knees, I am a walker, not a runner. But I am a fast and dedicated walker. So one time, she was out running on the road, and I was walking a couple miles away.
One of our neighbors up there was lousy at controlling his dog. The dog kept getting out of his fenced yard, and the dog was getting more and more aggressive. So one day, the dog bit my wife Paula. It drew blood.
Now, when she told me about it, I became enraged. I was way past angry — I was full of rage. I truly saw red. She is not a big person. It was a big dog. And she is my heart.
The dog was running loose, and no one could catch it. I am not proud to say this, but I wanted to get a rock and I wanted to kill that dog. I am not exaggerating. And I wanted to go pick a fight with the owner.
I was shocked at the visceral nature of my rage. It was like an outside power grabbing me by the throat. It was not pretty.
Now, I realize that anger serves a function in the development of human behavior. It comes from our evolutionary past, and it has to do with survival. But I was shocked at the grip this rage had on me. I felt out of control.
Later on, when I could actually think, it reminded me of those stories of Jesus casting out demons. Whatever we make of the historical accuracy of those narratives, they certainly have symbolic power. We all have our demons. It may or may not be literal, but it’s true psychologically.
Well, as that day went on, Paula decided to forgive the dog and its owner. The man actually came to our house to apologize. I wasn’t there, fortunately. Paula said it was a deep and heartfelt apology, and the man accepted full responsibility. He said he would understand if she had Animal Control come take the dog away. But Paula knew that his kids loved that dog, and she knew the family was in some deep turmoil. She did not want to take it any further, although she did want to be sure the dog’s rabies shots were up to date. They were.
So my wife decided to let it go. And that’s what the word “forgive” means. It means to let go. So she let it go.
And when she told me about it, it was like my demon was driven out. The rage was gone, and I was left in my right mind. My wife’s love and forgiveness had the power to cast my demon out.
Like Jesus. (And it irritates her that I would say this, which is a bonus.)
This is just a small example, really. Here’s a much bigger one. A clinical psychologist named Jack Kornfield wrote about it.
A 14-year old boy wanted to join a gang. He had to prove himself. So he shot and killed an innocent teenager. He was caught and tried in court, and was convicted.
The mother of the victim attended every day of the trial. After the verdict was announced, she stood up. She stared at her son’s killer, and she said, “I’m going to kill you.”
The convicted 14-year old started serving his sentence in juvenile detention. After six months, the mother of the victim visited her son’s killer. The sentence was only for three years. Before the killing, he’d been living on the streets. No family. She was the only one who visited him in jail. They talked. As she left, she gave him some money for cigarettes.
She started to visit him more often. She brought food and small gifts. His release drew near. She asked him what he would do when he got out. He did not seem to know. She offered to set him up with a job at a friend’s company. She asked where he would live. He had nowhere to go, and no family. She offered to let him stay a while in a spare room at her house. He lived there for eight months after his release, eating her food, working at the job she’d found him.
And then, one night, she called him into the living room. She sat down and looked at him. Then she said this: “Do you remember in court when I said I was going to kill you?” He said, “I will never forget that.” She said, “I did not want the boy who could kill my son for no reason to remain alive on this earth. I wanted him to die.
“That’s why I started visiting you and bringing you things. That’s why I got you the job and let you live here. That’s how I decided to change you. That old boy — he’s gone. So now I want to ask you, since my son is gone, and his killer is gone — I want to ask you if you’ll stay here. I’ve got room. And I’d like to adopt you, if you let me.” And that woman, who must have been Jesus in disguise, became the mother that young man never had.
It seems to me that demons were cast out of the boy who killed, and also out of the woman herself. It’s the power of compassion. It’s the power of forgiveness. It’s the power of Jesus. And it’s my wife’s superpower, though irritates the heck out of her that I would say this. Oh, well! Amen.