READING: John 2 verses 13-22
Imagine a fine Spring today. A man is driving cheerfully along a country road, when, suddenly, from around the bend ahead, a car comes lurching toward him in his lane. He brakes hard. As he swerves past, the woman driver screams at him, “Pig! Pig!”
Furious, he shouts back at her, “Cow! Cow!”
Pleased with himself, he drives around the curve and runs smack into a pig.
There is no doubt that anger will cause us to do things that we would not do otherwise.
Anger is normally perceived as a negative emotion. Shouting, bawling and getting all worked up usually doesn’t get us anywhere. ‘Losing the head’ does not achieve very much, and can make us look quite ridiculous
However, sometimes, there is another kind of anger that is, in context, acceptable, even necessary, if good is to be done.
I suppose we could call it ‘righteous indignation’ – anger which is directed toward some kind of injustice or unfairness.
In the gospel story – appointed for this Third Sunday in Lent (Year B) – we encounter an incident in Christ’s life when he acted very uncharacteristically.
This is not the ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ that we are used to.
This is Jesus getting his dander up. Here he is anything but meek and mild.
But his anger here was of the ‘righteous indignation kind.
In this story, he was angry at the way the temple traders were profiteering at the expense of the poor. Here he was directing his anger at those who abused the sacred.
Sometimes there is nothing wrong in taking an aggressive stand for God – if the situation and circumstances seem to warrant it.
Better to speak or act forcefully for what we believe is God’s way, than sit on the fence or do nothing. And to do so, even if the consequences might hurt us.
This brings me to this very well known story, with which most of us are familiar. A true incident that happened in 1858.
The young Rector of the Church of the Epiphany in Philadelphia, the Rev. Dudley Atkins Tyng, boldly and aggressively preached against the evils of slavery to his congregation, telling them plainly and bluntly, that to hold a fellow human being in slavery was a sin.
They did not like what they heard. Many of his congregation owned slaves, a common practice in those days, and they booted Mr Tyng out of his Charge.
Undaunted, he hired a hall in the city, and very successfully carried on his ministry there.
Then, one day, when he was walking alone through the fields of his farm, he stretched out his arm to pat a mule, which was working a machine stripping corn from the cob.
One of the long sleeves of his preacher’s gown was caught in a cog, and he was drawn into the mill, where his arm was torn off.
It was a long time before he was found, and carried to his home. There his friends and associates gathered to witness his agonising end.
One of those present was a Presbyterian minister, George Duffield. Moments before he died, Tyng took Duffield’s hand and gave his last instructions for the continuance of his mission.
“Tell them” he said, “to stand up for Jesus”
Deeply moved, and with these rousing and encouraging words ringing in his ears, George Duffield went home and wrote a hymn.
The following Sunday, he preached on a text from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “Stand therefore, having your loins girded with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness”
He concluded the sermon by reading out the words of his new hymn, “Stand up! Stand up for Jesus!”
When we encounter evil, hypocrisy, corruption, or anything else that is counter to the world of truth, beauty, peace and justice that is God’s will, let us, with righteous indignation, take an aggressive stand for God. Let us, too, ‘Stand up! Stand up for Jesus!’
Let me finish by quoting a verse from the original version of the hymn:
Stand up, stand up for Jesus!
The solemn watchword hear,
If while ye sleep he suffers,
Away with shame and fear,
Where’er ye meet with evil,
Within you or without,
Charge for the God of battles,
And put the foe to rout.