What does it mean that Christ doesn’t just scream but also physically overturns tables? What does it mean that Christ doesn’t just lament the bare fig tree but damns it, leaving his followers with gaping mouth and no immediate resolution? -Cole Arthur Riley
October 16, 2022
“This Here Flesh”
Psalm 13; Mark 11: 12-17
Rev. Dr. Heather W. McColl
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken. But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord because he has dealt bountifully with me.
Mark 11: 12-17
On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.
Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves, and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.
Rage Psalm 13; Mark 11: 12-17
Many may find it odd that rage is included in our conversation about spiritual practices. Yet in reality, our faith story teaches us that rage is very much a part of our tradition. Throughout the Old Testament and New Testament, we are given examples of people being frustrated, examples of people yelling at God. We are even told about Jesus flipping tables when he saw how the “house of prayer for all nations” had become a house of prayer for a select few and not for all nations. As the people of God, our fatih story teaches us that rage is very much a part of who we are.
Now this is a specific type of rage. It is not rage at other people, which I cannot deny is a part of our faith story and faith tradition but that’s another sermon for another day. The rage that Psalm 13 shows, the rage that our reading from Mark shows is rage at God. It is a rage at the injustices in our world. They show us a rage steaming from the perception that God is absent. They show us a rage which swells up inside of us because our feelings of helplessness have overwhelmed us. Our readings for today show us a rage which invites us to go outside, to shake our fists at the sky because nothing makes sense. They show us a rage which calls out God, that reminds God of the character of God. Our readings for today show us a rage which allows us to be angry at God without fearing we will be punished because of it.
I don’t know about you but, growing up in the church, I was never taught that raging at God was permitted, allowed, or even encouraged. I was taught that having faith meant being polite. It meant getting along with others. I was taught that having faith meant pushing my feelings down and away so that I could “play nice” and “be a good Christian person”.
I can’t tell you what a relief it was when I was a young adult, you know not that many years ago, when someone finally told me it was okay to be angry, not only that but it was okay to be angry at God, to be angry at the injustices around me. I can’t tell you what a relief it was for me when someone finally told me that God wasn’t going to be upset just because I yelled at God. God was not going to smite me down because I became frustrated when things were not how they were supposed to be and I was not okay with it. With that knowledge, it was like a weight had been lifted. Finally, I understood that God wasn’t asking me to be perfect. God wasn’t asking me to pretend that everything was okay, was not telling me we should continue with business as usual when in reality, everything was falling apart. With that knowledge that it was okay, even allowed for us as people of faith to be angry at God, I finally understood what it meant that God wanted to be in a relationship with me, understood what it meant that God, my God, our God is big enough, is capable enough to handle it all, the good, the bad, the ugly, the breathtakingly beautiful, that whatever it was, God was big enough, capable enough, and understanding enough to handle it… my rage, my anger, my frustration, my sense of being overwhelmed. With that knowledge that it was okay to be angry with God, angry at God, I finally understood that when it all falls apart, I have every right to say I need to know, no, I have the right to demand to know where God is in all this mess.
That’s what I love about these angry Psalms. They remind me, they remind us that in spite of what our perceptions might be, God is there. God is there, standing with us in all the mess, that God is just as dismayed, just as heartbroken as we are when God sees the injustices which fill this creation which God called good. These angry Psalms remind us that for God to be the God we have experienced, that for God to be the God we have known, certain things must always remain true, that our God is a God who is steadfast, that our God is a God who is faithful from generation to generation, that our God is a God who will not let hate or hurt, or even anger be the last word, that our God is always at work in this world, bringing about healing and wholeness for all of God’s people, and if we are not at that point, then God isn’t finished yet.
Or let me say it this way… I have been rewatching the Crown on Netflix, partly because I fully admit I’m an 80 year old woman in a 45 year old body but I’m also watching it because it captures that balance a female in leadership especially so public a leadership tries to find and maintain, something I find so fascinating and can relate. In one of the episodes, a gentleman talks about two different types of rage, a melting rage and a cleansing rage. The melting rage is exactly that…it melts everything down, destroying and distorting everything, raging out of control until nothing is recognizable in its path. The cleansing rage is exactly that…it burns away the things which prevent us from seeing the full picture. It refines the impurities, like the false narratives we often create in our minds and in our world. This cleansing rage is what leaves the person stronger for having named the hurts, for having named the anger, for having dealt with the injustices in our midst.
Cole Arthur Riley calls this cleansing rage the rage of faith. It is the rage of the Psalms. It is the rage of Jesus flipping tables. Because in this type of cleansing rage, “it is much easier to locate love… than in apathy. Apathy is a giving up, a surrendering to what is. And it’s inherently a disconnecting force. It moves you away from a person. Rage comes for you. It is inherently relational. It might come with fire but it’s still moving toward something, and in proximity, there is the [possibility] for reconnection. In this way, anger itself is a function of reconciliation. In this way, anger is a form of hope.”
For this morning, I was thinking about our options relating to spiritual practices and rage. And we have a few options. First option, we could smash things which I fully admit is helpful but then someone has to clean up the pieces, and I’m not sure how I would explain to the board, how I invited this community of faith to smash things in the sanctuary. Our other option is journaling. “Journaling is a fairly simple spiritual practice to begin. It’s almost as simple as getting a notebook and pen and just writing! Do it with a goal of making space for God in your daily life and it can be a life-giving experience. Your journal entries might vary, but here are some general ideas: make a list of what you’re thankful for today, write out prayers and answers, write a letter to God, write honestly about all the thoughts swimming in your mind, or journal thoughts that go with the part of the Bible you’re reading, use it as a way to vent anger at God, at a situation. Journaling becomes a way for us to connect with God.
So, we are going to spend a few minutes doing that now. I invite everyone to use their bulletin or a scrap of paper you might have of the piece of paper which was handed to you when you came in this morning and just begin to write…Nothing is out of bounds. Nothing is off limits. Grief, anger, dismay, hurt…any and all of it, whatever you are feeling…write it down. God can handle it. The good, the bad, the ugly, the breathtakingly beautiful all of it, as the people of God, we are invited to share it all with God.
I would invite everyone to incorporate journaling into your daily devotional time because although it might come with fire, it is moving forward toward something. It is a way for us to reclaim our relationship with God. It is a way for hope to shine through the cracks. It is a way for us to once again hear that hate, hurt, anger, destruction, or dismay will not have the last word because as the Psalmist said, we trusted in God’s steadfast love and we know, that no matter what, God has dealt bountifully with us. May it be so.
See also: Theology Tuesday for Sunday, October 16, 2022 – Rage Psalm 13; Mark 11: 12-17.