Matthew 5:21-37   “Way to the Altar”


            A preacher was preaching out on the street one day about the coming of the Apocalypse, the end of days, the coming of the Lord. “The end is nigh!” proclaimed the preacher.

            “NIGH” came a shout from across the street.

            The preacher continued to preach to the people that had now gathered around him. Once again he exclaimed with religious fervor, “The end is nigh!”

            “NIGH!” came the voice from the other side of the street.

            The preacher was becoming angry, feeling that he was being scoffed at. Yet, he continued to preach about the glory of salvation in the End of Days. “The end is indeed nigh!” he proclaimed in strong voice.

            “NIGH!” came the voice from across the street in mocking fashion.

            The preacher was now really angry and went over to the man to confront him. “Why do keep mocking me by yelling ‘Nigh’?” he asked.

            The man looked at the preacher and answered, “The bible says a nigh for a nigh, doesn’t it?”


            You can actually find the rule of justice an “eye for an eye” in the Old Testament in chapter 21 of Exodus. Of course, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us that that rule no longer applies. And, that particular rule comes after the Ten Commandments that are found in Exodus 20.

            The sixth commandment of the Ten, is that we are not to kill or murder. That is a fine rule. So, when we read here in today’s scripture that if one is going to kill someone, then justice is applied as an “eye for an eye.” So, yes, it is understood that if you kill someone, then you will be judged guilty and sentenced to death: A death for a death, in this case.


            Jesus is so fond of changing the rules by which we are to live our lives and understand the Will of God over His people. He does not talk about killing here, but rather about simply getting angry with another person. What is our response supposed to be if we harbor anger for another?

            What happens if we confront anger with anger? Everything just escalates right? In the book “Anger, the Misunderstood Emotion” by Carol Tavris, the author talks about “environmental anger.” She gives the example of walking into a party in a room where there is anger. You can sense the anger even before anyone says anything.

            As a pastor I can tell you about times when I have gone to visit families in their homes. When I walk in, I can feel a spirit of anger even before any angry word is spoken. It is as if it is painted on the walls bright orange. Have you ever felt environmental anger?

            This last week I was walking into O'Reiley's auto parts store when I encountered a woman at the counter yelling at the attendant who was trying to help her. Now, I did not know the whole circumstance of the exchange, and I have always felt that the help at that auto parts store is exceptional, so my stomach started to turn and I could feel my limbs tightening up. My breathing changed--more rapid. I walked into a force field of anger. That is what happened. My first response was to try to intercede somehow to calm the waters, but then the helper behind the service desk just gave me the look with his eyes to stay out of it. So, I waited patiently for her to rant on and on before I could just make my purchase and commend the helper.

            Can that happen in church, I wonder? I like to think not. But honestly, I know people who bring their anger to church on Sunday. I think the Cross is the best reminder to keep our anger in check and not to release it into the environment. You see, God could have just seen His Son on the Cross and did that eye for an eye thing with us. God could have just sent down lightning bolts on the planet and taken us all out in a puff of smoke.

            And Jesus calls out in his final words “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” After that, how could anyone approach the Cross, the altar of God, with anger in his or her heart?


            To be sure, God does get angry in the Bible. God casts Adam and Eve out of paradise. God floods the world in Noah’s time. God zaps out the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah. I think you get the picture. This last Saturday we had a thunderstorm in Waimea with well over five inches of rain. This all but unheard of out on the Westside. So, what really scared me was that around 11:30am there was a thunderclap and lightning flash that were simultaneous. Boom-flash all at once! It was super loud too. After the storm I walked down to the vegetable garden by the parsonage to discover that indeed a swath of Thai basil had been evaporated by lightning. There was nothing there. Just bare ground could be seen. Around I could see singe on the other vegetables. Of course I thought to myself, ”God? Why are you angry at my vegetables?” Then, I was just really happy that I had not been in the vegetable garden picking basil when the lightening had struck! Thank you, Jesus!

            Some of my church members had been coming over to partake of the basil and other herbs, I was happy they were not zapped off the planet, too. Then, it hit me that perhaps God wanted to taste a bit of the basil too?! But, I digress. . . .


            Jesus himself got angry at the moneychangers at the temple and turned over their tables. When the disciples fall asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus seems angry at them. Even at the last supper with his disciples, which we celebrate with communion today, one gets the sense that Jesus is perturbed at his disciples when they will not let him wash their feet!


            So, anger is a very human and maybe even godly emotion. Anger happens inside of us when others do not give us what we need or deserve. This is the very trigger of anger. Of course God can be angry when God’s children do not give God what God deserves. Just think about that!

            Everybody thinks that pastors or Christians are never supposed to get angry. Yet, how can we not be angry when we see the world the way it is? We actually lifted this up in prayers of the people last week that one church member cannot get her oven fixed because the Gas Company repair man says he is coming, but then does not. Another member had been trying for months to get her internet fixed. Another member cannot get a call back from the mechanic that has his car, and has had it for months now. I have been trying for three months to have repairs completed on the parsonage phone line. Of course we are angry when we try to call for service that we are paying for and have to go around the voice mail system of some computer until we finally land with a person in Manila, Philippines, who barely speaks English and is following a script that he or she is not allowed to depart from. They put us on hold—only to be disconnected. Yet, we Christians are not supposed to get angry!

            I feel sorry for the people who actually do work on the other side of those service telephone numbers. I pray for them. Some of the airlines have even gotten rid of their phone numbers. There is no more live bodies one can speak to. Of course we are angry! That is why I have to pray for them! There is no other way to reach them!

            Isn’t it funny that in this “Age of Information” we are constantly asked to fill out surveys about how we think about one thing or the other, but in the end, we cannot call through to have our voices really heard when there is a problem. They do not want that information at all! I will share with you that it has taken me 17 years to have the phone company finally put the right address on our service and billing. Every time I call for service they would send the service person to the wrong address even though I would tell them again and again: “Special note that the phone is at this address.” So much for the age of information! I actually think this age should be called the “Age of Anger.” This because our expectations of others are not being met, and we are left with the sense of anger.


            The Christian heart does have an answer to this “Age of Anger.” When others are picking up their automatic weapons and shooting up schools, malls, and bars, we are picking up the Cross of Christ. We are going back to the altar of God, on our knees, begging for forgiveness that we have let our hearts be filled with the environmental anger of these days. 

            You see, anger comes when we think we are not getting what we think we deserve, but God gives us divine grace, divine justice. So as followers of Christ, we always get far more than we could have ever dreamed of. When we come to the altar of God, we leave all that anger outside because as we approach the Cross of Christ, we know that our lives are being blessed in ways that leaves us with a sense of fulfillment and joy. At the altar we feel only hope and love for our brothers and sisters.

            I just want to share with you one more story about this idea of coming to the altar of God being cleansed of our anger. About ten years ago now, I was talking with a young woman whom I had met in the coffee shop in Waimea. She had wanted to meet me. She had committed her heart to doing mission work on the Westside. Her home church was Calvary Chapel here in Lihue. She thought I could help steer her focus into what would be the best way to do ministry in Waimea.

            I guess I did not hold back on what the needs were. I talked about teen pregnancy, gang violence, domestic abuse, poverty, homelessness--all those things and more. Those are real  issues that our churches deal with daily. She listened politely. We prayed together over what God was calling for her to do in her life. Then, I never saw her again.

            Saturday of that week I got a call from Pastor Bruce of the Calvary Chapel. He told me, "Olaf, I cannot lead my church in worship tomorrow." I really did not understand what he was telling me at first, then he said, "Jesus says that if I have anger towards my brother that I should not approach the altar of God."

            I responded to him, "Wait, why are you angry with me? What did I do?"

            He came back at me, "You told this young girl that she should not be in ministry rather than helping her to do the Lord's work."

            Well, we worked it out. I told him that I had only opened up mission opportunities and that it was certainly not my intent to scare the woman out of ministry. I suggested that we all sit down together if there be any doubt of that. Well, that never happened actually. But, to this day, I think how it was that Pastor Bruce really felt in a bind with the Lord that he needed to reconcile with me before he could go into his own church to preach. You know, good for him. Bless his heart. He was living out the gospel as Jesus proclaimed it.

            Before we take communion today, I am going to ask that you cleanse your heart of any anger as you approach the Cross. This is a commandment of Our Lord that we reconcile with one another.