Harrowing Of Hell
March 3, 2024

Anything done in anger can better be done in love

The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

To watch the sermon click here.

Is it possible that the Jesus we meet in the Temple this morning, weaving a whip of cords and driving out sheep and cattle, is doing so with a smile on his face?

Is it possible that the Jesus we meet in the Temple this morning, pouring out the money changers coins and overturning their tables is doing so with patient purposefulness?

Is it possible that the Jesus we meet in the Temple this morning, scattering doves, and imploring venders to “Stop making this a marketplace!” doing so with calm equanimity?

Incidentally (full disclosure) I wrote this sermon when I was angry. It was a little bizarre to do so. I had the adrenaline (+ caffeine) coursing through my veins, as my mind was spinning up a scenario I thought was playing out—turns out it wasn’t a thing. AND I was contemplating this story of Jesus in the Temple at the same time.

I wanted to weave a whip, though I was not smiling. I wanted to kick over tables, though not with patient purposefulness. I wanted to drive people out, though not with calm equanimity. I wanted Jesus right there at my side, but he wasn’t.  Because Jesus doesn’t get mad.

While this story is most often cited as the place in scripture where Jesus gets angry, I suspect it is because of the vigor of his action, rather than the content of his words. The word “anger” does not exist in this pericope. Furthermore, it does not take anger to drive livestock. It does not require anger to turn over tables. It does not necessitate anger to chase money lenders or release doves.

It’s just that I wanted Jesus to be angry. I wanted him to be angry because I get angry, and indeed, I was angry. I wanted that connection, so I could be like Jesus. That is one of the core precepts of Christianity after all, that we can be like Jesus…to live our life as Jesus would if he had my life or your life…and in my life, I get angry…but Jesus doesn’t.

As Dallas Willard succinctly reminds us: “Anything done in anger can be better done in love.” That’s the point of the sermon today: “Anything done in anger can be better done in love.” The simple answer as to why this is, is that there is nothing stronger, nor more powerful, nor more effective than love.

We are reminded of this in the 1st Letter of John we hear today: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them; because as God is, so are we in this world.”        

Let’s pause here to consider these words. “As God is, so are we.”  What does that mean? “As God is, so we are.” Well, what is God?  God is love. And so, if God is love, then so are we. Which is why anything done in anger can be better done in love.    

Now you know what kind of love I’m talking about. In Greek it is agape. We talk about it a lot here. It is a love that runs deeper than emotions. It is a love that comes from God, and belongs to God, and runs through each and every single soul that God has brought into the world. “To be born is to have a soul.”(Blade Runner 20249)        

Love is the substance of the soul, and it cannot be added to or subtracted from. We can do nothing to diminish it or enhance it. It is perfect, full, and complete.Which is why Dallas Willard writes: Anything done in anger can be better done in love.

In 1st John we go on to hear: “There is no fear in love, and perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.”

In the Temple, Jesus is not punishing, he is liberating. He is decoupling people from the idolatry that is getting in the way of their relationship with their own soul; which means their relationship with God, which means their understanding of the power and the purposefulness of love. Love is liberating. Anger is not. Anger is a flesh and blood emotion, a mortal perspective, driven through our physiology upon the wings of adrenaline. If we were to hold in balance the soul in one hand and the body in the other, we would feel the weight of the soul so much more significantly; it is so much bigger, and eternal and more enduring than our bodies, which are wasting away.

And so, when the adrenaline begins to rev, from where do you choose to reign: Mortality or eternity? Anger or love? Dallas Willard recommends: “Anything done in anger can be better done in love.”

As I reflect back on my life, there is stamped upon my memory moments when I have blown my top in anger. And in every single situation my anger did more to harm the relationship than it did to resolve the situation. There was never a time, when love would not have been the better option.

And here’s the mystery in all of this:  that I remember the moments of anger so much more vividly than any actions of love I carried out. And here’s why: since love is our eternal predisposition; since we were made by love, with souls shot through with love, then love is our most natural state of being; which is why our memory needs not dwell upon it. Our mind, instead, is designed to dwell on the moments when we indulge our anger, and finding in this reflection both the ineptitude of our wrath, and the wisdom to seek a different strategy in the future.                                            

So, how does this happen? How do we drive out cattle with a smile on our face? How do we tip over the tables with patient purposefulness? How do we invite the vendors to vacate and the doves to fly free in a state of calm equanimity?  And more so, how can we do that when adrenaline is coursing through our veins? It is completely possible because anything done in anger can be better done in love.

There are four things to think about when we find ourselves on the anger precipice. There is awareness, then understanding, followed by equanimity, and, finally, completed with compassion. Awareness, understanding, equanimity, compassion.

We begin with awareness. I remember as a kid getting angry at my Mom. I would shout: “You’re making me mad!” To which she would reply: “I’m not making you mad, you’re choosing to be mad.” (Which would really make me mad.) Anger is so self-indulgent, and it is a choice.

Noticing the ascent of anger is important. Yes, adrenaline is a real thing, wired into our system as a survival mechanism. I understand fight or flight, but this instinct is very rarely a necessity in the regular patterns of our lives. And when it is, we will naturally employ it. But mostly, the adrenaline we indulge is not about saving our lives, it’s about punishing somebody else. And that has to do with fear, not love, as we learn from the 1st Letter of John. And so, the first step in transcending anger is noticing its surge and not indulging it. This is awareness.

Next, we move to understanding…which is understanding what is provoking this surge. Why am I triggered by this comment? What from my history is this reminding me of? Am I feeling dishonored, rejected, disrespected, belittled, shamed? What are other times in the past when I have felt this way? What am I indulging with this anger?

Understanding in the moment can be very difficult. The spiritual exercise which allows understanding to quickly the surface when anger is surging is discernment. If we are perpetually in the practice of discernment through mechanisms like spiritual direction, or small group participation, or the exercise of the Examen or a 12-step program then we are much more capable of quickly gaining understanding in the face of an adrenaline surge. We train to understand at a moment’s notice.

When awareness and understanding are attained, equanimity sets in. For me, I know equanimity is at the door when this question presents itself: “What is the worst thing that could happen here?” And when I start contemplating this question, I find equanimity rising up within me. When I contemplate: “What is the worst thing that could happen here?” I eventually wind up in a place that turns my thoughts to God, and Jesus, and love, and resurrection which always reminds me that the bad thing is never the last thing.

Then I understand that the worst thing that could happen here could never really be, because God is love and love always wins. And this flips the script from anger to compassion. Compassion asks: “How can I be helpful?” Suddenly we’ve moved from self-indulgent retribution to soul-connecting empathy.

That’s what was happening in the Temple with Jesus. He saw people profoundly isolated from the love of God. He saw people who had no sense of their soul, and its eternal beauty and goodness and power. And so, in compassion, he drives out sheep and cattle with the smile on his face. He overturns the tables, to wipe away the idolatry distracting them. He uses the strength of his voice to remind them of God.

Jesus loves every single soul, and he knows that the most important thing that exists in a life is the realization that “as God is, so are we.” We are all souls infused by the love of God. Therefore, by awareness, through understanding, with equanimity, there flows compassion within the subterranean torrent of souls revealing to us a most important truth that anything done in anger can be better done in love.