Shekinah Glory

Sermon: Wrath vs. Restraint
November 13, 2011, 10:26 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Wrath vs. restraint is the topic today and we find our news unfortunately littered with examples for us to observe this week. It is one thing to say that the short fuse of anger is best extinguished and restraint is the better form of valor, but when in the midst of the hurricane it is never as easy to muzzle ourselves as we would like. Anger holds us hostage to the seething and uncontrolled actions of our deepest impulses, while restraint allows us the gift of time between action and reaction. Easier said than done.

Last week there were many discussions on what should have been done by Joe Paterno. There is no doubt that his tepid reaction to a child’s rape in his locker room was not far enough, but what shocked me was the reaction that students took when the trustees made the only sane decision in firing Paterno. They took to the streets. This would have been fine, but celebratory actions soon turned to mob interaction with rage burning in smashed windows and burning cars. How soon the Penn State creed “Success with Honor” had been tarnished and sullied.

It is a clear warning of how thin the line is between wrath and restraint. We all think that we have hermetically sealed ourselves away from it and then something so shocking, so tragic, so inexplicable comes into our view and we know there is something wrong.

For over a decade now we have desensitized ourselves to the violence that has been wrought in our names. Iraq and Afghanistan are far away and since many of those fighting in our names are from rural, red states we may feel it was an unjust war, but our protests are muted by endless 24 hour news cycles that have numbed us to more pressing issues at home.

In our political debate about budgets we seem to excise an essential element into our national debate about austerity vs. increased revenue. It is that a huge percentage of debt we have incurred is not because of wrath. It is the two wars that have increased the toll on our public. Yet, in debate after debate it is Social security, Medicare, Medicaid, social programs and the like that are targeted now by both parties as part of the essential nature of the problem. Yet, in reality those will be the same programs needed by the damaged soldiers coming back from wars that increased this debt in the first place. Some may say I am getting too political here, but I think this is just basic truth and morality.

We pay lip service to our patriotism on days like Veterans Day, but isn’t it in all reality more celebrated because it is a three-day weekend than that anyone might have come back broken in our many military actions. We have quite a few in our congregation and sadly over time even they are fading off with death.

As many of those Vets have heard my harangue I will subject it to you on this day we talk against wrath and restraint. If we choose the path of wrath, then our society must take responsibility for those who come back broken and shattered from their experiences in war. We can no longer be a society that treats these Vets with impatience or indifference at the merest inclination that their symptoms are too bothersome for us to face.

Let us be clear, War causes damage. It causes death and injury on the battlefield and its repercussions will be felt long after the final bullet has flown on the society who assented to the use of force. Abuse, suicide, homelessness, chronic pain, lack of employment, chemical dependency, psychological issues, divorce and prosthetic limbs are what we see returning from the battle field.

Many decried how the soldiers returning from Vietnam were treated when they returned, but the continued tragedy was society’s almost complete abdication of their long-term mental, physical and social health. As someone who has worked with a lot of homeless programs we know the sources of some of our most intransigent homeless, it is war. To me it is a sin to spend trillions on wars and far less care on Vets when they come home.

This is why we must not be swayed by emotions when our leaders tell us that the next war is advantageous for us. We now will have many maimed and scarred individuals who will be witnesses to wrath’s cruel after effects. This is why it is so important for us to look with mercy upon those who have seen things that we hope to never, and have experienced violence in ways that we can only dream.

I think this is why my attention this week has been so radically focused on the line of the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This is a radical notion that is often missed upon a very shallow reading. Yet, every time we recite that prayer we make an invocation to the divine that we wish to be judged by the way we judge others. If we knew that our judgment would be as harshly meted out upon us as the judgment we have of others then we might more often choose restraint over wrath.

Well for all of us praying this prayer today we are under that covenant with God. We are begging for God to not judge us harsher than we intend to judge our fellow humans.

It is also not all about war but how we treat those whom are broken and hurting in this world. If we do not show them mercy, then how can we expect mercy? Next time we pass someone who is a vet on the street I hope it will impel us to do more in their advocacy. We will look on compassion toward those who have born an unbelievable burden on our behalf. They need our care and concern and mercy. We cannot ignore our responsibility in the face of wrath done in our name. We will spend a generation forgiving and asking others for our forgiveness. Hopefully, in the future this will give us even more cause for restraint in the face of emotional calls for wrath. Yet, when wrath comes, we must be people of mercy and look toward the long view of care and concern for healing our broken parts of society.


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