Sermon for Sunday, February 20, 2022, Seventh Sunday after Epiphany, “Freedom in an Angry World”

Sermon for Sunday, February 20, 2022 

Seventh Sunday after Epiphany 

“Freedom in an Angry World”

Rev. Amy Zalk Larson

Good  Shepherd Lutheran Church    Decorah, Iowa


Click here to read scripture passages for the day.


Beloved of God, grace to you and peace in the name of Jesus.


I guess one thing we can say about this passage is: We’re getting lots of chances to practice it right now. 


As Pastor Liz Goodman puts it: “It’s a terrible fact that we have so many opportunities to love our enemies. Life used to be about ordinary, daily interactions that, in many ways, were mildly abra- sive. You’re pulling out of a parking space, and someone mindlessly walks behind your car—so you stop and wave the person on, though you’re pressed for time. You’re waiting in line at the library, and someone comes up to ask a ‘quick question’ of the librarian that makes your wait a little longer. All those mild abrasions made us, if not tough, then tolerant. Yielding to one another used to be woven into our days and lives to such a degree that we might barely have noticed doing it: ordinary grace. But the pandemic and its social isolation have put us out of practice of bumping 

up against one another in regular ways. We’ve become so tender as to be almost intolerant, easily triggered by the slightest sleight. Kids in school are fighting, even with other kids they’ve known for years. Adults in public are unable to keep their composure even over issues with the lowest stakes.”


Or as the title of an opinion piece in the New York Times put it recently, “Rudeness is on the rise, you got a problem with that?” As rage and aggression erupt everywhere, I wonder if those of us with white privilege are now experiencing what people of color have long faced on a daily basis – the sense that those around us can’t be trusted to treat us with dignity and respect.


How do we handle life in such a rude and angry world? We need Jesus’ wisdom, from our Gospel reading today, more than ever. Jesus’ words give us a path of freedom and life in such a difficult world. To be clear, Jesus isn’t telling us that we can’t feel anger at those who treat us badly. He is-

n’t saying we have to reconcile with abusers or stay in relationship with them. There is a differ- ence between forgiveness and reconciliation, and sometimes reconciliation is not possible. Jesus also isn’t advising us to be doormats who ignore evil and overlook injustice.


Instead, Jesus is offering us a way of being in the world that isn’t dependent upon what others do.

If we aren’t intentional, our actions end up just being reactions to how others treat us, how others behave. When someone hurts you, you seek to hurt them somehow, even if just in your head. You are trapped by thoughts of them and what they’ve done, and what you wish would happen to them. You replay the hurt, relive the pain, ruminate about it all. When someone is good to you, well then you better treat them right so you can keep the good thing going. Gotta work the system to your advantage. Do unto others what they have done to you; that’s the way the world works. 


If we live like that, then we aren’t free and other people have too much power over us. We’re bound to the other person as we react, reciprocate, keep score. Jesus is giving us a way to break free of this cycle of retribution, tit for tat. Jesus says don’t let your actions be driven by what others do. Instead, be shaped by how God treats you. God shows you kindness and mercy always. Let your actions be shaped by that. Forgive and you will know freedom. Don’t resist with hatred or you will start to become like your enemy.


Or, as preacher Nadia Bolz-Weber powerfully proclaims, “I really believe that, when someone else does us harm, we’re connected to that mistreatment like a chain. And maybe retaliation or holding onto anger about the harm done to me doesn’t actually combat evil. Maybe it feeds it. 

Because in the end, if we’re not careful, we can actually absorb the worst of our enemy, and at some level, start to become them. So, what if forgiveness, rather than being a pansy way to say, ‘It’s okay,’ is actually a way of wielding bolt-cutters, and snapping the chains that link us [to the harm]? 

What if it’s saying, ‘What you did was so not okay, I refuse to be connected to it anymore?’ Forgive- ness is about being a freedom fighter. And free people are dangerous people. Free people aren’t controlled by the past. Free people laugh more than others. Free people see beauty where others do not. Free people are not easily offended. Free people are unafraid to speak truth to stupid. Free people are not chained to resentments. And that’s worth fighting for.”


Forgiveness frees us to be strong, engaged, calm and joyful in this angry world.


Jesus wants us to know this freedom, so he gives us the words and teaching we hear today. But so often we don’t hear these words as freeing – we hear them as things that bring us shame. We hear: Shame on you who struggle to love, who struggle to forgive; Shame on you who are angry, who are still ruminating about that person and unable to cut the ties to them. No life-giving change ever comes from a place of shame. That’s why we need more than Jesus’ words to set us free,  why

Jesus gives us more than teaching.


Jesus comes among us to help us experience God’s freedom and abundance, to let us taste and take in God’s love and mercy. Jesus comes among us so that we might know, deep in our bones, that we are loved and forgiven and honored by God. 


You are God’s beloved, always, when you are calm and when you are angry.

You are loved and forgiven, always, when you forgive and when you struggle with letting go.

God’s love for you is not dependent on what you do.

God’s love is always at work to set you free.


Let’s take a moment for silent prayer.