8/12/2018 Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost The text is Ephesians 4:25-5:2.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today’s lesson from Ephesians spells out the guidelines of how we should respond to the promise and hope of eternal life through Jesus Christ. There’s nothing surprising or new here. There is only common-sense advice as to how we are to live among those who are “in Christ.” And, how we are to live can be summed up in the four-letter word, “love.” That means we should put aside all bitterness, anger, and slander and replace them with kindness and forgiveness. We are told to be imitators of Christ, following his example of grace, and to conduct ourselves in a life that is characterized by love. Of course, we are not to live our lives in this way in order to receive the praise of others or accolades upon death. We live this way in thanks to God for the blessings we have received through Jesus Christ.
We put aside bitterness because bitterness is useless. It can consume our life as it keeps life centered in the past…and not just anything in the past, but on past hurts and bad experiences. It leaves little room for the future and for the hope for something better. It leaves little space for present-time openness with others, and the vulnerability that comes with it. Bitterness creates barriers. It drains us of positive energy and prevents us from moving on. It keeps us from receiving and giving God’s forgiveness and sharing his love with all people, including those annoying relatives, the strangers we meet, and those we might call adversaries.
Wrath is also useless and is best placed in the trash – for while the anger that comes for it can be energizing in the short-term, it is full of explosive power that quickly becomes old and draining. Now, anger in and of itself is not bad. Anger can allow us to react to danger and injustice in a helpful way. It is when anger is left unchecked that it becomes destructive and easily controls life’s ambition and consumes love. It is only when anger is retained that it is dangerous for retained anger creates wrath. Wrath is when anger becomes like a pressure cooker with the valve on the lid closed tightly. With the excess pressure unable to escape, an explosion may occur. And, this type of explosion lays waste to anything good and creates an amazing mess to its surroundings. This mess is not only difficult to clean up, but also can damage the cooker itself. Basic emotions, like anger, can be like this – helpful if properly harnessed, channeled and expressed, but potentially destructive if held onto and allowed to fester. Wrath breaks down relationships, rather than builds them up through the sharing of God’s love. So, vengeance is best left to God.
Wrangling makes the list of don’ts, for like anger, it can be useful in the short-term but destructive as a way of life. No one would go into a car dealership without being prepared to wrangle or haggle over the prices…but in a relationship, wrangling is bitter. The continual quarreling and wrestling in word and deed brings anything but the unity and compassion of Christ. It sets up sides, and declares winners and losers. I have seen the effect that such behavior can have on a church and it’s not pretty.
Now, nothing needs to be said about slander. We know it so well. It is such a major problem that laws have been made to protect people against such uncalled for efforts to damage a person’s character and reputation. But malice, on the other hand, can be allusive. How can you write laws to prevent people from hating and wanting to hurt others? No law can prevent what is festering in a person’s heart. God can’t even change such behavior by law. It is only through God’s love that it can be transformed into something good.
So do not steal anything from anyone, but do the opposite. Rather than trying to get something for nothing. Give to those in need so that they can share in bounty of God’s gifts. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit. Learn to forgive, even if you cannot forget…for forgiveness is for your sake, so that you can move on, as well as for the sake of the one forgiven. Yes, it may seem to be easier for God to forgive our failures and short comings, the ways in which we hurt Him through the disregarding of his word and the destructive and abusive use of what he has given us, than it is for us to forgive others and ourselves for even the most minor of infractions. For as Leo Buscaglia has said, “Asking for forgiveness and forgiving others is a complicated process that involves the deepest empathy, humanity and wisdom…(yet) without forgiveness there can be no lasting love; no change, no growth, nor real freedom,” and no unity in Christ.
For us to be imitators of Christ, we need to put aside all the behaviors, which get in the way our relationships with God and others – all those behaviors which we have come to know so well in the world in which we live. As imitator of Christ, the guiding principle for correct behavior is centered on the word, “love,” and the question, “What would Christ have us do?” For what we do should be marked by faithful, response-filled living in thanksgiving for all the God has done and continues to do on our behalf.
My friends, truth is simply this: our Christian life is not centered on objective rights and wrongs – it is centered in Jesus Christ who reached out to heal the sick and suffering, who rejected no one who came to him in faith, who showered people with the love and compassion of God, and who blessed us with his grace. It is Jesus Christ who has made us right with God through his suffering and death. Because God first loved us, we can love others. Because God first forgave us, we also can forgive one another. We can show God’s love and compassion in a world in which love and compassion has boxed in and has gone by the wayside as we imitate Christ, not for the sake of our salvation which God has graciously given to us through Jesus, but for the sake of unity in the Holy Spirit.
Strive to be imitators of Christ, my friends. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.