Sermon; 12 Pentecost/Proper 14B; Ephesians 4:26 - 5:2
As a reminder: Ephesians may or may not have been written by Paul to a church or churches that may or may not have been in Ephesus. It has no presenting controversy; that is, it's not like the letter to the Galatians which was written to counter challenges about Paul's teaching on circumcision as well as introducing dietary laws and rituals, nor is it like Corinthians where Paul wrote to address congregational divisions and the marginalizing of their poorer members (among other things). It can be said, as I did last week, that Ephesians might probably be a catechism for the instruction of new converts to the faith.
The other point to remember about Ephesians is its structure. It is a giant funnel that begins with the cosmic and eternal plan of God and moves down to the role and mission of the Church, our place in that mission, how we are to live as Christians, and how that ultimately shapes our individual lives. God – Christ – Church – Members – Individuals.
Unlike last week which followed immediately from the previous week, this week there is yet another gap between readings. The good news, though, is that it's not all that important in the big picture.
Last week's lesson was all about leading lives worthy of the calling to which you were called. It begged and encouraged us to live gently and humbly, with patience, bearing with one another in love, and striving for unity. It encouraged us to mature in Christ, learning sound doctrine, and using our gifts, talents, and skills to build up each other and the Church.
Last week was all about what was expected of us as Christians. The vast, cosmic, eternal plan of God, fulfilled through Christ, unifying those who were formerly separated, is represented in the Church, with you as holy members who are rooted and grounded in love. And as members of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, you are urged to live lives worthy of that calling.
What might it look like if we lived lives worthy of our calling? It's one thing to suggest we do so, but what does that actually entail? This is a rather common question. Think back to when Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Do you remember what follows?
“And the man said, 'But who is my neighbor?'”
As humans we love to complicate things. For instance . . . If I throw this football to someone, what will they most likely do? They will probably catch it. HOWEVER, anyone who has followed football recently knows all about the trials and tribulations of defining a catch. I also have it on good authority that there was initially only one Commandment: Don't do bad stuff. But then people started asking, “Define, 'bad'.” And some other people asked, “Define, 'stuff'.” We like to complicate things.
When Paul said, “Lead a life worthy of your calling,” he knew he had to offer some examples. And those examples are in today's passage.
Put away falsehood. In other words, not only do not lie, but actively work to end the spread of lies, untruths, alternative facts, mis-rememberings, and the like. God is truth. When we lie, when we participate in lies, when we allow lies to go unchecked, then we are not behaving as God would have us behave.
Be angry, but do not sin. On one level this is very personal. We have all had arguments with any number of people. Don't carry that anger with you. Don't resort to belittling or abusing the other person. It not only applies to our interpersonal interactions, but it also applies on larger stages. White supremacists and those who support them work to create violent confrontations. Be angry at their hatred, but don't resort to sin to fight back. Don't mirror their actions in the name of goodness. Sin is sin, regardless of who does it.
Let no evil talk come out of your mouth. Again, don't belittle or degrade another human being. Use your speech to build up, not to tear down. This applies not only to our actual verbal speech, but to our virtual speech as well. How we address people and topics on Facebook, Twitter, and other online platforms is a direct reflection on our church and God.
Let me be clear . . . It is perfectly acceptable to call people out for their hateful, bigoted, ungodly behavior. It is perfectly acceptable to point out lies made by people whose entire pattern of speech relies on lies and misdirection. It is perfectly acceptable to call out hypocritical behavior, expecting one group of people to live a certain way while you yourself live another. Jesus did this all the time.
But that doesn't mean we cease to respect the dignity of their humanity. Because it is then that we too easily move down the path of evil. It is then that we too easily assign non-human status to “Those” people.
Be kind to one another, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you. Be imitators of God and live in love. While all of the other directives give us guidelines on how we should live in society, this last bit may be directed specifically to life in the Church.
As people who have been called before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in love, this is the one place where this behavior should be evident. This part of the body of Christ, this household of God, this Church, should be a place of tenderness, kindness, forgiveness, and safety. Children should be free from abuse. Women should be free from inappropriate words and actions. Men should be living examples of holy and loving lives. We all should do our best to not intentionally harm or injure another; and when we do harm or injure, we should be quick to apologize without excuse. And forgiveness should inform how we move forward, because we have been forgiven by God through Christ.
As Christians, we are expected by God to live lives worthy of our calling. As Christians, we have a responsibility to make this body, this household, a place of truth, honesty, love, support, and forgiveness. This is a place where we (hopefully) learn the ways of God. This is a place where we first learn to practice what we preach.
Because if we can't live that way in here, what makes us think we can live that way out there?