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Wednesday, August 29 2012

Ephesians 6:10-20; Luke 10:1-12; 16-20


          I like to tell the story of a knight who returned to the castle one evening.  He was a mess.  His armor was dented.  His horse limped along, and he was listing to one side in his saddle.

           As he approached the castle, the lord of the castle saw him coming, and cried out, “What hath befallen you, sir knight?”

          Straightening himself out as best he could, the knight replied, “Ah Sire, I have been laboring diligently in your service, fighting all of your enemies to the west.”

           “To the west!” cried the lord, “But I have no enemies to the west.”

           “Well,” said the knight, “you do now!”

           I think it’s safe to say that all of us have had struggles of one kind or another.  In this life – you will have struggles.  And sometimes –like the knight in our story – they are of our own making.  And sometimes not. 

           So what I want to ask you is this.  What’s bugging you today?  Anything?  Is there something that’s eating at you and bringing you down? Anything going on in your life right now that’s got you down?  Struggling with or worried about something? 

           I’d like to talk with you today about the struggles that you face – about the struggles that we all face.  Because whether you realize it or not – we all have to deal with difficult situations – tough times – of some sort – in our lives.  Every one of us.  Call it a struggle – call it a battle – sometimes it might even feel like there’s a war going on.  But I want you to know that I know that life for you isn’t always easy. 

           We make decisions every day.  And we also know that there are consequences to the decisions that we make.  Last week we talked about choosing between being wise and being foolish.  We’ve all been guilty of doing – well – dumb things – embarrassing things – maybe even foolish things.  But we also know that through those experiences – especially when we’ve really messed things up badly – that we gain wisdom.  A little bit better understanding of how life works – and what doesn’t work.  Those are lessons learned and wisdom gained.  We’ve all been there.   

           Now – some of the things we struggle with are of a spiritual nature.  Or maybe I should say that most all if not everything that we struggle with can be said to have a spiritual component to it.  Things like –

·       Living in hope vs. despair

·       Showing love vs. apathy (remember the opposite of love is not hate; it is apathy)

·       Saying no to temptations to sin vs. giving into temptations to sin

·       And yes – learning to make wise or foolish choices – being wise or being foolish – is a struggle that is of a spiritual nature. 

·       Trusting God vs. trusting ourselves or the things of this world

           These are some of the things that we struggle with – might I be so bold as to suggest – the things that make war against us – things that would try to separate us from God – and in the process – separate us from each other.  But I want you to know that we do not face these struggles alone – and why our reading today is such good news.

           As we conclude our six-week series in Ephesians today – I want you to know that the Apostle Paul – the author of this letter to the church at Ephesus – knew what it was like to have these struggles.  Remember – when he wrote this letter he was under arrest – in prison.  His crime was that he was a disciple of Jesus Christ.  As he tells us at the end of today’s reading, he reminds us that he is “…an ambassador in chains.”  And yet – in spite of all that he had to put up with for the sake of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ – he writes a letter from prison that reminds us of God’s love and grace – and God’s faithfulness to us – especially in times of trouble.

           So to that end – he includes here in our reading today – he talks about something that we still refer to today as “the whole armor of God.”

           Now I don’t know exactly what a Roman prison cell might have looked like.  It is possible that Paul may even have been chained to a Roman guard.  And if he was – you could say that Paul had a captive audience – yeah, pun intended – chained to a Roman guard to whom he could share – and most likely did – the Good News of Jesus Christ.

           But just looking at that guard – chained to him or not – Paul could see what the guard wore for a military uniform – a military uniform that, for the most part, was designed to protect the soldier in battle. 

           So Paul takes this uniform – this Roman armor – and he says, “You know – as Christians – we’ve got the same thing.  We need to be protected against what the enemy throws at us.”  And then he goes on to describe the enemy in this long list. He says our struggle is “…against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  Pretty gruesome sounding if you ask me. 

           There’s a connection here to our gospel reading from Luke.  Jesus sends out 70 followers out in his name to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God.  And when they return – they are just so excited.  And they tell Jesus, “Even the demons,” – in other words, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places – “Even the demons flee at the sound of your name.” 

           “Yes!  And not only that,” says Jesus.  “But I saw Satan fall like a flash of lightning.”  What this episode in the life of Jesus and those he sent out tells me – what Paul is writing about in our reading in Ephesians today – is that – as followers of Jesus Christ our struggles – no matter what they are – are of a spiritual nature.  That there is an enemy – call it Satan – demonic – the cosmic powers of this present darkness – evil – whatever – there is a struggle going on – a struggle for the hearts and minds of people like you and me – and we need to be properly equipped.

           So let’s take a look at this armor that Paul is talking about when he tells us to “Put on the whole armor of God.” 

           First of all, there is the "belt of truth." Remember what Jesus said: "I am the way, and the – truth – and the life.”  This is at the core of what we believe as Christians.  Jesus is the truth – and like a belt – the truth kind of holds everything together. 

           And then there is "the breastplate of righteousness."  The breastplate for the soldier was designed to help protect the vital organs – including the heart.  We talk about our lives – or sometimes our hearts being “right” with God.  Therefore righteousness – or right living – becomes critical.  We need to guard our hearts. 

           Then he talks about our shoes.  A runner can’t run a race without the right shoes.  And several times the Scriptures talk about our walk with the Lord as a race.  “I have run the good race, I have finished the course,” is what Paul writes to Timothy towards the end of his life.  And here Paul is talking about shoes as a way for us not only to run the race – but to be ready – to be ready to go wherever we need to go in order to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel of Peace. 

           And then there is the shield.  The shield of faith.  Remember faith is a gift. And faith believes – faith receives –and faith trusts.  That’s kind of a Milleville definition of faith.  But it is this gift of faith that Paul says acts like a shield to protect us when the enemy makes war against us – Paul says he throws “flaming arrows” at us – again – to try to separate us from God – and in the process – from each other.

           Then he talks about the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.  These complete the armor.   And he tells us to put these on so that we might stand.  Four times he tells us to stand – to take a stand – to stand fast in the face of challenges – struggles – attacks.

           Last – he tells us to pray.  You know – prayer is a powerful weapon.  Paul urges us to "Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication." When you pray – it keeps you in constant communication with God – who is indeed the source of your strength. And then when WE pray for and with other people, we create a community of faith. This is why Paul wanted people to pray for him when he was in prison. It was a comfort for him. He knew that the community of faith stood behind him in his hardships as well as his victories. And he received strength. We can all receive strength from prayer.

           Folks – life is a challenge.  It has always been a challenge.  May I suggest to you that we need Paul's words more than ever.  Disciples of Jesus Christ were never promised that we would life a life free from worries and struggles.  But when we put on the whole armor of God, we will be better prepared to face whatever it is that life – or the powers of evil – throw at us.

          The struggles we face are real.  But we stand stronger when we stand together.  All of us.  The entire faith community.  We’re here to support each other – and pray with and for each other – when times get tough – and to celebrate the good things in life that the Lord brings our way as well.   

           So stand strong.  Stand firm – together.  Together in the Lord and in the power of his might. When life is at its worst – don’t give up!    The Lord is with you.  As Joshua 1:9 reminds us – by the way, this is a verse that many of our young folks chose every year as their confirmation verse: 

           “Do not be afraid.  The Lord is with you wherever you go.”

           Put on the whole armor of God.  Stand strong so that you may finish strong. 


Posted by: AT 11:26 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, August 20 2012

Ephesians 5:15-20; Matthew 7:24-27

          Have you ever read the warning labels on some of the products you buy?  I find some of them to be absolutely hilarious.  So I went online this week to find some of the more bizarre warning labels on products.  Just Google “Silly warning labels” and you’ll find a whole bunch of these things.  Things like:

  • On a hair dryer.  "Do not use while sleeping."
  • On a bathroom heater. "This product is not to be used in bathrooms."
  • On a can of self-defense pepper spray. "Caution: May irritate eyes."
  • On a coffee cup. "Caution: Hot beverages are hot!"
  • On a product called "Rubber Band Shooter."  "Caution: Shoots rubber bands."
  • On a birthday card for a 1 year old. "Not suitable for children aged 36 months or less."
  • In the manual for a microwave oven. "Do not use for drying pets."
  • On an electric cattle prod. "For use on animals only."
  • On a can of air freshener. "For use by trained personnel only."
  • On a box of rat poison.  "Warning: has been found to cause cancer in           laboratory mice."
  • On a portable stroller. "Caution: Remove infant before folding for storage."
  • On a child sized Superman costume. "Wearing of this garment does not enable you to fly."
  • This from a manual for an SGI computer.  "Do not dangle the mouse by its cable or throw the mouse at co-workers."
  • On a package of peanuts. "Warning: May contain nuts."
  • Instructions on the packaging for a muffin at a 7-11. "Remove wrapper, open mouth, insert muffin, eat."
  • And my favorite one.  This was on a sign at a railroad station. "Beware! To touch these wires is instant death.  Anyone found doing so will be prosecuted."

          I know we’re a litigious society – and those warning label people are only doing their jobs – but they must think we’re all dumb as dirt.  Do not use a hair dryer while sleeping!  You know – we like to have fun with that kind of stuff.   These warnings sound foolish to us – but our reading from the book of Ephesians also has warnings – warnings that are anything but foolish—unless you are a foolish person – and then they just might sound foolish to you.  In fact – Paul starts out this section with these words of warning – “Be careful” – now there’s a warning label – “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise…do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” 

          It seems to me that what we are being offered here today is a choice.  A choice between being wise – or being foolish.  Both our reading from Ephesians as well as the gospel reading from Matthew’s gospel talk about the choice we must make between being wise – and being foolish. 

          In the gospel reading, Jesus tells us that those who listen to what Jesus has to say – and then act upon them – are like a man who built his house upon rock – upon a solid foundation.  But those who hear what Jesus has to say, and then turn away from what they hear – in other words – they’re not interested in following Jesus or what he teaches – these people are like a man who built his house upon sand – and when the storms of life struck – the house built on sand had no foundation – and it fell.  But the house built upon the rock stood. 

          So the question for us today is this:  are we going to be wise – or are we going to be foolish?  Your choice. 

          Of course, being wise – or becoming wise – gaining wisdom – is something that most people get only through experience, right?  Author Steven Wright says that “Experience is something you don't get until just after you need it.”  Theodore Levitt, from the Harvard Business School says that, “Experience comes from what we have done.  Wisdom comes from what we have done badly.”

          And I would add that if we don’t learn from what we have done badly – if we don’t gain wisdom from our mistakes – well – that’s kind of foolish, don’t you think?  Because we’re likely to make the same mistakes over and over again. 

          Many of you know John Mosher – a long-time member of this congregation.  He worships most often at our 5:0 0 service.  John likes to say, “It takes some people a little bit longer than others to get over fool’s hill.”  [Did I get that right John?] 

          I would venture to say that there is not a one of us here today who hasn’t made that trek up fool’s hill at some time in their life.  There’s not a one of us who can say they have never made a mistake – not a one who can say that they have never done anything foolish.  And it’s to people like you and me that St. Paul is writing today when he says, “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise.”

          May I suggest to you today that both Jesus and St. Paul are offering us very practical advice for living.  May I also suggest that listening to the words of Jesus – following his teachings – listening to St. Paul and taking his words to heart – will lead to the best life you could ever live.  Again – not perfect.  Not free from bad things happening.  But I find that there is a contentment and joy in following Christ – that leads to the best life you could possibly live.

          That certainly was Paul’s experience.  In spite of his many hardships – in spite of time spent in prison precisely because he was a follower of Jesus Christ – that was his crime – he lived a joy-filled life of purpose. 

          So the first thing he tells us is in this letter to the Ephesians is not to get drunk with wine.  In other words – don’t over-indulge in the things that the world has to offer.  He uses the word debauchery.  Now I’ve known since I was a kid that I was not to become involved in debauchery.  I didn’t know what it was – but I knew I wasn’t supposed to do it.  In fact – this week I realized that I still don’t know what debauchery is – so I had to look it up this week.  Now I know what it means.  It means “excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures.” 

          Now folks – I know as well as you that the world has a lot of things to offer. Lots of good things.   But sometimes we caught up in those things.  Things like wealth, power, position, materialism.  Excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures.  In and of themselves these are not bad things.  But when we pursue these things for the just for sake of having more and more of these things – especially when they come at the cost of faith – of faith practices – of family and friends – then we become like the foolish man who built his house upon the sand.  Why?  Because these are things that will not last.  IF things like wealth, power, and position come our way AS we pursue the things of God – all well and good.  But right now I’m thinking about another one of Jesus’ teachings when he said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these other things that you need – maybe not all of the things that you want – but all these things that you need – will be given to you as well.”  Trusting in the Lord for the things that you need – now that’s wisdom!

          So the first thing we learn here is not to get caught up in the world and the things that world has to offer.  For in the wisdom of God, such things are foolish choices. 

          But Paul doesn’t leave things there.  He gives us an instead.  “Instead” he says – “be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts.”

          Then he goes on to say, “…giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Talk about choosing your attitude!  An attitude of gratitude…Dude!  Giving thanks to God for something or someone at least once a day.  More often would be better – but at least once a day.  That’s not a rule, by the way, just my suggestion.  But – you’d  be wise to listen.  Just saying.

          So there you have it.  You want to choose wise?  Or you want to choose foolish?  Tired of trying to make your way over fool’s hill?  It’s your choice.  But if you choose wise, then listen once again to these things Paul prescribes for us.  Be careful how you live.  Be wise.  Be sober.  Be filled with the Spirit.  Be thankful.   And I would add don’t be afraid to take risks.  Don’t be afraid to make mistakes – but when you do – be sure you learn from them. 


          Let me close with an analogy.  There are two birds that fly over our nation’s deserts: One is the hummingbird and the other is the vulture.  You know what vultures do, don’t you?  Vultures find the rotting meat of the desert, because that is what they look for. They thrive on that diet.

          But hummingbirds?  Hummingbirds leave the smelly flesh of dead animals for the vultures.  Instead, hummingbirds look for the colorful blossoms of desert plants.  The vultures live on what was.  The vultures live on the past. The vultures fill themselves with what is dead and gone.

          But hummingbirds?  Hummingbirds live on what is.  Hummingbirds look for that which is good.   Hummingbirds thrive by filling themselves with sweet things – things that speak of new life.

          AND each bird finds what it is looking for.

          From our perspective, we would say the vulture is foolish. And the hummingbird wise.  Two birds.  One bird looks for foolishness and stupidity, the other looks for wisdom. The vulture wants only to fill itself with the rotting flesh of drunkenness and debauchery.  The hummingbird fills itself with good things.  And there’s a reason why we call it the humming bird.  And it’s not because they don’t know the words to the song.  The beating of their wings makes this wonderful humming sound – as though they are making a melody to the Lord on their wings. 

          So what will it be?  Wise or foolish?  Hummingbird or vulture?  The choice is yours.  May I suggest that you are likely to find whichever of the two you’re looking for.  But thank God for those among us who hum – for those among us who sing – songs of thanksgiving and praise to our God. 

          Listen again to these words of wisdom – what I think are the secret to a wonderful life.  A life of joy.  A life filled with Godly purpose.  Listen:


Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.  Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; instead be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”



Posted by: AT 01:51 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, August 13 2012
Ephesians 4:25-5:2, John 13: 34-35

    Have you been watching the Olympics?  Anyone?  Seems like anytime I turn the games on in the evening, I’m watching either track and field, gymnastics or swimming.  Beach Volley ball.  And how about that Michael Phelps, huh?  22 Olympic career medals!  And I find it amazing just how closely victory and defeat are measured.  Hundredths of a second.  Amazing!  The difference between victory and defeat.

    But I am always amazed by the gymnastics.  How these young people can do those flips and jumps and routines whether on the pommel horse, the floor routine, or the uneven parallel bars.  It’s amazing!

    And if the difference between a gold and silver medal in swimming and track and field events can be measured in hundredths of a second – so too in the gymnastic events – the difference between getting a medal and – quite frankly – getting no medal at all – can be the result of one slip or fall – one moment’s loss of concentration and focus.  And if you were watching – you saw that happen with several of our USA gymnasts.      It’s heart breaking, but even the best are capable of losing their focus.  Even the best at what they do will fail from time to time. 

    I want you to be thinking about that as we continue our walk through the book of Ephesians.  Our reading today closes out chapter 4, and we just barely wade into chapter 5.  But what we heard read to us today is a good reminder that we all fall short – even the best among us – we all fall short – we miss the mark.

    And I like the introductory paragraph printed in your bulletins for this reading today.  Turn with me to that again if you will, and follow along.  It says,
    “Christians are called to be imitators of God. This does not mean Christians are perfect. Rather, the Spirit is at work in our lives so that our actions and attitudes genuinely reflect the love and forgiveness we have received through Christ and his death.”

    We are called to be imitators of God.  But I also want you to know that when you miss the mark – when you lose your focus – when you stumble and fall – I want you to know that there is grace – God’s undeserved love and favor – for every need and every situation.
    Last week’s reading and sermon brought us into the second half of the book of Ephesians – and if you recall – it talked about the essential nature of our unity in Christ.  Not uniformity – we don’t always have to agree on all things in every situation – but our unity in Christ is essential.  And that in order to maintain this unity in Christ that having the attitudes of humility, gentleness, patience and love are crucial.   Well, today’s reading continues those thoughts – it continues to answer the question – “How then shall we live?” 

    Now what Paul – the author of this letter – tells us here sounds to us to be pretty much common sense.  These are the things we teach our children – and if we’re not –well, we ought to be.  But here’s his list:

•    Don’t lie.  Tell the truth.
•    Don’t let evil talk come out of your mouth.  You know!  Watch your language. 
     Instead    – make sure your attitude is in a good place before opening your mouth – and
     let your words be gracious words to those who are listening to you.
•    Be kind.  Be Tender-hearted – forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.
•    Don’t take things that don’t belong to you.  OK, Paul doesn’t say it quite that way, but
     he does say, “Thieves must give up stealing.”

    These are the things – as disciples of Jesus Christ – these are attitudes and behaviors that we value.  And yes – just like we saw some of those gymnasts slip and fall – we’re going to slip and fall too.  But thank God for God’s grace.  When we slip and fall, God forgives us.  He picks us up and keeps us going.

    By the way – did you notice that I left something out of Paul’s list?  Did anybody notice?  Be angry, but do not sin.  Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”  Yeah, one of the things that Paul deals with here is the issue of anger.  So let’s talk a little bit about anger this [morning/evening]. 

    Now listen.  Anger – in and of itself – is not a sin.  You can be angry and not sin.  In fact – I will tell you that anger can be a good thing if it motivates us to right a wrong.  Some things – like world hunger – like when we learn of deranged individuals with guns entering Sikh temples or crowded movie theaters.  Our anger at these kinds of things should move us to want to do something about it.

    So Paul says here, “Be angry, but do not sin.”  But we know that anger can often lead to unkind words being spoken – or hurtful actions being taken.  And that’s why he goes on to say, “do not make room for the devil.”  In other words – when you’re angry – don’t let your anger become an opportunity for the devil.  And what the devil would most like to see is us separated from God.  Or because of our angry moments – he would love to use those moments as an opportunity for us to be separated from each other. 
    Remember from last week?  Our unity in Christ is essential.  And I find that when unity in Christ is most vulnerable – and certainly when unity in Christ is shattered – it’s when people get angry – doesn’t matter what the issue is – but it’s at those times when people get angry and they dig in their heels.  That’s when our unity in Christ is most at risk. 

    But what would the Lord want for us instead?  What do these verses say? Listen here to God’s antidote to anger.  “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

    Sounds like a reasonable alternative to anger, don’t you think?  These are all good things, right?  But – nevertheless – we know that sometimes we do get angry.  We know that other people get angry.  And we certainly know that there are some people who seem to be angry most if not all of the time.  And if you’re like me – you tend to stay away from people like that – and when that’s not possible – we tiptoe around them –walking on eggshells – afraid that the littlest thing will set them off.

    But that’s no way to live!  May I suggest to you today that anger – whether it’s ours or somebody else – is a spiritual problem.  And for those who seem to suffer from chronic anger – frequent or even occasional fits of rage – there is professional help.  Perhaps anger management counseling is called for.  But at its heart – anger – uncontrolled, hurtful anger – is a spiritual problem.

    Folks – I suspect you know what anger does to you.  You certainly can see what it does to others.  And most of the time – if not handled correctly – anger brings grief – usually to the people who are closet to us – when anger gets out of control. 

    But I want you to know that it also brings grief to God.  That’s why Paul reminds us here, “…do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.  Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
    Uncontrolled anger or rage is at heart a spiritual problem.  It’s a spiritual problem because it threatens our relationship with God.  It threatens our relationships with each other. 

    Dealing with anger starts with understanding why we get angry in the first place.  And there are a variety of reasons.  Maybe it’s feelings of insecurity about who you are.  Maybe you’ve been hurt by someone else.  Maybe you’ve been hurt deeply.  Maybe you’ve suffered some injustice.  I don’t know. 

    Sometimes what we need is a cooling off period.  A pastoral counselor once suggested to me that I beat a bed with a tennis racquet.  Or if you don’t have a tennis racquet – take an old baseball bat to a trunk of a tree.  Hey – it’s better than taking it out on your family and friends – or putting holes in doors and walls.

    Folks – it is possible to be angry and not sin.  I also believe you can choose your attitude.  Now – that’s easier said than done, I know that.  But what we can do is turn our anger over to the Lord.  Ask God for help, and strength, and guidance.  I know, that sounds rather simplistic, and it may also sound rather simplistic for you when you hear me say – choose your attitude – especially when you have a choice between anger or love and forgiveness.  Again – I know it’s not easy.  But the attitude we choose can make all the difference in the world.  But attitude is everything. So if you can, choose your attitude.  Listen!  Let me end with this story.

    “The author Ron Lee Dunn tells the story of two altar boys.  One was born in 1892 in Eastern Europe.  The other was born just three years later in a small town in Illinois.  Though they lived very separate lives in very different parts of the world, these two altar boys had almost identical experiences.  Each boy was given the opportunity to assist his parish priest in the service of communion.  While handling the communion cup, they both accidentally spilled some of the wine on the carpet by the altar.  There the similarity in their story ends.  The priest in the Eastern European church, seeing the purple stain, slapped the altar boy across the face and shouted, ‘Clumsy oaf! Leave the altar.’ “That little boy grew up to become an atheist and a communist.  His name was Marshall Josip Tito - dictator of Yugoslavia for 37 years. 

    “The priest in the church in Illinois upon seeing the stain near the altar, knelt down beside the boy and looked him tenderly in the eyes and said, ‘It's alright son. You'll do better next time. You'll be a fine priest for God someday.’  That little boy grew up to become the much-loved Bishop Fulton J. Sheen.” 

    There is the gospel!   There is the good news!  We are drawn to God –we are drawn to each other – not by loud angry words – but by words of love and forgiveness.  By actions that come from love and forgiveness.  You heard it in the Gospel reading when Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you.”  You hear it again in this reading from the book of Ephesians.  There is an answer – there is an alternative – to anger.  Listen once again:
31Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.                 Amen
Posted by: AT 01:53 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, August 06 2012

Ephesians 4:1-16; Matthew 25:14-30

          Today’s reading from the book of Ephesians brings us to the second half of this letter.  And if you recall from a few weeks ago, I told you that the first half – or the first three chapters of Ephesians – focuses on universal truths that are good news for all Christians.  Especially the focus on God’s grace – God’s undeserved love and favor.  This grace is ours.  It’s given to us as a gift.  We receive it through faith.  And it is made possible only because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  By the way – I hope you are taking some time each week to take a look at this letter.  One chapter – one section – or one verse at a time.  And if you want to look ahead of time to the sections that I will be preaching on each week – we list those for you each week at the end of your worship bulletin.  So take that home with you

          Now today, Paul – again, after laying out for us this amazing thing called grace in the first half of this letter – brings us today to the second half of the letter – using the words “I therefore” – and remember what I’ve told you about when you hear the word “therefore”? – that’s right.  Sit up and take notice.  “I therefore – beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” 

          What I like about what Paul is saying here is that this thing called Christianity – being a disciple of Jesus Christ – is more than just a set of beliefs.  When he says that we are to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,” he is saying that this is a way of life.  I can’t emphasize that enough.  Being a Christian – being a disciple of Jesus Christ – is a way of life.

          In essence what Paul is asking us to do is to examine our lives to see if our lives – our thoughts – our beliefs – our values – our actions – our attitudes – align with what we learn from Jesus Christ.  Are we good news people?  Has your life – has my life – been transformed – somehow made different – precisely because you are a follower of Jesus Christ?

          Now when I talk about examining our lives and attitudes – this is not a judgment against you or me or anybody else.  And I certainly do not want to give the impression today that I think that Christianity is a system of do’s and don’ts.  You know – “Do this,” and “Don’t do that,” and then everything will be right with God.  No.  That’s called legalism – a rigid system of rules that need to be followed.  I do not want to give anyone that kind of impression today.  Being a Christian is not about knowing and following all the rules. It’s about grace – and living a life that reflects God’s grace in our lives.

          But Paul does want us to examine our lives.  And there are two areas of focus from these verses in Ephesians chapter 4 that I want to look at today.            The first thing I want you to notice is that Paul is concerned about the unity of the church.  And to that end lists several virtues that he wants us to pursue.  I like to think of them as attitudes – and attitude is everything, right?  Would you agree with me?  Attitude is – well – it’s everything.  Remember?  Life is 10% of what happens to me, and 90% of how I react to it.  SO the attitudes Paul lists here are humility and gentleness, and patience.  And THEN he says, “bearing with one another in love.” 

          I think it’s interesting that he should use that phrase, “bearing with one another in love.”  How many of you have to bear with someone else, huh?  No need to raise your hands – I don’t want to embarrass anybody.  But do you have to bear with someone else – or put up with someone else?  Or learn to live with – someone else?  Paul says, “Yeah.  If there’s someone in the body of Christ – someone in the church – that you have to put up with – then bear with them – but do it in a spirit of love.” 

          You know folks – these attitudes are not always easy to put into practice are they?  But there’s a reason that Paul begs us – that’s the word he uses – he begs us to lead lives that are characterized by these virtues – humility, gentleness, patience and love.   I know!  Not always easy things to do.  But there’s a reason why Paul begs us to have these attitudes. And here’s why.  Listen!  Verse 3:

3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 

          In other words, it is vital that the church be unified.  Now, unity does not mean uniformity.  To be unified does not mean that we all have to agree on everything in every way in every situation at all times.  Come on.  That’s just not going to happen. 

          But there are very good reasons why we need to work at being unified.  Even if we disagree about some things.  The reason why we need to be unified is for God’s glory.  It’s for the benefit of others.  And it’s for our good.  Really – a church divided is not a pleasant place to be.  And a divided church certainly does not offer a very good reflection to those outside the church of who we are as disciples of Jesus Christ.

          Folks – we may not always agree on everything – and it’s not required that we do – but one thing I do hope you will accept.  That Jesus Christ is at the center of everything we think, do and say here at Zion Lutheran Church.  Christ is at the center.  And when Christ is at the center – then we will be salt and light to a world that needs to hear the good news of God’s love and grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ.  When Christ is at the center.

          It’s our job to offer hope to the hopeless.  But the world is in a heap of trouble if we cannot love one another – even if we don’t always agree. We are a team.  We must work as a team.  And I will say this – this church – we have come through a few rough spots over the years – and thankfully just a few – but because you do have tremendous love and respect for each other.  You know what it means to keep that sense of unity that is so critical – again for God’s glory, for the benefit of others, and for our good,.

          I Like the story told “…about a pastor who gathered his congregation in a circle and told them to picture Christ at the center of the circle. Then he instructed them to move forward to Christ. The group complied but at one point they came shoulder to shoulder with each other and stopped.  This pastor then said, ‘You can’t get closer to Christ without at the same time getting closer to one another.’”

          Now, I’m not going to ask all of you to stand up and do that.  Although maybe we ought to try doing that some time.  I can guarantee you you’ll remember the point better that way than just by me telling you about it. 

          Anyway – when it comes to our unity in Christ, then we need to understand that our attitudes – humility, gentleness, patience and love – these are important – in fact I would say they are essential – because our unity in Christ is essential. 

          So Christ is at the center and the first focus Paul points us to is our unity in Christ.  And because we have that unity, we can move on to the second focus of this section, and that has to do with the gifts God gives to be used in God’s service – again – for God’s glory, for the benefit of others, and for our good.

          This is where Paul notes that Christ gave gifts to some of us to be apostles, and some prophets, and some pastors and teachers.  This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but I want you to catch what the purpose of these gifts is.  Don’t miss this.  He gave gifts, “…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”  So not only is unity essential – but so is the building up of the body of Christ.  And you can’t have one without the other!

           Now, the gifts Paul lists here fall under the heading of leadership gifts.  So I understand that not everyone here is called to be a pastor or a teacher.  I know that.  But everyone here – everyone of us here today has at least one gift to be used in some ministry. 

          So we are to equip the saints for the work of ministry.  By the way – do you remember what a saint is?  That’s right.  All of us.  A saint is anyone who is a disciple of Jesus Christ.  So all of you here today who are disciples of Jesus Christ – you are saints – and the purpose of the leaders of the church is to equip you – the saints – for the work of ministry. 

          So all of you have gifts for ministry.  Every one of you!  So when you organize or teach or help at VBS this week – you are using your gift.  Or when you’re teaching Sunday School – greeting people – working at Habitat – working with teenagers – feeding the hungry – praying for others – using your musical skills – these are just examples of some of the gifts that you have that you use.  And some of us will do our best work in quiet ways that most people will never see or know about.  Making a difference for the sake of Jesus Christ – is not just something we give lip service to.   It is a way of life.

          Let me share with you a story that I love.  I’ve used it once or twice before.  It’s the story that “…says the angel Gabriel approached Jesus in heaven after his time was finished on earth. Gabriel asked Christ, “Master, did you accomplish everything you set out to do on earth?”

          “No,” replied Jesus, “not yet. There is still much to be done.”

          Gabriel was perplexed. “Then what’s next?”

          Jesus said, “I’ve left it in the hands of my disciples. They will carry on the work I have begun.”

          Gabriel frowned and looked rather skeptical. He said, “Do you really think they will?  What if the people somewhere along the way forget? Do you have a plan B?”

          Jesus answered, “No. I’m counting on them. There is no plan B.”

          Folks – I hope you find it an honor and a joy to be a part of this church – this congregation – as much as I do.  Together – we are the body of Christ.  To the world we bring a message of hope – the good news of Jesus Christ.  Our attitudes are crucial. Our unity in Christ is essential.  Each one of us using the gift or gifts that God has given us – these are the things we cannot do without.

          Jesus is at the center of everything we think, do and say.  Jesus is counting on us. We are his hands.  We are his feet.  We are the ones who carry on the work that Christ gave us to do.  If not us who?  If not now, when?  There is no plan B.   Amen

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Zion Lutheran Church
9535 Clarence Center Road

PO Box 235
Clarence Center, NY 14032
Phone: 716-741-2656

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