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