Monday, August 13, 2012
Ephesians 4: 25 – 5:2, page 194 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And 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. Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Sermon Words are dangerously powerful things. Every Sunday I stand here and invite you to listen for God’s word, which has the power to change everything, to build up, encourage, bring hope, change the world. But words, your words included, also have the power to tear down, destroy, and hurt. We have to be careful with how we use our words, especially if people are listening. It wasn’t long ago that Dan Cathy’s words in an interview with a Southern Baptist news outlet erupted. He didn’t actually do anything. He’s not running for office, nor did he call for any kind of action he was going to take or not take, who he would hire or not hire at his chain of Chick-fil-a restaurants. He just spoke. And you know what happened next. I heard about it standing at the bank. I heard about it around the church and when I was out to lunch. I heard about it on TV and I saw it as cars wrapped around our new Chick-fil-a location, all because of one man’s words. Then Chris Fletcher, the editor of our Daily Herald, wrote a piece calling Christians to get excited about voting or eating to support the Family Center at Ruby Tuesday, anything, but it seems to Fletcher as though folks will only get excited about taking their stand on who can get married and who can’t. His words inspired several letters to the editor, who knows how many phone calls from angry readers, not that Chris Fletcher heard them, as I heard he was away in Dallas. Still, even away from his office, his words have extraordinary power, and using this power for strengthening the community of faith is the author of Ephesian’s primary lesson for us. The author of Ephesians in our lesson for this morning calls the new converts of Ephesus to discard their old ways of life in favor of a new way of life modeled after Christ. This new way of life calls for brothers and sisters in Christ to lay down their pride for one another and to use their words to build each other up rather than tear each other down. Our passage begins with a big challenge: “speak the truth”, and I say this is a big challenge because speaking the truth is a big challenge for me. I remember going to a luncheon several years ago where congealed salad was the main course. “Joe, do you like congealed salad?” “Love it,” I said. And then I was met with something like jell-o, only it had vegetables floating in it and was topped with a glob of mayonnaise on top. I ended up liking it just fine, but being honest could have saved me a good bit of anxiety. Speak the truth, the author of Ephesians says, because real relationships can’t be built on a foundation of lies, even white lies. Then comes, “Be angry but do not sin,” which is very different from, “to be angry is to sin.” The author of Ephesians charges you to listen to your anger, but not to react foolishly or violently. Anger can be righteous, but angry people don’t always act righteously. The author continues with the words, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up.” I don’t know about Dan Cathy’s intentions, and he probably didn’t mean to hurt anyone, but what has been built up by his words? And what has been built up by any of our arguments over this issue besides a wall dividing ourselves between for and against? Instead, use your words wisely, for the building up of each other – encouraging, loving, and congratulating. This lesson from Ephesians calls you and me to use our words in such a way that community is fostered and divisions are bridged. “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.” To gain what a new life in Christ has to offer so much must be left behind. “Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.” Here in Ephesians, you are invited to catch a glimpse of what Christ intends. A world where all people, even thieves, are invited to contribute as equals. To give up their old ways of life to share with the needy because even thieves have something important to offer. So much of our lives are spent determining who is good and who is bad, where you should eat and where you shouldn’t, who can get married and who can’t. Instead, be mindful of what you can offer this world and how you can contribute. Today ten men and women have been affirmed as this church’s new officers, and over the next three years they will dedicate themselves, offering their time and talents for the good of this congregation. I invite you to always do the same. Model your life after Christ, mindful always of your words, and let your life be a “fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Amen.