August 9, 2015
In last week's sermon, I mentioned that Jesus was beginning a speech on being the bread of life that would cause many of his followers to fall away. I said his main speech would be in today's reading and that I'd fill you in on it today. I've changed my plan. The discussion about Jesus as bread and life continues next Sunday and I plan to get back to it then. Today, I want to take a look at our passage in Ephesians. I've shared before that Ephesians is one of my favorite books in the bible; I have also noted that it is not the whole book but really just the first three chapters. These three chapters are all about God and Christ and salvation and glory and unity and grace...a lot of grace. The next three chapters, including today's, are not nearly so full of God's loving grace but much more about how we ought to be acting as “saved by grace” children of God. There is a transition in the book, and it occurs in today's reading.
Sanctification is one of our big “churchy words”. It is an important one, often paired with justification. Justification is about how we become new—Jesus justifies us so it is no longer our sin that God sees, but the righteousness of Jesus. Sanctification: “To sanctify someone or something is to set that person or thing apart for the use intended by its designer. A pen is "sanctified" when used to write. Eyeglasses are "sanctified" when used to improve sight. In the theological sense, things are sanctified when they are used for the purpose God intends. A human being is sanctified, therefore, when he or she lives according to God's design and purpose.” (internet source) That is what the second part of Ephesians is about...living according to God's design and purpose.
Often, the church has made this living as a Christian into a list of dos and don'ts. In fact, Ephesians did this in today's reading. My own work on this chapter meant listing these specific dos and don'ts. Here is my list of things sanctified people are to be about, divided into two categories,negative and positive:
As sanctified people we are to avoid these things: speaking evil of others, bitterness, wrath, anger, quarreling, slander, malice.
We are to do these things: be honest, control our anger, work honestly, build up one another, give grace, be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving; live in love as Christ loved. Wow, that's a lot of stuff in one little paragraph. Can we do justice to such a list in a Sunday morning sermon? There are whole books written about some of these items. So I want a big picture approach today. How do we, as new creatures in Christ, act?
Jesus himself summed it up pretty well; not as specific...we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. And that means action; actions showing the love Jesus taught. I heard this account on the radio a couple weeks ago. Most of us remember Princess Diana. She was well-loved while she was princess in England some years ago. Even after her divorce, she was greatly loved. After her tragic accident, there were so many flowers delivered both to the palace and her personal dwelling that they simply overflowed. Looking at all these flowers, one of her aids said, “She had no idea she was so loved.”
Perhaps the big picture from today's list of dos and don'ts is that we need to show the love of Christ now, let people see now that they are loved. The title of that little snippet I shared was “Flowers Before the Funeral.” How many of us have lost loved ones without sharing what was in our hearts? I had this conversation with a friend who had lost his brother to cancer about the time my sister was killed in a car accident. I was wishing that I'd had time to say good-bye and tell Eloise I loved her. He was grieving all the time he had watching his brother slowly dying. He was able to say goodbye, but he felt it was tougher than a sudden death. The point is, say and show your love today. I never planned to share this, I don't think even Julie knows. But a few months before her dad passed away, I did write him a letter telling him how grateful I was for his place in my life. It wasn't a good-bye letter, simply things I'm not good at saying in person.
Now this passage isn't about dying, but the idea of doing loving things now brought my thoughts there. And the body of Christ isn't really about lists of dos and don'ts, that was the old covenant; the Old Testament laws. The new covenant says we are saved, not by what we do, but by the grace of God in Christ. So does it really matter how we live? I'm going to say this -- how we live is not as important as remembering for whom we live. Keeping all the dos and don'ts in that list won't lead to a fulfilling life or an eternal life with Christ. We are to remember that all we do, we do for the sake of and in the name of our savior. If that's a problem for you to remember—it is for me cuz life gets awfully busy—perhaps this story will help remind us all that it is not about our projects but about our Lord. It is a story from the wonderful story-teller Max Lucado in his book The Applause of Heaven.
“The legends of the Taj Mahal. They all fascinate, but there is one that haunts.
The favorite wife of the Mogul emperor Shah Jahan died. Devastated, he resolved to honor her by constructing a temple that would serve as her tomb. Her coffin was placed in the center of a large parcel of land, and construction of the temple began around it. No expense would be spared to make her final resting place magnificent.
But as the weeks turned into months, the Shah's grief was eclipsed by his passion for the project. He no longer mourned her absence. The construction consumed him. One day, while walking from one side of the construction site to the other, his leg bumped against a wooden box. The prince brushed the dust off his leg and ordered the worker to throw the box out.
Shah Jahan didn't (realize) he had ordered the disposal of the coffin—now forgotten—hidden beneath layers of dust and time.
The one the temple was intended to honor was forgotten, but the temple was erected anyway.
Difficult to believe? Perhaps. But eerie nonetheless.
Could someone build a temple and forget why? Could someone construct a palace and yet forget the king? Could someone sculpt a tribute and forget the hero?”1 End quote.
Here are some more questions this brought to my mind: Could someone follow a well made list of dos and don’ts and forget why they follow it? Could we get so caught up in doing things for the king that we forget about spending time in the king's presence? Could we be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving and fail to recognize the prince of peace in the people with whom we are in contact?
You get the point. So rather than concentrate on the actual items in this list of dos and don'ts today, concentrate on living in relationship with Jesus. Spend time in his presence and his Spirit will guide you to live this life of love. It is not the specifics that are required; it is love. “Live in love as Christ loved” is the conclusion of this paragraph. Live in love today, share love now. We can get so busy building our lives, working our jobs, constructing our portfolios that we walk right by that dusty box that is Jesus. Don't lose sight of who it is we serve; who it is that is our Lord and Savior.
I'm not going to reread the list of dos and don'ts. We could make another good list with other important items. There are two points I want us to remember this morning. Love others with the love of Christ. Do it today. Amen.
O For a World 386 PH
1Lucado, Max The Applause of Heaven pg 121-122