Sermon: Righteous Reality

13 April 2008

Rev. Jennifer Whipple
Righteous Reality
April 13, 2008
Ephesians 4:22-5:2

Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our minds and hearts gathered here this day be acceptable in Your sight, Oh Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.

            I’d like to begin my sermon this morning with a little bit of congregational participation.  So by a show of hands I would love it if you would play along and answer the following questions for me.  (1) How many of you have ever been sad?  (2) How many of you have ever been happy?  (3) How many of you have ever participated in gossip or said something that hurt someone else?  (4) How many of you have ever been overjoyed by something in your life?  (5) How many of you have ever been angry?  Yup…just what I thought.  I am happy to report that by our show of hands we have proven that we are all human.  You see, the reality of our humanness is that there are times when no matter how hard we try we cannot seem to control those feelings and emotions that come bubbling up from inside.  There are times when we are not even sure where they are coming from.  And the challenge becomes what we do with them.
            This morning we begin a sermon series on the epistles or letters of the New Testament.  These letters were written to share guidance, correction, and advice with both individuals and communities who had come to follow Jesus Christ.  They were written to help people understand how they should live and act towards others as people of faith. 

            Now when Bryn approached me to see if I thought participating in a sermon series about the letters was something I thought we should do, my initial response was, “Sure.  What ones are you looking to address?”  And when she told me that I could pick anything that I felt called to preach about the task became a little more daunting.  I appreciate the letters so much, and as a person who enjoys check-off lists and understanding the “do’s” and “don’ts” of life, I definitely appreciate the guidance that is within them.  However, there is so much.  All I could think was, “Where do I begin?”  So as I started to read through some of the letters again, I got a pretty strong feeling about this passage from Ephesians.

           The challenge of reading the letters of the New Testament is to figure out what they are saying to us today.  When it was originally written the Letter to the Ephesians celebrated the life of the church, a very new and unique community established by God through the work of Jesus Christ.  It spoke to a new community about reconciliation to God through Christ’s death which had broken the power of evil and separation, bringing both Jewish and non-Jewish people into the church together. It stressed unity in the church, love as imitation of God, and separation from impurity.  It spoke of putting on the armor of God, exploring the idea that the life of faith was in conflict with evil.  I do not claim that these main messages do not remain important or pertinent to us today, because Lord knows that they are, but we are gathered in a church that has been on this same ground for over 250 years and has read the letters for over 250 years.  So the question is what do they say to us or remind us of in Brookfield in 2008?

            Now as I looked at the listing of the numerous sermons on the web that have already been delivered about this passage they had titles like: Following God’s Example, A Lifestyle that Honors God, God’s Guide to Grateful Living, The Pursuit of Unity, A Conspiracy of Kindness, and Walking in Love.  And yet when I read through this passage the first thing that stuck out to me was the verse, “Be angry, but do not sin.  Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”  Yes, all of the other pieces of it, where the many sermon titles I read to you have their root, are just as, if not more, important…and yet my mind dwelled on those words.  “Be angry, but do not sin.  Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”  I dwelled on those words because they spoke to me of the reality of who we are as human beings in this day and age.    

I have been to a few bridal showers throughout the years, including my own.  And inevitably there will either be a game or an activity of some sort where people are asked to give the bride-to-be some guidance and advice as she enters into marriage.  I have not been to a bridal shower yet where someone has not said, “Do not go to bed angry.”  And I sometimes have wished for both mine and Ryan’s sake that I could follow that advice all the time.  What a sometimes unfortunate and yet patient man I live with!

            So as I have been thinking about this passage the past few weeks I have come to believe it calls us to a Righteous Reality.  The author of the letter, whom some have guessed to be the apostle Paul and others have said was one of his followers, does not ask us to shed our humanity because we have been called as followers of Jesus Christ.  He did not write, “Do not be angry.  Only feel love and emotions that can be described with floating hearts and happy birds singing.”  Instead, the author recognized the reality of who it is that we are as human beings.  “Be angry,” he writes, “but do not sin.”  I can’t stop myself from feeling angry at times…whether it’s for reasons of injustice in our world or because someone cuts me off on the highway on my way here in the morning…any more than I can ask any of you to not feel anger or other intense emotions in your lives.  The question becomes not about what we are and are not allowed to feel as human beings living in a sometimes confusing world, but rather what it is that we are supposed to do with those emotions. And that is where the rest of the scripture passage comes in to play this morning.

            “But do not sin,” the passage continues.  Herein lies the message that I believe this passage holds for us today.  It speaks to us of reality, no doubt.  Yes, it is reality that we will be angry and tempted to gossip or say something that might hurt someone else.  It is reality that we may want to cut corners to get ahead or forget about our brothers and sisters who are in need around us.  However, if we look at the example of God in Jesus Christ, we realize that we have a choice.  As much as this passage gives us a list of behaviors that we should follow and ways that we should live, I believe our reality shows us that this passage tells us is that we have a choice.  We have a choice not to let the sun go down on our anger but rather to reconcile with those in our lives who need our forgiveness or whose forgiveness we need.  We have a choice to say words that encourage and build others up instead of tearing others down.  (In fact that is the rule in everything we do in youth fellowship.)  We have a choice to tear communities apart by dwelling on what is different or seems irreconcilable between us, or we can choose to listen to one another and treat one another with love and respect in a time in our history when everyone has an opinion about what is happening in our nation, world, and even in our own families.

In his book, When God Whispers Your Name, Christian writer Max Lucado shares the following words in his reflection titled, “The Choice.”  In a few moments the day will arrive.  He writes.  For the next twelve hours I will be exposed to the day’s demands.  It is now I must make a choice.  Because of Calvary, I’m free to choose.  And so I choose.  I choose love…No occasion justifies hatred; no injustice warrants bitterness…I choose joy... I will invite my God to be the God of circumstance…I choose peace…I will live forgiven [and]  I will forgive so that I may live…I choose patience…I will overlook the inconveniences of the world…I choose kindness…I choose goodness…I choose faithfulness…Today I will keep my promises…I choose gentleness…Nothing is won by force…I choose self-control…I am a spiritual being…I will be influenced only by God.  I will be taught only by Christ…To these [choices] I commit my day.  If I succeed, I will give thanks.  If I fail, I will seek his grace.  And then, when the day is done, I will place my head on my pillow and rest.

 The challenge of the passage from Ephesians to us today is not only to say that we are Christians but to makes choices to help us actually live as Christians.  It is a challenge to consistency in who we say we are and who we are, what we claim to do and what we actually do.  It is a challenge to take on the new way of life that we are called to the moment we realize what it is that God has done for us in Jesus Christ. 

One translation of today’s passage puts it in modern language this way:  But that’s no life for you.  You learned Christ!  My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to him, been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus.  Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything – and I do mean everything – connected with the old way of life has to go…And then take on an entirely new way of life – a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.  What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense.  Tell your neighbor the truth.  In Christ’s body we are all connected to each other, after all.  When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself. Go ahead and be angry…but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge…Watch the way you talk…Say only what helps, each word a gift…Be gentle with one another, sensitive.  Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.  Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents.  [Because] mostly what God does is love you.  Keep company with him and learn a life of love.  Observe how Christ loved us.  His love was not cautious but extravagant.  He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us.  Love like that.  (From The Message)

The other night I was at a conference workshop on Christian Education called “Faith Formation: Serving It Up Family Style.”  The main topic for the night surrounded how we go about taking what we hear in church on Sunday mornings, these intense lists of who we should be or how we should act, or what we have learned in an adult education class or what our children have learned in church school and to make it a part of our regular thought, conversation, and action throughout the week.  The goal was to figure out ways about how we could continue the conversation, how we can be reminded of who we are called to be and what we are taught in the words of the scriptures; how we can engage our faith in our everyday lives and help share it with those around us.  How we can be consistent day to day in living a Righteous Reality. The small insert in your bulletin today is one way that I am asking you to hold on to in order to carry today’s message out of this place and into our everyday lives – out into the reality of our everyday world—a world where it is not always so easy to choose the righteous option in our actions.  The first piece is a bit of devotion—the complete reflection from Max Lucado about the choices we have to make each day.  The second piece is made up of some prayers and questions for reflection that you can share in conversation with others or can keep between yourself and God. 

Because not only for an hour on Sunday mornings but for each our of today and everyday we have a choice.  We can choose to give up the moment that we fail and say something negative or we can choose to ask forgiveness and reconciliation – to strive for a more righteous reality.  We can choose to allow the difficult situations and negative emotions to influence how it is that we live among and with others.  Or we can choose to have our faith and our actions be consistent with one another – looking to the example of God’s love shown to us in Jesus Christ to guide the way.  The question today is…which will we choose?  Amen. 


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