Excerpted from Pastor Hoffman's August 12th homily. Relevant text: Ephesians 4:25 - 5:2
There are some things in life we know so well that we actually forget about them. And because such things are often no-brainers, we find it very irritating when someone takes it upon themselves to remind us of these things.
Today’s passage from Ephesians is just such a reminder. Do not lie, but speak the truth; it’s OK to be angry, but do not let your anger cause you to sin; do not steal, but make an honest living; if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all; be kind, doing unto others as you would have them do unto you; and, forgive as you have been forgiven.
Paul doesn’t use these exact words, but it’s all in there. Is there any one of us who didn’t grow up hearing these lessons and quips from our mothers, grandmothers, teachers, pastors and coaches?
Usually Paul is rather long-winded and confusing, but today’s ten verses from his letter to the church in Ephesus are short, clear and simple. So here are my questions – if these things are so clear, why did Paul waste his time and the time of the Ephesians on that which is simple and not the theologically profound? And if these self-evident proclamations are so obviously engraved upon our hearts and minds, why do we so often fail to heed their wisdom?
I am going to go through the list and I want you to give yourself a point for each insturction that you have followed just as Paul has stated. So, if Paul said, have a bowl of ice cream every day – you would give yourself a point if you in fact have had a bowl of ice cream every single day. If Paul says don’t run red lights, you would give yourself a point if you have never run a red light. Got it? Ok, let’s play.
The first thing Paul says is put away falsehood and speak the truth to your neighbors. Give yourself a point if you have never lied to your neighbor about how much you like his hideous lawn ornaments or talked to one of your neighbors about another neighbor. In other words, if you have never complained to one neighbor about the Christmas lights, the loud noises, the kids running wild, the dog, or the shaggy lawn of another neightbor, but have always taken your complaints right to the source and told the offending neighbor how you feel, you can pat yourself on the back and give yourself a point.
Next, be angry but do not sin. Fortunately Paul realizes that anger is not only a natural emotion, but sometimes it is an appropriate emotion. So you get no points for not being angry, only for not acting on your anger. Those of us who honk at or cut off the slow driver in front of us; who tell off the individual who made us angry; who repay an unkindness with an unkindness; or who smash, crash or burn the property, lives or persona of those we believe have hurt us can kiss this point good-bye.
Thieves must give up stealing and work honestly with their own hands. At first glance this looks like our best opportunity to gain at least one point. But stealing means more than shoplifting. Stealing also includes taking another’s idea and making it your own. It means not giving due praise, payment or reward to those who have earned them. It means not contributing to the workload of home, business, church, community, life and relationships but still expecting to partake of the harvest and fruit of the labor. If you can honestly say that you have never taken anything that did not rightfully belong to you – including that pen you used at the bank, hotel, hospital, school or friend’s house, give yourself a point.
How are you all doing so far? Anybody with three points? Two? Gee, I expected more from a church-going God-fearing bunch. Maybe we will have better luck with the second half of the text.
Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up. It is hard for me to believe that anyone can catch a point on this one. Sadly, who among us hasn’t gossiped, put our foot in our mouth, lied, spit nails, flung names, humiliated, demeaned, shamed, or disrespected another at some point in our life?
Moving on, how about put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice? This one speaks to those of us who have ever nursed a wound inflicted by another, savored another’s mistake, enjoyed another’s downfall, hoped for another’s demise or tormented another with the constant airing out of their weaknesses. If you’ve never given in to such temptations give yourself a point. And if you have managed to gain this point given the political dividson of our country over these most recent two administrations I applaud you.
Ok, last chance – imitate God by being kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving towards one another. Forget giving yourself a point if you have ever been a bully, mean, spiteful, rude, hard of heart, vindictive or unforgiving.
So, do we have a winner? Any one with any points? If so, you are a better person than am I. If not, welcome to the “I should have known better, but couldn’t help myself club.” I believe the church at Ephesus was the founding chapter.
Such texts as this one from the Apostle Paul shame us, and rightfully so. He wasn’t asking the Ephesians – or us – to go and sell all we had and give the proceeds to the poor, just to be kind and take only that which belongs to us. He didn’t challenge them to start a commune or sign up for the monastic life, only to speak truth and love and hope to our neighbors. And he surely didn’t expect any of us to be perfect, but he did expect forgiveness, compassion, and grace to rule our lives and our relationships.
As Paul, himself, says – I do the very things that I do not want to do and the things that I know I should do, I do not do. It is the sign of sin that marks and mars each and every one of us.
Some people wonder why it is that churches like ours have a cross or crucifix as our main focus. There are so many other more beautiful, calming and pleasing options. Jesus the good shepherd and his sheep, Jesus in Gethsemane, even random stained glass would be brighter. And of course there is the practical moving screen on which you can project anything. But none of these, except the cross, announces our forgiveness and signifies God’s saving grace.
We come to the foot of the cross each and every Sunday to remind us that all is not lost. The cross speaks words of forgiving grace, in spite of our inability to do what is right and our tendency to do what is wrong. The cross gives hope to those who walk through the valley of death and the desert of life. The cross offers life to those who thought they were and know they could have been -- even should have been dead.
And maybe the next time Paul, or our mother, or pastor, or sister, or brother reminds us of what we certainly already know we will not be irritated, but thankful for the opportunity to experience God’s amazingly sufficient saving grace. Amen.