Sunday, August 26, 2012

Ephesians 5:15-20 Pentecost 13

Walk carefully through your Christian life—it could be blessed and joyful, or it could be sad and painful.  It’s a beautiful walk, but there are many dangers, and it is easy to step off the path and go astray.  Walk carefully.
When I lived in Arizona, I took many beautiful hikes through the desert and through the mountains.  To be safe on those hikes, I had to be prepared, and walk carefully.  Before I left I would study the map so that I could be sure of where I was going, and how long it would take.  If it was a longer hike, I would take more water.  If it was up in the mountains, I might bring long sleeves for cooler weather.  I educated myself about the route, so that—hopefully—nothing would take me by surprise.   I would continue to educate myself along the way, taking out my map from time to time to make sure I was still on the right path—a wrong turn in the desert can be deadly. 
Those were fun hikes.  The scenery was beautiful, and the walk was peaceful.  I enjoyed those times.  There were a few times, however, when I didn’t plan very carefully.  A couple times I didn’t do my homework on that particular hike, and it turned out to be more than I was ready for.  Then there were a few times when I didn’t brink enough to eat along the way, or didn’t bring enough water.  As I walked my body grew weak and mild dehydration started to set in.  Now, if you’ve ever been dehydrated, you know that it takes the joy out of life.  The mountains may be beautiful, but you don’t notice it.  It may be peaceful, but you feel anxious and stressed, because your body doesn’t have enough water.  When you go hiking, it is very important to be educated about your route and to stay well fed and hydrated.
It is the same way in your Christian life.  This is a dangerous path, with many evils.  It is very important to be educated.  “Know the Lord’s will,” Paul wrote.  Also, you need to stay well fed and hydrated.  “Be filled—not with wine or other food and drink; but be filled with the Spirit,” Paul tells us.  Do this, and it will be a joyful, blessed walk.  You will…

Theme:  Make the Most of your Christian Life.

15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 5:15-20
1.  Be well educated.
“The days are evil”
Just like I had to look at the map when I went hiking, you look into the Bible to be educated about your Christian life.  Know what God’s will is.  He warns you of the dangers along the way—he has warned you of your sins and the things that would lead you away from him.  He has taught you to know Jesus as your Lord and Savior. As you go on your way, continue to make use of God’s Word as your guide.
The Bible teaches us to avoid the dangers of these “evil days.”—for instance, the danger of being careless and losing your way.  On a hike, you should check your map every once in a while, and maybe even a compass.  In Christian life, you should constantly study God’s Word and apply it to your life, so that you don’t forget what the right path of Christian life is.
On a hike you need to be careful about wandering off to check out interesting little things.  It might look like fun to climb to the top of that point, or go check out that waterfall.  If you get too caught up in the side tracks, though, you might not ever get to where you were going.  God’s Word will catch you when you get distracted and wander from the path to heaven.  Life has other joys that consume and lead us away from Christ; such as cars, boats, motorcycles, restaurants, sports, books, movies, games, or the career that will get you those things. The Bible catches you in the act—“Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated in the heavenly realms,” Paul writes in Colossians.  Be educated about what the Lord’s will is.
There is another danger—the danger of disenchantment.  You see how others have strayed from the path, and the journey has become long.  The journey itself loses its joy, and you wish it were over.  The joy of the hike and the anticipation of your destination are replaced by the agony of the steep hills and hot sun.  Isn’t this what life is like?  The older you become, the more you become disenchanted about this whole idea of Christian life.  Nothing does any good, because so many people are becoming worse and worse.   There isn’t much hope for your journey to get any easier, either—it gets longer and longer, and you wonder if you are ever going to get to heaven. The joyful anticipation of heaven and the joyful task of Christian living are replaced by pessimism and depression.  What your life becomes is not the glorious walk God intends it to be.  Be educated in what the Lord’s will is—here he says “sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Be educated, and you will see when your faith is not healthy enough to stand up to the evils of our day.
Christian life is a dangerous road, but God intends it to be a safe and joyful journey.  Be educated by God.  But in order to keep our way and keep our Christian joy along the way, we are also going to need to stay well fed and hydrated.  If you don’t, it won’t be a pleasant journey.  If you are dehydrated and famished while hiking, the mountains and desert flowers will no longer beautiful.  The fresh air will no longer enjoyable.  You may stumble or wander from the path.  What are you going to reach for when your life is like that—when the joy is gone, and when it gets painful?
Some turn to drink, others to drugs, and others to food.  Some immerse themselves in the battle against unchristian government or the battle against unchristian teachings—after all, it feels good for a while to fight for what is right.  But then the high wears off and you are worse than before.  Where will you turn when the joy of life is gone?  All of what I mentioned is poor food for the soul.  It might seem good at the time, but actually it harms you in the long run.  So that you can make the most of this journey, you need good food for your soul.

2.  Be well fed.
“Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.”
If you were to fill up on beer while hiking, or coke, or cotton candy, it might taste good and give you joy for a little while.  Drink enough beer and it might make you very happy.  It won’t last though.  Soon you will be worse than before.
In a very similar way, alcohol, drugs, food, and all the other worldly things that give you joy when you’re down will actually hurt you more in the long run.  You need better food.  Paul tells us not to get drunk on wine to make us happy, but to drink deeply of the Spirit instead.  The Holy Spirit has better food and drink for you to keep you happy and healthy on your journey.
In the reading from Proverbs he invites you to be strengthened by his words in Scripture.  “Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed.  Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of understanding,” God says. 
In John 6, Jesus explained that he is our food.  The Holy Spirit feeds us with the things Jesus said and did for us, so that we will be strong on our journey and live forever.  Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.  This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.
Drink deeply of the Holy Spirit.  He has given you Jesus in a way you can take with you every day.  You can buy a Bible for five dollars.  Think about that.  Five dollars, and you can have God tell you every day that you have eternal life because of what Jesus has done for you.  It doesn’t matter what happens, because you can open your Bible again and find that Jesus’ words are still there, unchanged, “Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies.”   God’s promise remains unchanged and untouched by all the evil of the world.  In your baptism the Holy Spirit has given you the unchanging promise that you will live with Christ.  Baptism is so unchanging that, even if you would fall away and miss out on those blessings of baptism for a while, you could come back and find that God is still there for you in your Baptism to forgive your sins.  In the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Spirit feeds you with Christ.  Whatever happens in your life, you have Christ again, and everything that his sacrifice means for you.   Your glorious future with Christ is given to you with that bread and wine, still in mint condition, untouched by all the troubles of life.  In his Word, in your Baptism, and in the Lord’s Supper you have a little slice of heaven.  God is for you and you are with him, and nothing can touch that.  These daily reminders of your life and future in Christ will give you joy and fill your heart with song. 
God promises blessedness to the person who fills up on him:
“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers, but his delight is in the Law of the Lord, and on his Law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, and whose leaf does not wither.  Whatever he does prospers.”
Whatever happens, you will be able to sing and praise God.  People might think you’re out of your mind, as if you had been drinking, but you’ve been filling up with a better drink.  You are full of the Spirit.
You only have one opportunity to walk this desert journey of life.  Don’t waste it in drunkenness, pessimism, depression, and indifference.  Make the most of it.  Represent Christ as you go.  The Holy Spirit has educated you with the Word of Christ and fed you with the grace and forgiveness of Christ.  As you go, make the most of every opportunity to represent him.  Remember that you are the body of Christ.  You are Christ’s hands and his mouth on earth.  You will not have many opportunities to reach out when people will listen.  Know what to say and recognize when to say it.  Don’t waste time wandering off the path into drunkenness, materialism, and professional ambition—be alert to the opportunities, and be instructed so you will know what to say.  So that you will be strong enough to make the journey, to take the opportunities that come, and to do it with joy, fill up on the good food from God.  Be educated by God, and be fed by God; and you will make the most of every opportunity as you walk wisely in the Lord.  Amen.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Ephesians 4:30-5:2 Pentecost 12

I have always been a bit uncomfortable with the idea that God knows everything in my heart.  I’m ashamed, and maybe a little afraid that he will be frustrated with me.  You know that God is patient and that he forgives, but he is also frustrated when his people continue in their old sinful ways.  Paul wrote, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”  The scary thing is that one time that God said that people had grieved him, it was right before he sent a flood to destroy them.   It is actually possible to frustrate God so much that he gives up on that person. 
You already know that you should not do things to frustrate your neighbors, especially when you have to live in close quarters, like in an apartment.  Don’t play your music loudly, especially at night.  Keep your voices down. Live kindly and carefully.  Be concerned about what they want, otherwise there may be trouble.
It is the same way with God.  You live in very close quarters—he lives in you.  Remember that he has said that you are holy because of Christ’s life and death for you.  Don’t provoke him by refusing to live a holy life.  As we follow Paul’s line of thought, today we focus on how living a holy life means that we must get rid of our anger, and be forgiving like God is forgiving.

Theme:  Imitate God.

30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Ephesians 4:30-5:2

1. Get rid of the anger.
Paul lists off a number of sins that grieve the Holy Spirit in this part of Ephesians, and a large part of that list is devoted to anger and the sins that come from anger.  Anger causes God grief, because when we are angry we are so unlike him—so quick tempered, so unloving, so unforgiving.  Paul says get rid of your anger.  It is not like God’s heart.  It grieves God.  Now, last week we heard the verse where Paul says, “In your anger do not sin,” and I said that anger is an emotion, and when we are angry we should not let it turn into sin.  But here, just a few verses later, Paul flat out tells us to get rid of our anger, because it is nearly always sinful anger. 
Think about your own self-righteous anger and the sins that come from it.  When you are angry, do your words and actions show Christ in you, or do you show sin inside of you?  Probably every time you show sin inside of you.  Now compare what you find in yourself to what we find in God.  Our anger is the opposite of what we find in God’s heart.  It causes the Holy Spirit grief to have to live around these sins in your heart.
In our hearts we find bitterness—that awful feeling for a certain person whenever he comes around.  He is like a spoonful of horseradish to you.  He puts a bitter taste in your mouth.  This is sin in you, and it is so very different from God’s heart.  In God’s heart we find kindness.  Can you imagine Christ having a bitter taste in his mouth for anyone, when he knew what kind of sinners we all would be, and died for us anyway?
In our hearts we find rage—the passionate anger that boils over out of control.  You lose your temper, and do and say things that are hurtful and sinful.  In God’s heart we find patience.  Can you imagine Christ boiling over, loosing his temper with anyone?  Christ prayed for his enemies’ forgiveness while they nailed him to the cross.
In ourselves we find sinful anger.  Here we need to compare our anger to God’s righteous anger.  God has a right to be angry, because he is holy and would never do the things we do.  Even still, God is very patient with us and very slow to be angry.  He would much rather forgive.  When he does get angry, it is because people persistently reject his will and earn hell for themselves when they could be saved.  God also gets angry when he sees his people being hurt or oppressed.  Sometimes that makes us angry too, and that is righteous anger.  On the other hand, most of the time we have no right to be angry.  We are far from perfect ourselves.  Because of our sinfulness, we ought to be understanding and patient.  We have more reasons to be patient than God does, but instead we always have less patience than God.  Do you ever see Christ being angry at someone for wronging him?  Consider how he endured the spitting, hitting, and beatings at the end of his life! It seems, for the Christian, that it would be better to avoid anger entirely, because it is almost always sinful.
Paul also mentions brawling and slander as sins that come from anger, because in your rage you might want to hit someone, or say awful things about them.  Can you imagine Christ doing that?  Our sinful anger is so unlike God, and so unlike the people that we really are in Christ.
God has said that you are holy people through faith in Christ, and Christ lives in you.  Be like him.  Imitate God.  “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you,” Paul wrote.  Do everything it takes to get rid of your anger.  God did everything it took to put aside his righteous anger, so that he could come near and bring you back from your sins.  Be like God, and do everything it takes to get rid of your unrighteous anger, so that you can forgive those who sin against you too.

2. Be forgiving.
Be like God, who, as Paul wrote, “loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice.”  In Christ, God did everything necessary to set aside his anger and forgive.   Having every right to be angry and punish the sinner, God the Son himself came to earth to suffer the punishment and satisfy God’s anger.  Christ’s life was like those Old Testament sacrifices.  If you were an believer back then, you would bring a bull or a goat or a dove to the temple to sacrifice it for your sins.  The priests would take that animal and kill it, and they would offer it up to God on the altar.  The animal would burn, the smoke would go up to God, and God accepted that animal’s life as a substitute for your life, at least for the time being.  You would not die because of your sins.  His anger against sin was satisfied.  God would smell the smoke of that innocent sacrifice and be pleased.  In a better way, Christ was offered up for us, his life for ours.  We will not die in hell because of our sins.  God’s anger has been satisfied.  He has seen Christ’s innocent life offered up in our place, and he is pleased.  God’s anger is set aside.  He comes near to you and forgives you.
You too, do everything that it takes to set aside your anger, so that you can be reconciled with those who sin against you, and forgive them.  Be like God.
It starts with getting rid of that self-righteous attitude that can’t believe that someone would insult you or be inconsiderate of your feelings.  Be humble, and admit that you have sinned too, perhaps even doing exactly the same thing to others and to God.  Refresh yourself with God’s forgiveness.  You are too weak to forgive, but God will make you strong.  You need to be fed by God like Elijah in the desert.  As Jesus explained in the Gospel, he himself is the food God gives you for your souls.  Fill up with his love for you in the Word and the Sacraments.  Through these he lives in you, and gives you the patience and love to forgive others.
If you have a problem with your anger boiling over so that you can’t see straight, do whatever it takes.  It would be good to walk away from the situation, and spend some quiet time confessing your own sins to God. Read your Bible in a quiet room, and be assured of God’s forgiveness.   Learn to pray like David in Psalm 51,
      Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11    Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12    Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
When you are full of Christ again and in your right mind, go back and reconcile.  Talk through what happened.  Confess your own faults, and don’t accuse.  Don’t tell the other person what a horrible person he is, or what you would have done if you were in his or her shoes.  Then you are just striking back in anger again.  Stick to the facts of what happened, what was said, and how it made you feel.  Acknowledge where you were in the wrong.  Often confession is contagious, and the other person will admit his of her wrong too.  If they do, forgive, just like God has forgiven you.
When you forgive, forgive like God does.  Don’t hold a grudge, because it is hypocritical to say you forgive but secretly hold the memory of that sin in your heart.  God erases the sin from your record.  Do that for people who sin against you.
I know this isn’t easy, but it is what you want to do.  As Paul said, you are God’s dearly loved children.  Don’t little boys want to be like their fathers?  Don’t little girls want their fathers to love them?  I grew up wanting to be a pastor, in part because my father is a pastor.  Growing up, I can think of times when he was working on the car or working in the garden, and I was there too because I wanted to be with him and be like him.  In the same way, imitate your Father in heaven.  Do the things he loves.  Do whatever it takes to have a forgiving heart.

Remember that God lives in you.  You have been sealed by the Spirit of God.  He is in you, as a seal to guarantee that you will be in heaven with God.  Don’t give him grief by your sinful life.  Let go of your anger, and be forgiving, because God forgave you.  Imitate God.  Amen.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ephesians 4:17-24 Pentecost 11

Your life in Christ is like a set of clothes.  It seems like a strange analogy, I know, but that’s what Paul says in our text.  He says put off the old self, like you’re taking off an old pair of clothes and putting it away.  He tells us to put on the new self, like the new set of clothes.
There is a connection, isn’t there, between what you wear and who you are?  Maybe Paul’s analogy isn’t so strange.  When you are young, you wear clothes that you aren’t going to feel like wearing anymore when you are old.  You maybe still have the clothes you wore when you were younger.  In the morning when you are getting ready, you might hold up several different outfits and look in the mirror.  You hold up those old bell-bottoms, and decide just aren’t your style anymore.  You put them away.  This is what Paul says we should do with our sinful nature.  It’s not us anymore.  It should be taken off and put away.
At the same time, we are to put on our new self, which has been created to be like God in righteousness and holiness.  As you are going through your clothes in the morning, you pull out the outfit that you just bought last week.  It’s your style; it’s your color.  It fits who you are.  You put it on.  Do the same thing with your Christian faith.  Christ has given you new clothes, so to speak.  He has given you faith, and he wants you to wear it as you go about your life.   It works just like your clothes.  When people see what you’re wearing, they see something about who you are.   When people see what you do and hear what you say, they also see who you are.  They should see Christ in you.  Take off the old.  Put on the new. 

Theme:  Wear your Christian clothes.

Hear these words from the apostle Paul in Ephesians, chapter 4:
So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.  They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.  Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.  You, however, did not come to know Christ that way.  Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.  You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Ephesians 4:17-24

1.  Put the old sinful self away.
Like those old bellbottoms, the sinful heart inside of you doesn’t fit you anymore.  It isn’t who you are.  Maybe that’s who you were at one time, but now you are a different person in Christ.
Think about the people who are controlled by their sinful nature. They are liars and backstabbers; selfish people who always do what is best for themselves.  They do what they want, no matter what God has to say about it.  They disgust you.  Have you ever gone to buy a used car, and the guy lied to you about the car?  Doesn’t it make you mad?  People will say anything to get what they want.  Sinful people are liars.  
These days people who live by their sinful nature are also becoming more bold in their sexuality.  So many follow their sexual appetites without any restraint.  They are like animals as they go from one mate to the next, pairing up with whoever feels good and looks good at the moment.
Their minds are darkened, like Paul said.  They can’t see the truth.  It’s no wonder that they are so sinful, because they don’t know God.  They refuse to see where their sins are taking them, even though God has made sure that all sin will brings misery before it finally brings judgment.  They simply refuse to see, and it frustrates us.
Paul says we must put off that old sinful self, like the old pair of clothes that just doesn’t fit with who we are anymore.  You must realize, now, what he is implying.  As much as we are disgusted by the sins we see in others, we have the same sins in ourselves.  Don’t you lie too?  Don’t you sin because it feels good, sometimes without even feeling guilty for it?  That needs to be put away.
Think about how you are deceived by the devil’s lies.  Just like the rest of the world, you are tempted also to do what is easy and feels good, and to ignore the destruction that follows sin.
You older people, who are so quick to criticize the younger generation for their moral flaws, and so disgusted with society—why is it that so many men and women of your generation are living together but not married?  You know why.  You know the temptations of loneliness and money.  You know how the government takes away some of your Social Security when you marry again.  You know how easy it is to overlook the destruction that comes from that sin.  Even if you don’t think it is breaking the sixth commandment in any way, what are other people going to think?  How will the young know that they are supposed to get married if they see that the older “more religious” people aren’t even doing it?  Your generation is helping to break down the institution of marriage.  Don’t fall to the temptation of sidestepping marriage, and don’t share in that sin by letting your Christian friends do it.   Leave that old sinful life in the closet.
You younger people like me, even though you are disgusted by how far the sinful people of the world will go, don’t you want to be a little rebellious too?  It might seem like fun to get drunk and make a sinful fool out of yourself, especially when your friends do it all the time.  It might be easy to overlook that you dishonor God by such actions.  Behind closed doors it is easy to get into sins on your TV and computer that no one will know about.  It can be easy to overlook the destruction and misery that will come from your sin—those sins will ruin your life.
You children, both old and young, if you still live at home—you know that unbelievers aren’t the only ones who disobey their parents.  You do that too, but you shouldn’t.  You are Christians, and Christ wants you to be like him, and be obedient to your parents.
That old sinful self needs to be taken off and put away.  It isn’t you anymore. 

2.  Put on the new self.
In Christ, there is a new you.  Remember that this whole discussion of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians began with the grace of God to you.  Paul said that God chose you—that shamelessly sinful person who you are by nature—he chose you to bring you near to himself and make you an heir of heaven.  He predestined you—setting out the events of history so that you would be born in a place and at a time when you would hear about his love for you.  Then he set out to redeem you, and what I mean is that he paid the price to get you out of that old sinful way of life and have you close to himself instead.  It was the price of Jesus’s blood that he paid.  Your sins needed to be punished, and Christ paid that price.  Now he has also given you the gift of faith through the Baptism you received and through the Word that you have heard, so that you actually believe in what he has done for you.  In the same way, through the Word and Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, he comes near to you, so near that he can even say that he dwells in you.  He can even say that he is your Head, and you are the members of his body.  All this, for people who have such a disgusting sinful nature in their closets! 
There is a new you.  You are not guilty. God has said that you are holy.  Now also, Christ is in you to make that holiness show through in your thoughts and actions.   He has changed your heart and made it like his own—that is what we call faith.  It’s your new heart, a holy and righteous heart.  Now, when you get new clothes you don’t just let them sit in the closet.  You wear them!  Christ wants you to wear your clean new heart like a set of clothes.  He wants people to see who you are.  Just like people see the clothes you wear and know a little about you, Christ wants people to see your faith and know that he is inside of you.  God lives in you.  Act like it!  Be holy and righteous, because God lives in you.  You are with Jesus, like members of his body.  I can’t see Jesus helping and encouraging his people, but I can see him working through you.  You are like his hands and his mouth to help and encourage his people.  Do like Jesus does; speak like Jesus speaks.

There are so many ways that we can put on our new self.  Next week we will hear the apostle Paul tell us about some of those ways, but we won’t have time for all of them.  I will offer you a few now as a teaser.
Paul tells us to be like Christ, and tell the truth.  God has nothing to hide.  You don’t either.  Why lie about your sins?  They have been covered by Christ’s blood, and God says you are holy in spite of what you have done.  Now God is going to take care of his holy people, so why lie to get what you need?  God has told you the truth, so be truthful in what you tell others.  Let them see what God is like in your words.
Be like Christ, and control your anger.  Anger in itself is not sinful, it’s an emotion.  But don’t let your anger become sinful.  Don’t hurt anyone.  Don’t let your anger stop you from repairing broken relationships.  Don’t hold grudges.  Paul wrote, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger,” and he meant that you should be open about your problems, come up together and admit where you were wrong.  Come up with a solution, and forgive any sin.  Don’t let it wait until tomorrow.  Don’t stay quiet and stay angry.  Let them see God in your forgiveness.
Paul tells us to be like Christ in our Christian work ethic.  Don’t be lazy, making excuses for yourself and expecting others to pick up the slack.  Don’t steal to get what you need.  Do something useful, so that you have enough to care for yourself and help others.  Let them see Christ in your hard work and your desire to help those in need.
Take off the old sinful self and put it away.  That isn’t who you are anymore.  You are a Christian, and Christ is in you.  Wear that.  Let them see Christ in you.  Wear your Christian clothes.  Amen.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16 Pentecost 10

God has a plan for us to have perfect spiritual unity with him in Christ.  As I think about how Paul described it in our text today, it reminds me of a flock of birds, or a school of minnows, where the whole group moves as one body.  Imagine a world like that, where everyone is united by one spirit, and acts like one body.  Because of that connection, everyone in that world cares deeply about everyone else. Every last person will give you the shirt off their back—they will do anything for you.  No one ever says an unkind word.  If it’s been a rough day, the first person you run into would love nothing more than to drop everything and listen to your problems.  Of course, to live in that world, you also have to care deeply about everyone else. 
For the past two Sundays, we have been hearing about the plan that God has to create that loving unity that I have just described.  He has chosen us in Christ.  In Christ he has brought us near to himself.  Together, all of us are in Christ and Christ is in us, so that we are like one body under Christ our head.  Today Paul continues to explain God’s plan for perfect unity in Christ, by explaining that God has given us people who preach and teach his Word and administer the Sacraments, so that we will grow in our faith.  God wants us to grow into the mature body of Christ—so that Christ’s love fills us and comes out in Christian love for everyone around us.  Christ is the Head and we are the body; his attitudes and actions are supposed to come through in our attitudes and actions.   His humility, his gentleness, his patience and self-sacrifice will be seen in our humility, our gentleness, our patience, and our self-sacrifice.  God’s great plan is a perfect world where everyone deeply cares about everyone else, because we are all united in Christ—Christ in us, and all of us together in him.  We certainly aren’t there yet, but God is building us up.  And while God’s work in us isn’t complete yet, it certainly is a reality. 

Theme:  In Christ, you are one body.

Hear the Word of God through the apostle Paul in Ephesians, chapter 4:

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it…
“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16

1. You have a calling to be the body of Christ.
In our verses today, Paul said that we are called to “grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”  Christ dwells in us through faith, and his thoughts and attitudes fill our thoughts and attitudes.
Now if you’re like me, you might be a little put off by that idea, because you have seen some people who were bubbling over with faith and love for Jesus, and you feel a little uncomfortable with the idea of being like that.  It just isn’t you; you might not have that bubbly radical personality.  I don’t.  Paul isn’t saying you have to, though. When you take time to think what he actually means that Christ dwells in you, you find a wonderful thought that fits with every personality.  It’s the unity in Christ that I was talking about when I began this sermon. 
In the opening words of our text Paul explains what your life as Christ’s body should look like:
Paul encourages us to be humble—always remembering that in our relationship with God we are like children in the Father’s household, and like servants in our King’s palace.  In humility, think of yourselves as servants, because this is the attitude of Christ our Head.  On the night before he was crucified, Jesus’ disciples had begun to argue about which of them would be greatest in heaven.  Jesus answered them by showing them humility.  He, the greatest, the Son of God, was not too proud to be their servant.  He got up to wash their feet.  Be humble, like Christ, your Head.
Paul encourages us to be gentle—especially when dealing with people who are crushed and suffering, or when you need to rebuke someone who has a soft heart.  When Jesus came to his friends Mary and Martha after their brother Lazarus had died, he gently reminded them that he all who believe in him will rise from the dead.  Then, when he approached the tomb and saw the friends and family crying, he felt their pain and he wept also.  Then he raised Lazarus from the dead.  Have a gentle heart like Jesus.  When someone is in pain or struggling, feel their struggle and feel their pain.
Paul encourages us to be patient—When they don’t get it, when they relapse, when they are slow to obey, make your fuse long.  In Acts 1:6 we hear that Jesus disciples asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  This was after teaching them for three years, telling them all along that his kingdom is not of this world, and showing them that the glory of his kingdom would come only by suffering and death and cross.  Then, after he had finished his glorious mission, conquering death for all who believe in him by his resurrection from the dead—the disciples seem like they hadn’t noticed that glorious victory.  They said, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  Jesus did not give up on them even then. Forget the patience of a saint.  Have patience like Christ, your head.
We are to bear with one another in love—because you care about your fellow Christians and value them as one with you in Christ, and you want to build them up.  If they are slow or rebellious, it just means that you will have to be more patient, more tactful, more persistent, or more bold—whatever it takes because the goal is to be united in Christ.  You are like your Head, the Good Shepherd who goes out to find just one lost sheep.
Finally we are to make every effort to keep our unity, as Paul wrote.  We are supposed to be like Jesus, who did not want Peter to lose his faith during those last and most difficult days of Jesus’ ministry.  Jesus reached out to Peter, by telling Peter what was coming—that Peter would betray him, by praying for Peter so that he would not fall away.  And then, when Jesus was on trial and surely had a thousand things on his mind, he took time to look down to Peter with a look that called him to repentance.  With that look from Jesus, Peter instantly felt the guilt of his sin in saying that he didn’t know Jesus.  Then, after the resurrection, Jesus made a special effort to approach Peter by the Sea of Galilee in order to restore their relationship.  Like Christ your Head, no effort is too much, no matter what you may be suffering yourself.  You are never too busy or too troubled to help someone else.
Does that describe you?  It doesn’t, does it?  Not perfectly.  But Paul didn’t expect that it would when he wrote these words.  He actually said that Christ is building us up, so that one day we will be perfect little imitations of Christ.  Now, according to the Bible, that isn’t going to happen until Christ brings us to live with him in heaven.  For now, we are growing and striving for unity as Christ builds us up. 

2. Christ is building us up to maturity.

Paul wrote, “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up, until we all reach unity in the faith and knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
The apostles and prophets were those who first received the Word of God, and they wrote it down for the rest of us in the Bible.  The evangelists are those who took that message and spoke it to people who had not heard before.  Pastors and teachers care for these new believers, building them up in their faith until they are mature members of the body of Christ—full of Christ and showing a Christ-like mind and attitude in everything they do.
Once again, in this life we will never be fully mature members of the body of Christ—that is something we have to wait for until God brings us to heaven.  But while we wait, Christ has given us his Word to build us up.  He has also given pastors and teachers of his Word, who have spent time studying God’s Word so that they can use it to strengthen other Christians. 
As you strive to be Christ-like people, you may become discouraged by your lack of success.  You may feel like you are not part of the body after all, or that you don’t belong in the body.  The pastor’s job is to speak this Word of God that reminds you of Christ’s humility, gentleness, patience, and love.  Christ was not too proud to come to earth to save such horrible sinners as us, though we often forget him and slide back into our sins.  After Christ offered his perfect life in our place, and suffered our punishment, remember that he made a point of seeking out Peter.  The rock-like apostle Peter was so shaken in his faith that he denied even knowing Jesus on the night before Jesus died.  Still, after the resurrection, Jesus came to Peter by the Sea of Galilee to tell him that he was still to be an apostle.  Jesus was not too proud to use apostles who were less than perfect.  In fact, Jesus still called him Peter, which means rock, because in God’s eyes his sins had been forgiven and he was still the rock-like man of faith.  Christ’s forgiveness covers you too, and he is not too proud to be your Head and include you in his body. 
The pastor baptizes, and reminds you of your baptism, where God marked you as his own child, promising that he would be gentle and patient with you, even though he knew long ago what all your faults and sins would be. 
The pastor distributes the Lord’s Supper to you, because even though Christ has seen what you have thought and done, he is still patient with you, and he continues to offer himself and his sacrifice to you.  In his great patience, though you may fail him time and again, he continues to give you his own body and blood, so that the life he sacrificed for you would be in you and a part of you.  Then also, that same body was raised from the grave on the third day, and the living Christ is given to you with the bread and wine to dwell in you.  Christ has given people to you who can preach to you and teach you these things, reminding you that you belong as a member of his body.
Christ is your Head, and he lives in you through faith.   When you are moved by your faith, you are thinking like him and acting like him.  In your actions you are like his hands to help people.  In your words you are like the mouth of Christ, speaking gentle, humble, patient words.   That’s already true when you act according to your faith.  One day it will be perfectly true.  Paul calls it your maturity as part of the body of Christ.  It’s coming after you die, when Christ lifts you up to heaven, and when he raises your body on the Last Day.  We will be with Christ, and we will be like Christ.  Paul wrote in Philippians that we eagerly await our Lord Jesus Christ, because on that day he “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”
Don’t give up on living like Christ, because you have a glorious future as a member of the body of Christ!

 As we mature in Christ, the more we think like him and act like him, the more we will come to realize that we are at odds with the rest of the world.  The sinful world is opposed to Christ, and they will be against us too.  You will notice it when your Christian thoughts and attitudes make people angry with you.  They aren’t going to like you telling them that they are doing wrong.  They will tell you that you need to be more understanding, and that you just need to love and accept them for who they are.  What they really mean is that they don’t want you to be a part of the body of Christ.  A member of Christ’s body does what Christ does, and says what Christ says.  They are betting that they are more important to you than Christ is, and they demand that you be united with them in accepting their sin rather than be united with Christ.  Like Paul said, they are cunning and crafty—they know that your heart is going is going to pull you towards them.  You want your family’s love.  You want to be cool with your friends.  Their relationship seems so much closer and more real than your relationship with Christ.  To paraphrase what one of you wrote in the sermon survey this week, “Logically, I know that the love of God is more powerful and better than my family’s, but I still want theirs.”
In those situations, be like Christ.  Gently, with love, and with patience, you need to speak the truth to them.  Because you are united with Christ, let his gentleness, his humility, and his patience flow through your actions as you truly love your fellow Christians, your family, friends, and really all people.  Also let his words flow from your lips.  As long as they are against Christ, you can’t have perfect peace with them.  When Christ would rebuke, you rebuke.  Also, when Christ would forgive, you forgive.  After all, this is what you have been called to do.  This is what you are being built up for.  Christ is your Head, and you are his body.  Amen.