Thursday, August 23, 2012
At the End of the Day I have a confession to make. A few truths to tell. In this past week alone I have let the sun go down on my anger, after snipping at Robert about some trivial detail over housework, the details of which I can no longer even remember, I went upstairs and fell asleep. And, while I’m at it, I must tell you that I have allowed evil talk to come out of my mouth, especially given that the dog emptied a container of red kool-aid on my white rug. I have harbored resentment, especially when that black pick-up truck with the mean bumpersticker cut me off on Aboite Center Road. And as much as I’ve tried to put away bitterness, I find myself, well “bitter” everytime I turn on the news and see politicians on both sides of the aisle slamming and smearing one another. And I am positive that there are times this week when I could have worked harder at imitating God. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, it is a bit humbling to have to preach on Paul’s words to the church at Ephesus after a week like this one. And I suspect, that I may not be alone. For at the end of the day, I suspect that some of us examine our hearts and say, “Holey Moley, there might be a little work to be done this coming week…” Thank Goodness for grace, and for forgiveness, right? But this morning, now that we’ve considered our personal brokenness, now that we’ve recommitted ourselves to doing better next week, now that we’ve named the ways in which we may not have lived up to the image of Christ personally, I’d like us to consider a bigger picture. I’d like us to consider what Paul’s words mean for the church, and for our life together in community. For that is the audience to whom Paul preached, a faith community. Churches are really fascinating communities, aren’t they? Each one with a different flavor, a different take on theology, a different spin on liturgy. And to consider the number of years we have sustained a life of faith? I find myself wondering often what churches “make it” and which ones end up having to close their doors, to sell their property and disband. What is it that creates faith communities that flourish? Scores of books are written on the topic, at every conference I go to I can, for $19.95 pick up the latest theories on how to grow the church, and how to “think big.” But I tend to think that the answers come less in books by ministers with trendy glasses [seriously, in the photos on the back of these books every guy has trendy glasses and casual golf shirts]. I tend to think the reasons that churches thrive are for the reasons that Paul names right here: in short, they imitate God, they seek to live in love. And so what must we do for our community, for Peace United Church of Christ, to thrive as a community rooted in the love of God and surrounded by the Holy Spirit. Let’s consider our brother, Paul’s advice. First, we must put away all falsehood and speak the truth in love. Holy cow, Paul certainly doesn’t start small does he? I have come to believe that speaking the truth in love is perhaps one of the most frightening and powerful things to do in the church. Hard for us to do because we don’t want to rock the boat, we don’t want to offend our neighbors, we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. We are ever so careful, and this is perhaps one of the things which makes me feel tender and protective of the church for, and yet, and yet…if we live in a community of love, in a community where feel safe, wouldn’t there be ways in which there were times that we had to speak up? Wouldn’t there be times when the Holy Spirit called us to nurture prophetic vision? Speaking the truth in love is not something we need fear, for even if we disagree, a safe community will listen and recognize that we do not have to have uniformity of belief. Robin Meyers in his book The Underground Church writes: I have [friends of different political persuasions than my own] who lead lives of sacrifice and service yet believe things about Jesus that I do not believe. But their lives count for more to me than their beliefs. Besides, they may be right and I may be wrong. I can only hope that they feel the same way about me. Otherwise we are all in trouble. Whether in families or in churches, uniformity of belief has never and will never be achieved. Uniformity of spirit, however, is not only a possibility but the hallmark of the most successful and authentic Christian communities in the land. [p. 60] And so at the end of the day, to create and live out this life together in Christ, perhaps we begin with speaking the truth in love, knowing that we will not all be on the same page, that we may be reading from separate books entirely, but that we will pledge to listen to one another with radical openness, and with a spirit of love. Paul continues, though, and warns the church at Ephesus that while it is okay to be angry, that they must not sin in their anger. The sun must not go down on their anger. I am fascinated by Paul’s words here. I love that he gives permission for anger. There can be a time and place for it to be spoken and expressed, think of the abolitionists who spoke up against slavery in our country, think of those who marched on Washington in the summer of 1965 lobbying for civil rights? Righteous indignation has a place in the church, and must be fueled into fights for equal rights and fair wages and eradication of hunger and peaceful solutions to eradicate world conflict. But, in the beloved community we cannot use our anger as a weapon. Period. Frederick Buechner, in his book Wishful Thinking writes: Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back—in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you. And finally, for Peace Church to root ourselves in the abundance of God and live out the community that we are called to be we must “be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us.” It was several years ago now that the WWJD movement started, in some places it is still going strong. You remember, the rubber bracelets and the necklaces that were worn as a reminder to consider what Jesus would do before making a decision. In some ways, I confess that I was a little cynical about the marketing strategy, especially when I saw the bracelets warn by the same people I heard condemning my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, but I confess that I’ve sort of evolved in my thinking, and I appreciate the sentiment. How many times might we change the way we respond were we aware of how our actions reflect the teachings of Christ? Perhaps a visual, a daily reminder, a token or talisman is the perfect way to draw us back into that call to love. How powerful would it be if those who claim that America is a Christian nation, could operate out of that notion at all times? Could it decrease our staggering poverty statistics? Could it eliminate the kind of reckless gun violence we have seen in the last month in Aurora, and just last week at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin? Brothers and sisters, Paul’s words are not fixed in time, not words for us to write off as simply a historical account written for a church two thousand years and an ocean away from us. They are words which have the power to continue to shape us even today. And at the end of the day, what matter most it that we are called to continue to create this vulnerable and brave community which speaks truth in love and imitates God. May it be so. Amen.