Sunday, August 12, 2018
"Live...in Love" - Sermon, August 12, 2018
Community UMC, Quincy
Rev. Andrew Davis
Ephesians 4: 25-5:2
August 12, 2018
While I have shared this story before, a little over eleven years ago when I was emerging from a spiritual desert, I was still very skeptical about attending church services. Even though I rediscovered my faith in God after struggling with faith for a time, I didn’t feel like I really needed to go to church to be faithful. I felt I could believe in God, study scripture, pray and such, except I felt I didn’t need the church in my life. Being someone who likes to do things by myself, I felt everything was hunky-dory and that life was good. When I told my mom that I didn’t need the church to be a Christian, she told me otherwise, and as I’ve said before, mother does indeed know best. The truth was, something was missing in my life and it took that conversation to come to the realization that I really did miss the church; both serving, worshiping, and being together in community.
In the introduction to a podcast that I listen to regularly called “Sunday Morning Sleep-In,” my friends and colleagues Kris and Susan in Reno point out that it’s not so much that you need to go to church to be a Christian, except there are a lot of things that we miss out when not there. When we attend worship, small groups, fellowship with each other, and serving as the body of Christ together, it’s more about having that special connection with others, whether they have their stuff together or not and no matter where we are at on this journey of faith. None of us are perfect, yet we are all connected to the body of Christ one way or another, much in the same way that Paul likens the body of the church with the body of Christ in his letters. As we began our series, “…in Love” last Sunday, we talked about how we need each other in order to build up the body of Christ in love and each of us functions as a part of Christ’s body, which is why we need that connection with each other in order to live, give thanks, and move in love.
In a world that is becoming more skeptical, distrustful of religion and the church universal, and in a divided society today, we need the connection with each other more than ever before. At the same time, it is always fascinating to see the parallels between today’s world and the world at the time when Paul was writing his letters in the Epistles, as there was just as much dysfunction in the world then as there is today. For example, see his letters to the Corinthians Galatians if you want to see him really in-your-face, as things were very dysfunctional then as they can be at times today, which my New Testament professor at Wesley, Dr. Carla Works would often point out in the Spring semester which covered the Pauline Epistles. As we began our series exploring Paul’s letter to the Ephesians last Sunday, we talked about Paul’s admonitions or practical advice on how to achieve unity by building up the body of Christ. This morning, we continue exploring Paul’s advice in the later part of chapter four (I also encourage you to go back and look at verses 17-24 of Ch. 4 which are not covered in the Revised Common Lectionary, or even read the letter to the Ephesians in its entirety; if you do not have a Bible, see me and I’ll be happy to get you one).
What does it mean to “live…in love?” In this week’s text that Gloria read for us (from The Message translation that I find useful in reading Paul), Paul is talking about exchanging negative behaviors for more positive behaviors, basically shedding any old ways of life we may hold onto for new ways of life. Paul talks about channeling our anger, having a good work ethic, how to watch our language and speech (even though we may cuss a little or a lot), imitate God, and ultimately “live in the love of Christ” (Eph. 4: 31-5:1, NRSV). Seems rather straightforward, although very challenging at the same time, doesn’t it? Paul is urging the Ephesians and at the same time, is urging all of us to shake our old ways of life that we may be living and encouraging us to adopt new ways of living in order to live in love with ourselves and each other as a community. Paul’s advice is to live into and adopt the qualities of life “which characterizes building up in love…from last week’s passage.”[i] More importantly, Paul is getting at how to live in love not just as a community of faith, but as a community in general, emphasizing the need for connection with each other. It’s through that connection where we are connected to the body of Christ.
Last week, we celebrated the sacrament of Holy Communion as we do on the first Sunday of the month, in which we are able to become one with Christ through the means of grace which are found in the bread and in the cup of grape juice that we share together. Just as in taking part in Holy Communion, the new life we strive for is a life of building up each other in love, then going out to live in love, give thanks in love, and move in love.
That includes speaking the truth in love, although “speak only what is useful for building up, [as] the truth must give grace to those who hear – in Wesleyan terms, it must be a channel or means of grace [that] nurture[s] community [and functions as a mark] of healthy communication.”[ii]
Even in baptism, early in chapter 4, Paul references an ancient baptismal liturgy in which “there is one body and one spirit, just as you were called to be the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all” (Eph. 4: 4-6, NRSV). In the sacrament of baptism when the water is poured or sprinkled over us or when we are immersed and rise up from the water, we shed and die to the old ways of living and are led and encouraged into new ways of living. Another instance of where I can’t emphasize the need for our connection as the body of Christ.
A couple different times in our last series, “Healing Hands” and even last week, I’ve suggested that instead of referring to someone as a __________, refer to someone we don’t necessarily like as “a beloved child of God,” no matter how much more pleasure we may take in calling someone a bad name. That even goes for church leadership, elected officials, community leaders, and the like, even though it’s even more challenging and difficult to do.
As we think about what Paul is saying in this letter to the Ephesians, Paul is inviting us to love each other like Christ loved people, even the ones who crucified him. Yet more importantly, Paul is encouraging the Ephesians and us to “be imitators of God” which feels like an even more lofty goal, or as one retired colleagues calls, a ‘big, hairy, audacious goal’ (Eph. 5:1, NRSV). Even if being an imitator of God is a lofty goal, “we cannot disregard the fact that God, as Trinity, is constituted by the loving relationship and thus exists in community, which includes the Father who forgives in order to restore right relationship, and the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life.”[iii]
While being an “imitator of God” sounds like we should be striving to be something we aren’t, we need to remember that we cannot be God, as there are more things that only God can do. Instead, being imitators of God in Paul’s letter means that “as children [of God], our love is not simply to be directed to God, but as imitators of God, towards others too” as well as forgiving others, which is how we learn to exchange the old way of life for a new one in order to live in love.[iv] Of course, forgiveness is a whole sermon or a whole series in its own right, yet as followers of Christ, I cannot emphasize forgiveness enough. I struggled during that time in the desert because I held onto grudges towards people who wronged me or harmed me, although I still struggle here and there when I have been harmed or see people I care about being harmed. And even now, I still struggle when it comes to forgiveness. It doesn’t mean that I came to like the people who wrong me, nor was I about to invite them to Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter dinner, but forgiving them didn’t allow them to live rent-free in my head either. Forgiving didn’t allow them to have power or control of me either.
So, whenever we are asked to make a change in life, it’s not that easy, is it? Does it sometimes feel like we are being asked to do something we are incapable of doing? I know in my case, changing out foods that I enjoy for foods that are healthy is a challenge, yet I keep trying even when I slip. As I was reading in a reflection in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, one of the reflections observed that
We all know that whenever we decide to make a major life-change, perhaps to adopt new habits of diet and exercise or emotional and spiritual health, the transition takes time and discipline. Reminders or partners in improvement do not hurt either.[v]
More reason we need the connection to live in love. When it comes to having a partner in improvement or accountability, some connotations arise because like many, I find accountability challenging on many fronts. Except it is necessary if we are to live in love. Whether we are adopting new habits of diet and exercise, adopting spiritual practices to keep us grounded, quitting drinking or drinking less, quitting smoking or smoking less, breaking addictions to substances, etc., we need the connection with people around us, and it’s the connection that helps us along the way and helps us to live in love, brokenness, baggage, and all.
As you might have seen in this month’s “Quill” or our weekly e-mail, one of our small group opportunities we have this Fall is a study of A Blueprint for Discipleship, as the way we live into our faith through discipleship is a way of living in love and even return to our Wesleyan roots. As John Wesley, founder of Methodism calls it, the practice of accountability with each other should be better known as ‘watching over one another in love.” Rev. Kevin Watson, author of A Blueprint for Discipleship explains that
The practice of “watching over one another in love” was a key piece that Wesley believed would bring the General Rules [of doing no harm, doing good, and staying in love with God] to life. Unfortunately, it has become very difficult to talk about accountability because the word has come to carry so much baggage and condemnation.[vi]
Another aspect of living in love is being willing to be held accountable, and in my case as your pastor, I am accountable to multiple people, ranging from all of you, the SPRC on the local church level, my fellow circuit clergy, the conference Board of Ordained Ministry, our district superintendent Rev. Dr. Blake Busick, Bishop Carcaño, and ultimately God. While it’s easy to see why accountability has such baggage, I believe that it us healthy because in the case of living in love, the way I have come to understand accountability is how we check in with each other, how we encourage each other, and how we build each other up to be all that we can be and how we can best use the gifts that God has given each of us. That’s why we need each other as a part of the body of Christ. Kevin Watson further explains that “when Christians try to go it alone, they are on dangerous ground. When we go it alone, we quickly and easily lose perspective. We can experience a loss of clarity. We can forget what it is that is unique about Christians.”[vii]
If we try to go it alone, we may even forget about what it means to live in love and what it means to build up the body of Christ, hence Paul’s great sense of urgency when he writes these letters in the Epistles, as Paul believed that the second coming of Christ was going to happen any day, even though we are still waiting for Christ to come again some 2000+ years later.
Yesterday morning, I saw the community at its best as we gathered for the annual County Fair Parade. We had several from our church leading the organizing effort and judging entries. As stressful as it got at times in making sure entries were lined up properly and all the other meticulous stuff, it all went smoothly because we all worked as a body, just like we can do as the body of Christ when we live in love. As we go into this new week that is full of opportunities to share God’s love with the world, how are you using your gifts to build up and live in love? How are you going to encourage everyone around you to live in love and watch over them in love? And how are you perfecting yourself in love this week?
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the Church Say, AMEN!!
[v] Pheme Perkins, “The Letter to the Ephesians: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. XI (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 431.
[vi] Kevin Watson, A Blueprint for Discipleship: Wesley’s General Rules as a Guide for Christian Living (Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 2009), 97.
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