Sunday, August 26, 2018

" Love" - Sermon, August 26, 2018

Community UMC, Quincy
“Move…in Love”
Rev. Andrew Davis
August 26, 2018
Ephesians 6: 10-20

            It is GOOD to be back with you this morning.  These last two weeks, I have literally been on the move from driving to Sacramento, then flying to San Diego, doing a lot of walking in San Diego, flying back to Sacramento, driving back to Quincy for a brief minute, then to Lake Tahoe this past week.  Talk about being on the move!!  Yet amidst the busy-ness of these past two weeks, my mind has been moved too, as I have learned a great deal at the School of Congregational Development and look forward to sharing more with the lay leadership of our church.  Of course, there was a lot I was challenged to think about, especially this last week at Residence-in-Ministry at the Zephyr Point Retreat Center with fellow residents seeking ordination as deacon or elder in the UMC and CA-NV Conference, as we focused on theology and heard some deep, thought-provoking lectures from Dr. Carmichael Peters from Chapman University.  But now, it’s time to be back in the saddle and ready for things to really move in the church as we begin ramping things up for Fall. 
            As the new school year has begun here in Quincy and as we are preparing to begin a new year of Fall programs and small groups, we have this opportunity to move in love as we conclude our series, “…in Love” this morning.  Throughout our series, we have been working through parts of chapters 4-6 of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians and what it means to build each other up, live together, and give thanks in love.  Like Paul’s other letters, following the greeting and prayer to the communities he’s addressing, Paul spends chapters 4-6 of Ephesians giving practical advice and admonishments to the church in Ephesus, which includes building up, living, and giving thanks in love, with love being the common thread.  This all culminates with a call to action to move, as Paul talks about putting on the armor of God in this morning’s lesson before concluding with a benediction. 
            Our lesson this morning follows some of Paul’s reinforcement of the Roman household codes that aren’t included in this morning’s reading, yet following the codes, Paul calls the Ephesians and us to action.  Now, I’ll be honest that this is one of those passages that I am not entirely comfortable with, as there is a lot of militaristic and battle language in it, as it is a form of Apocalyptic literature in addressing the cosmic forces of good and evil, something Paul’s letters do contain.  One reason for the urgency and the in-your-face nature of Paul’s letters is that there was an expectation at that time that Christ would return at any day or time, what is known in stained-glass-language as the parousia.  So, it comes as no surprise that Paul is using such imagery, as “Christ has triumphed over powers at work in the present age [and that] his exultation provides the energy at work in believers and in the ministry of the imprisoned apostle,” as Paul is writing Ephesians while in prison.[i] 
            In light of the work and energy that Paul is prescribing to the Ephesians, Paul calls the Ephesians and each of us today to move, to change our hearts, to transform our lives, as even today as back then, we are being called as “Christians to [build up] the body of Christ until all attain maturity [and] the fullness of Christ.”[ii] At the same time, moving in love may feel like a race or battle at times, especially between good and evil.  I know in his letter to the Philippians, Paul uses the analogy of the race, while here at the end of Ephesians, he talks about battles ahead when it comes to reckoning with the forces of evil and wickedness in the world, something we are called to renounce in our baptismal vows (UMH 33-34). 
            While I might be a little uncomfortable with the battle imagery and militaristic language that Paul is using in this morning’s text and given the amount of psychological and physical violence we see a lot of in the world today, we will always have opportunities to renounce the forces of evil and wickedness in the world as we move in love, even if it involves a battle, whether it’s external or internal.  One way of re-thinking the armor of God is to see the items that Paul has named as tools we will need in order to move in love and away from wickedness and evil.  Rev. Geoffrey C. Moore explains that when it comes to such battle imagery, we “need to read critically against the historical structures, culture, and language of the Roman Empire,” which the early church was often at odds with until the emperor Constantine’s conversion during the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, similar to Paul’s own conversion on Damascus Road in the Book of Acts.[iii]  Geoffrey Moore goes on to explain that when it comes to the armor of God imagery,
The whole armor of God is put on in this case for protection as in [anger, wrath, and bitterness that we read a couple weeks ago], but rather [its now] for good communication!  Almost every time the armor is geared toward communication: truth, righteousness (right relationship), proclamation, faith (kerygma), word, the whole metaphor of armor is inverted.  Instead of something that is designed to protect the bearer, the armor of God is something that is designed to engage with the one s/he encounters. In fact, the gospel of peace (v. 15) draws on Isaiah 52: 7, in which the one who bears the gospel of peace is a messenger.[iv]

            Communication is highly important when we move in love, as are the words we use and the manner in which we speak, whether it’s one-on-one or in a group setting.  As I’ve sung before, there’s that little song of “be careful little lips what you speak,” or as we are in the social media word, “be careful little fingers what you type/tweet/post.” When we think of the armor of God in an inverted sense towards communication instead of battle, are we striving for truth, right relationships, and faithfulness in what we proclaim and in the words we speak and through our actions?  Are we using our words and actions to build up the body of Christ, live, give thanks, and move in love with each other and throughout the community and world?  How are we using such armor/tools today?
            To look at another perspective of our lesson this morning, I’d like to share verses 13-18 from The Message:
Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out. (Eph. 6: 13-18)

            Paul is saying that our actions are just as important as  our words, while saying that we cannot go this journey of faith alone either, although we have these very tools that Paul has named for us and can still apply them today.  God’s word can be a very powerful tool in renouncing the forces of evil and wickedness in its own right, but be very careful in how you use God’s word, because God’s word and the Bible have been used as a weapon to bring harm to people too, something we do see happen today!!   Instead, let’s use God’s word to move in love and be messengers of peace.  Make sure that when we do put on the armor of God, that it is for good, or like John Wesley’s general rules say, to do no harm, do good, and to stay in love with God.  Likewise, “it is important to remember that we have already been reminded that Christ, the one, true Word of God, is love.  We must also speak the truth in love, and for any one who claims to ‘know’ the only true path, the love of Christ surpasses knowledge.”[v]
So as we build up the body of Christ, live, give thanks, and move in love, it is with the love of God and neighbor, watching over each other in love, speaking the truth in love, and trusting in Christ, the one whose love “surpasses knowledge” that moves us in love.[vi] In The Faith We Sing, on page 2219 is a song with a text attributed to Archbishop Desmond Tutu called “Goodness is Stronger than Evil.”  When I think about putting on the armor of God and using these tools God gives us to renounce the powers of wickedness and evil, I want to share this text that “goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death; victory is ours through him who loved us.” We may feel like the world around us today is a constant battle, but let us let the Christ in each of us out and the Christ outside of us in as we move about to do good over evil, to love instead of hate, to live abundantly and bring hope to everyone we meet.  We may not see eye to eye in everything, but we can certainly stand side by side when we choose to build each other and build up the body of Christ, live, give thanks, and move in love.  As Paul concludes in verses 18-19, “don’t forget to pray for me. Pray that I’ll know what to say and have the courage to say it at the right time, telling the mystery to one and all…” (Eph. 6: 18-19, MSG).  Let that be our call to action this week as we use these tools God has given us to go out into the world to proclaim with courage God’s love to everyone we meet and encounter, so that they will always know we are Christians by our love.  How are you going to move in love this week and beyond through your speech, actions, and prayers? 
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, AMEN!! 

[i] Pheme Perkins “The Letter to the Ephesians” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. XI (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 458. 
[ii] Ibid., 360

[iii] Ministries, Discipleship. 2018. "Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost 2018 — Preaching Notes - Umcdiscipleship.Org". Umcdiscipleship.Org. Accessed August 25 2018.

[iv] Ibid. 
[v] Ministries, Discipleship.  2018.  “Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost 2018…”
[vi] Ibid. 

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