11 Pentecost proper B14
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Ephesians 4:17-5:2 Sermon
August 9, 2015
Click here for service internet broadcast/podcast.
Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
281 "The Saviour Calls, Let Every Ear"
348 "Jesus, Jesus, Only Jesus"
310 "Thy Table I Approach"
49 "Almighty God, Thy Word Is Cast"
IS IT ALL ABOUT ME, OR ALL ABOUT HIM?
TEXT (vs. 1-2): “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."
During the years I have been in the ministry, I have often asked this question, "What's the world coming to?" It's a common question I ask in sermons, in Bible studies, and in the course of general conversation. I ask this question because I know you have asked it too. And I also ask this question because I don't want you to paint a picture of this world in your mind that is anything less than realistic.
Let's look at some of the things that have been making headlines recently:
By a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court of theUnited Stateshas decided against biology, against all of human history, and against the moral standards of several major world religions by changing the definition of marriage to include same sex relations.
In a related development, the Boy Scouts of America have surrendered to the homosexual movement and now allow homosexual scout leaders in the organization. This has forced various church bodies to re-examine the issue of congregations who support scout troops.
Hidden camera footage has shown that the cruel practices of Planned Parenthood are even greater than we thought.
Several agencies have charged parents with child endangerment for allowing their children to walk to a park and play there without adult supervision.
And so the question remains; what is the world coming to? What is happening in our society and in our churches? What is happening amongst our own friends and families?
Let's bring this down to a personal level. When we are faced with a variety of moral dilemmas, what's it all about? Is it all about me? Or is it all about him; that is Jesus?
One person pointed out that as we look at the situations such as I just mentioned, that there is a definite and distinct difference between feelings and truth. This is a valid observation when we examine the changes in our culture.
At one point in time, truth was the all-important factor when people made decisions. Common sense was based upon truth, and we wanted those decisions to be good ones.
But now, it's been turned completely upside-down. Right or wrong is not based upon truth, but upon what makes us feel good, and what we want. And to put this on a spiritual level, it's all about me; and if we consider God at all, then God had better act according to my will, and not according to his will. It's all about me, and not about him.
The really strange thing about this is that our culture still wants most people to base their decisions on truth. We want the people at the Jones Bank to keep careful track of our money, and not just do what they feel like with our money. We want the doctor at the Seward Clinic to treat us for the disease we actually have, and not for the disease that is more interesting to him. We even want the people over at Subway to give us the food we ordered instead of the food they feel like giving us.
Our lives are full of examples where it is actually dangerous to base our decisions upon our feelings instead of upon the truth. I don’t know about you, but I much prefer the dull boredom of landing a 747 at the Lincoln Airport, as opposed to the excitement of landing it in the cornfield over by Raymond. In spite of all this, we have become culture that celebrates people who follow their feelings instead of following the truth. It's all about us, and not about him.
But we are taught that everything is about us. And when we bring this into the picture of the church, we discover that often, even quite unintentionally, we put ourselves in the center of what we do in the church. We start thinking, “If I don’t like it, if too many difficult demands are put upon me, and if I don’t feel warm and cozy about it, well then it’s not for me. If I don’t find worship entertaining and interesting, if I don't feel pumped and excited by great music, if more than 2 people don’t speak to me, if I don’t get something out of going, then the church has nothing to offer me.”
Just by even thinking something like this, it’s easy to see that even the church becomes all about us, and it’s no longer about Jesus. We might use Jesus’ name a lot but he isn’t the center because it’s become all about us.
In our Epistle Lesson for this morning, the Apostle Paul is writing to the congregation at Ephesus. This congregation was a mixed bag of people with different backgrounds. These were Christians who had once been both Jews and Gentiles. They were natural enemies, and now they were together in the same congregation sharing a common faith. There was a lot of friction going on amongst these people. That's why Paul addresses them as he does.
They are different now than they once were. In verses 22-25 Paul describes this: "...put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another."
One of the things that the Bible stresses, is that it's all about him, and not about us. And when it's all about God, then we emphasize the importance of what God does for us. That's the message I want you to really take to heart, because God IS all about us! And because of this, God's truth is always for our benefit. Our feelings and emotions lie to us. They are not reliable because we are tainted by sin. We aren't perfect. But God is. Truth is objective; feelings are subjective.
When we put God first, when it is all about him, we know without a doubt that he in turn puts us first. If we put ourselves first, then we cut God completely out of the picture. When we put ourselves first, then we come up with all the convoluted ideas I pointed out at the beginning.
But now we bring something else into the picture as we look at the last verse of chapter 4 and the first verse of chapter 5: "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children."
Do you realize that this is the only place in Scripture that we are told to be "imitators of God?" Be imitators of God? How can that be possible? If it’s hard to keep up with the Joneses as the old saying goes, how can we keep up with God? Isn’t this just a recipe for disaster? Doesn't that lead us to nothing more than frustration?
When people take the "all about me" attitude, it is actually an attempt to eliminate whatever frustration life has handed them by taking charge and putting themselves first. Maybe they attempt to soothe their conscience by trying to somehow placate God by convincing themselves that they're pretty good people, and God owes them something. We call this "work righteousness."
But when we take the "all about God" attitude, he establishes a faith relationship with us. Through faith in Jesus, our righteousness comes through Christ, and not from something within ourselves.
If we look at the example of our church fathers, their emphasis was always upon what God has done for us in Christ, not on what we must do for God. Their emphasis was on how God became like us in Christ, not on how we become like God by imitating Christ. Their aim was to give us the assurance of salvation by grace, and to remove the uncertainty of calling us to become like God, which is an impossible ideal, an ideal that drives us to despair.
You and I are no longer trapped in some wilderness of despair, a million miles from God, seeking to impress God, in order to win his acceptance. We’re not seated nervously at the table of a remote and angry God, trying to make a good impression, hoping to get accepted into heaven. And we're not our own gods of our own little world. Not at all.
We’re beloved children, seated at the table of a loving Father, knowing we’re already home, and nothing can separate us from our Father’s love. This is God's grace in action, through our faith in Jesus Christ our Saviour.
Thomas A Kempis, in his book entitled, "The Imitation of Christ," begins by saying that in order to imitate Christ: "let it be our chief occupation to think about the life of Christ. And when we think of the life of Christ surely compassion and forgiveness are the two words that first come to mind."
Aha! I think now we're getting to the heart of the matter. Just think about the way Jesus has dealt with people. When he fed the five thousand, he had compassion on them and gave them something to eat. The Bible is full of instances where Jesus shows his compassion.
And then he shows forgiveness, even in instances where we would find it almost impossible. When he was on the cross, he said through his pain and suffering, "Father, forgive them." That's the kind of forgiveness Jesus offers to the entire world through faith alone. That's the forgiveness Jesus has given to each of us. It's all about God, and it's all about us.
All of us live a life that imitates or follows somebody. Will it be the way of Christ, or the way that we renounced in our baptism? The Apostle Paul in Ephesians chapter 4 calls us to renounce the old way of ignorance, alienation from God, deceit, and utter selfishness, or the "all about me" attitude. He then calls us to live the new life of Christ: the way of speaking the truth to build others up, working hard so we have enough to share with others, dedicating ourselves to all that builds others up in faith and love. Imitating God whom we have not seen means living the life of love God’s word describes.
You'll often hear people tell us things like, "you've got to be yourself." And yes, we do have to be true to ourselves, and be honest about who we are. But that should never be an excuse to just go out and sin and do everything we please without any regard. The Apostle Paul isn’t about to let us use this as an excuse for bad behavior; in fact, quite the opposite. In the first part of his letter to the Ephesians he tells us how God’s love coming to dwell in our hearts is all about Jesus; how our salvation is all about Jesus; how spiritually dead people being brought to life again is all about Jesus; how being brought into the family of God through the water of baptism is all about Jesus; how the new life that we have as individuals and in the body of Christ, the church, is all because of Jesus.
The Apostle Paul goes on to say that because we are God's children because of what Jesus has done, therefore we should try to be like Jesus or be “imitators of God”. He writes, “Your life must be controlled by love, just as Christ loved us and gave his life for us”. Furthermore, he writes to the Colossians in chapter 3 verse 12, “You are the people of God; he loved you and chose you for his own. So then, you must clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” In other words, “You are God's people, now be yourselves; be God's people in the way you speak and interact with other people and in the way you put Jesus at the center of your lives”.
In the words “be yourselves” there is an element of commitment, a desire to want to follow through and endeavor to be true to our calling. We are Christians through faith alone because of what Jesus did for us. We attempt to become imitators of him because we love him who first loved us. Certainly it's all about him, because that's where our focus is.
This is where it comes back to being all about Jesus. He has loved us, forgiven us, saved us, helped us, and renewed us. He is the center and focus of our lives. There is nothing in our lives that is not focused on Jesus. Our entire lives, irrespective of where we are or what we're doing, there is not a moment that we can say that Jesus is not a part of and does not form the core of our being. The New Testament talks a lot about being “in Christ” or “in union with Christ.” This is just an abbreviated way of saying that we belong to Jesus. He is in us and part of us.
We are to live who we are. We will have him as Lord of our lives instead of ourselves and our wants. We will allow him to work in and through us what he wants. We will take his Word as the truth without trying to twist and turn it to suit ourselves. We will come to worship to receive what he has for us and not what appeals to us. We will live our everyday life as people who are guided by his Word. We will take seriously the unity that we share with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
So yes, be yourself. Be the person whom God has called you to be through his Son Jesus and through the power of the Holy Spirit working in your lives. Paul says to the Ephesians, “Get rid of all bitterness, passion, and anger. No more shouting or insults, no more hateful feelings of any sort....Don’t let anger lead you into sin...don’t use harmful words....don’t give the Devil a chance;” that is, a chance to destroy the unity that we have in the church through our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Finally Paul adds, “be kind and tender-hearted to one another, and forgive one another, as God has forgiven you through Christ.” These are the blessings we have when it's not all about us, but all about Jesus who always puts us first.