given on Sunday, August 9, 2014
Are We the Ephesians?
Scriptural base: Ephesians 4:25-5:2 (NKJV)
The calendar reveals the truth that summer in our community is over and school begins. One might not think it would matter that school is starting, but in our culture that signals the end of vacations, kids running around the neighborhood all day long, less help in the fields, and fewer family reunions.
As the community shifts back to the school-year routines, even our church routines adjust a bit. Typically attendance resumes a more balanced appearance, new Sunday School literature begins, and mission work shifts back to studies rather than hands-on experiences.
What do we, as a Christian community, need to do to make sure that we are modeling Christian lifestyles and doing all we can do for the community—from the preschoolers, to the teenagers, to the young families, and right on through the adult groups who might be stretching toward the title of Century Leader (age 100)? That is a huge question and answering it may not be realistic; but should we try or do we just give up?
This is an ideal time to review the purpose and the goals of our church. If Paul were writing this letter to our church, would we hear the words of encouragement or would we hear the words as warnings that we need to fix some problems? Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was intended to encourage a church that was doing well, but the verses from Chapter 4 and 5 could be those of a reprimand:
25 Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,”[a] for we are members of one another.
Paul continues telling the members of the Ephesus congregation to stop stealing, slandering. And he continues:
31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.
These words sound so much like the words teachers are going to use as they meet the new students in their classroom this month. The fact that schools have to teach young people the very behaviors that God asks Christians to use indicates the deterioration of a Christian society. Are we acting like God’s children or are we failing to model God’s Golden Rule of loving one another?
For generations the congregation has maintained an active presence in the community, but every congregation goes through periods of struggle and we need encouragement to continue. Paul’s words to the Ephesians are just as important to us as they were to the young church of Ephesus.
Today’s churches really are no different, but the influences from the community can challenge the congregation’s resolve to keep serving one another in love. Sometimes the problems are from within the congregation and sometimes they are the result of outside influences. The verses from Paul’s encouraging letter serve as encouragement for our church today.
First, check the health of the congregation itself. Are members working as a team or is there a rift that diminishes the sense of peace within the church? Are members being honest with each other; agreeing to disagree yet working together? Do members know the mission of the church? Are the various programs focused on the mission?
Students in the local schools all too often exhibit the very behaviors that adults know can destroy a group’s productivity. The lack of Christian behaviors leads to bullying, to physical altercations, to discrimination, and other negative outcomes. If the adults attending a church cannot work together in a positive manner, how can the young people learn?
In efforts to keep the church doors open and inviting, the Christian behaviors must reflect God’s love and grace. Rumors rather than honest and open communication can be the most damaging behaviors within a close-knit group. The smaller the congregation, the more difficult it is to overlook a negative expression or a whispered comment.
If we want our young people to earn Indian Bucks (a reward program for demonstrating good behaviors and habits at school, then we need to make sure they are seeing what a difference God’s law of loving one another makes. Good citizenship improves the quality of one’s life outside of the home, but also inside, too.
When anybody walks into the door of this church, the atmosphere welcomes and draws them in. The long-lasting relationships that have developed over the generations quickly welcome others. The ripples of discord must be managed in a loving manner or it will destroy the model of God’s community. If the new church in Ephesus had problems, Paul’s letter of encouragement emphasized the behaviors necessary for the church to strengthen and to grow.
5 Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.
Be imitators of God. Walk in love. Two very simple, direct statements can make all the difference in the world—whether in the sacred spaces of a church or the classrooms in a school or along the assembly lines and offices in the work place.
As imitators of God, we are models for others, too. The young people look at the adults to decide how to behave. The incentives for following God’s law may need to be tangible for the students at school, i.e. the Indian Bucks; but for the adults in the community the incentives are both short term and long term.
The short term incentives amounts to an environment that supports, encourages, listens and acts in ways to support each other.
The long term incentive on earth include a life filled with joy, enthusiasm, energy, beauty, love in every form, and peace. But the one long term incentive that no living person can honestly understand is that of eternal life.
As Christians, we know that every action we take has the potential to lead us away from God. The Law of Moses, the Ten Commandments, listed the most obvious sinful behaviors, but Jesus taught us a much easier law—love one another. One law to keep makes life so much simpler and by following that law, life on earth is filled with solid, positive relationships, with work environments that are pleasant and productive, and communities without conflict.
God sees everything. He knows when sticks and stones can hurt bones, but he also knows that words can leave deep and lasting scar that are far more difficult to heal. As we continue working together to create a Christian community, we must follow Paul’s advice to the Ephesians:
31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking
be put away from you . . .
By doing this, we work together in a much more productive manner and others will notice what a difference that community makes for the church, for the families, and for the community whether local, national or international.
We are to make our decisions by taking Paul’s words of encouragement:
32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.
These words written to the earliest Christians are as important today as they were then. The world may seem so very different, but people really are no different. Love one another as you want to be loved and the short term, the long term and the eternal benefits will be yours.
You are a parent, a teacher, an advisor
Yet you sent Paul to share the good news
And today you send us too.
The words you share can be difficult to hear,
yet they have withstand the test of time.
As our young people walk into class
Guide the teachers and administrators
To follow Paul’s words of advice, too.
As the families fall into the routine
Be with them, too, as the make decisions
And model the Christian behaviors.
Even, here, in this holy place,
Open our hearts and minds to Paul’s words
Of instruction and of encouragement
As we continue to seek ways to share
God’s grace and love with one another. –Amen