Ephesians 4:25-5:2 Ordinary Time
Elizabeth M. Deibert 9 August 2015
Last Sunday we read part of Ephesians 4 and talked about building up the body of Christ. One of the character values we talked about most was patience. I don’t know about you, but it only took a day for me. On Monday night after preaching about patience, I lost mine. I was waiting on Richard because we had agreed to watch something together. After waiting a while, I began to take it personally, and when he finally joined me, but was still distracted with a task on his phone, I lost it – lost my patience, lost my temper. Words came flying out of my mouth, and then even worse, I stormed out of the room. And God says, “What was that you were preaching about yesterday?” And then God says, next week, you can work on this scripture: Be angry but do not sin.
Jesus Christ, God incarnate, came to show us what love is. Ephesians starts with this concept: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing and chosen us to be holy and blameless before him in love. He has called us his beloved and lavished us with grace and it goes on and on and on about the immeasurable greatness of his power and the hope we’ve been given and the way in which we are filled with all the fullness of God and how God can do abundantly far more than all we can ask for imagine (remember that from a couple of weeks ago) and then last week how we are made one body in Christ and given grace and called to grow up, to build up the body of Christ.
And now, after all that amazing grace and power and truth about who we are in Christ, we are told, now here’s what it should look like in your life: it should be kind, tender-hearted, and forgiving. And we say, “uh-oh! Yes, I can think of a few times that I was not kind and tender-hearted, but rude, cold, distant, and unforgiving.” And on top of that, my angry words sometimes just come spilling out, like heavy rocks being held in a wet cardboard bag. And we just want to say, “get back in there or we want to brush it aside or defend ourselves for the way we behaved and every time we do that, I think the Holy Spirit of God is crying, saying, “if only you recognized the things that make for peace….”
So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. 5:1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (NRSV)
Put away falsehood. In Immortal Diamond, Richard Rohr, speaks of the human life as a challenge to become our true selves and to put away our false selves. The true Self is like a treasure, hidden in a field. It is the discovery of ourselves and of God at the same time. The false self is the self that needs to prove itself. It is insecure and dying, whereas the true self will live forever. Your false self is not bad but is the false, incomplete part of you trying to be the whole You, the You that lasts forever.
Be angry but do not sin. Anger is normal. The scripture tells us to be angry. It’s how we deal with our anger that is the crucial matter. Expressing anger in the right way – in the way that is constructive.
Anger that does not get expressed will find its way out somehow. Bitterness, self-hatred, depression, mis-directed anger. It is healthy to recognize anger when it is rising, and to quickly begin to think of a constructive way to express it. Moments after my explosion of impatience with Richard, I was able to calm down and say what needed to be said without hostility. Anger is usually a cover, a secondary emotion. It’s good to try to understand what hurt or threatened you before the anger came.
Do your own honest work, so you can share with those in need. This is about generosity. Expecting others to do the work so you can reap the benefits is not generous. All of us have something to give – time, talent, treasure. It is give and take. There should never be an unfair balance between giving and taking. Have you ever considered that if you are part of a group, and you don’t share some of what you have – time, talent, treasure – that you are stealing from others? Our circumstances and gifts differ. But everyone has something to give – prayer, money, helping the ministries of the church – something. That’s true in church, in our families, and in our country.
Words must build up, give grace to those who hear. This is a tough one. As the Book of James says, “Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check…How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! The tongue is a fire. It is a world of sin, staining the whole body….no one can tame the tongue – a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” When I do things like that….when I rise up in defensiveness as I did at the session meeting on Sunday because I took offense at a comment that made me feel like I had failed in something…when I say unkind things about other human beings whom God loves, then I am grieving the Holy Spirit of God. I am making God cry.
Put away bitterness, wrath, anger and wrangling and slander and all malice. We are making God cry when we slide into nasty critiques of our fellow Christians here or in any other faith community, when we bash politicians (so easy to do in this election year), when we wound family members and friends with our unkind and bitter words and argumentative spirit. Do you know what I think makes God cry the most? When we don’t even recognize what we are doing as sinful!
We think it is normal and natural. We rationalize. We say to ourselves that no one would expect us to do better. Nobody but God. But God does expect more. We have to wake up to what we are doing to damage the relationships that matter to God. We have to wake up and think about what it means to say forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. We have to think about those tears running down the face of Jesus Christ, especially when we don’t care enough to work on rooting out the bitterness and rage from our lives.
We say we want peace on earth, but peace on earth begins right here and now with you and me.
But God says, “Be imitators of me, as my beloved children, and live in love.” As Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, as fragrant offering and sacrifice so we are called to live in love and to forgive one another. It is a hard calling. It is a dangerous calling. It will makes us vulnerable and we don’t like to be vulnerable because it is scary. Being vulnerable is frightening because it is leaving ourselves open for others, so that we could get hurt. That’s what Jesus did so well, left himself open to be hurt and hurt he was, but in his vulnerability, he showed us what love is.
Our temptation when we are afraid, when we are under stress is fight or flight. We fight using words that wound others. We run away to protect ourselves so we don’t have the chance to be wounded by others. That night with Richard I fought with mean words and then fled the room – stormed off to the bedroom. Richard fought back with words, and then had the wisdom not to leave me in isolation. He approached, invited me back into a more constructive conversation by apologizing for his part in making me angry, which then encouraged me to apologize for losing my temper. In about fifteen minutes and we were back to the original plan to watch something together on Netflix.
Doing that extra work requires that we make ourselves vulnerable to each other. We humble ourselves and take thought for the other’s perspective. It is not easy but it gets easier with practice. Every time I put myself out there, taking a courageous step in embracing vulnerability, telling another I’m sorry, expressing my anger in ways that show how I was hurt or confused or weak in the moment, rather than putting up that strong defensive posture, then I am moving toward the kind of love Jesus lived, a forgiving, kind, and tender-hearted love. Dr. Brene Brown, whom I quoted two weeks ago, says this to introduce her chapter on vulnerability: As children we found ways to protect ourselves from vulnerability, from being hurt, diminished, and disappointed. We put on armor; we used our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors as weapons; and we learned how to make ourselves scarce, even to disappear.
Now as adults we realize that to live with courage, purpose, and connection – to be the person whom we long to be – we must again be vulnerable. We must take off the armor, put down the weapons, show up, and let ourselves be seen. We develop these masks in middle school and they mold to us so well that it is sometimes like a second skin. Nobody really knows the wounded child inside, not even we ourselves.
Both Father Rohr and Professor Brown are joining hands with Jesus to encourage me (and I hope, you) to stop living behind the mask, to live with more authenticity and courage. Rohr says “Every time we choose to love, we are choosing to die” We are choosing to die to that false self that is separate from other people, autonomous. Brown reminds us to build up shame resilience such that we do not allow shame to creep in and turn us into our worst selves. I am praying for all of us that we will take steps every day toward the secure place of love we have in the arms of God, freeing us to be real, to be honest about our hurts, our hopes, and our dreams. Secure in the love of Christ, I pray we will be able to embrace our pain and fear and work through it, rather than skirting around it with defensiveness.
Secure in the embrace of the Holy Spirit, I pray we can accept the sacrificial risk and gain of being tender-hearted and forgiving and discover the peace and joy that come with loving and giving of ourselves generously, of being more like Jesus in every way. I don’t want to make God cry with my cynical, cold-hearted bitter heart. I want to make God smile. I want to be honest about anger and hurt, willing to hang in there with people and keep trying, never writing anyone off, giving up on them, because God never does. And now faith, hope, and love abide, but the greatest of these is love.