Imitators of God

 

Meditation on Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Aug. 12, 2018

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

To see the video of this sermon, click here.

          25 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. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love,  as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

 

Ruth Ganter was expected to join us today to talk about her Sneaker ministry, but she has been sick. She is getting better and feeling stronger every day.

Ruth will be 90 soon, but she isn’t slowing down much, not when there are people in need.  In addition to her sneaker ministry, she serves at the Hospice Thrift Shop in the Village Green Shopping Center.  She found her calling years ago, when she was an admissions clerk at a hospital in New York and met a volunteer, a “pink lady…and she was wonderful,” Ruth says.  “She inspired me to be a volunteer.”

Ruth was at the Sharing Center from its beginnings in the 1980s and worked there 17 years, doing just about everything—cook, truck driver, whatever was needed. She didn’t have a desk because she never sat down, she says. One day, someone donated a bag of shoes—all for the left foot. Instead of throwing them away, she gave them to Church Women United and invited them to each take one and have Sneaker Sunday at their churches,  asking for money so that she may buy shoes for children.

***

No part of the New Testament, says biblical scholar Ralph Martin (1), is more relevant to the modern church than Ephesians, though it was written in the first century, after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. Ephesians teaches about the universal role of Christ in creation and redemption, but also  “faces the reality of evil which still presses upon human life both personal and societal.” Christ reigns victorious over the cosmos,  but the world is still “plagued by evil powers,” which must “be resisted and overcome.”

The key point is that Christ’s followers are not what they used to be because of what Jesus has done.  The dividing wall of hostility between us has been broken down in Christ, who is our peace.  We are reconciled with Him AND one another with His blood.

Unity is a gracious gift to the Church, the Body of Christ. Unity doesn’t mean uniformity. We are all unique and supposed to be that way! And it doesn’t mean we never change, which might be the case if the church were a static object, like a building. Ephesians tells us, says Martin, that “the Church is an organism,  pulsating with life and made up of living persons who are responsible for growth of character and personal development,” (Martin, 47) according to the gifts God has given to us.  Change is a sign of health and vitality, a fruit of the Spirit.

Ephesians provides a vision for the new life that begins with our letting go of the past. We have to take off and put away the old, like heavy winter clothing in Florida. Not useful.  We need to seek His will, day by day, and walk as he leads us to do the things he wants us to do, as Ephesians 2:10 says,  “ For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”

Ephesians 4:22-23 says, Take off the old and put away…. the sin that characterized (in 4:22):  “your former way of life,” your old self” and  “be renewed, in the spirit of your minds.”

 Put on the new… Put on Jesus Christ like a garment,  4:24 “clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

The new way of life doesn’t just happen. We choose to live, says 4:2-3,  “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  Mutual love means accepting all our sisters and brothers in the faith as they are, without judgment, and helping to bear one another’s burdens, as Jesus does for us.  28 “Come to me,” He says in Matthew 11:28-29, “all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Ephesians 4:25… Take off, put away—falsehood. Speak the truth to your brothers and sisters. We are members of one another. When a person lies to one person, everyone in the Body is hurt! Ephesians 4:26 says, Be angry, if you must, but make sure it is about the right things and isn’t just your pride. Be angry about lies, cruelty, injustice, oppression, poverty, hunger, prejudice, racism—but don’t hold onto your anger and become bitter. It will destroy you and hurt all the members of the Body.

Take off, put away…thieves, give up stealing  (4:28) “rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.” This characterizes the old life that was all about us, what we want or think we deserve or have earned, without consideration for our neighbor in need.

Take off, put away…evil talk.  4:29. Evil talk happened in 1st century churches and it happens today! We can’t take back what we shouldn’t have said! Being a Christian doesn’t mean you don’t sin anymore; it means you feel convicted when you do!  The Spirit moves us to turn back to the Lord to confess as God’s beloved children. Jesus, in 1 John 1:9, says,  “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Speak words that build up (4:29); there was a need for that in the 1st century and a great need for it today! Sometimes, the only kind word someone hears in a day may come from you! Think how good you feel when someone says something kind to you!

When we show grace to others who have hurt us, we are truly imitators of God, whose love lasts forever. Our kindness is our witness to our present and future hope in Jesus Christ, who is coming again on the day of redemption, to gather us to himself and take us to live forever with Him. Only then will our transformation be complete.

As we sing in Hymn of Promise,  In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity; In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity, In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory, Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”

In baptism, Christ has claimed us for His own! The Holy Spirit lives in us. We have the power to overcome!

 

***

Our church is full of kind people, whose grace bears witness to the Savior’s love.  The air conditioner broke down in the fellowship hall just before a recent Faith Formation Ministries workday. The volunteers still worked for hours in the heat to get the stage ready for our children and youth performing arts programs that begin this week.

 

Their spirit reminds me of Ruth Ganter, nearly 90 years young. People ask her, “How many pairs of shoes do you buy every year?” And, “How much money do you need?” She doesn’t worry about numbers. She spends a lot of her own money to make sure that every child has sneakers for school-so they can run and play exercise.  “Every penny I get,” she says, “is on a child’s foot…I buy shoes till I run out of money.”

She doesn’t judge others. She doesn’t take note of skin color or the size of people’s bodies or ask questions. She tells the schools to not just give the children the shoes, but to put them on their feet!

The thing that matters with giving and serving is your heart. Being motivated by love for God and love for neighbor.

Live as God’s beloved children! Forgive, for the Lord has forgiven you!

The Church is a living organism, not a static object. Change is a sign of health and vitality, a fruit of the Spirit!

Put on …… kindness…..

Put on……. love….

 Be imitators of God!

 

Let us pray. Heavenly Father, thank you for calling us your beloved children—and for sending your Spirit to live inside of us and transform us into your likeness. Forgive us for our sins.  Help us, Lord, to take off the old self and put away the past and our former lives to make room for the new. Stir us to believe in the Church that is not a building, but a living organism, united as your Body, with Christ as our head. Let us hear your voice and respond with gratitude and joy. Teach us to love and serve you and our neighbors, sharing from the abundance you have given us. Grant us an authentic faith that stirs us to pray without ceasing, to bravely follow you into paths of righteousness and truth, and to be gracious and kind as we seek to imitate you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

 

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