This is the third sermon in our five Sundays in which Jesus uses bread as a sign of the Kingdom of God or refers to himself as “the bread of life.” As a way of highlighting the bread theme, we are communing these five Sundays with bread from five different eateries here in Hunters Woods Plaza. We have enjoyed naan from Pista House and tortilla from King Pollo.
Now… Matt and I went down to ballpark after church last Sunday to see the Nat’s beat Cincinnati. I noticed that the pitchers would periodically throw a change-up pitch – something out of the usual menu of pitches. Today’s sermon is a change-up pitch. I’m not preaching on bread. The communion bread is also a changeup. We’re not using a bread from another country. It is from Jersey Mike’s sandwich shop and I can’t think of anything interesting to say either about New Jersey in general nor Mike in particular. I’m going with the epistle from Ephesians. Also, this sermon isn’t in the usual format. It is a verse-by-verse exposition which I don’t think I’ve done since I’ve been here. I’d like for you to turn to the lesson in Ephesians from your Celebrate insert and follow along as I preach.
Paul begins, “So then,” He has just told them to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace and says, “So then … putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.” What a way to put it! Each of us is not an individual member of Christ the Servant, but we are members of one another. We exist to live with and for our neighbor. Therefore, we should first of all put away all falsehood.
This one relates to the eighth commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against one another.” Most of the time our false witness comes in the form of bare naked gossip. Stuff goes around. “Isn’t it terrible about what goes on in that family?! Isn’t it awful what goes on in that school?!” Someone has said that the more interesting a tidbit of gossip is, the less likely it is to be true.
We would do well to remember that it is better to use our eyes than our ears when it comes to things that are “going around.” Does what we see mesh with what people are saying to us about another? Maybe we shouldn’t say anything until we know the truth, and probably not even then. Listening is better than speaking. Sometimes, I think, we speak just because we like speaking better than silence. Maybe we need to first think about what we are about to say. As one person has put it, “If your mind should go blank, don’t forget to turn off the sound.”
Verse 26: “Be angry, but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.” Sometimes, anger is a good thing. We need to be angry at things that go beyond the bounds of decency. There’s plenty to be angry about nowadays. But Paul is speaking of interpersonal anger on an intimate level. In everyday life people do things to make us angry. What we must NOT do is to show anger back – either by harsh words or impatience or revenge. Then we become the anger. And maybe the best part of this verse is this: Don not let the sun go down on your anger. Resolve your conflicts before you go to bed. It will do wonders for your interpersonal relationships – and your sleep!
Verse 27: “And do not make room for the devil.” Letting anger get the best of us is letting the devil get his due, so to speak. Evil wins out over good when that happens. If you are carrying anger around in your heart, you need to bump it out by replacing it with love, forgiveness, compassion, and
Verse 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.” Luther’s explanation of the commandment against stealing went this way: “We are to fear and love God so that we do not take our neighbors’ [possessions] but instead help them to improve and protect their property and income. Christian morality doesn’t end with giving up doing bad things. It continues with picking up doing good things.
Verse 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.” I had a woman in a former congregation who, at every congregational meeting, would stand up and hold forth for quite a long time on how precious her church was to her, how loving and kind were her fellow members and her pastor. I always came away feeling strengthened.
On the playground we used to say, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” That is SO untrue. Unkind words can leave a mark. It is especially true that the words pastors say can have great influence. In a country church in Europe an altar boy was serving the priest at the Sunday mass and accidently dropped the cruet of wine. The village priest struck the altar boy on the cheek and in a gruff voice shouted: “Leave the altar and don’t come back!” That particular boy became Tito, the Communist leader. In a cathedral of a large city another altar boy serving the bishop at Sunday Mass accidently dropped the cruet of wine. With a warm twinkle in his eye the bishop gently whispered, “Someday you will be a priest.” That boy grew up to become an archbishop. Some of you older members will remember Bishop Fulton Sheen.
Paul says, “Let no evil come out of your mouths.” It does wonders for the one with the mouth, too. As oe person has put it, “A closed mouth gathers no foot.” Or, as another person put it: “Saving face is often accomplished by keeping the lower part of it shut.”
Verse 30: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.” God is sad when there is gossip, anger, and harsh speech. It’s not the right spirit. It’s not the Holy Spirit. I’ve often heard people say, “The Holy Spirit was present in that moment,” but I’ve never heard them say that after harsh or hurting words were exchanged.
Verse 32: “… and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” I want to repeat to you the essence of a sermon I heard from Pastor Bert Anderson with whom I served in Mansfield, Ohio. I haven’t forgotten this and I hope you don’t, either: Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that what you hear about your neighbor or your teacher or your superintendent or the person sitting beside you on the pew is TRUE! Whatever sin it is, God has redeemed it! Let’s say that the alcoholism or the marital infidelity or the embezzlement (or whatever) is absolutely true. Whatever sin it is, God has redeemed it. Therefore we do not need to pass along the information ESPECIALLY IF IT IS TRUE. God died for that sin. God redeemed that sin. God forgives that sin. And so should we. If we say anything about what we hear, it should be a prayer.
And, finally, the last verse: “… and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Maybe this should have come first. This sermon, so far, has reflected the Epistle on which it was based … an exposition of do’s and don’ts. But we could go on to infinity making lists of what to do and what to avoid doing. The object is to first claim the cross and to claim our baptism. God died for us. Gave his life. At baptism we have been given new life, forgiven life, and eternal life. When we first claim the gift of love that God has given us, all else falls into place. The anger goes away. The judgment goes away. The harsh words go away”.
“Therefore, be imitators of God,” Paul says, “as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Text: Ephesians 4:25-5:2