Sunday, August 2, 2015
10th Sunday after Pentecost
[First in series: “Postcards from Ephesus”]
Have you ever sent or received a postcard that offered the sentiment: “Having a wonderful time, wish you were here”? People send those greetings to share their experiences with friends at home. Postcards are about inviting someone to participate vicariously with you on your vacation when they can’t be there for real. They are about sharing the story of something that you enjoyed and valued.
Today we are beginning a new series called: “Postcards from Ephesus”. We are going to share some of what the people of this ancient city experienced in the early days of the church. We are also going to try to understand how these “postcards” matter to us in our everyday lives. Sometimes I think we view the Bible as just a collection of rules, doctrine, and ancient history. It can be hard to read and even harder to understand when we try to apply it to real life in the 21st Century. What would happen if we looked at the Bible as a selection of personal experiences that people want to share with us? What if we looked at Bible stories as if someone who was there was sending us a postcard, inviting us to participate in the experience through their telling of the story? If we do that, I think we might begin to see how the first followers of Jesus lived what Jesus taught AND how we might also learn to live as Jesus wants us to live.
When we look at our contemporary culture and compare it to the path that Jesus set down as an example for us, I believe we find ourselves at a Spiritual Crossroad. There is a place where our lives and Jesus’ life intersect and, it is at this intersection that we make choices about the direction we will go. This does not mean that we can, or should, act as if we were living in First Century Palestine. We live in 21st Century America, to be sure, but there is still much we can learn from the example of Jesus and the things he taught. I think the Spiritual Crossroad comes when we try to determine what Jesus actually teaches in comparison to what many in our culture seem to think Jesus taught. Paul spends a lot of time in his writings trying to undo misconceptions about Jesus and counter-acting false teaching about Jesus’ message. As Christianity spread, beliefs and practices conflicted with the culture and many people tried to find ways to mix the secular with the sacred in an effort to fit in. Each generation, it seems, finds itself at a crossroad when it comes to discerning the timeless will of God found in Jesus’ teaching. Writing to the Ephesians, Paul is challenged to help them see the differences between their culture and the teachings of Jesus. As we read this letter, we want to hear it through our own ears. We need to understand what “the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God” might mean for us.
Today’s postcard from Ephesus introduces us to a faith community of both Jews and Gentiles, living among pagans in a secular culture. Our challenge is to separate Christ’s teaching from cultural assumptions.
Q: What if the desires of humanity conflict with the law of God?
A: Culture – “Do what makes sense.”
A: Jesus – “Follow God’s Law.”
Q: What does God want me to do?
A: Culture – “Help my fellow man and love my neighbor.”
A: Jesus – “Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Q: Why should I help my neighbor?
A: Culture – “Because he is a fellow human.”
A: Jesus – “To show him God’s love.”
The differences may seem subtle, but it seems to be a question of motive.
This is a message not only for everyone in our culture, but for everyone in our churches. We can use Jesus’ message as a tool to bring unity among people or we can use it as a weapon to divide people. Paul calls us to a unity that is created by and grows in love. This unity is not based on similarity of gifts, but in the connections created through the Holy Spirit among a people with diverse gifts. The gifts given include bearing with one another in love and speaking the truth in love. These are about recognizing that Christian maturity does not leave room for rivalries, competition, and judgmental evaluations. From a modern perspective, we see this message playing out in the form of factionalism. Within faith groups, within nations, and between nations, lack of concern for building up the whole body results in suicide bombers in the midst of congregations at prayer, refugees on boats returned to the sea by the very countries they are trying to reach, and explosions of rage like those in Baltimore and Ferguson. What might it look like if we all lived a life worthy of the One who gave himself to us and for us? What might be different if we lived with patience, humility, and gentleness, bearing with one another in love? This message brings us to a spiritual crossroad. It is about the intersection of divine and human life manifest in the life of Jesus. It is a place where we can find unity in the diversity of the Body of Christ; unity in the diversity of humanity itself. At this crossroad, the brokenness of humanity is held together in God’s grace. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.