So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. 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. 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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, 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.
Live In Love: Ephesians 4:25-5:2
When I was in seminary, I learned a song that went something like this, “I know I’ve been changed. I... I know I’ve been changed. I... I know I’ve changed. The angels in heaven gonna sign my name.” It’s an old gospel song. You may have heard Aaron Neville or Tom Waits or the Staple Singles cover it on some of their albums. It is a song written from the perspective of someone who has had a religious conversion. They have become a Christian and feel the Holy Spirit working on them. Something has changed and they are ready to testify to that change in word and deed. They go on to sing, “I know I been converted./Lord knows I been redeemed./ You can wake me up in the midnight’s hour/And I’ll tell you just what I seen.” One of my favorite things about this song is that it asserts that religious belief isn’t just something you talk about or an extraneous part of your life. This song demonstrates an understanding of faith as a force- it changes you- and also a tool- with it, you help change the world. It is a great song, and it is a song that reminds me of today’s reading.
This part of Ephesians is about how to actually live a life shaped by the Gospel. It is about concrete practices for living out a faith that changes you. This is a faith that can completely overturn your life. It is a faith that makes you rethink cultural divisions that you once thought were unchangeable. It is a faith that demands both confession and forgiveness. It is a faith that asks you to give up power to be a servant. You will be changed if you are actually committed to it. But the change doesn’t happen all at once. It keeps happening. There are even some ways you can live in community that help you continue to be changed by the Spirit present in others. Today’s reading is about helping Christians continue to be changed by and changed for one another. It’s pretty powerful.
In our current cultural context, and frankly, during any times of anxiety, it can be easier to be short or contemptuous or ungenerous with people with whom we disagree, even at church, where love is to be our guide. This author believes that there are seven practices that can help us live into the change Christ is making in us. Here’s how they spell them out:
1) There is to be no falsehood in the church. Lies or hateful speech that are only intended to cause harm has no place in religious community. That doesn’t mean telling the truth is always easy. It’s not. But it should be done without malice, manipulation, or intent to slander.
2) It’s ok to be angry. But don’t let the anger make you forget your commitment to God and one another. Anger is often justified and is an appropriate response to injustice. But, don’t let your anger be corrosive or fester.
3) Don’t steal stuff. Allow people who have stolen things the option to make amends. Practice grace by allowing former thieves the opportunity to return to honest labor and service of neighbor.
4) Let no evil come out of your mouth. I read once that this phrase is better translated as “let no putrid talk come out of your mouth.” Don’t say malicious words that infect the entire community. Putrefaction is a sign of death. This a community of life where Christ is a fragrant offering.
5) Do not lament these changes that are being asked of you. Yes, itt is hard to change. It is hard to learn to live life differently. This guidance is a gift, even when living different is a struggle. The changes brought on by the struggle to live life anew are signs of the Holy Spirit. These holy struggles are what redemption looks like.
6) Put aside bitterness, wrath, and manipulation. It does not further the cause of Christ.
7) Be kind. Forgive others as you have been forgiven. Confession and forgiveness are central to who we are.
These seven pieces of guidance, not rules, exactly, but practices to guide our life together, they are not simple. But, they are good. They are worth trying. The person who wrote Ephesians (we’re not sure if it was Paul or a student of Paul’s) said to follow this guidance is no small feat. He said it was, in fact, like imitating God. You see, God is rooted in truth and resists malice. God offers forgiveness in place of bitterness. God allows second chances. When we do these things, we are living a life changed by the God whom we imitate... we are reflecting God’s light through the prism of our own experience, back out into the world.
This is a world that too often needs a reminder of God’s spirit of love and forgiveness. This weekend is the anniversary of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where one woman, Heather Heyer, who was imitating God’s call to truth-telling, was run over by a white supremacist attending the rally. Today, white supremacists are rallying in Washington, D.C. to call for the creation of a version of this country that runs completely counter to the values outlined in today’s scripture. These events, both a year ago and today, are marked by bitterness, malice, manipulation, and fear. Thank God the church can be a counter example of such hatefulness. Thank God that Jesus showed us how to live differently in this world. Thank God that Gaby, Alice, and Penny are being baptized today, reminding us of what it means to commit to God and to a community of faith. We have already been made more generous, more lively, and more kind by their presence in this church. Their choice to partake in this sacrament is a gift to us, reminding us of the power of faith to change ourselves and our world for the better.
I know I’ve been changed. I know they’ve been changed. I know we’ve been changed and we can be instruments through which God works to change this world. We will imitate God today, welcoming them, again, into this church. They will imitate God today, by standing with us and celebrating. May we all be ready to imitate God in this world. It is so much better to live in love than in hate. Indeed, that’s how we know we’ve been changed. When we seek that kind of love instead of malice. Let us practice this love together and out in the world beyond our doors.
Pastor Chrissy consulted the following sources while writing her sermon:
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.