Monthly Archives: August 2018

Redeeming Time

15 Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17 So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (Ephesians 5:15-20 NRSV)

Summer isn’t over.  That will occur on September 22 this year with the autumnal equinox.  Meteorologists call the end of summer on August 31st.  Frankly, summer is over when school begins.  It’s the beginning of a new year, so to speak.  Our kids return to school and new classrooms and new teachers.  And the rest of us tend to follow suit.  Vacation season comes to an end and we get serious about fall activities.

How timely that we read this passage today.  The author of Ephesians tells us to make the most of time; the days are evil; be wise; don’t get drunk; worship and sing; give thanks for everything.  That’s a tall order!  Perhaps it’s also strange.  As we begin a fresh new year, perhaps this passage is timely.

How do we redeem time?  The word, redeem, has so many meanings and we Christians throw it around as if we understand it’s meaning.  Jesus went to the cross to “redeem” us from sin.  He traded his life for yours and mine.  He freed us up to make better lives for ourselves and others.

Redeeming time, in this sense, is about what we do with the time we’re given.  When we awaken each day, we have the opportunity to open ourselves up to our very existence.  We can receive this new day that God has made because we know that God is in it.  What might that look like?

We begin by understanding that not everyone awakens to a beautiful world.  Some choose not to see the beauty.  Sadly, some are surrounded by really bad stuff.  All of us are capable are seeing the fresh possibilities in a new day.

We redeem time when we recognize that we have choices.  As my friend and colleague is fond of saying, “Life has choices.  Choices have consequences.  Make good choices.”  We redeem time when we rescue the time we have from loss or inappropriate practices.  Notice that the author says, “Don’t get drunk with wine…” (vs 18)  Certainly alcohol abuse is a waste of time and energy.  But, don’t we get drunk on other things?

The risks exist: to get drunk worrying about the future; to get drunk on overspending money; to get drunk on anger.  We get drunk when that which gets in the way of our relationship with God takes over our lives.  We lose time.  We lose ourselves.  We’re unable to worship God.  We’re unable to be thankful.

We get drunk when we choose to lose ourselves in anything that kills our spirit and our soul.  Over drinking and abusing drugs come to mind.  Overeating is the drug of choice for others.  Getting drunk relieves anxiety and we can avoid both God and the problem.  Until we sober up and all sorts of other emotions step in to drive us back to our addiction.

Our author suggests being thankful.  In everything.

Have you ever noticed that it’s easier to be thankful when things are going wrong?  First we see all the bad stuff.  Then if it gets bad enough, we begin to see glimpses of God’s presence:  a friend saying the right thing at the right time; a good night’s rest after many a restless night; a sense of God’s peace just when you need it most.  Soon you’re noticing that the rain let up at just the right moment.  That the evening news reported somebody performing an act of kindness.  You see life differently and, though life is not all good, it’s also not all bad.

Give thanks for the right timing of events; for green lights; for smiles and sunshine.  Dare to turn to the evilness of our days.  Give thanks that, though evil exists, life isn’t evil.  God is the one who gives and sustains life and intends good for God’s creation.

That’s when time takes on a new aspect.  There is an example used in training classes that expresses this best.  The facilitator jams rocks of all sizes and shapes into a jar and then tries to pour sand around it.  Each rock is an item on our to-do list.  Predictably, it all doesn’t fit.  Then the facilitator empties the jar and begins again.  This time she identifies priorities and puts the largest rocks in first.  Next come the secondary priorities and she puts the smaller stones into the jar and watches them settle around the largest rocks.  Finally, she adds sand and it slips over the rocks and stones into the tiny crevices.  These are the less important things, but still things that need to be completed.  The jar is filled and all the items on the to-do list fit in the jar perfectly.

The point is this: what’s most important in your life?  Do it first?  I tried meditating in the evening and guess what?  I never got to it.  I had to move it to first thing in the morning.  I discovered that it got my day off to a good start.  Some of my biggest rocks include physical exercise, caring for my disabled husband and for the congregation I serve.  Once I identified those, everything else fell into place.

Redeeming time requires wisdom.  It’s part time management, part boundary setting.  It’s all prayerful and prayer-filled.

We redeem time when we use it wisely.  We redeem time when we use it to change the world.  We redeem time when we seek the leading of the Holy Spirit and grab it while it while we can

All glory ad honor be to God.

Amen.

 

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Merit Badges

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,[b] 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.[c] Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us[d] and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  (Ephesians 4:25-5:12 NRSV)

Rules for living in unity:

  1.  honesty is the best policy
  2.  keep a check on your anger
  3.  thieves, get a job, so you can help others out
  4.  watch what comes out of your mouth
  5.  no backbiting or profane talk.
  6.  forgive each other

Merit badges.  Do your best to be a good person and here’s a list of what to do and what to avoid.  And, to be truthful, my badges are adding up.  I’m feeling pretty good about myself.

It’s an easy passage to read, unless we read between the lines and understand the context.  This is a letter written to churches made up of Jews and Gentiles.  The Jewish Christians already had a set of values that they learned from the law of Moses.  The Gentiles came to them with what the author calls pagan values.  They have left behind the worship of multiple gods and entered their new life with a sense of freedom from laws and rules.  This collided with the Jewish sense of Torah (Law.)  The author aims to set everyone straight.

The Head of the Church is Christ.  And that implies great meaning.  The rest of the letter is directed toward understanding what that means for the fledgling congregation.

The author could be speaking directly to us in the 21st century.  We need this passage to run a check on ourselves.  Let’s take another look.

How do we speak truth to our neighbor?  In his play, “Strange Interlude,” Eugene O’Neill has a double dialog going: dialog spoken and dialog of unspoken thoughts.  The two dialogs don’t agree.  When we talk about truth telling, we often think of this in terms of pointing out wrongdoing or inaccuracies.  The double dialog protects from hurt feelings, but also, authenticity.  The author states that our neighbor deserves best.  And it begins with truthfulness in our own hearts.

If we are to be honest, we begin with ourselves.  What are you doing to protect yourself and those secret places in your soul that you don’t dare allow in the light of day?  What are you hiding behind that could be melted away in God’s grace?  That’s right, God’s grace.  Honesty with neighbor begins with God.  Exposing our soul to God opens us up to repentance and forgiveness.  We are changed as much as the members of that first century congregation.

Anger is important.  It reminds us that injustice is a sin or that someone is trying to hurt us.  The problem with anger is when it turns lethal and we seek revenge for wrongdoing against us or a loved one.  But, it gets us no where.  Anger has a way of multiplying itself until it owns us and we lose the authentic self that God created us to be.

When we deal with our anger today, we let it go and allow God to do something with it.  If community is important, than reconciliation is a constant.  Holding grudges allows for festering.  It does no one any good and too many people suffer from it.  If it’s important enough to hang onto, it’s important enough to talk it out with the one who hurt you.

The same with evil talk.  It has a lot to do with unresolved anger.  Allow your words to build up rather than break down.

During this summer, the sign on our neighborhood elementary school has read, “Be the kind kid.”  I walk past it every morning and I read the reminder to me: “Be the kind adult.”  The first thing I did was to talk less.  I love the sound of my own voice, so it’s been a huge lesson to speak less and listen more.  I’ve discovered that kindness has been easier because listening provides me with words of understanding and acceptance.

As I read this passage, I discover that I want to remove the merit badges from my sash.  In fact, I want to set aside the whole concept and reread this passage in light of my baptism.  Every time we see the baptismal font, isn’t it a reminder that we are a new creation?  That God, in Christ, came to earth to show us the way?  Every time we come forward to that font, we are reminded who we are and to whom we belong.  We were marked in those waters and reminded what Jesus did for us.

We are a new creation over and over again.  Our salvation is always and forever.  And God is always at work in us to transform us.  Every time we receive that transformative power, we “put off” our old ways.  We repent, yet again, and enter a renewal that leads to changes in the way we act, the way we respond and the way we are.

We do this every time we walk with God.  We do this every time we change as a result of listening to each other.  We do this when we talk honestly to God.  We do this when we own up to our anger that is getting in the way of our relationship with God.

It requires fellowship, repentance and forgiveness.  It leads to reconciliation.  It makes for authentic community.

We often say, “Remember your baptism and be glad.”  Sound silly?  Many of us were baptized as babies.  Remember what?  Remember that you are baptized and marked by God.  Remember that you belong to God through Jesus Christ.  Remember that you came through the waters of baptism into new life.

Remember your baptism.  And be glad.

I’m putting away the merit badges.  I’ve achieved very little when I look at what God has done for me through Christ.  And though I know that I’m saved by grace through faith, I want to honor God by paying it forward.

I’ll start at the baptismal font.  And I’ll try to be the kind and authentic person.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

 

 

 


How Do We Fit In?

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 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. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said,

“When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
he gave gifts to his people.”

(When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended[a] into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.  (Ephesians 4:1-16 NRSV)

 

In a motion picture called The Mission Robert DeNiro plays Mendoza, a ruthless mercenary who makes his living selling Indians on the slave market.  One day he kills his brother in a fit of rage.  Unable to live with the guilt, Mendoza goes to live in a monastery where he meets Father Gabriel.  The priest suggests that Mendoza accompany him to a mission in the mountains where the Indians live.  As penance Mendoza carries a huge sack of armor along the way.  Near the end of the climb Mendoza struggles up a slippery hillside, still carrying the sack, when he comes face-to-face with one of the natives.  The Indian man holds out a knife, and Mendoza assumes he will be killed.  But the man uses the knife to cut the rope, and the sack of armor goes tumbling down the hillside.  Not anger, wrath, and malice, but compassion, kindness, and humility.  That’s what Paul writes about. *

Humility.  Gentleness. Patience. Bearing with one another in love.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu speaks often of “Ubuntu.”  It’s a difficult word to translate into English, but it describes the kind of person Paul is calling us to be.  A person with Ubuntu is generous, hospitable, friendly, caring and compassionate.  Ubuntu understands that we are not our own.  We are a part of something much larger and because of that we participate with others.

Paul says that we’re a part of Christ’s Body.  Also known as the Church.  It’s a calling.  It’s a calling to humility and gentleness and patience.  We bear with on another in love.  We enter the world in love.

It seems to me that anger and hate are easy and energy sapping all at the same time.  It takes courage to humbly stand for what we believe. It takes courage to be patient with those who don’t see things our way.  Yet, the outcome is peace.  Peace of mind and body and soul.  It’s a form of letting go and allowing God to be involved.

We tell our kids to play well with others.  How do we measure up to those standards as adults?  How do we stand tall, serving our neighbor, while risking becoming a doormat?  We do it together.  We are the body of the Christ.  We aren’t alone in this, but we are a part of something much larger than us.  Huge.

And we do it by the grace of Christ.  Paul is clear about what we believe: One.  One body, one Spirit, one hope in Christ’s resurrection; one Lord, one faith, one baptism.  And it all leads to God.  Amen and amen.

But, that’s not all.  Paul shows us how we move into this unity thing in order to develop our skills of caring and compassion.  It comes as gifts bestowed on those who will equip us for this journey.  Some will be Apostles to build the Church; prophets to speak truth in love; evangelists to share the Church with seekers; pastors and teachers to preach and to teach the Church.

That’s how we grow up.

Ubuntu generosity and hospitality.  Ubuntu compassion.  Holding the knife, not to kill, but to relieve burdens.

That’s the world I want to live in.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

  • Mike Graves “The Sermon as Symphony: Preachign the Literary Forms of the New Testament”  (Valley Forge, Judson Press, 1997) page 187

 


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