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.

 

 

 

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