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, tenderhearted, 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. (Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2)
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life… Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away…Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves..Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:35-51)
Every now and then we get a passage that I think I should just stand up here and read over and over again a few times and then sit back down. Some passages speak for themselves so easily. And we hear them so quickly that they’re easy to miss or we forget about them by the time we get to this point in the service, especially at the second service where there’s a few hymns woven in here too. The passage from Ephesians is one of those passages, and so I want to give you a bit of background on the passage itself, repeat most of it again, and see if it has anything so speak to us.
First a little background. The letter was written for the people of Ephesus but it was probably also sent to many of the Christian communities in that region, because they were all struggling with similar issues. Everywhere from Rome to Ephesus to Galatia, to Jerusalem and throughout budding Christendom, the people were struggling with how to be a multicultural and diverse church – no kidding. The wrestle is not new to us and it’s important for us to remember that we are not the first age of church to struggle with Christian identity or Christian unity. The particular triggering issues might be different in each day, but the challenge itself is not.
In the context of the Letter to the Ephesians, they were working through how to integrate Jewish, Hellenistic, and Christian thought and in doing that, how to bring a breadth of people with various cultural backgrounds and beliefs together as community, one which would at least at times be recognized as the Body of Christ.
And so in this letter, the author who was Paul or a student of his, addressed things like division and self-interest, greed, the need to let go of many things and to occasionally make personal sacrifices for the good of the whole. He spoke a lot about “unity” and the call to “come together.” “Made alive together,” he wrote. “Raised up together,” “sitting together,” “built together” and so on. He repeated phrases like “one body,” and “one spirit,” and “one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism” and he emphasized the unity of the church.
And in this letter he also offered the kinds of behaviors that would help unity happen. Behaviors like we heard spoken of in today’s passage: kindness, forgiveness, tenderheartedness, sharing, and speaking truth, (thus differentiating between the things that make for good community and rocket science.) And apparently because this letter spoke to the heart of the people’s hopes and needs, it went the first century’s version of viral.
“So then, putting away falsehood,” we heard today, “let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.” What a beautiful phrase – 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.” So that your words may give grace to those who hear… Do not grieve the Holy Spirit (meaning don’t make the Holy Spirit sad…Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
Simply put, the passage concludes: 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.
Paul’s point is that church is where we are to practice all of that, not because we have it down, but because even Christian’s don’t. And the worlds needs it – togetherness, unity, love.
And so our work here is to receive these gifts of God and create the kind of environment that fosters such grace. We are to practice a broad and multi-many-things kind of unity as church. This is where we make room for forgiveness, kindness, and tenderheartedness. It’s the means by which we give this world some of the together it so desperately needs.
And we practice this way of being every time we worship, in part because this kind of “together” is the gift which our liturgy gives us. We gather, we sing, we pray, we pass the peace and then share in a feast which is open to and receiving of all who come, a rarity in the first century and a rarity still today.
In here we re-become those people who are “members of one another” in intentional and sometimes surprising ways. This place brings me into communion not only with God but with people whom I would not otherwise ever share a table, with whom I would never otherwise pass the peace, for and with whom I would not otherwise be able to pray.
This is where we are working out the hopes and vision of Paul’s letter. This is where we offer to God the works of our hands and our hearts too. This is where the needy (which on some level is all of us) are fed. No evil comes out of our mouths and we try to make all of the words we speak, words that are for building up so that our words may give grace to those who hear.
And not for the sake of this place alone, by any means, but for the sake of the world too. We practice here to get better at things needed everywhere. We let go. We offer. We receive. We become a Body that longs to be grace. And in that sense, this place is like no other place. But only so other places more closely resemble this in terms of the kindness shared, the forgiveness offered, the tenderheartedness encouraged.
So that may we help these actions themselves go viral and as beloved children learn to live in love.