Learned, Heard, Taught
Sermon Series: Ephesians: Removing the Barriers to God’s Family
By: Donnell Wyche – February 24, 2019
We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. We’re grateful for you and the gifts of God that you bring with you into this space. Together we’ve been welcomed into God’s family through Jesus. As we become the people of God and learn how to neighbor, we choose to reflect God’s love in our gratitude, in our joy, and in our generosity as we navigate the complexity of our daily lives. We pray that whether this is your first time with us this morning, or you’ve been a part of our community for a while, that you will feel the invitation of the Holy Spirit to join in with our vision. If you are looking for a church home, we would love to be your church home, and I, in particular would love to become your pastor.
We are continuing this morning in our sermon series “Ephesians: Removing the Barriers to God’s Family.” We are making our way together through Ephesians, learning about Paul’s view of the family of God and the work that Christ performed on the cross to remove the barriers to God’s family so that we can be given over to good works.
Vineyard Justice Network – https://vineyardjusticenetwork.org/
This past week, I was in Philadelphia meeting with the steering and advisory committee members of the Vineyard Justice Network. We gathered for two days to discuss and plan our national gathering this November in Philly. One of the things we want to do with Vineyard Justice Network is “show and tell.” We want to take what we have learned, heard, and have been taught and share it with each other as we figure out what it means to be the people of God. We want to name the injustices that are present in our congregation and communities that trap people, that terrorize people, that victimize people. And we want to name the ways that as the people of God we are called to work for justice because our God is a just God.
What have you learned, heard and been taught?
Just like the new roles that the church needs to survive and thrive, Paul says there are new postures and behaviors that the people of God have to adopt living in Empire. What have you learned, heard, and been taught? Reading Paul in context is understanding that Paul is encouraging those who were outside of faith to adopt a new outlook, a new posture, to accept a new answer to the question, “What is the meaning of life?”
20That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:20-24)
Paul is instructing the Ephesians to shift gears and give up the old ways that they ordered their lives, how they made decisions, how they answered the core questions of life. “Do not walk in darkness,” Paul says. This requires something from us.
STORY: Just a quick story to help you enter in. Sometimes we are unaware of how we are affected by our thinking or our influencers. I used be really angry when I got to work every morning or when I got home from work. As someone who loves technology, I used to listen to a daily podcast on the latest and greatest in tech spaces. But I didn’t realize that one of the hosts was affecting my emotional mood until I changed my podcast listening habits. I started by skipping the podcast in the morning, so when I got to work I felt a bit better and was happier or at least neutral. But then I would be angry when I got home from work, which wasn’t any better. So, I changed my habit again and stopped listening to the podcast as I was leaving work. Then it occurred to me that the host of the show was really angry and that anger was affecting me. I would spend an hour a day listening to the anger of this host and that anger was slowly affecting me and my posture. I was carrying that anger with me. It wasn’t until I completely gave up the podcast that I experienced some freedom. That isn’t to say that I don’t get angry anymore, but it is to say that this podcast was affecting my daily emotional well-being, and it wasn’t until I realized it, and affected a change, did my posture change.
Paul says, previously you were callous, your mind was trapped in darkness, you believed all sorts of false things, but now be reminded of what you have learned, heard, and been taught about Jesus. Cultivate a life that incorporates the four graces: humility, gentleness, patience, and love.
I’m reading from Ephesians 4:25-28,
25Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27and do not give the devil a foothold. 28Those who have been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. (Ephesians 4:25-28)
There’s a way of reading Paul’s list that seems really straight forward: don’t lie, speak truthfully to everyone, if you are angry, don’t let your anger lead you to sin, be careful of the ways you break relationship, don’t perform violence which harms yourself and others. Paul continues, don’t steal, but work, so that you have something to share with those in need.
At one level, this list isn’t nuanced at all, which seems to ignore the ways we are sinned against, it feels like it Paul puts the onus solely on us. But what if you are the partner of an abusive spouse? Is Paul really saying that your anger in this situation is unjustified? Absolutely not. I won’t speak for Paul, but we must use a nuanced approach to these broad lists from Paul, not in order to create a loophole, but to ensure that we are on the side of the Gospel which is intended to liberate us, not hold us in bondage. If you are in an abusive relationship, it is not God’s will that you are the victim of this violence. Our pastors, deacons, and church are willing to help you, if you need help.
Paul’s goal is to help form a family centered in and around the crucified Jesus. He’s inviting us to take up the four graces, to help us on our path towards transformation. Paul assumes that we can do everything that he prescribes. He believes that we are capable, when trapped or threatened, to speak the truth instead of lying to protect our selves or those we care about. That we can be angry, which is a valid human emotion, without allowing that anger to lead to our sins–all of the ways that we break relationship with God, each other, and ourselves.
In some ways I wish I could have a conversation with Paul that asks, “What do you do when you feel like you are out of options?” That your stealing isn’t because you don’t want to work, but because of a system of oppression and injustice, you can’t find anyone who is willing to hire you because of your past, which then contributes to your lying, because if you just omit this one thing from your resume or work history, then maybe you would find the work that you need to provide for yourself and your family. Then what do you do with all of the anger that results from having to be in this situation in the first place?
Catch what Paul says,
28Those who have been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
He says “work, so that you have something to share with those in need.”
This reminded me of what Timothy Thomas Fortune, the editor and publisher of the New York Globe said in his book, “Black & White: Land, Labor, and Politics in the South.”
“The spirit of injustice asserted itself… selfishness and greed rode roughshod over the promptings of a generous, humane, Christian nature, as they have always done in this country, not only in the case of the African, but of the Indian as well, each of whom has in turn felt the pernicious influence of that heartless greed which overleaps honesty and fair play, in the unmanly grasp after perishable gain.”
Paul is challenging the narrative of Empire: “work, for your own gain.” Put another way, Paul challenges our collective participation in greed. You don’t work for what’s “yours,” you work so that you have something to give to others. So maybe Paul does indeed understand the mitigating circumstances that causes us to participate in the rebellion, for instance by stealing. But Paul desires us to see that we need each other to survive, in order to thrive, that we might be transformed by the four graces: humility, gentleness, patience, and love.
29Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:20-32)
Part of what Vineyard Justice Network is hoping to do when we gather together around the issues of justice is to declare that justice is a part of the whole Gospel. Jesus isn’t just saving us, but Jesus is reforming us. We are being invited by Jesus to listen to the places of deep pain that contribute to people’s despair and participation in sin. I think this is a way that we don’t grieve the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s goal is to liberate us from the bondage of sin. Often our partnership with the Holy Spirit requires us to get uncomfortable. Bryan Stevenson in his book, Just Mercy, says that we have to get proximate. We have to get close enough to understand the suffering of those who are held in bondage in order to see, hear, and be taught by the Holy Spirit how to respond. Our participation in reordering the world affects us and those who are in the deep places of pain.
“Follow God’s example, as dearly loved children, and walk in the way of love,” Paul says.
5 1Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 3But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for the Lord’s people. 4Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.
5For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7Therefore do not be partners with them. (Ephesians 5:1-7)
Sex is back on Paul’s mind again. I understand. Paul isn’t getting busy and he doesn’t want others to be either. Or sex featured significantly in his culture as it does today. Consider how much sex shows up in our daily lives even to the point that we describe cars, phones, laptops, and apartments as sexy. This is all centered in us being desiring beings. So here’s an example of where Paul is as relevant in his day as he is today. I offered, last week, that part of the reason that Paul is restricting the sexual activity of the people is because of who we are, the very temples of God. We are the dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. I also noted that in the ancient world if you wanted to be the conqueror of the people you sacked the temple and defeated the God.
Paul is belaboring the point here because he wants the people of God to not only believe differently, but more importantly to be different than those around them. Because Paul says that the immoral, the impure, and the greedy, what Paul calls idolatry, won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Put plainly, we cannot worship God and maintain these idols. We will have to be devoted to one to the exclusion of the other. We will have sacrifice to one, which will prevent us from serving the other.
Paul says do not partner with idols, partner with God instead.
8For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9(for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10and find out what pleases the Lord. 11Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.
I absolutely love what Paul says here in verse 11, he says that we are expose the “fruitless deeds of darkness, of injustice.” We are invited go to the deep places of pain, and bring what we have, the light.
Paul continues in verse 12:
12It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14This is why it is said:
“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
15Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
It’s back to naming things. We have to call out greed, immorally, and impurity in ourselves, and, when prompted by the Spirit, in others. We are name and call out the places of our partnership with the ruler of the air, and repent. We are to name the fruitlessness of Empire.
Paul concludes by saying,
17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:17-20)
Freedom from the pain of loneliness, from the tendency toward anger–loosing your temper.
God wants to touch someone who has fear/anxiety over a medical condition.
God wants to touch someone who has been feeling hopeless, like you have lost your way.
There is healing for neck pain.
Healing for someone with a dull pain on the left side of the head, possibly involving a tooth, gums and/or the left ear.
There is also refreshing to live up to these challenges.