I preached this sermon at St. Lydia's on Sunday, September 26. The text is Ephesians 4:1-16, 4:25-5:2; read it here. This sermon is the first in a four week series engaging our congregation in a discernment process about how we might be in relationship with the larger church through denominational affiliation.
I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.
We’ve got big words from Paul this week.
Often, simply leading a life that’s hanging together by a thin thread is all I can really manage. Leading a life worthy of the calling to which I’ve been called? That seems like a tall order.
Paul goes on writing, and things get even deeper:
be angry but do not sin...
let no evil talk come out of your mouth...
put away all bitterness and wrath and anger...
speak the truth in love...
Paul’s standards for living life in Christian community, for how we relate to one another and to God, are, for me, gorgeous to dream about and daunting to consider.
I spent my weekend at H’s wedding. Many of you know H, who’s a member of this community, and many of you have received weekly updates, or maybe facebook updates, on the progress of her wedding. Well, it all happened this week at a Summer Camp up in the Catskill Mountains. H had planned this incredible weekend where about 40 of us stayed at a lodge up at this beautiful camp. After the wedding everyone took off their dress clothes and threw on their camp clothes and we started a fire and roasted marshmallows and sang songs.
I’ve known some of the folks at this wedding since I was 15 or 16 years old, and reading the prayers in the chapel where H got married, surrounded by friends from all stages of she and M, her fiance’s life, it occurred to me that, in many ways, it made a whole bunch of sense that, sitting in the chapel together, we suddenly felt like a congregation.
Throughout our years as friends, all of us had loved and supported H and M.
Falteringly, we had done our best to speak the truth in love to one another. We got better at it as we went.
Slowly, we had learned to let no evil come our of our mouths, to be careful with our words. We got better at it as we went.
Over the years, we’ve put away bitterness and wrath. And we got better at is as we went.
Paul’s vision for Christian Community, which can seem like such a tall order, comes more into focus for me when I remember that all of it, all of it, takes place in the context of relationships.
Relationships like the ones I shared with the folks in that chapel this weekend, and like the ones I share with all of you.
Relationships like the ones Paul shares with Christians and Church leaders throughout the Roman Empire, writing to encourage them, or do his best to speak the truth in love, or to put away bitterness or wrath.
I, the prisoner in the Lord, he writes, beg you to lead a life worth of the calling to which you have been called. With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.
“Love” is the word that keeps coming back in this passage, resurfacing again and again to remind us that these ideals, these ways of living that seem so impossible to achieve, are not about controlling or managing our behavior, but cultivating a loving heart, loving relationships, and acting out of that place of tenderness and care, knowing you’ll get better at it as you go. Every one of us at that wedding was held there by some great love. And that made us a pretty good little church.
A church is a bunch of people trying to love each other as Christ loved us, practicing and practicing at opening up our hearts, so that suddenly,
be angry but do not sin and
let no evil talk come out of your mouth and
put away all bitterness and wrath and anger and
speak the truth in love
is woven through the fabric our our everyday lives.
We fail at it all the time, but if we get the love part right, it might not seem quite so far away. If it’s about relationships with each other and with God. Everything else comes from there.
We share the sermon at St. Lydia’s, and so I invite you to share a story from your experience that was brought up by the text or my words.