Sermon: Shaping Community

Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

“Therefore, each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” Ephesians 4:25

Truth has really taken a beating in the last few years. It seems that no one really knows what the truth is. How can we determine the truth when the institutions we used to trust, media, government, and the Church, continue to play fast and loose with the truth? He said she said, cover-up, scandal, resignations, and walking it back are all part of what happens on a day-to-day basis.

But what is truth?

According to a very trusted source, Wikipedia, truth is defined as “Truth is the property of being in accord with fact or reality.” Let’s hear that again, “Truth is the property of being in accord with fact or reality.” Sit with that for a moment. I am not sure the definition helps a whole lot because it leaves open this idea of fact and reality. My reality may be vastly different than yours, and we all know how facts seem to be a movable feast.

Let us come back to this in a moment.

In his Letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes, “‘ In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” Anger is another emotion we have become all too familiar with. Someone is always angry about something. This did not go my way, so I am angry. That did not go as planned, so I am angry. The Church did not do what I wanted it to do, so I am angry. Anger is good; it is what we do with it that is bad.

Let me tell you a little about my philosophy of preaching and teaching. I am not here to say what you want me to say, I am here to say what you need to hear, and yes, sometimes that will make you angry. The goal of any person that stands in places like this is to make you squirm and, if I am really on my game, get you fuming.

You see, me telling you what you want to hear is the easiest thing I can do. I can stand here and tell you how wonderful you are and all the rest, which is the truth, but it does nothing to advance and deepen our spiritual lives. If we are going to move along our spiritual journey, we must face the truth, there is that word again about ourselves, and then we need to find the tools necessary to keep us moving forward.

So, from time to time, I hope I make you angry. I hope I get you to squirm in your seat. And I hope I get you to question for faith is nothing more than asking questions and pondering the answers if there are any.

But back to the truth for a moment. The definition I used spoke of facts and reality. Now I know we want facts to be facts and reality to be reality, but the truth is, facts and reality change with time.

I am a firm believer that the Scriptures we have were inspired by the Holy Spirit. I believe that the Scriptures contain everything that is necessary for salvation. But what I do not believe is that the Scriptures in inerrant. Let me explain.

This book that we have was written over many generations, primarily by people that were no eyewitnesses to the events that they are writing about. For example, it is believed that Moses wrote the book of Genesis. Moses was not creeping around in the bushes taking notes when Adam and Eve were doing their thing. Moses wrote what oral tradition had been saying, and that changes over time.

But I digress. The Scriptures that we have today were written at a very particular time in history to a particular group of people, experience a very particular set of circumstances. Sure, there is an application to our lives today, but to fully understand what is being written, we have to understand the person’s mind and what was going on at the time. For the writer of Ephesians, there were facts, and there was a reality, but was it?

Believe it or not, facts change, and reality shifts. Yes, some facts do not change; two and two is four. The earth rotates around the sun. God loves you no matter what. All of these are facts. However, there was a time when they were not.

My reality is probably different than your reality. I grew up in a relatively privileged way. By privileged, I don’t mean we did not work hard for what we have. When I say privileged, I mean that the deck was not stacked against me based on race, religion, socio-economic standing, or who I choose to love. I came of age in the 1970s. I have spent most of my adult life wearing the uniform of my country. I am reasonably well educated. But that is my reality. Your reality is different, and that is not a bad thing.

In the Gospel passage we heard, Jesus continues the Bread of Life Discourse. He tells those listening that he is the bread of life and, as one would understand, they begin to grumble. These are learned men, and they cannot understand how someone with a known address can be what Jesus is saying he is. They cannot understand how a man can be God and God can be a man. They have facts, and they have reality. But then, Jesus comes along and shakes it all up.

I know it seems I am jumping around but stick with me.  I am as excited as you are to see how this all comes out, trust me.

Let’s get back to Paul and his bit about anger. Paul is not saying we cannot get angry; in fact, Paul is saying get angry because anger brings change. Righteous anger, anger for a cause, is just that righteous. Gandhi got angry, and things changed. Martin Luther King got angry, and things changed. Jesus got angry, remember he flipped the tables over in the Temple, and things changed. Anger for the right reason is good, but anger that turns to violence is not. Anger that causes us to twist facts, call people names, and hate is not and is precisely what Paul is warning about.

When Moses came down off the mountain carrying the Law of God, one of those laws was “do not bear false witness” in ordinary language; what God is saying is, do not lie. Do not spin the truth to your advantage. Do not twist facts. Always, to the best of your ability, tell the truth and do it in love.

So let us focus on the truth as I see it.

If we call ourselves Christians, we have to act in a certain way, not some of the time, not when it is convenient, but at all times. We have to love everyone, without exception. We have to care for those less fortunate than us, the poor, the homeless, the immigrant, those of a different color than us, and those who believe differently than we do. The Church exists to make disciples, not members, and we do this by love, not by force. We are to live our lives in such a way that if the bible were to disappear tomorrow, people would be able to tell we are Christians by the way to live, act, and love. As a church community, everything we do has to flow from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Everything we do has to be done in love. And everything we do has to be to make disciples.

And I want to focus on another truth; God loves all of us just as we are. But, of course, this does not mean we can stay as we are spiritually. No, we have to journey on. But what I mean is what Paul said in his Letter to the Romans:

“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:28-29

In other words, and this is the truth that we need to shout from the rooftops, God loves each of us without exception and condition. And that, my friends, is the truth that we need to shout from the rooftops.

There are parts of Christ’s Church attempting to say who is and who is not welcome. Fine, let them do that; that is not our concern. Our concern is to make sure that we, in our little corner of the world, practice that radical love that Jesus taught and make sure all are genuinely welcome. And by all, I mean all.

For I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Nothing.


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