11th Sunday after Pentecost
August 9, 2015
Ephesians 4: 25-5:1 Click on this link to open the reading in Oremus Bible Browser
Back in the day, my husband had a jacket with a “Members Only” label on it. It zipped up the front and had knitted collar and cuffs. All his phone company friends had one too. It was a status item, you had to go to the Broadway or Bullock’s to buy it. It was too high class for JC Penny or Sears. Like all status symbols, it told the world that you were part of something exclusive, a cut above ordinary, and that you had the money to be able to be a member of the “club.”
That kind of membership conveys exclusivity. You have to earn your way in: my sister had to sing to become a member of her high school sorority; you have to pay or meet a level of skill or IQ or education, or even be born into it, like a family. You have to qualify to be a member.
In this letter to the Ephesian congregation, Paul tells the people that they are members of one another. That is another kind of membership; your arms and legs are your members. This kind of membership implies a connectedness that is much deeper than a club that you join or family that you are born into.
This kind of membership is about the parts of ourselves that we are born with, parts that grow in their ability to support our function as a whole being in the world. Our lips learn to articulate speech, our feet and legs to make us walk, our fingers to hold onto our food. Our eyes and ears make it possible for us to hear and see, but they also provide balance and our sense of movement in the world. All those members of our body learn to work together to provide our ability to live. If one part’s not working, all the rest suffer, and our efforts to live are crippled by the lack.
As the Apostle imagines this first-century church, he has already expounded on the wonderful gifts of the Spirit that have been given to it through the love of God the Father, who sent Jesus to bless us with God’s gifts through his example of living the new life promised to us. We are born into that new life in our baptism. Just as Jesus was raised from the dead, so we too have been welcomed into God’s new life. We are no longer outsiders we are adopted sons and daughters now. So Paul imagines what that new life looks like. What follows are behaviors of the members of a healthy body.
Everyone gets angry, you can get angry about injustice as easily as you get angry for petty selfish reasons, but don’t let your anger be the occasion for sin. Don’t let it open the door to evil. He doesn’t tell thieves just to get to work doing something honest for a living, he wants them to participate in just work so that they have something to share with those in need. Be careful with your words, he says, so that what comes out of your mouth builds up the people around you, giving them grace. Get rid of bitterness and wrath and anger, slandering, wrangling, and malice. It grieves the Holy Spirit when we hurt each other, because we have all been sealed by the Spirit’s mercy and grace, not by anything we can brag about or claim as making us superior to our brothers and sisters.
Here’s how members of the Body treat each other: with kindness and tenderheartedness, forgiving each other as we have been forgiven (haven’t I heard Jesus say something like that in that prayer he taught?) We would be acting like God has acted toward us in Jesus if we treated each other as beloved, if we lived in the same love for each other as we do for the members of our own bodies.
You are going to be seeing a lot more of this sheet called RESPECT Communication Guidelines. Our leadership has adopted these ‘rules of the road’ to serve as ground rules for conversation in all meetings and forums that we will have from now on. It spells out RESPECT (a little Aretha in here…..) in the way we talk and listen.
R: take RESPONSIBILITY for what you say and feel without blaming others; E: use EMPATHETIC listening, seeking to hear the heart of the speaker; S: be SENSITIVE to differences in communication styles, not judging what is said by how it is said; P: PONDER what you hear and feel before you speak; E: EXAMINE your own assumptions and perceptions as you react to what you hear, then speak; C: keep CONFIDENTIALITY about what is discussed here as family business; T: TRUST ambiguity because we are not debating who is right and who is wrong.
These rules of the road can help us tell the truth in love. It’s comforting to know that building loving community was as hard for the First-Century church as it is for us. It’s comforting to hear that God made us to be members of each other in our baptism by joining us to Jesus. We can’t lose God’s love, but we can break the Spirit’s heart when we don’t extend the grace that has been poured out to each of us to each other.
Pray with me:
Jesus we need you to be in our speech and in our hearing. We need you to remind us of the lavishness of your love for us and the new life you’ve given us, so we can always work to build each other up. Forgive our feeble attempts and give us your grace. Amen.