Called to live differently
This week’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2) is a particularly piercing word for the church today. Paul makes a powerful appeal that’s needed in a time when “truth” is a questionable commodity in our current society.
Along with questioning “the truth”, we live in a culture where anger, malice and slander are met – and dished out – at every turn. Paul unequivocally reminds us, that as Christian disciples, we are to live differently. God has poured out his life in his Son, Jesus Christ, and has made us his beloved children. As children of God, our old life has been put away and we are growing into a new life together in Jesus Christ. That new life changes how we deal with one another.
In our society, and in our Christian life together, anger emerges from our deep divides. Anger lashes out when people isolate themselves in their own realities and think their ways of going about life are the ONLY ways to go about life. When isolated individuals or groups collide, there can be no peace. Anger erupts.
Unified in Christ
The apostle Paul in Ephesians writes that we Christians are called to deal with our anger differently. We can continue to come together with differences of opinion, even when we’re angry or disagree with one another, because it’s our togetherness as Christians that counts. What binds us solidly together is Jesus Christ. Because we share unity in our Lord, we’re called, not to retreat into our own little corners of reality to fume about how wrong the thoughts of our fellow Christians might be.
We’re called to continue to come together, speaking and behaving with one another in ways that lead to peace. Even when the conversations we need to have with each other are difficult. Even when we’d rather not talk about something and would prefer to pretend that we all think exactly the same. Paul encourages us to put our unity in Christ first. Then, with thoughtfulness and tender care, we can discuss even the touchiest of topics.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians insists that, as Christians in a particular congregation, we are members of the same body, “and therefore we have a responsibility toward one another. Ephesians says our words should convey ‘truth’ and ‘grace’.”1 Paul gets specific saying that speaking the truth in love can be a healing strategy in situations of anger. Emphasizing Paul’s advice, one commentator said something that has stuck with me. She wrote: “When ANGER is the FRAMEWORK for truth telling, the division of the body results. Yet when LOVE is the FRAMEWORK, healing can result.”2
Forgiven so the we can forgive
So how can we even have a framework of love in which to speak the truth to each other? Ephesians opens with talk of “putting away” (v 25). When we hear that phrase “putting away”, we are meant to hear a reference to our baptism. In early baptismal practice, old clothes were stripped off the baptized person, right as they were baptized – in order to put on a new white robe, which symbolized a new identity in Christ. The OLD was put off in the PAST. Now a new identity in begins to replace the old. In baptism we have been made ‘beloved children’. And that makes THE difference in how we live. We’re able to love because we have been loved. We’re able to be at peace because God has made peace with us. We can forgive because we have been forgiven.
My baptized brothers and sisters, may we keep coming together as the body of Christ, who learn to speak the truth in love that peace might prevail among us. For it is THIS kind of truth and love and peace that witnesses to the world of new life in Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God! AMEN.
1Alan Brehm, The Waking Dreamer Blog, Aug 11, 2009
2Commentary on Ephesians 4:25-5:2, Dr Susan Hylen, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2009
This post is part five of a six-part series titled “No Longer Strangers: Living as a Community of Faith”