August 12, 2018
Ephesians 4:25-5:2, Psalm 130
“A Compass for Your Journey”
How many of you are directionally challenged? I am easily disoriented, and I need to tell you up front: Don’t ask me for directions. If you forget and ask, don’t trust what I tell you. Yes, the Sandias are helpful and we are lucky to have that landmark, but it takes more than a mountain range to help some of us find our way. A word of wisdom to those of you who do have a great sense of direction: NEVER say, “You can’t miss it!” There is nothing helpful about that phrase. In fact, I have proven it wrong before. I CAN miss it!
Both of our readings this morning are offering us an inner compass. What does it mean to follow God? The psalmist described waiting for God more than those who watch for the morning. I was thinking about how the morning becomes a touchstone and a kind of orientation for some of us. I am also aware that morning is not a gift to some. We talked in text study this week about examples of “watching for the morning.”
· A native prayer ceremony.
· Seeing the sunrise after a difficult night.
· Discovering hope after contemplating suicide in the night.
· A soldier who has stayed awake through the night to keep his troop safe.
· The women coming to the tomb in the early morning looking for Jesus.
· Gathering quietly on the mesa at Ghost Ranch to watch the sunrise.
The sunrise is a powerful reminder that every day is a gift from God. It can be a way to ground ourselves in God for the day ahead.
In Ephesians, Paul is giving instructions for living as a follower of Jesus. He offers some specific directions to help us orient our lives. In the ancient church, candidates for baptism would begin by facing west and renouncing the forces of darkness, then they would turn to the east to proclaim their allegiance to the light of the world. They would strip off their old clothing and put on new garments of Christ. Paul has seen the church at its best and worst and in the reading you just heard, he is describing marks of this new life.
As someone pointed out in text study this week, Paul is a credible witness. He has experienced the complete turning around of his life and knows that we can change as well. He isn’t calling us to some pie in the sky way of being, but he is telling us that changing our behavior can change our character. He is showing how our behavior shapes our community.
Someone defined stewardship as everything we do after we say “yes” to God. Paul is addressing the “now what?” after we say yes. We are called to discard the behaviors that get in the way of relationships – wrath, bitterness, slander, and malice. Note the way he describes anger. He says, “be angry, but do not sin.” There is an assumption that we will be angry, but he is clear that our behavior when angry has the power to cause destruction and he is calling us to find constructive ways to deal with our anger.
You may have heard about the man who spent 3-1/2 hours enduring the long lines, surly clerks and insane regulations at the Department of Motor Vehicles. On his way home he remembered he needed to stop at a toy store to pick up a gift for his son. He brought his selection, a baseball bat, to the cash register.
"Cash or charge?" the clerk asked.
"Cash," the man snapped. Then apologizing for his rudeness, he explained, "I've spent the afternoon at the motor-vehicle bureau."
"Shall I gift wrap the bat?" the clerk asked sweetly. "Or are you going directly back there?"
I saw a cartoon this week that showed the devil trying to take lessons from the department of motor vehicles to make hell be even worse.
There are so many things that evoke anger.
Aristotle said, "Anybody can become angry--that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody's power and is not easy."
Anger has been the impetus for social change. It has served as a call for human rights. It can help us see the difference between right and wrong. Anger has also caused great destruction. Relationships have been lost. People have been killed. Property has been destroyed. Paul calls us to use our anger for good – to channel it into something constructive.
There is a clear call to use words for building up. Words also have great power. They have caused destruction and they have been used for healing. You have probably heard the three questions to ask yourself before speaking.
· Is it true?
· Is it necessary?
· Is it kind?
How different our world would be if we would simply pause and ask those three questions before we opened our mouths. What a simple practice for us.
Paul calls us to be imitators of God. It is a call to look to God for wisdom and direction.
Many of you have read Harper Lee's novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird." The story is told through the perspective of a little girl named Jean Louise Finch, who goes by the name of Scout. Her father, Atticus Finch, is the town's lawyer and a man of deep principles and integrity.
One day, Scout came home from school and told her father about some problems she was having with the teacher and several other students. In an effort to help her get along better with others, Atticus gave her this advice:
"First of all, if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."
That is what the incarnation is. It is God walking around in our skin through Jesus. It is how Jesus was able to understand so deeply what it means to be human.
This reading from Ephesians is a call to take a step back and listen before we speak, to look before we act, and to use Christ as our compass in the world. There is a clear call to forgive one another which is easier to do when we follow the advice of Atticus Finch. Philo of Alexandria said, “Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
There is always more to learn and more growing to do. That was one of my favorite things I heard this week. I was talking to Bill Baugh who is going to share his story today. He said that he never wanted to stop growing.
Saying yes to following God doesn’t mean we have arrived. Each day is another step in our journey to be Christian. Or to quote German theologian, Karl Rahner: “it's better to say that we're always becoming Christians than saying that we simply areChristians.”
You don’t have to have a great sense of direction to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. You just have to keep your eye on the one you are following.