Well, once again, good morning. For those of you who do not know me, my name is Jonathan Davis and I am the intern pastor here at Augustana Lutheran Church. I started here last week and will be here through next July.
Now….I am 27 years old, I have voted in three presidential elections, I have been married to my beautiful wife, Lauren, for three years, I have two cats, I am two years into a graduate degree, and I have planned and led mission trips all over the country for middle schoolers. So for all intents and purposes, I would consider myself an independent knowledgeable adult. Yet, the older I get, the more I realize how little I actually know about life. Like an 8-year-old boy craving and soaking up knowledge like a sponge, these days, I find myself clinging to every word that my father says.
When he speaks, wisdom springs forth and I lean in on the edge of my seat, wondering what will be said next. He could be talking about politics, the new book he just read, or what he think about the afterlife. It does not really matter. I find myself in awe and I want to grab a tape recorder and push the button with the little red circle on it to ensure that this won’t be the last time I hear these words. To ensure that I won’t forget them. And as a result of this quarter-life crisis, I have found myself not sitting around waiting for such wisdom, but actually seeking out it from my dad by cornering him in his own kitchen and firing question after question at him. Dad, how do should you buy a house – do you find the house first or the bank? Dad, what did you and mom do when the house flooded? How did your recover from such a thing? Dad, what’s your opinion on abortion, because I can see both sides on the issue? Dad, if you could do everything all over again, what would you do differently?
Just last week, a man was talking about how he actually journals for his children. He writes about his life, he writes about his experiences with them, and he writes on topics that he thinks they may need to know about someday – like how to buy a car, or how to hang dry wall, and so on. Imagine the wisdom that flows out from the pages of that journal.
Well, this is exactly what we get today from Paul and his letter to the Ephesians – parental wisdom. Sage wisdom about living well as the larger church that is called to be one in God, or as Pastor Michelene put it last week – the larger church that is knitted and joined together. Throughout this letter, Paul has one central theme – being one as the body of Christ. Now, writing to a primarily Gentile audience, Paul grounds this theme in the relationship between Jews and Gentiles. You see, Jews and Gentiles did not associate with one another. They did not marry one another, they did not eat together, and they, ideally, were not seen speaking to one another. Jews were the Israelites, God’s chosen people; Gentiles were the pagan idols worshipers, God’s unchosen people. That’s just how it was – the Gentiles were condemned by God and the Jews were not to interact with them.
But with his letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds the Gentiles that there is relationship with the Jews is not as it seems. Paul reminds them of a secret that has been buried and hidden from humankind – that whether they like it or not, the Jews and the Gentiles are one in God. They share in the same grace and the same promise from God, that God will love them unconditionally. They share in the same calling – to be children of God and bearers of light and love into this dark world.
So, the secret is out, there is not distinction between Jew or Gentile. Both are children of God and have responsibility to live into that calling. To rid themselves of their old ways of living and to clothe themselves in new life.
And so, in the text for today, Paul offers his parental wisdom on what that new life looks like. “Put away falsehood and be truthtellers,” he says. “If you are angry, fine, be angry…. but don’t let it get out of hand and lead you to sin, and certainly don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” “Those of you who are thieves, in this new life, stop stealing! And to those of you who are not, give them jobs so that they can begin sharing their wealth…..Do not speak evil to one another, but build each other up. And let go of your bitterness and wrath, but be kind and tenderhearted, for you are called to be imitators of God.” Imitators of God. We are called to be imitators of God. Nowhere else in the New Testament are we called to be imitators of God. Imitators of Christ, yes, but imitators of God? What a powerful calling. Bring light and love into the world, not darkness and hate. Be kind and tenderhearted and you will live fully.
Today’s Gospel text from John talks about this. Jesus is the bread of life. The way of Jesus is the way of life. Eat this bread, Jesus says. The bread of life, not the bread of death. Even on Augustana’s sign out here, it quotes John 10:10 that says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” The concern is with LIFE; how do we live well and into our God given calling to be united as one.
Jesus says, “Let the dead bury the dead…come over here where there is life.” The concern is with life and how we live it. And so it is with Paul. You Gentiles are a part of the body of Christ, he says. And you have a calling from God to live in love with one another. Your old way of living does not work anymore; it was the way of death – filled with lies, greed, anger, and malice. Empty yourselves of those things. Come over here and eat this bread. The bread of life – filled with truth, generosity, kindness, and forgiveness. Live this way, he says.
Brothers and sisters, look around you. Look at those behind you, beside you, and in front of you. You are the chosen people of God. And now here is the secret, everyone out there, outside these walls, they, too, are the chosen people of God. And the only difference, if there is one, is that maybe they haven’t heard it yet.
Whether you like it or not, you all here right now, and everyone out there, beyond these walls, are one in God. You share in the same grace, the same promise, and the same calling from God. The calling to be God’s children and to be bearers of light into this dark world. So act like it, Paul says! Be imitators of God as one community and build up the body of Christ.
What do you need to empty yourself of so that you can begin to live well as one comunity? Perhaps it’s anger from the past. Or lost dreams for the future. Or perhaps apathy has dug itself so deep into you because, “Who cares, anyways?” Bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling, slander, and malice. Such things are the way of death and separate you from the living. Empty yourself of such things so that you may live fully, with honesty, kindness, and tender hearts. Be the imitators of God that you have been chosen to be.
It won’t be easy. That’s for sure. But that’s okay, these are not meant as individual moralisms that are to simply be obeyed, but as communal wisdom for the sake of living well. No one embarks on this journey alone.
Like a parent offering wisdom for the road ahead, Paul gives us the map to living fully. It’s a good thing we have it recorded, because we just may need to hear it again and again and again.
We are on the path to becoming whom God intended us to be. So be well, brothers and sisters. Live well, this day and in the days ahead, emptying yourself of that which divides you from the rest of God’s people so that you may begin to have life and to have it abundantly. AMEN