Conspiracy of Goodness 8-9-15

The original language at the beginning of our assigned reading for this morning is “putting off all falsehood” or “stripping away the old self.” This is key to understanding Ephesians. It is talking about the transformation of the self, not just acting better, or trying harder, but a new self in Christ. Listen for the Word of God for you this day.

Ephesians 4:25-5:2  Therefore, let’s have no more lies.  Speak truthfully to each other, for we are all members of one body. When you get angry, don’t let it become a sin.  Don’t let the sun set on your anger or you will give an opening to the Devil. You who have been stealing, stop stealing.  Go to work.  Do something useful with your hands, so you will have something to share with the needy. Be on you guard against foul talk.  Say only what will build others up at that moment.  Say only what will give grace to your listeners. Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, all rage and anger, all harsh words, slander and malice of every kind. In place of these, be kind to one another; compassionate and mutually forgiving, just as God has forgiven you in Christ. Try, then, to imitate God as beloved children. Walk in love as Christ loved us, and offered himself in sacrifice to God for us, a gift of pleasing fragrance.

August 9, 2015

Nurturing Spirit: A Conspiracy of Goodness

This spring when we re-ordered the pews in the sanctuary into a diamond instead of all facing forward, there were some people who were pretty angry. And they let me know. Some people were direct about it and told me in no uncertain terms that they did not appreciate not being able to find “their” seat or that they just want to face the cross. Some others let me know a little more slant, making several comments over time to make sure I knew their feelings.

Those of you who expressed your anger will be glad to hear your anger validated by Ephesians. “Be angry, but do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” Ephesians seems to require us as Christians to express our anger – and get over it. Personally, I was glad that folks in the congregation followed  both parts of this advice and did not decide to shoot me.

There are lots of changes going on in our churches and denominations these days that stir up anger and discomfort in the pews. This passage could help us through a lot of these conflicts. One thing that might help us is to realize that the community in Ephesus had problems at least as serious as the modern church. If you read between the lines, you hear the writer addressing a community with members who were lying, acting out in anger, stealing, cursing, slandering, acting out of bitterness, raging. This sounds like the writer is reacting to reading the annual conference Twitter feed or something!

Really, it is quite remarkable the things that people publish in their name when there is no one editing what they say. So, you see, the people of Ephesus were dealing with normal human behavior.

We like to think that we are above that kind of behavior within our communities. And mostly we are – for the same reason as the people in the Ephesians community, because we do have an editor. When we were baptized, we promised to combat evil in whatever form we find it, even within ourselves. We accepted God as our editor and guide.

Clearly this is what the writer is inviting the Ephesians to – a transformation of their lives toward the Living God, inviting them to be part of a conspiracy of goodness. The transformation the writer calls for can not be accomplished without the forgiveness and transforming power of the Living God in their community. “Get rid of all bitterness, all rage and anger, all harsh words, slander and malice of every kind. In place of these, be kind to one another; compassionate and mutually forgiving, just as God has forgiven you in Christ. Try, then, to imitate God as beloved children. Walk in love as Christ loved us, and offered himself in sacrifice to God for us, a gift of pleasing fragrance.”

That last statement is particularly interesting. Christ “offered himself in sacrifice to God for us, a gift of pleasing fragrance.” The Ephesians associated sacrifice with a burnt offering that would have a fragrance like a summer grill, so the writer makes the connection that any sacrifice will have a pleasing fragrance, a gift to be smelled.

Let’s go back for a second to the beginning of the pericope, “Therefore, let’s have no more lies.  Speak truthfully to each other, for we are all members of one body.” Again, there’s a hint that we are all in this together, all members of one body, a conspiracy of goodness. Conspiracy means “breathing together.” So we smell Christ’s fragrant gift of love together when we join the conspiracy and become part of the one body.

You can sometimes tell someone is not part of the conspiracy when they say “Let me tell you the truth.” “To be honest with you..” “I’ll tell you the truth…” Don’t you get suspicious of someone who is always saying things like that to you? Why do they have to reassure you that they are telling the truth? Because they usually don’t tell the truth? or because they are only pretending to tell the truth in that moment? Generally, I assume that people who make a habit of telling the truth don’t have to tell you that they are doing so.

When we are part of the one body, when we breathe together as one, we don’t have to reassure each other that we are telling the truth. We just tell it. Our lives transformed by God’s power in baptism, blessed by grace and forgiveness through the continual presence of the Holy Spirit in Christ, allows us to speak truth when we need to, to express our anger without rage or abuse, and to live with integrity with each other.

 

Let me close by saying, as I have said several times, that we will experiment again next summer with rearranging the pews. I will try to prepare people a little better next summer for it, to let you know when and why we are making this change. As we create a circle for the summer in our sanctuary and face each other for worship for a couple of months, we will indeed experience worship differently. We will experience God differently, in the faces of our neighbors.

One the reasons we do it is because that arrangement allows us to be more conscious of being a conspiracy of goodness. In a circle of trust we experience Christ’s presence in and among the community in a different way than when we are all facing forward, facing the back of each others’ heads. Which is to say, there may yet be opportunities in seasons to come that you get to practice being angry without sinning, speaking your truth. As part of the conspiracy of goodness, we know God’s presence. As part of the baptized faithful, our lives are transformed. As part of what God is doing in the world, we are the transformed, forgiven, body of Christ, a conspiracy of goodness.

This is God’s good news.

Responsive hymn 2214     Lead Me, Guide Me