Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Good Words to Live By

Ephesians 4:25-5:2
Nothing’s New
“There is nothing new under the sun.”  (Ecc. 1:9)  So says Quoheleth, the teacher, of the book of Ecclesiastes in the Hebrew Bible.  He was talking about the meaning of life and wisdom and time, a certain time for every matter under heaven.  (Ecc. 3:3)  He also says, “Vanity!  Vanity!  Everything is meaningless.”  Seems he’s a little down on things, granted.  Yet he really does impart practical wisdom for everyday living if you can deal with his defeatist shtick that he can’t seem to shake.

Yet the older I get the more I realize that there really is nothing new under the sun.  Ideas reinvent themselves into new and improved ideas.  Inspiration and plans develop and then subside only to resurface and metamorphose into someone else’s brainchild.  Even my hip-hugger, bell-bottomed jeans have made a comeback only I don’t remember them being so incredibly uncomfortable.  Nothing new!  Human behavior adapts and changes throughout time to reflect the cultural and technological advancements of an age.  However the quest for meaning and understanding does not.

There is nothing new under the sun; no behavior, no invention, no thought that does not endeavor to find significance with its particular situation.  The universal church, too, still strives to find meaning for itself.  What’s its purpose, how are we to act, what is God calling us to be for today, in today’s norms and accepted practices. Those questions are just as prevalent today as they were back in the first century.  There is nothing new that the church has not seen already nor been through.

The Church at Ephesus
The fledgling church at Ephesus really had their troubles.  Paul missionized this great port city on the Aegean Sea which is now a part of present day Turkey.  In his verbose style and manner Paul sets up a community of Christians within the many pagan cultural influences of the Greco-Roman world and within existing Judaism.  Not a small task if you ask me, the Roman Empire seemed rather forebodding.  But then again, ‘tentmaking’ as we call it today or church founding never is and easy task.  You are up against great odds with very little to start with; you go out on a wing and a prayer as they say.

After Paul saw that his task was finished he left the community and all ‘you know what broke loose’.  Lying, anger, stealing, evil talk, bitterness and wrath, wrangling no less and slander…probably over very large issues, and it would most likely be safe to say over minutia that is not worth losing sleep over.  You know how small things can fester and become larger than life, mega, super-sized problems, especially at night while you are lying in bed wide awake.  So this very same letter to Ephesians that can talk about mature Christian unity…on the turn of a page addresses some nasty underlying issues that have arisen in this church at Ephesus. 

The Church Today
Seems like things never change, eh?  The universal church is not without it problems today as it was 100 years ago or even 1,000 years ago.  Schism happens!  If lying, anger, stealing, evil talk, bitterness and wrath, wrangling and slander are present in the church I wonder sometimes why anyone would want to join the church who displays, at times, the darker side of human nature?  But those of us who embrace ‘the church’ know of the benefits that the church can and does give.

The church is no different in that respect than any other institution where people try to coexist and find meaning in what they do.  But those of us who embrace ‘the church’ know of the benefits that the church can and does give. What makes the church different is that with God’s grace and help we have effective guidelines and can overcome our differences.  God in Jesus Christ is spiritually and physically present and you don’t find that at a sports club or social service agency.  Differences, disagreements, and arguments can be worked through with forgiveness because with forgiveness comes cleansing, reflection, transformation, and hope and we all need hope in our lives. 

We can put away the old self, the old ways, the old being and put on the new.   Out of our mouths can come not evil, but ‘only what is useful…so that our words may give grace to all who hear’.  Don’t we want to be God’s face of grace to each other and to all people?  Even though it’s a pretty tall order wouldn’t we want to be imitators of God showing kindness not anger, love not hate, grace not wrath?  Wouldn’t we want to speak truth as close to how God can speak truth so that others are valued, loved, needed and wanted?

Wilton Congregational
I found this old letter stuffed in the walls of the shed as they are renovating it.  I can’t quite see a date on it but it definitely was addressed to you, from none other than Paul himself.  It’s amazing!   It begins….

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are in Wilton and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. My dear Wiltonians:

I write to you today about some things that I have heard about you since I left your community.  Now don’t get squirmy in your seats or all of a sudden remember that you’ve left a pot boiling on the stove at home and prepare to leave.  What I have to say is good because I remember with fondness the time that we spent together immersing ourselves into building up the body of Christ at Wilton.

God, through our Lord Christ Jesus, picked me up and gently placed me down in this foreign land and together we built, spiritual brick by spiritual brick, this beloved community.  I didn’t get a lot of stage direction from our Lord Jesus Christ, just a little.  I only knew intuitively that in that so many years a community will have seen birth, death, marriages, divorces, tears and laughter, anger and ‘words’, divisiveness, cohesiveness, love and forgiveness.  It is an inevitable part of life.  Yet I, Paul moved forward in faith knowing that you no longer could live in darkness through life’s calamities and joys.

You have not been without your problems, this is true.  There's nothing new, as my ancient friend Quoheleth said, remember?  But you have worked through them because of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. (Eph 1:15)  It is strength and love which binds people together as a church family and I believe you embody that.

I am struck by how deeply relational you are.  You love to be together expressing genuine concern.  This is good.  You sit side by side in committee work for which I give God thanks.  You hammer nails next to one another for which others give God thanks.  You walk together, play tennis together and golf together because you are genuine friends yes, but you must always remember from where and in whom your friendship exists.  This is exactly what being the body of Christ involves. 

But I, Paul must warn you not to get too comfortable in your ways or think that you are the only church in town.  You are not.  You are one of many houses of worship and for that very reason you must work diligently to be relevant in people’s lives always without losing your integrity as a Christian house of worship.  That is a difficult balance.  The good people of Wilton have many choices, work hard to be at the top of their list for it is Christ’s love that you extend to others when you walk the aisles in the marketplace, dine at the open air cafes, or sit in the bleachers at a Warriors game or a Wahoo’s swim meet.

In a letter to my friends in Ephesus I encouraged them to ‘be imitators of God, as beloved children, and to live in love’ (5:1)  I encourage you to live in love also and to imitate God as best as you can.  Show love not anger, be generous not stingy, put away egos and do not walk away when you don’t get your way but pray at all times that the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ will be present among you.

My plans now take me to spread God’s grace and peace to the communities of Westport and Greenwich and even up as far as Litchfield county but I will send others to be with you in my stead.  Be at peace my friends and live in love and may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Amen.