Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
|Text: Ephesians 5:1-2
Since you are God's dear children, you must try to be like him. Your life must be controlled by love, just as Christ loved us and gave his life for us.
“Be yourself”. It is has been said that the advice “to be yourself” can be the best and the worst advice that one person can give to another. And you might be thinking the same especially after last week’s sermon which stated over and over again, “It’s all about Jesus”. Our worship, our involvement in the church, what we do in the church, our acts of service and the decisions we make as a church are all about Jesus. The trouble with focussing everything away from ourselves and giving someone else top priority is this – our culture trains us to think the opposite. We are taught that everything is about us.
When we reflect on this we discover that
often quite unintentionally we put ourselves in the centre of what we do in the
church. We start thinking,
“If I don’t like it,
if too many difficult demands are put on me,
and if I don’t feel warm and cosy about it, well then it’s not for me.
If I don’t find worship entertaining and interesting,
if I don't feel pumped and excited by great music,
if more than 2 people don’t speak to me,
if I don’t get something out of going, then the church has nothing to offer me”. Just by saying something like this it’s easy to see that the church becomes all about us, it’s no longer about Jesus. We might use Jesus’ name a lot but he isn’t the centre because it’s become all about us.
Paul gives us a timely reminder in his letter to the Ephesians that contrary to what our culture teaches us, we are not the centre of the church – it is Jesus Christ. Paul prays that Christ will make his home in the hearts of his readers and that they will come to know how broad and long, how high and deep his love is for them. He leaves us in no doubt that, first and foremost, the church is about Jesus Christ, crucified, risen and now reigning in heaven. It’s not about us.
How then can I have a theme today “Be yourself” – a theme that is so focused on ourselves? I have heard secular counsellors use these words like this. “If you are a person who craves for intimacy, be yourself and go and have an affair. If you are a person who gets pleasure out of talking about other people, why change, be yourself”. The phrase “that’s the way I am” can be used as an excuse to not change a lot of things in our lives that ought to be changed.
But Paul isn’t about to let us use this as
an excuse for bad behaviour – quite the opposite.
In the first part of his letter he tells us
how God’s love coming to dwell in our hearts is all about Jesus;
how our salvation is all about Jesus;
how spiritually dead people being brought to life again is all about Jesus;
how being brought into the family of God through the water of baptism is all about Jesus;
how the new life that we have as individuals and in the body of Christ, the church, is all because of Jesus.
He goes on to say that because we are God's
children because of what Jesus has done, therefore we should try to be like
Jesus or be “imitators of God”.
Paul says, “Your life must be
controlled by love, just as Christ loved us and gave his life for us”.
He says to the Colossians, “You are the people of God; he loved you and chose you for his own. So then, you must clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12). In other words, “You are God's people, now be yourselves – be God's people in the way you speak and interact with other people and in the way you put Jesus at the centre of your lives”.
In the words “be yourselves” there is an element of commitment, a desire to want to follow through and endeavour to be true to our calling.
Let’s take an example.
Say I was selected to represent Australia at the Olympics. Not only am I to do my best in my chosen sport but to be a good ambassador for our country. However, in the lead up to the games I turn up to training sessions when I feel like it or when I don’t have anything else on. When it comes to wearing the Australian Olympic uniform in public I wear pieces of the British or American uniform instead. When I am interviewed by the media and I’m asked about the chances of Australia winning medals, I say, “Well yes, we might but I wouldn’t put any bets on the Australian team. I think the Brits have got a good team and really will win the day. I’d put my money on the Brits. Anyway, it’s just a game. I’m just going out to have a good time.”
I’m sure that everyone who sees this interview and knows about my attitude will be disgusted and wonder why on earth I call myself an Australian Olympian.
Yet that’s the attitude we have toward our Christian life and we think it’s OK – that it doesn’t matter. It does matter. “Christ loved us and gave his life for us as a sweet-smelling offering and sacrifice that pleases God”. We are his! He is now the one in whom our life has its meaning and purpose. He has renewed and recreated us through the water of baptism. He has called us to be his chosen people – given us the honour to be members of his team. To belittle that or to deny that is not only to deny who we are but also to thumb our noses at the one who has done so much for us as well as do damage to the team’s reputation – to the witness of the church.
“Therefore” ….. Paul says and when he uses that little Greek word he means that what Jesus has done for us has implications for everyday life. “Therefore”, he urges us, “Be who you are; be God's children in the world; be the people God made you to be through the death and resurrection of his Son; speak and act as those whose lives are intimately and uniquely connected with Jesus Christ”.
This is where it comes back to being all about Jesus. He has loved us, forgiven us, saved us, helped us, and renewed us. He is the centre and focus of our lives. There is nothing in our lives that is not focussed on Jesus. The whole of our lives – at home, at work, at school, at play – there is not a moment that we can say that Jesus is not a part of and does not form the core of our being. The New Testament talks a lot about being “in Christ” or “in union with Christ” – this is just an abbreviated way of saying that we belong to Jesus. He is in us and part of us.
We are to live who we are.
We will have him as Lord of our lives instead of ourselves and our wants.
We will allow him to work in and through us what he wants.
We will take his Word as the truth without trying to twist and turn it to suite ourselves.
We will come to worship to receive what he has for us and not what appeals to us.
We will live our everyday life as people who are guided by his Word.
We will take seriously the unity that we share with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
Be the person whom God has called you to be through his Son Jesus and
through the power of the Holy Spirit working in your lives.
Pauls says to the Ephesians, “Get
rid of all bitterness, passion, and anger.
No more shouting or insults, no more hateful feelings of any sort”.
“Don’t let anger lead you into sin”,
“don’t use harmful words”,
“don’t give the Devil a chance” – a chance to destroy the unity that we have in the church in Christ and the oneness that we have with God through Christ.
Then Paul adds these powerful words, “Do not make the Holy Spirit sad” – sad because we keep on ignoring his influence and guidance and so let sin and Satan have their own way.
“Instead”, Paul adds, “be kind and tender-hearted to one another, and forgive one another, as God has forgiven you through Christ”. These latter qualities belong to those who are in Christ's company and in your new life.
This is not theoretical, pie in the sky mumbo jumbo. This is where the rubber hits the road. This is where theology becomes a practical part of every day. This is where our baptism and our relationship with Jesus become real.
And it is hard work. It’s very easy – too easy for us to fall back into old habits and old attitudes, hurtful ways of dealing with other people and easily ignore the love that God has for us. If it was all so easy then Paul wouldn’t have had to write the way he did to those early Christians reminding them to be who God chose them to be.
At times it can be terribly frustrating to try to “be yourself” as God's child and throw up our hands in disgust and say it’s all too hard. There’s no point in pretending that it’s not hard – we all know that from experience that no sooner have we resolved never to do something again than we find ourselves doing it yet again. The apostle Paul even admitted to that.
But the great thing about the Christian
faith is that in the end the focus is not on me and my failures.
The focus is on Jesus.
We can confidently repent of our weaknesses and admit that we are too willing to resurrect our old ways because we know Jesus and his love for us.
Daily he forgives us.
Daily he affirms the promises he made to us at our baptism and so daily we can confidently renew our commitment to endeavour to walk as his disciples.
He has called us to walk in love, in forgiveness, in newness as one of God's dearly loved children and he will help us fulfil that calling. The focus on being disciples is always on Jesus. It’s when we take our eyes off him that we find ourselves losing our way.
The world is looking for people who are true to their calling to make a difference – to bring peace, love, forgiveness, renewal into our world. Be yourself, that is, the forgiven, loved adopted, cherished called people of God that you are.
© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
12th August 2012