Friday, August 10, 2018
Becoming Who We Are: Reflections on Ephesians 4.25-5.2 (RCL Proper 19B, 12 August 2018)
Becoming Who We Are
Reflections on Ephesians 4.25-5.2
RCL Proper 19B
12 August 2018
Holy Trinity Cathedral
New Westminster BC
4.25So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours, for we are members of one another. 26Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not make room for the devil. 28Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labour and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
5.1Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Early in the twentieth century the nephew of the American writer Henry James overheard his uncle in his study. The nephew leaned closer to hear what was being said. After all, his uncle was one of the most respected intellectuals of his time. Anything he had to say must be important. The words James’ nephew heard his famous uncle say were these: ‘Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.’
The writer of the Letter to the Ephesians could have said something similar two thousand years ago. The first chapters of his Letter focus on what we might call theological reflection on the mystery of God in Christ. For many of his listeners I can imagine some head-scratching as they tried to understand the writer’s meaning. I think that all of us can sympathize. There’s a part in all of us which wants to say, ‘So what’s the point you’re getting at?’. And the writer’s point is the same as James’: the most important thing in human life is to be kind.
He makes this point towards the end of today’s reading. Unfortunately, his point is lost on us when we hear or read the text in English. What we heard this morning was ‘ . . . be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.’  But, in the original Greek, the writer is expecting us to laugh just a little, because he makes a pun. What he writes is ‘ . . . be chrestosto one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christoshas forgiven you.’ Chrestos, the Greek word for kindness, sounds a bit like Christos, the Greek word for Christ. We could fairly read this sentence as follows: ‘ . . . be Christ-liketo one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.’
For the writer of the letter to the Ephesians the meaning of ‘kindness’ is found in being Christ-like. It’s not some vague feeling, some polite deference to another person. Genuine kindness, for Christians, is the choice to be, in any given moment, in any given relationship, in any given place, the presence of Christ.
You have heard me say that you and I are made in the image and likeness of God. Every human being, whether a person of faith or not, is made in God’s image. God’s image is the God-given ability of every human being to act with justice, to love tenderly, to serve one another and to walk humbly with God. This is built into our very DNA. It can be suppressed, it can be tested, it can become dormant, but, when a human being is free, when a human being is able to tap this reservoir of grace within herself or himself, this image of God lies within each one of us.
But having the image of God within us is not enough. We are called to grow into the likeness of God as made known to us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. It is a life-long pilgrimage of learning and rehearsing a way of being alive, a way of being a genuine human being. It is a pilgrimage that includes blind trails and wrong turns, but a pilgrimage that always offers a way back towards our goal. It is a pilgrimage intended to create what Christian spiritual writers call a habitus, a ‘habit’ of being Christ-like, of being God-like in our choices.
‘Now all this is well and good’, I can hear those first Christians say to the writer of Ephesians. ‘But tell us how we can become more like Christ, more like God, in the reality of our daily lives?’
· Speak the truth in love. ‘Christian speech is truthful, helpful, positive, is kind, has words of forgiveness . . . . ‘  Speaking the truth in love does not mean we ignore hard truths. But it does mean we choose our words carefully, always with an eye to heal rather than hurt, to build up rather than tear down, to bring light rather than shadow. It’s not easy, I know. If you’re like me, you’re still working on it. But what God expects of us is an honest and committed effort. And the habitus of being Christ-like, of being God-like finds a place within us.
· Resist the temptation to act in anger. All of us feel anger; it is a naturally-occurring physiological response to the challenges of life. But what is expected of a follower of Jesus is to choose whether we allow our anger to control us and our actions or whether we find ways to use the energy of anger to heal rather than hurt, to build up rather than tear down, to bring light rather than shadow. It’s not easy, I know. If you’re like me, you’re still working on it. But what God expects of us is an honest and committed effort. And the habitus of being Christ-like finds a place within us.
· Work for the common good rather than personal advantage. It’s hard to keep this in mind when we live and breathe a culture of acquisition, hoarding and careless consumption. Nevertheless, we are stewards of God’s gifts. Everything we have as members of Christ’s body we hold in trust for the One who created all things, for the One who is the giver of all things, for the One who breathes life and love into all things. Sometimes when I see the gap between those who have much and those who have little, those who have power and those who do not, those who believes themselves above everyone else and those who feel themselves below others, I grow weary of trying to heal rather than hurt, to build up rather than tear down, to bring light rather than shadow. It’s not easy, I know. If you’re like me, you’re still working on it. But what God expects of us is an honest and committed effort. And the habitus of being Christ-like, of being God-like finds a place within us.
We come here, Sunday after Sunday, for many reasons. Sometimes we come for solace, sometimes for pardon, sometimes because it’s what we’ve always done. But we also come for strength, for renewal, for a reminder of who we are and whose we are. We come because God’s image within us draws us like a magnet towards one another and towards this community of faith. We come because we know that here, among Christ’s friends, among our friends in Christ, we become more truly ourselves. We hear what Henry James’ nephew heard, if perhaps in a slightly different voice, ‘Three things in human life are important. The first is be Christ-like. The second is be Christ-like. The third is be Christ-like.’ It’s a challenge, I know. But it is who we are. It is who with God's help and strength we can become.