Ephesians 4:25 - 5:2 What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself. Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give evil that kind of foothold in your life.Did you use to make ends meet by stealing? Well, no more! Get an honest job so that you can help others who can’t work. Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift. Don’t grieve God. Don’t break God's heart. God's Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit fo God. Don’t take such a gift for granted. Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you. Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with God and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that. *************
'Love like that!' A powerful exhortation from the author of Ephesians to, in the words of the athletic company Nike, 'Just Do it!' We've been in a series going through the book of Ephesians called, "Backyard Bodybuilding" or how we can be strengthened as the body of Christ in our community of faith. We've gone through several aspects of the work out process- warming up, core training, (whats at the center of our faith), cardio,(all matters of the heart- and loving like God loves- unconditionally) and then last week, legs, back, chest, and arms- or- that we are connected to each other no matter what, so when one hurt we all hurt- how each of us have a specific gift, talent, skill given to us by God, and then how we might encourage one another to use those gifts in our own backyard.
So today, after all of the working out of the body, we're going to talk about another important aspect of body building that is not done in the gym- because what we do in the gym is only one part of the overall plan for health and wellness; we also need to talk about what goes in to our body- how we feed our muscles and tissues and bones and organs with the food we eat. We need to talk about nutrition. Some experts say that 90% of any exercise and weigh loss program is diet. For serious bodybuilders, good nutrition is essential. According to bodybuilding.com: "If you want to see the best results from your training program, proper nutrition is critical. This means the proper intake of calories, the proper ratio of macro nutrients--protein, carbohydrates, and fats—and the proper timing of these macro nutrients."(1) Sounds obsessive? To you and I perhaps, but to someone who's primary focus is the health and building of their body, not at all. It does make you think a little about where our focus lies, doesn't it? (but that's for another day) Proper nutrition not only ensures a body will have energy to make it through the work out, but also to repair the damage done to muscles in the gym and build muscle outside of the gym.
Let's unpack that a bit. When the body works out, especially in weight lifting, muscles are broken down; tiny micro sized tears occur all over the muscles that are worked- the tearing is necessary in order for them to grow larger and stronger. Muscles are broken down in order to build back up- simple, yes? the muscles stop working, the body rushes to repair the damage- blood, fluid, enzymes, amino acids, all flood the tired muscle and, if the body has been properly nourished, has the ability to heal itself, and make it even stronger in the long run.
Let's bring that same theory to the Body of Christ. Every time we work out- meaning, every time we are fully utilizing the gifts, skills, talents in this community, though we may end up stronger in the end, it taxes our muscles. Ask anyone who has tried to use their gifts in community, or out there. 'Working out' takes its toll. Trying to get a ministry started, or an event planned, or working with someone who needs a lot of attention, mission work, food pantry, counseling, teaching, leading a small group, practicing for Sunday service, greeting, preparing the music, cleaning the church, caring for the nursery, even putting out refreshments for coffee hour- every time we work at something that has the potential to change a life- we are using our muscles.
Hang on, Pastor- yeah sure I believe what you just said about some of those ministries changing a life- but coffee hour changing a life? Nursery care? Really? Really! Let me tell you a story. When John Pepe and I had just moved to central Jersey, we were not sure we wanted to look for a church... we had had some bad experiences and felt more like we needed a break from organized religion than jumping into another faith community. Besides, we had four young children, and the thought of sitting in church trying to keep everyone quiet was right up there with scrubbing down the bathroom. But someone had recommended we try this small baptist church a few miles away- and armed with very low expectations, we went.
I still remember walking in the door for the first time. Two women were walking toward us with big smiles and said, look at all these kids! One of the immediately took the drooling baby from my arms and started farming out the children by age into appropriate classrooms in the hall according to their age- then she said, 'and this cutie, he goes into nursery with me.' And she disappeared through another door. John and I stood alone in the hallway, took one look at our empty rms, and I said "I don't care if this church bites the heads off birds, we are staying!' An hour a week to ourselves? We walked down the hallway to worship, and during the prayer time, the woman holding my youngest came in to the sanctuary, and gave a prayer of thanksgiving for the lovely new family, and especially for the baby she got to minister to.
Guess what? We stayed 15 years. Not only did we grow spiritually as a family, but this was the place I was encouraged to step into church leadership. Nursery care changed my life!
The same is true of providing coffee hour refreshments- or making coffee in the morning, or helping clean the church, or working the food pantry- anywhere relationships are the focus, providing we are intentional about it, is ministry- ministry changes people- people change the world. This is why, your gift, as I was saying last week, is never too small to be used in the body of christ!
And this is a wonderful thing. But- all of these things take energy- all of these things make, if you will, small tears in our muscles- tiring them out. If we are not properly nourished, meaning, if we are not putting into our spiritual selves the things that can help us to withstand the work out, then just like a bodybuilder with poor nutrition, we can easily burn out.
Luckily, the author of Ephesians has laid out a great nutrition plan in the passage we just read- so let's take a look. And as with any new diet, the first thing we do is go through our kitchen and clean out the cabinets of anything that is not useful. In this case- the very first item that ends up in the trash is lying. A no brainer, right? Like tossing all the candy, easy- but is it? Paul says, no more lies, no more pretense. No more pretending- no more coming to church saying everything is great, and really your heart is breaking. No more putting on airs that we have it all together, we can be transparent with each other. 'Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all.' (There's that connection word, again- so when you hurt, I hurt... so let's be honest. Is this the easiest thing to do? Of course not. Being honest with each other means we need to learn to trust each other. ; and learn how to hold information that is precious to someone- remember when we talked about the heart- how fragile the heart is. SO Go slow with this one- it takes time and patience and intentionality- get help if need be as to how to share feelings, how to listen- but if we are to be our authentic selves, means taking down the barriers between us and others. It also means being honest with ourselves. We've talked about his before- sometimes when we look at ourselves and talk about ourselves, we focus on the negatives- what we can't do- how broken we are, how we've messed up. This is a socially acceptable thing to do- however, looking at ourselves honestly means we are not afraid to affirm our value- that we see both our shortcomings AND our talents. And we accept both in the light of God's love.
The next thing we may be tempted to purge from the pantry is anger- but Paul says, be careful with that one... he says, "Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry." If we look around at our world with a discerning eye, we can’t help but to see injustice, oppression, systems and powers that are corrupt, abuse of all kinds, including misuse of environment and resources- and yes, it should make one angry! Yet, Paul says, don't go to bed angry- in other words, remember that the anger we feel, though justified, should not consume us- we are children of God- God calls us GOOD. So when Paul says, 'Don’t give evil that kind of foothold in your life.' don't miss out on the beauty and splendor God has put here- don't miss out on the love and friendships and human connection that binds all of us... Back to tossing things out of the cupboard- “Did you use to make ends meet by stealing? Well, no more! Get an honest job so that you can help others who can’t work.” (I'll leave that one for you to think about)
"Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift." Each word a gift? What would happen if we believed that our words were gifts- that we used them only in that way- for live giving or blessing? What if even in our making a point that something needs to change, or to be critical of something or someone that needs correcting, we used words that are honoring to God? How different would your relationships look? How different would your workplace look? How different would your face book posts look? How different would the voice inside your head sound if you only told yourself things that would bring life? He continues:
"Don’t grieve God. Don’t break God's heart. God's Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for God. Don’t take such a gift for granted.” Let's be clear. Because this is a big one- and I'm almost sorry the author put this in because it seems at first glance that there are things we can do to make God disappointed in US. What I believe it means is that we do things that are harmful to ourselves, to others, to creation, and when we do that, we suffer- and God suffers with us. We do things counter to what God has for us, we disobey God or go the opposite way from the direction God points us to, and it grieves us- and God... why? Because we are intrinsically connected to God! "Nothing can separate us from the love of God!” Nothing! But the fact that we can grieve God doesn't mean that God feels God is STUCK with you. God loves you more that you can imagine! So naturally it hurts God when we struggle, or suffer, or go our own way- God knows what's best for us- desires only the best for us... God is your biggest fan! OK let’s get back to the list however, or we will be here till Tuesday- “Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.”
Take a big breath! Ahhh- this pantry is clean!
But now what? What do we put into our cabinets instead of all the junk food? Please don't rush out to the Shop Rite to start filling up your fridge with everything YOU think is best... instead, the author of Ephesians says, "Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents.”
So wait a moment or two- look for signs God is moving- watch for the Spirit of God in your day to day life- listen for God's voice in prayer, through other people, through nature, through song. God’s voice is everywhere! And the best part is that God speaks to us in ways we can best understand. God loves you that much- to speak in the most intimate way- to speak your language. Why? Because it is what God does... "Mostly what God does is love you. (So) Keep company with God and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.”