Sermon: Pentecost 12, 12 August 2018, Rev. Paul Weaver, St Aidan’s

St.Aidan’s West Epping, 12th August 2018
(2 Samuel 18; Psalm 130; Ephesians 4:17-5:2; John 6:35,41-51)

Business ethics has become a big issue these days. Small business owners who knowingly underpay their workers, particularly if they are vulnerable migrants. Financial executives who approve and even encourage dishonest processes, with the aim of maximizing profits. Gambling establishments that deliberately encourage people to spend and to lose more than they can afford to.

Now I suspect that many of the people who do these things think of themselves as reasonably good decent people. They probably don’t think of themselves as criminals, although many of their actions are not merely unethical but actually criminal. However they convince themselves that these very questionable practices are necessary, normal, and certainly the sort of thing that everyone else is doing.

But Christians are called to be different: not to be just like other people, for we are to be the light of the world, pointing people to Jesus, the true light of the world, and reflecting the light of Jesus in our own lives. We are God’s people, God’s holy people. And to be holy is to be different.

In his Letter to the Ephesians the apostle Paul has written about God’s great plan to draw people into a community of love, forgiving them and calling them to a new way of living: loving and caring for one another, and showing that love in our daily lives and our relationships. In today’s reading Paul calls us as Christians not to live as the Gentiles live. Theirs is a futile approach to life; they miss the point of it all. This merely human and therefore sinful way of life is reflected in those examples I mentioned a few moments ago. And it is seen also in the trivializing of sex, the justifying of violence and self-centredness, the legitimizing of hatred and division as has become so much a part of life today. This is life apart from God. This is life lived in the dark.

Oh yes, people will do the right thing at times, but it will not necessarily be for the right reason, or on a sound basis. People more often will simply do what they think works for them. And far too often that will be contrary to God’s will, God’s laws, God’s standards.
But as Christians we are called to live a new life. As Paul keeps insisting, this new life is not in order to get into God’s good books: it is a response to God’s love shown to us in Jesus Christ.

This is not just turning over a new leaf: new leaves easily get caught in the wind, and good resolutions easily get broken. Paul is talking about a new life, a new direction, arising out of a new relationship with God, and also a new power to live the life God wants us to live.

And so Paul calls us to put off our old self and our old way of life, to be made new in our minds, and to put on the new self. I used to have a special set of clothes that I wore when doing dirty jobs in the garden. It included a really daggy old check shirt, an ancient pair of patched jeans, and a half-collapsed pair of joggers. It was my scungy outfit. For filthy jobs it was just the thing, but it was not exactly glamorous.

When I had finished in the garden I would take these clothes off, have a good shower, and then put on some fresh clothes. There was a definite contrast between the “before” and the “after”. I now looked more or less respectable. And I was not totally unpleasant to be near, as I had probably been before. I had put off the old clothes, been refreshed and cleansed by my shower, and now my new clothes were suitable for the other things I was going to do.

And so Paul says to take off those old clothes, those old ways, those old standards which give people the excuse to live in selfishness, sinfulness, and compromise. We are to get rid of them, to have nothing to do with them.

And we are to clothe ourselves with the new self: to be made new in our minds. Of course we can’t do that for ourselves. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to do it for us and in us. We need the Spirit’s help to become the people God wants us to be, to reflect more and more the character of God in our lives. That is certainly necessary if we are going to be imitators of God, which is the standard Paul sets before us. Of course it’s beyond us to truly imitate God: but this is the goal, and right now it is to be direction of our lives: seeking to live our lives reflecting the love of Christ, reflecting the goodness of God.
After all, we have become God’s beloved children: ought we not to seek to reflect the goodness of our heavenly Father? And we have God’s Holy Spirit to guide us and strengthen us in this challenge: it is for us to be open to that leading and to the strength which he offers to us. The question is how open to his leading we really are! Do we follow his leading or do we grieve him?

Paul wants us to see how the new life works in practice. So he picks out some areas of our lives, to show us how God wants to live, how the Spirit calls us to live, how we are to relate to people.

He talks about honesty. We are to put away falsehood, and speak the truth to one another. Why? Because we are members of one another. We members of Christ’s church are family: we need to be able to trust each other. But even beyond that, as human beings we are all made in the image of God, and we know the problems that arise because people do not, cannot trust each other. It is so easy for us to stretch the truth, to embellish, to omit awkward parts of it, so that we look better or stay out of trouble or make sure that things are comfortable for us. As God’s children, we are to speak the truth to one another.

Paul then turns to the importance of self-control. Yes, things do happen that make us angry. Jesus was certainly angry at times. But we are not to let that anger lead us into sin. We are not lash out in anger physically or verbally. Our feelings are not sinful in themselves: sin comes when we respond to those feelings in the wrong way. We need to find a healthy way to be real about what we feel, and why we are angry: we may be able to do that with the person themselves, or talk it through with someone else.
Ignoring our anger doesn’t help. Neither does losing our temper or nursing grudges. Hence Paul tells us not to let the sun go down on our anger. Ultimately our aim must be to resolve the problem, to forgive the other person, recognizing that we also may need to be forgiven and even to put things right ourselves. When things get us angry, let us handle it in a godly way.

But Paul turns to another type of honesty. The thief is no longer to steal. Instead he is to find an honest way of earning his money. But the aim is not simply so that he doesn’t steal from others: the aim is that he will be in a position to be generous to those who need his help. The new life is not just an honest life: it is a generous life. So we are to use our honestly-acquired money not only for our own desires and purposes, but to look for ways it can help others, who may well need it more than we do.

And then Paul writes about helpful talk. Christians are not immune to temptation about the things we say. Do we spread gossip? Do we spread discontent? Do we criticize others behind their backs? Do we put people down? Do we use offensive language? James in his letter points out that the tongue is a small member of our bodies, but it is capable of doing immense harm.

Paul here makes clear that the things we say, the conversations we have, are to be helpful, not harmful. They must seek to build people up and benefit those who hear us. Is that true of the things we talk about?

And Paul talks about kindness. We are to get rid of those attitudes that put up barriers and do harm to others. We are to be people of compassion. Being generous and helpful to others. Trying to understand people and their needs, and responding with warmth rather than coldness. Forgiving others as God has forgiven us. Kindness needs to demonstrated in our words and deeds.

Honesty. Self-control. Generosity. Helpful talk. Kindness. These are the things which show the difference in that new life that God has given us in Christ. These are the things that demonstrate the reality of our faith. These are things which show that we are genuinely seeking to be imitators of God.

Billy Graham once challenged an audience about the reality of their faith. “Think about the way you live, the way you act”, he said. “Think about the words you say. Think about what you do with your time. If it was illegal to be a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

Would there? Do our lives truly reflect our faith, and our relationship to our heavenly Father who loves us so much? Are we really living new lives, walking each day in the light of Christ? Amen.
Paul Weaver