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12th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 14) - Series B

Text: Ephesians 4:17-5:2

Title: “Be Imitators of God”

Date: Sunday, August 12, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

Hopefully there has never been a time in your life when you deliberately wanted to make someone sad. But the reality is that in your lifetime, you probably will make or have made someone sad…perhaps very sad. All too often we hurt the feelings of the very people we love using harsh, stinging words. It goes without saying that with sin in this world and in our lives, there is going to be sadness. And worst of all…we make our Lord sad with our sins of what we do and don’t do every single day of our lives. This “sadness of God” is a human term we apply to the Lord. It helps us to understand that our sins have separated us from our God. Our sins keep us from understanding God’s will perfectly in our lives on earth and from fully understanding God’s great unconditional love and forgiveness for us sinners.

         In our sermon text, St. Paul’s inspiring words to the church in Ephesus is unique. That is because this apostle of Christ does not address any specific problems in this church. Even though Paul is a prisoner in Rome, he writes to encourage believers in Jesus to live their Christian life daily in unconditional love and forgiveness. He writes encouraging believers to live out their Christian life until they are called to their eternal rest. Like you and me, these followers of the Living Bread…Jesus Christ…are new creatures who believe they are saved by grace and who “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (v 24)
         Ephesians 4 closes out with Paul’s encouragement to a live full Christian life so as to not grieve or sadden the Holy Spirit (cf. v 30a) due to the promise that the Holy Spirit gives the gift of faith and guarantees eternal life. (cf. v 30b) With this in mind and to help you live a full Christian life, St. Paul makes a list of negative characteristics in verse 31 that grieve the Holy Spirit. These negative traits move from bad to worse. “Bitterness, rage, and anger” deal with emotional baggage bothering believers. “Brawling and slander” point to fighting and name-calling that saddens God. “Malice” is every form of hatred that is to be removed from the hearts of every disciple of Christ. Hatred harboring in our hearts is very, very dangerous because hatred is our natural condition that leads to vengeance, violence, and even murder.

Why are there such feelings in the church at Ephesus? There was a time when the Jews and Gentiles did not get along with each other. But now that these two different groups of people are thrown together as followers and worshipers of Jesus Christ…there are still some hard feelings lingering. Since all humankind is born with original sin inherited from Adam and Eve, evil lurks in the dark corners of our hearts. "For out of the heart,” says Paul, “come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander" (Mt 15:19) that no one on their own can escape.

American author, educator, and clergyman…Henry Van Dyke (1852 – 1933) once wrote: “Cannibalism is dying out among barbarous tribes, but it still survives among the most highly civilized peoples…. If you wish to serve up somebody’s character at a social entertainment or pick the bones of somebody’s reputation in a quiet corner, you’ll find ready guests and almost incredible appetites.“ Of those ready guests with incredible appetites, it is sad to say that Christians are often among those ready guests with incredible appetites, even though we are tempted to wrongly think we are not as bad as the next person. Or we might consider many others to be far worse than ourselves. But neither one is really the truth because whoever sins against one law of God is guilty of breaking the whole law of God. Since our sinful hearts are filled with evil all the time, we are guilty…guilty…guilty! In Romans 8, St. Paul reminds you and me that "The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so." (Rom 8:7) Indeed, sin has infected each and every one of us. Sin affects you and me day after day after day. No one is exempt from the curse of sin.

         But God in His grace seeks out the sinner and saves the sinner by His unconditional love. Our response to this is supposed to be to put sinful living behind us. Since you are a Christian, refrain from speaking evil and have a kind, merciful, and loving attitude and behavior toward others. The writer of Proverbs 16:24 writes: "Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones." With the strength of the Holy Spirit, you can rid yourself of bitterness, hard-feelings, and anger. That’s because “the mind controlled by the [Holy] Spirit,” St. Paul says, “is life and peace.” (Rom 8:6b)

         With the strength of the Holy Spirit, you are able to follow in the footsteps of Jesus by imitating God with godly lives. (cf. 5:1) Since God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has made you and me His dearly “beloved children,” you and I are to “walk in love” and live lives of unconditional love “as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (v 5:2)

As you probably know, this will not happen by your own strength and will power. Jesus says in today’s Gospel reading, “I am the bread of life. . . . I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (Jn 6:48, 51) This is the same flesh and blood that conquered sin, death, and the devil by dying your death on the cross and then rising to life again to forgive your sins and to give your life and salvation. This is the Living Bread…the Bread of Life…the same flesh and blood that gave His life for the life of the world and now gives to you and me at His Table and in His Holy Supper.

Only by this gracious and awesome love and work of God in Christ Jesus do you know what love is. His love and forgiveness should motivate you to live a life of love and forgiveness. And those who live a life of love and forgiveness will reflect divine kindness and compassion, (cf. Eph 4:32) that was learned from the forgiving Savior…the Bread of Life…Christ the Lord. Before coming to power, Louis XII of France had been cast into prison and kept in chains. Later, in the early 16th century when he did become king, Louis XII was urged to seek revenge on his enemies, but he refused. Instead, he prepared a scroll on which he listed all who had perpetrated crimes against him. Behind every man's name he placed a cross in red ink. When the guilty heard about this, they feared for their lives and fled. However, the king explained, "The cross which I drew beside each name was not a sign of punishment, but a pledge of forgiveness extended for the sake of the crucified Savior, who upon His cross forgave His enemies and prayed for them."
         The love of Christ for His dearly loved children is life changing. The love of Christ in you forgives others even as God has forgiven you. The love of Christ in you is what St. James puts this way: “…the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy." (James 3:17) The love of Christ is the motivation that God’s Gospel of salvation in Christ provides for our daily, godly living in this sin-darkened, evil, wicked world. Too many of us try to live or do God’s will by our own strength or emotional willpower but faith cannot and does not work that way.

It is Christ’s undeserved love for you that is to be your motivation to walk in His footsteps. Christ lives in you so that others may see the Savior alive in you. Because the love of Christ is alive and well in each and every heart…of each and every believer…the strength of God is your strength. Christ dwells in your heart and life by grace through faith. Only then will you be able to get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, and every form of malice. Only with the power of God’s love in your believing heart will you be an imitator of God…to be like God in true righteousness and holiness in thought, word, and deed. As St. Paul writes in Colossians 3: "Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." (Col 3:12-13) Amen.

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