What the World Needs Now (in my humble opinion!)

 

 

Pastor Rich Knight

Central Congregational Church

Jan. 28, 2018

Ephesians 4:1-16

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,

with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.” (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

 

I have a new sermon outline or framework I want to try out on your today. I learned this framework from a pastor in my clergy group. Our conference wants the pastors to be in small groups for support and continuing education.

Here’s the framework.

1 – Today’s problem

2 – A similar problem found in the Bible (Paul’s problem)

3 – The Bible’s solution to the problem (Paul’s solution)

4 – Our solution

 

1 – Here’s today’s problem that I want to talk briefly about: We live in a divided country. We live in divisive times.

The problem is so bad that that we can hardly talk to each other any more. It’s hard to know when it’s safe, who’s safe, and what’s safe to talk about. In addition to this, Republicans & Democrats, Conservatives & Progressives live in alternative universes.

  • Half the country thinks that Global Warming (especially humanity greatly increasing it) is a Hoax. The other half thinks it’s one of the top 1, 2 or 3 issues facing the world today.
  • Half the country believes our immigration policies are destroying our way of life in America. The other half of the country says, “We all immigrants (except the Native Americans). Can’t we just take of the Dreamers?”
  • Half the country believes the tax cuts will bring even more prosperity to our country and eventually help us make up the $600 billion budget deficit. The other half believes that the tax cuts almost immoral – benefitting big business and the wealthy, with very little likely to trickle down, and adding to the deficit.

What makes matter worse is MSNBC & Fox News. They are mirror images of each other. Which means that you can watch non-stop coverage that only reinforces that you’re right and the other side is made up of complete idiots. (I’m not trying to tell you what to watch and what not to watch. There are some very good reporters on those networks, but sometimes the tone isn’t helpful at all. They also blur the lines between journalism and commentary and entertainment.)

We live in divisive, conflictual times. That’s today’s reality, and because of it we’re not sure who’s safe to talk to and who we must avoid talking about the issues of our day. But how will we get unstuck from this and come together if we can’t even talk to each other?

Of course, conflict is not new to the world. Controversies are as old as Adam & Eve, Cain & Abel.

  1. Paul’s Problem. (a problem found in scripture similar to ours)

Even St. Paul was enveloped by huge controversies.

  • Before his conversion he persecuted Christ-followers. He approved of the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr.
  • He was swept up in the conflict between the religious establishment and this new Messianic movement.
  • Once he was converted the conflict didn’t stop for Paul. He visited the early church leaders, who were afraid of him and highly suspicious, knowing his past.
  • Paul becomes the great Evangelist and takes the Good News of Jesus to non-Jews, and so now the early church has another controversy on their hands. Do these non-Jews have to become Jewish in order to become Christian? (must they be circumcised and obey OT laws to follow Jesus?)
  • Paul has a definite opinion on that and he often became furious with those on the other side. He once wrote: “You foolish, Galatians! Who has bewitched you” (3:1) “I am astonished that you are so quickly . . . turning to a different gospel— not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. (1:7-9)”

So Paul was no stranger to conflict and controversy, to suspicion and antagonism. Sometimes Paul’s opponents didn’t want to hear from him, and sometimes he didn’t want to hear from them either. Our problems and Paul’s problems are not much different. “There’s nothing new under the son.”

  1. Paul had a solution for the troubles in his world.

They’re pretty lofty, quite challenging, perhaps idealistic. Of course his vision is based on what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.

Listen again to Paul’s vision:

I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”  

He wants, “all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine . . . But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”

You could never accuse Paul of thinking too small, at least not here. In these formative years of early Christianity, filled with conflict, he never lowered his standards. He made mistakes, but he didn’t change the standard. His standard was Jesus and his love.

His vision was God’s vision for the church, for the world.

Unity. Harmony. Maturity. Oneness.

And he makes it very clear how to get there. 

Humility. Gentleness. Patience. Love.  – bearing with one another in love. Not simply putting up with each other, tolerating. But hanging in there with each other through love.

1 – We’ve talked about the problems facing us today, living in a divided and divisive society.

2 – We talked about the problems Paul faced – not much different from ours.

3 – We talked about Paul’s solution.

Humility. Gentleness. Patience. Love.

Unity. Harmony. Maturity.

Those are the words he uses, the virtues he lifts up.

4 – Well, if Paul’s problems were similar to ours, then Paul’s solution should be our solution as well.

Humility. Gentleness. Patience. Love.

Let me try to apply these virtues to a few practical situations.

A. Humility

Humility acknowledges that there’s a slight chance I may be wrong. Humility says, “This is the way I see it. Tell me how you see it.”

Paul says, “Speak the truth in love.” Speak the truth as you see it, in a way that respects the other person and their right to their own opinion.

Not only that, humility always seeks to learn. Humility is curious, eager to learn. Humility seeks first to understand, then to be understood.

Arrogance says, “You’re entitled to my opinion.”

Humility says, “You’re entitled to your own opinion, and I’d like you to tell me about it.”

Humility is such an important virtue, seldom seen in the public arena, but so important for relationships.

B. The 2nd virture Paul mentions is Gentleness.

The language of public discourse is anything but gentle. We could settle for civility there and be making great progress. But for conflict and disagreements in interpersonal relationships, gentleness is highly effective.

Gentleness realizes that our words can create connection or they can create distance and hurt. So gentleness avoids inflammatory language. 

“That’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.”

“Those people just aren’t patriotic. They don’t really love this country.”

Gentleness avoids demeaning, mean-spirited language. 

“Those people just don’t want to work.”

“Those people are all racists. They have no hearts!”

“Those people are nothing but a bunch of tree-huggers.”

There’s a visual that I like that comes from Couples Counseling. It’s, say it so it lands between the two of you. Don’t say it so that it becomes a dagger in your partner’s heart. Say it so it lands between the two of you.”

Paul said, “I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience.

C. Patience.

Patience is deciding not to argue. Discuss, share, dialogue. Just don’t become argumentative. It’s letting go of the desire to convince the other person on the spot that you’re right and they’re wrong. Patience trusts that dialogue is progress in and of itself. Your goal is not to win an argument, but rather to gain understanding, and hopefully find some common ground or some middle ground. That takes patience.

So, Paul calls us to humility, gentleness, patience, and . . . 

D. Love.

“Speak your truth to one another in love. Bear with one another in love. Build one another up in love.” Elsewhere he says, “Love binds everything together.” (Col. 3:14)

If hatred is part of the problem, then love must be part of solution.

Martin Luther King spoke a lot about love, as you know.

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Listen to a part of King’s sermon, “Love Your Enemies:”

     “Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’ It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.”

Will these directives from scripture solve our countries divisiveness?  No. But we’ve got to start somewhere, don’t we?

And if we can’t dialogue on the issues that divide us, if we can’t find some common ground and harmony with others on an interpersonal level, then what hope is there for harmony on a wider scale?

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with us.

That’s our closing hymn: “Let There be Peace on Earth.”

Let it begin with us!

Amen.

 

 

 

 

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