Sermon
August 13,   2000
Rev. Virnette Hamilton
First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT  06776
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Scripture Reading

Ephesians 4:25-5:2

25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our

neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do

not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil.

28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly

with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let

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. 30

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a

seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath

and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind

to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has

forgiven you.

1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love,

as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and

sacrifice to God. (NRSV)

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Sermon

 I want to caution you as you listen to our reading from John this morning. It

appears to be a diatribe against the Jews, when in fact it has more to do

with John feeling that he has to protect his community from the outside world

which has rejected Jesus and all those who claimed faith in Jesus. As

believers, the bitterness and pain that they are feeling is because of the

rejection they have come up against, since relatives, friends and neighbors

have scorned them and publicly humiliated them for their confession of faith.

John words caution readers to beware of those who live with a closed

system, those who have difficulty welcoming the stranger, in other words,

John's strong words about the Jews caution us against the outside world which

doesn't understand the mandate of Christian principles that the Church

community professes to live by.

Listen for the word of God.

John 6:35: 41-51

35 Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will

never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 41 Then

the Jews began to complain about him because he said, "I am the bread that

came down from heaven." 42 They were saying, "Is not this Jesus, the son of

Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, 'I have come

down from heaven'?" 43 Jesus answered them, "Do not complain among

yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me;

and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45 It is written in the

prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.' Everyone who has heard and

learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father

except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly, I tell

you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your

ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the

bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread

will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world

is my flesh." (NRSV)

The word of the Lord, thanks be to God.

 

I want to talk to you about imitation this morning… (remember Paul directed

us to be imitators of God) and to make my point I want to talk about Golf,

which is my husbands favorite sport, and after I tell you this story, you

will understand why I find an offer to play golf a bit off-putting.

Hopefully you will also understand the tension between being told to imitate

God and the pain or rewards that come along with that.

I was about 17. I had been playing golf for a number of years, with my Dad,

who insisted that I had a natural and great swing. We did ok, until one

fateful day. A group of my friends (all guys, I might add) were standing

around the first tee, watching as my Dad and I got ready to tee off. My dad

hit a great shot, long and strong, right down the middle, while I got more

and more nervous. I wasn't confident enough to stride right up to the tee

and just hit the ball, with this bunch of guys roaming around right behind

me…I was aware of their glances in our direction, and knew that when I got

ready to hit, they were - of course - going to watch. So I swung and I

missed, - several times. My father was by this time yelling instructions,

keep your chin down, and bend your knees. This of course, just made

certain that we had everyone's full and total attention. Sweat started to

drip off of my forehead and run in my eyes - making it even harder to

concentrate. Again, I swing and miss. My Dad is certain that everyone on

the course will be absolutely patient with us, so he continues to instruct

me - he hollers, "Stick your rear out" - and I almost dropped dead of

embarrassment. Then to my total mortification and horror, he decides to

"show me" what he means. He marches over to me and demonstrates what he

means by "stick your rear out.. "

Trust me, by now I could hear the crowd, which had gathered and increased

in size, start to snicker… "Yeah, Virnette - try that…" Now - If there

was one thing that I knew about my dad it was that if he told me to try it,

I was going to be standing there until I did… he would be totally dedicated

to his mission… Imitate me he kept saying, as he stood with his body

contorted and twisted. Head down, chin in, back straight, knees bent and

last but not least - his behind waving in the air.

I never step up to the first tee without the memory of my father saying

"imitate me - do it like this…" The whole idea of imitation caused a great

deal of discomfort -

I wonder what kind of discomfort the Ephesians felt when they received Paul

exhortation. They were a Christian community surrounded by non-believers.

It was clearly designed to remind them that as Christians they had been

marked with a seal for the day of redemption, and they were to uphold

Christian values at all cost until that day. Paul encourages them in their

efforts to live a Christian life because he understands that it takes these

kind of behaviors to build a strong Christian community. And they had

nothing if they didn't have that community. It fact - you could say, their

ability to be Christians depended on them being able to live in a supportive,

solid community. Their ability to live as a Christian and the community of

Christians were co-dependent on each other. If one failed so would the

other, If one was built up, the other benefited also.

"Be kind to one another and live in love" Paul reminds them - speak the

truth, don't sin, let your words build each other up, and give God's grace

to all who hear." Imitate God… build the community.

We have to remember though when we hear Paul's words that the world these

Christians lived in was actively persecuting them for their values - they

were out of sync with the rest of the world - so the tension created when

they heard these words was much greater than we can imagine today. Much

greater even than what a 17 year old girl might have felt at the golf course

( although, I find that hard to believe). They needed to be reminded of

the benefits involved, so that their drive to attain that goal would

overcome the remembrance that it could produce the pain and suffering of

being persecuted.

That is also what John is offering to his religious community - encouragement

- "stay the course, pay attention - you will see God's presence with you -

after all - you tell the story of your ancestors in the wilderness,

remember??? They always had the food that they needed. That is why Jesus

came to you, to offer you both food for your stomachs - when he multiplied

the loaves and fishes and spiritual food, so that you will be able to be

strong in your commitment to follow." Come to me Jesus says, and you will

have what you need. live in love and Imitate God, says Paul, .

So - how do you know when you are truly imitating God? Well, you need to

continually check yourself - examine your life, see if it reflects the life

of Jesus. It is a lot like exercising so that you get the maximum benefit -

and don't get hurt. It helps, if you are going to play golf, lift weights,

study ballet, do aerobic work outs, to be able to watch yourself in a

mirror - or on videotape… You need to make sure that you aren't going to use

your muscles the wrong way, you want to make sure that you don't injure a

joint, or end up off balance and send a ball careening out of control - only

to hurt someone else. This takes practice and vigilance.

So - while Christians of today might not face persecution… we need to pay

attention to Paul's words, and look in that spiritual mirror, because we

certainly face hazards in our efforts to be imitators of God. Imitation

doesn't include thinking that you are God - so you have to let go of the lure

of spiritual junk food, the temptation to judge or claim God's power or

knowledge for yourself because that would end up causing more pain or

creating more guilt and grief. Judging others and claiming God's power and

knowledge is about you… Junk food. Offering the bread of life to others is

about God and those you serve. Your imitation should match the example given

to us by Jesus, …all people are welcomed, where no one is excluded, the

poor and the miserable are lifted up, God's grace is extended to everyone,

through your hands.

So today, we are being asked to examine our lives - avoid sin - go for

truth that will build others up, not tear them down. Don't worry about your

own needs - that just leads to selfishness, worry about the needs of those

who are suffering. Put away past grievances and move on - forgive and let

go. Where there is guilt and the pain of failed relationships, work to make

amends. Most of all, be kind and gentle to one another. We are to pull

together to become even more the body of Christ as the Church, a community

focused on transforming the world. We are to strive to see Jesus' life

reflected by our lives. Think of Jesus' eyes as that mirror that we

constantly need to look into…

That's when we will begin to understand the value of Paul's encouraging

words, that's when we begin to make sense of the eternal life offered by

Jesus, of the spiritual bread, the peace of Christ that Jesus can bring

into our lives.

For living a life that reflects Jesus means that we live in love, that we

build the body, which in turn supports our efforts to transform the world,

which means that it will be easier to live a life that reflects the love and

peace of Jesus Christ and even more lives will be transformed. A never

ending circle, Manna in the wilderness, an angel in the desert, the bread

of life in Jesus Christ. Amen

 

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