Sermon for August 8, 2021 from Pastor John

Sermon for August 8, 2021

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     Sports have been in the news a great deal due to the Olympics. But I read a story about the humbler venue of High School football. The team involved is the Gilman Greyhounds, a school in the Baltimore area. In the early 2000s they had a coach named Joe Ehrmann. Under his leadership the Gilman Greyhounds were undefeated for a number of seasons and were the top-ranked football team in Baltimore. But Mr. Ehrmann’s main purpose was not in winning championships. He wanted to teach his players a new definition of masculinity. Interviewed by the press he said “true masculinity is based on loving relationships and living for a cause greater than yourself.” He taught his players servant-leadership, putting others’ needs before their own. This was more than talk, but it was encouraged to be practiced in their high school setting. He came up with different training rules for his players. For example, there was a rule that if any of his players saw a student sitting alone in the cafeteria, then that player was required to join the student and eat with him. And get this, seniors on the Gilman football team were required to present an essay before the team with the theme, “How I want to be remembered when I die.” Now this may sound somewhat extreme. Why should football players, from a championship team be required to eat with others who may be cast off as losers? And football players in their senior year, possibly pre-occupied about their future, are required by their coach to write an essay on their future priorities? Extreme perhaps, but our text today from Ephesians could be considered extreme. As Christians we are to live in love, a familiar theme in the Bible. But did you hear about our role models: be imitators of God, as beloved children, and forgive one another as God in Christ has forgiven you. God is our life coach who wants us to win in life. But this is not the winning heard in the saying “The one who dies with the most toys wins.” How God wills for winning lives is heard in the reading from the second lesson from Ephesians.

Much of the original audience in this letter was directed to new converts to the Christians faith. The letter portrays a before and after contrast. This contrast is quite eye-opening. BEFORE: You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived.” AFTER: “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ, by grace you have been saved. BEFORE: You were taught to put away your old way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lust. AFTER: Now you have been taught the truth of Jesus, be renewed in the spirit of your minds, so clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

The word of a new self, clothed with Christ, is baptismal language. The Apostle Paul wrote in another letter, Galatians, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female….and maybe in our day and age we could add, there is no longer Republican or Democrat….for all of you are one in Christ Jesus…you belong to Christ.” On the surface this does not make any sense, obviously differences still exist. But this is baptismal language all about the grace and mercy of God who does not want the power of sin to rule and get the best of us. In Ephesians we read that God has created a new humanity where hostility no longer rules the day since Jesus is with us, and Jesus is our peace.

There was an article in the New York Times that wrote of misinformation regarding vaccines that save lives from the ravages of COVID-19. Some of the false facts come from Russia and China. The article said those counties consider the United States an adversary and it is a goal to create tension among the people of the United States. Just what we do not need! In this time of pandemic when we are called to be vigilant, and then some are facing economic worries with the threat of evictions and hunger, we must not become adversaries with one another. As baptized children of God, belonging to Jesus, we are taught by Jesus, “put away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.” This is a challenge when other voices say “It is all about me and what I want, I do not have to care about you, especially if I don’t like your politics.” But remember in baptism Jesus does not wave good-bye and say “Have a nice life”. Jesus says “This is my promise, “I am with you always until the very end”. May we seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus daily. The benefits of baptism includes the forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit who ever reminds us that we are God’s beloved, and who asks us “How can I help?”

The Spirit of Jesus is our teacher Martin Luther would write, so let us not snooze in class, the class of everyday life. An important lesson is “Be angry but do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.” In other words the day of anger is also to be the day of reconciliation. May we not give privilege of place to the devil, and the word used here is ‘slanderer’. The devil would like nothing better than for anger to escalate into slander, and the most dangerous slander is to deny that a person is a beloved child of God, one for whom Jesus died to save and forgive. If anger persists after many sun downs, we must imagine ourselves and others as standing beneath the cross of Jesus. From the cross is the forgiveness from our Savior, and from him comes grace to forgive one another. We often hear that anger is not a sin, but an honest emotion. But we do not handle anger all that well. Anger can become a grudge we bear, and so we are stressed by its weight which does not become lighter over time. If anger is an issue, we need help and we need healing. Jesus is our peace which not only means a feeling of comfort, but his promise to teach us to walk again, walk in the way of love.

We also heard that thieves are to give us stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly so as to have something to share with the needy. It is an interesting text: we are to have an honest living not only to build up a fortune or money for retirement but that we have funds to help those in need.

The reading also told us to use or words to build up, words that give grace to those who hear. Have you ever thought of your words having power to save lives, for our words not to leave our mouths empty but giving people hope and encouragement? You may know of someone who wonders if anyone cares about them. Our Christian faith mandates that we help people know how loved they are by God. But our words must also be connected to commitment. In the first reading today we found Elijah so discouraged that all he wanted to do was sleep, even asking God to take away his life. Soon angels came with water and cake and told Elijah not once but twice to rise and eat otherwise the journey would be too much for him. The word translated ‘angel’ actually is the simple word for ‘messenger’. God may send us out as angels to touch the lives of those whose journey has become too much for them. The angels in the story brought Elijah a cake, always nice to bring someone. And may our up-building words speak of the grace of God: “Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are they who take refuge in God.” One commentator said we are to picture ‘refuge’ like this: a mother holding a child close in a warm blanket. We all need that refuge, the covering, the blanket of God’s steadfast love and mercy.

We are told “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.” In our baptismal service we make the sign of the cross and say “you have been sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” Jesus has secured our eternity: Salvation! Redemption! And the Holy Spirit has set our life’s course for heaven. So we are to put away all malice, bitterness, and cruel words, for they will not be heard in heaven, so why waste time here on earth. So do not grieve the Holy Spirit, but stay on the gracious path of salvation, kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

A waitress at a local restaurant has taken an interest in five of her customers who are elderly, and live alone. She figures her job is much more than filling their coffee cups, important as that is. She takes the time to talk, and also listen, getting to know them. In the height of COVID infections she kept track of one man through email. But then the man stopped replying to her emails. She became worried. And as time passed and still no reply, she became very worried. So now it was time to act. She found out his address and drove to his home. She knocked but no response. Knowing his hearing wasn’t the best she pounded on the door. Nothing. She even tried to peer through windows fearing the worst. She knocked on the door of a neighbor who told her that she remembered seeing the ambulance at his place some time ago. Now she really worried, not knowing what happened to him. But finally he emailed her, explaining a heart condition which required emergency medical treatment. He had been away from home for awhile. Very importantly she wanted to show this man that she cared, that he was more than a customer. I thanked this waitress for her story and said I will probably use it in a sermon and she said “go ahead”. The gospel declares that God has not forgotten about us or passed us by, but gave us Jesus who loved us and gave himself up for us. So loved we are guided to get to know people, and care for them. We grieve the Holy Spirit when we forget this for the Holy Spirit wants to bless us with joy, and joy comes when we live as imitators of God, chips off the old block, as beloved children of God, living in love as Christ loved us.

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